Our perceptions about diet and health have undergone remarkable transformations during the past half-century.

Fifty years ago, the hot topics in nutrition were protein-calorie malnutrition, deficiency diseases, and the recent discovery of the last of the thirteen vitamins. Today, while undernutrition continues to be a tragedy for one in six humans, an equal number are overweight, and one-third of these are obese.

In North America, our malnutrition is taking a peculiar form. We stuff ourselves with calories, animal protein and fat, and supplements containing whichever vitamin, mineral, or dried extract (powdered algae, shark cartilage, or bee product) has made recent headlines. For many, one fourth of our calories come from sugar and another forty percent from fat, much of that saturated and trans fats.

Yet intakes of vegetables and fruits, the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet, are sadly lacking. Legumes have an amazing nutritional profile, high in protein, low in fat, and rich in the fiber-containing carbohydrates that help us to maintain our blood glucose. However many people would have trouble naming five legumes, and to use them in creating a delicious meal is beyond comprehension. (See if you can list five; then check the last line in this article.*)

What happens when we stuff ourselves with calories, yet build our diets from non-nutritious foods? The outcome is evident in our medical clinics and hospitals: cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, hypertension, strokes, and obesity. Every part of our body is impacted when cells fail to receive the hundreds of protective phytochemicals found in unrefined plant foods. Our food choices are the key factor in reducing our risk for these disabling diseases. How could it be otherwise?

If you would like to combine a springtime visit to the beautiful Okanagan with an informative, and inspiring event related to nutrition and health, here’s a bargain. Attend the Okanagan Health Forum between October 8 and 10. (www.okanaganhealthforum.com or call Lauren at 250-766-2589) You’ll have a chance to hear Dr. Colin Campbell, author of “The China Study” whose research has made headlines in the New York Times. Campbell discovered that adding even small amounts of animal products to a simple plant-based diet increased one’s risk for coronary artery disease and cancer, and established the links between casein (milk protein) and cancer. A second speaker is Cleveland cardiologist Caldwell Esselstyn, who teaches how to make yourself “heart-attack proof”. A presenter who combines scientific expertise, motivation, and glowing health dietitian Brenda Davis, co-author of “Defeating Diabetes”, Becoming Vegetarian” and Becoming Vegan”; her topic is “Constructing the Optimal Diet”. As fourth speaker, my topic is food sensitivities. What is the cost of attending this Forum? Just $5. (Health professionals: note the sessions on April 8.)

For a tasty way to boost your intake of vegetables and legumes, try this pasta sauce. It is made with red lentils, the fastest cooking of all legumes; they cook in 20 minutes. The flavor develops best by simmering for an hour or more. If your family is just getting used to legumes, start with 1/2 cup of lentils; for added protein, use more.

Chunky Red Lentil Tomato Sauce

From “The New Becoming Vegetarian” (US title), “Becoming Vegetarian” (Canadian title), by Melina and Davis

4 cups              water
1 cup               red lentils
1                      large onion, chopped
2-3                   cloves garlic, minced
1                      large carrot, sliced diagonally
1                      stalk broccoli, chopped
1 cup               sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup            green pepper, diced
1                      small zucchini, sliced or grated
28 oz               can stewed tomatoes
28 oz               can tomato sauce
2 tsp                each, dried basil and oregano (or 2 tbsp fresh)
2 tbsp              tamari or Bragg Liquid Soy
2 tbsp              Cooking wine (optional)
2 tbsp              miso (optional)
Place all ingredients in saucepan or crock pot; stir. If using a saucepan, bring ingredients to boil, then turn heat down and simmer sauce for about an hour. If using crock pot, cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or on high for about 4 hours.  Serve with your favorite pasta. Leftover sauce freezes well.

Makes 11 cups (6 hearty servings). 

Per serving: Calories 158, Protein: 9 grams, Fat: 1 gram, Carbohydrate 34 grams, Iron 2.7 milligrams, Calcium 113 mg.

Vesanto Melina’s website is www.nutrispeak.com. Her next food and nutrition workshop in the lower mainland will be a Spring Cleanse on May 7.

*Legumes include beans (Anasazi, black, cranberry, great northern, kidney, lima, mung, navy, pinto, red, or white); garbanzo beans (chickpeas), soybeans, black-eyed or split peas, lentils, and peanuts

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