Celebrating with Healthful Foods

By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian

Recipes are from the new Cooking Vegan by Vesanto Melina and chef Joseph Forest (in Canada as an E-book titles Cooking Vegetarian by chef Joseph Forest and Vesanto Melina, publisher Harper Collins, and soon to be released in paperback; same content–great recipes, menus, nutritional analysis, chef tips).  These books make an excellent gift for those who are trying to eat healthfully, and for the vegetarians and vegans on your holiday list.

9-15-2013 2-38-05 PM9-15-2013 2-37-43 PMWhat comes to mind when you think of holiday meals? Gravy? Aromas of sage and other herbs? Being so stuffed that you require a forklift to get up from the chair after dinner? It is appealing to know that we can celebrate with those we love—yet have healthful fare and not overindulge to the point of discomfort.

Here we include a well-loved recipe for stuffed squash, a Light Mushroom Gravy, also Roasted Root Vegetables, and Rosemary Gravy

Holiday Winter Stuffed Squash

makes about 8 servings

1 winter squash such as Hubbard, butternut or acorn, about 5 lbs
1 recipe for Quinoa stuffing

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pierce the top of the squash with a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle 2 inches over from the top. Pushing the knife blade away from your body, cut around the top of the squash and remove the cone-shaped top piece. Remove any fibrous material from the cone and set the top aside. Remove the seeds and pulp from the cavity of the squash with a spoon. Put the top back on the squash, put on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Spoon the stuffing into the squash cavity. Set lid in place, return squash to baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick can be easily inserted into the side of the squash. Leftover stuffing can be placed in a loaf pan, sprinkled with 2-3 tablespoons of water, covered and heated in the oven for the last 20 minutes of the cooking time for the squash. Remove the squash from the oven and place on a warm serving platter. Slice into wedges and serve.


Quinoa Stuffing

Makes 5 cups 

1-1/2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp coconut or olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup diced sweet red pepper
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 tbsp lime juice
1-1/2 tsp each of basil and dill
1/2 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp pepper


Bring water to a boil over high heat in a small pan. Stir in quinoa and salt, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Put into a large bowl and allow to cool. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook onions for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and celery and cook for 3 minutes then add to the quinoa along with the corn, red pepper, sunflower seeds, parsley, lemon juice, tarragon and pepper.


Light Mushroom Gravy

Makes 4 cups

This tasty gravy is ideal with Holiday Winter Stuffed Squash, UnTurkey, Tofurkey, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, or to add a festive touch to veggie burgers. You may experiment with different brands of stock cubes or powder; flavorful stock makes a big difference. Stocks vary in saltiness so adjust the amount of tamari or salt accordingly. If the gravy is too thick, add water; if too thin, simmer uncovered to reach the desired consistency.


1 tbsp vegetable oil (such as coconut oil or olive oil)

2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup fine diced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups vegetable stock or water

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose or whole wheat flour

2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce

1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp dried sage

Pinch of pepper

Salt (optional, to taste)

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)


Heat the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook the mushrooms and onion for 5 minutes or until they start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Put one cup of cold vegetable stock or water, flour, tamari, nutritional yeast, thyme, and sage in a jar, tightly cover with a lid, and shake until blended. Put the stock and flour mixture plus the remaining stock into the sauce pan, bring to a boil, decrease heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in pepper and salt (if using); top with parsley and serve.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Makes about 8 cups

This colourful, warming combination makes a very welcome addition to festive meals. Other favorites that can be substituted are sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, or squash, for a total of 8-9 cups of chopped vegetables. Those with deep yellow and orange hues are rich in vitamin A (beta-carotene).


2 carrots

2 yams

2 potatoes

1 large red, yellow, or white onion

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs or 1 tsp dried (eg basil, thyme, oregano, dill)

1/4 tsp salt

Pinch pepper

Heat oven to 375F. Cut carrots, yams, potatoes, and onion into 1-inch pieces; place in large bowl. Sprinkle with oil, herbs, salt and pepper, tossing well to coat vegetables. Transfer to 9×13 inch baking dish (or similar size).  Bake, uncovered at 375F for 35 to 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.


Rosemary gravy

Makes 3 1/2 cups

1/4 cup coconut oil or olive oil
1/4 cup each of diced onion, carrot, and celery
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup all purpose or whole wheat flour
3 cups vegetable stock
2-3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp pepper
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat; add onion, garlic, carrots and celery and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir flour into the vegetable mixture to absorb the oil and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent flour from burning. Add stock gradually until it is smoothly mixed in, bring to boil, decrease the heat to low. Add tamari, parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If gravy is too thick, add more stock; if too thin, simmer uncovered to let some moisture evaporate. Season to taste; serve.


Vesanto Melina is a BC dietitian, author (www.nutrispeak.com), phone 604-882-6782. Other books that include great recipes for select dietary patterns are The Food Allergy Survival Guide, Becoming Raw, and The Raw Food Revolution Diet.

Bonnie’s Bone Bonanza

by Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian 

Bonnie was thinking about going vegan. Of all the dietary choices she had considered over the years, this made perfect sense and fit her values. Yet she wanted to be certain that her new way of eating would provide every essential nutrient. The women in her family were blessed with slim figures—and cursed with frail bones and eventual fractures. Magazine and TV ads and a pamphlet at her medical clinic (provided by the dairy industry) hammered home the message that milk products at every meal were her only choice. She didn’t want to be an ethical person with brittle bones! She began an information search that wasn’t linked to the dairy industry and came up with a summary that she posted on her fridge.

9-15-2013 2-36-40 PMSolid Solutions for Better Bones

1. Eat dark green vegetables daily. Put broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy and Chinese (napa) cabbage on your shopping lists. Grow kale late into the fall; request greens in your weekly organic produce delivery. Learn delicious ways to prepare greens. (See Cooking Vegetarian by Forest and Melina).  Steam vegetables for minimal mineral losses; use the cooking water in soups. These greens give you bone-building vitamin K, too.

2. Use calcium-set tofu. Tofu is versatile; it can be used in everything from soup to dessert without menus being repetitious. Check labels for calcium content. The isoflavones in soyfoods (tofu, tempeh, soymilk) are linked with reduced risk of bone fracture.

3. Rely on calcium-fortified beverages. Fortified non-dairy milks and juices help bring total calcium intake to recommended levels.

4. Make almonds, almond butter, sesame tahini, and blackstrap molasses a part of meals and snacks. By replacing 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with an equal amount of almond butter, you increase calcium intake by 73 mg. With a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses instead of jam, you boost your intake by 168 mg of calcium. These options provide iron and zinc too.

5. Don’t keep company with calcium thieves. Avoid high intakes of salt, alcohol, and caffeine; avoid a sedentary lifestyle; of course, don’t smoke. Not the difference in our habits with those of our ancestors and from other, more strong-boned cultures (as in the picture).

6. Add sunshine (or vitamin D) to your day. Stretch your legs and walk around the block on your lunch break. Like cow’s milk, nondairy beverages are fortified with a little vitamin D. From cloudy October to April, add a vitamin D supplement.

7. Exercise. Walk, jog, dance, play ball, hike, and step your way to lifelong bone health. Whether you are young or old, these activities cause bones to retain minerals. With bones, it’s a case of use ’em or lose ’em.

9-15-2013 2-37-16 PM8. Top up your intakes with a supplement. If you doubt that you are reaching recommended intakes (1000 mg calcium daily from age 19; 1200 mg for women over age 50 and for men over 70), include supplementary calcium

9. Calcium is not the whole story. You’ll get the whole team of bone building nutrients from a plant-based diet. Even lettuce can play a significant part!

Bonnie took these messages to heart. Her next X-ray showed that her bone density had improved; she felt fit and powerful. On a September 2013 trip to Toronto, she saw strongman Patrik Baboumian set a world record by shouldering 550 kilos (1212 pounds) and carrying that weight for over 10 meters (32.8 feet), then letting out a roar and the words ‘vegan power.’

9-15-2013 2-36-21 PMVesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and author:  www.nutrispeak.com, 604-882-6782. Her newest book is Becoming Vegan Express, co-authored with dietitian Brenda Davis (pictured here doing handstand and with Vesanto) and packed with great reading for optimal health.


  1. www.ecorazzi.com/2013/09/09/patrik-baboumian-breaks-world-record-with-vegan-power/
  2. Becoming Vegan Express by B. Davis and V Melina, The Book Publ. Co., 2013

Vancouver Restaurants

By Vesanto Melina with Nancy Callan

Vancouver is the first Canadian city to embrace “Meatless Monday,” encouraging residents to forego meat one day a week for the sake of the planet and their health. Whether you choose an entirely vegetarian restaurant or one that includes plant-based options our fair city offers a lot to the adventurous and to those who prefer more familiar menu items on Monday or any day.

Kitsilano’s many possibilities include:
The Eatery, www.theeatery.ca,  3431 W Broadway (dinner; lunch on weekends) with funky surroundings and many new creative, plant-based variations on Japanese favourites. For a taste of paradise, try their Mango Paradise Roll.
For a less adventurous quick bite, check out Tera V Burger http://www.teravburger.com/ 2961 West Broadway (lunch and supper) where their No Bull Burger has been known to fool many a meat eater.
The mother and daughter who run Indigo Food Café www.indigofood.org/ 2589 W 16th Ave  (lunch and supper Tues to Sat, reservations Fri & Sat, 604-537-7288)  offer both raw and cooked cuisine, with each menu item a masterpiece of creativity and flavour. Try their perogies or call in advance to order High Tea, a multi-tiered tray of bite sized sweet and savory treats.
Golden Aura  http://goldenaura.ca/, 2680 W. Broadway, Sun to Wed 11- 7pm, Thurs to Sat 11- 9pm. a new addition to Vancouver’s raw scene, has a delicious variation of Pad Thai.

9-15-2013 2-33-53 PMHeading to East Vancouver, options include Chinese cuisine at
Po Kong at 1334 Kingsway (lunch and supper) (the pressed mushroom stems are surprisingly meatlike) or
Bodhi Choi Heung at 3932 Fraser St (lunch and supper) where the (veggie) pepper steak with green beans is a favourite.
You’ll also discover Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants: the new
Veggiebowl 2222 Kingsway, (604) 620-7672 (breakfast, lunch, and supper),
Three Jewels at 1179 Commercial Dr (604) 568-5425, Three Jewels Vermicelli, Spicy lemongrass tofu on rice, and
Chau Veggie Express, 5052 Victoria Drive  (near 33rd between 34 and 35 ave) http://www.chowatchau.ca (lunch and supper). The latter’s Vietnamese sandwich, Family of Five on a Scooter, is not to be missed!
East Van has a selection of Ethiopian restaurants, such as
Axum, 1279 E Hastings St, dinner, (604) 253-2986. For a mere $10, enjoy the veggie sampler plate, eaten by hand with the famous flat sourdough bread injera.
Or for an inspiring glimpse of ethical food preparation, visit
Graze restaurant at 3980 Fraser Street where they grow their own herbs and vegetables, collect rainwater for later use, compost, and generate solar hot water! Their Antipasti and the Dip Board are each a fabulous adventure to share with friends.

Downtown: 9-15-2013 2-34-05 PM

Nuba (www.nuba.ca) has several locations: 207 West Hastings Street in Gastown open noon to 4:30 and then 5 pm to late  604.688.1655;
1206 Seymour Street in Yaletown open noon to 9 Mon to Sat 778.371.3266; plus
3116 West Broadway in Kitsilano 604.336.1797, open noon to 4:30 Mon to Sun, then 5 pm to late Mon to Sat;
146 East 3rd Avenue in Mount Pleasant 604.568.6727 (lunch and supper). La Feast is a two person plate, with a variety of plant-based Lebanese specialties. Najib’s Special, their cauliflower dish, was described in a news article as one of the hundred things you should try before you die.

Ba Bo Jai Chinese & Vegetarian Cuisine (formerly Whole Vegetarian restaurant) has outstanding food; truly superb. Their menu is mixed if you also have people in your group who want a nonvegetarian menu item.  1018 Beach Ave.,Vancouver, BC V6E 1T7 Tel: 604.569.0928  This is a favorite with my family. Wonderful service; excellent vegan menu. They have free parking too, in a covered lot next to the restaurant and under the bridge.

Gorilla Food http://gorillafood.com/ 101-436 Richards St. (lunch and supper) has an extensive, tasty raw menu and warm-hearted staff.


In Marpole, Cravings www.cravings.ca/ 8808 Osler Street (Oak St. and 72nd Ave – Behind the Coast Hotel) 604-261-7779, (daily lunch and supper; weekend brunch) makes eating out with a group with diverse dietary needs stress-free as they cater to those with gluten sensitivity, those who want plant-based food, or to those choosing non-vegetarian items. Their tasty veggie stir-fry far surpasses expectations.

In New Westminster, the vegan café Karmavore www.karmavore.ca 610 Columbia St   (11 to 7 pm; weekends to 9 pm) features some dishes, including a raw food selection, baked items, burgers, and deli food for take-out.

In North Vancouver, Pasparos Taverna www.pasparos.com 132 West 3rd Street (604) 980-0331 (daily 4 pm to 10:30 pm) has hearty Vegan Moussaka. There also are fine raw food restaurants: Café by Tao and Buddha-Full.


As you head to the Fraser Valley, try Wendel’s Café in Fort Langley 103-9233 Glover Road, 604.513.2238, 7:30 am to 10:00 pm daily and the

Jungle Juice Company at 259A Wallace Street  in Hope BC (604) 869-3363, http://junglejuiceco.tumblr.com/.

For more, see www.vegdining.com and www.happycow.net.


If you’d like to dine in good company and explore some delicious food, try Meatless Meetup (www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup). Each month features restaurant meals, potlucks, and more. With many non-vegetarian members, all those simply wanting to sample healthy, tasty food are most welcome. There’s never been a better time to do a little culinary exploration on the veggie side.


Vesanto Melina is a Registered Dietitian, consultant, and author, www.nutrispeak.com; 604-882-6782. Nancy Callan organizes Meatless Meetup.

Buy Organic – it’s worth it

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina, MS, RD

A few years ago, there was little scientific support for the health advantages of organic produce. Now, scientific evidence is gathering that shows toxins in pesticides do us harm. Common sense would tell us to avoid pesticides, which evolved from the germ warfare industry and were designed to kill insects whose cells are like our own.

Recent travels took me to Copenhagen, Paris and San Francisco. It’s clear that European consumers wholeheartedly support organic, GMO-free foods. And with Proposition 37 looming, California’s media has lively ads for and against the labelling of genetically modified foods, while industry-funded farmers complain that labelling GMO foods will put them out of business. They believe if people are aware food is genetically modified, they won’t buy it.

What would make us want to invest in organic produce instead of “conventionally” grown food that is often cheaper? Well, in Canada when we buy organic produce, we also get fare that is GMO-free. And “conventional” is an odd term to use here since the widespread application of pesticides and herbicides began only about 70 years ago when biological warfare scientists turned their talents to killing other forms of life.

Two experts who offer good reasons to eat organic, GMO-free food are Dr. Charles Benbrook of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in Pullman, Washington and Derek Lynch, Canada Research Chair in Organic Agriculture at Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Among the many reasons are:

Protection for developing children: Science has shown that organophosphate insecticides may impact a growing fetus and affect IQ and other aspects of development. Children’s growing bodies are particularly sensitive to pesticide risks and are exposed to higher levels per pound of body weight. The breast milk of vegetarians turns out to be far lower in pesticide residues than that of non-vegetarian moms. Since animals accumulate these toxins in their flesh, eating lower on the food chain (meaning plant foods) is beneficial. Organic meats contain fewer toxins than meat from animals fed standard, highly pesticided and herbicided crops. When dining in places where organic food is not available, it’s better for meat eaters to stick to plant foods.

Vitamins, minerals and protective phytochemicals: Organic plants must develop more resources to fend off pests and their defensive components turn out to be good for us. In about 60 percent of the studies that compare nutrients, organic food turns out to be higher; in 30 to 35 percent, the nutritional value is comparable and in 5 to 10 percent, “conventional” has more nutrients. This research centres on the well-designed studies of the same variety of fruit and vegetable grown in similar locales.

When loaded with nitrogen fertilizer in a “conventional” orchard, apples can grow large and sweet yet the concentration of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals is diluted and drops.

Vesanto Melina is a BC dietitian, author and aspiring Vancouver resident (www.nutrispeak.com). To inquire about a home in a forming cohousing community with many nutrition conscious members, visitwww.nutrispeak.com

What to buy, what to avoid

Choose organic. Even if you spend a little more, it’s a fraction of the cost of a latté and you’ll likely save later on healthcare. Among non-organic foods, choose Canadian blueberries, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes and Canadian or Dutch bell peppers. Apart from strawberries, Mexican produce also rates well. For more on this topic, check out CSPI’s excellent Nutrition Action Health Letter (October 2012 http://www.cspinet.org/nah/canada.htm) Avoid food imported from South America (such as Chile). It can contain more pesticide residues.

Avoid Your Enemies, Know Your Allies


Avoid Your Enemies, Know Your Alliesvesanto1

By Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis, Registered Dietitians


In the quest for blooming health and vitality, we have enemies and allies in the realm of food. Our enemies lurk on every street corner and entice us. It takes a little planning to surround ourselves with allies that protect us and support our physical and mental health. Below are listed foes and friends (from The Raw Food Revolution Diet by C. Soria, B. Davis, and V. Melina). Raw plant foods are definitely allies! Yet how do we replace foods that undermine our health with others that support our well being? Is this practical? Would it taste good? What would our meals and snacks be like?

Cherie Soria is an inspiration; now in her mid 60’s, she is slim, gorgeous, and with three black belts in karate. See her at free events at Karmavore in New Westminster (Raw Foods for Health, Beauty, and Longevity, April 12, from 1 to 2 pm) and at Banyen Books (April 13 from 6:30 to 8 pm). Cherie offers a one day workshop on Saturday April 14 that is packed with delicious raw foods, practical tips, and good nutrition at Tao Organics in North Vancouver, 800.816.2319 or info@rawfoodchef.com. There is a lot piled into a single day!

Let’s see which foods would steer us down the road to poor health so we know what to avoid, and then which items truly nourish us.


Top 10 Diet Enemies

  1. Refined starch products, meaning processed foods made with white flour such as breads, pastries, cookies, pies, crackers, etc.) These and the refined sugars listed next are the carbohydrate-rich foods to eliminate. Note that there is no need to avoid the carbs in fruit, veggies (such as yams), lentils, and whole grains (such as quinoa!)
  2. Products made with white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose and other sugars.
  3. Processed foods containing partially hydrogenated fat or lard, such as crackers, cookies, margarine, microwave popcorn, pies, and pastries.
  4. Deep-fried foods such as fried chicken, fried fish, French fries, and onion rings.
  5. Salty, fried snack foods: potato chips, corn chips, and cheezies.
  6. High salt convenience foods: ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese in a box, canned and pre-packaged stews, soups (check labels).
  7. Processed meats: Spam, corned beef, luncheon meats, and bacon.
  8. Fatty meat: spare ribs, pork chops, hamburger, etc.
  9. Dairy products such as cheeses (and cheese laden pizza), cream, ice cream, sour cream, whipping cream, whole milk.
  10. Calorie-laden beverages: alcoholic drinks, fancy coffees, and milkshakes. Soda pop is a top source of calories for many, without nutritional value.


Top 10 Diet Allies

  1. Water: the winner as a beverage
  2. Green leafy vegetables, including kale, collards, Chinese greens, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, mixed wild greens; also broccoli.
  3. The full spectrum of non-starchy vegetables from asparagus to zucchini: carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and turnips.
  4. Fresh fruits: berries, apples, citrus fruits, peaches, plums, pineapple, melons, mango, papaya, grapes, pears, kiwi fruit.
  5. Legumes of all kinds: green peas, mung bean sprouts, sprouted lentils and cooked beans
  6. Intact whole grains, sprouted or cooked such as buckwheat, kamut, oat groats, quinoa, and rye.
  7. Seeds: flax, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame.
  8. Nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews hazelnuts, walnuts, unsalted and without added oil.
  9. Herbs and spices: basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, and turmeric.
  10. Higher starch vegetables: squash, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, corn.


Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis are Registered Dietitians in Langley www.nutrispeak.com and Kelowna www.brendadavisrd.com/