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Properly prepped
The value of a plant-based diet and why preparation is key

By JEN HUNHOLZ
Photos by Matt Haas

July 2015

As more and more research reveals just how drastically nutrition affects overall physical health, a plant-based diet — one rich in foods grown from the Earth — is gaining popularity, and for good reason. "One of the best benefits of plant-based foods is that they’re the most nutrient dense — you’re getting more bang for your nutritional buck, so to say, in plants because they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals," says Betty Holloway, an independent nutritional consultant and a registered dietician with NuGenesis and ProHealth Care.

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring "plant boosters" that act as antioxidants, enhancing our health by destroying the free radicals produced by metabolism. A tomato, for example, contains a phytochemical called lycopene that protects it from UV radiation. "Since it (the tomato) can’t put on sunscreen or a hat or hide under an umbrella, the tomato has created this means to protect itself," explains Holloway. "When we eat concentrated cooked tomatoes in a little oil as in marinara or pizza sauce, we derive the same antioxidant benefits from this protective nutrient."

Eating a variety of plant-based foods is equally important. "These foods work together synergistically. The relationships between them are more powerful together than if eaten alone," says Holloway, adding that color is a good indicator of nutritional potency. "‘Eat the rainbow’ is what we like to tell our customers," echoes Kelly Barrios, the cafe manager at Good Harvest Market in Pewaukee. "If you look at our salad bar, for example, you can, quite literally, eat the rainbow."

Here, Holloway and Barrios discuss different approaches to preparing plant-based foods and why some techniques are better than others.

Frozen: Holloway dispels any myths claiming that all frozen foods lack nutrition. "If they’re flash frozen at their peak, they retain a lot of their nutritional quality. You don’t need to avoid a fruit or vegetable if it’s not in season," she says. Frozen berries are encouraged during the winter months, when their availability is low and cost high.

Microwave: It may be controversial, but there’s no denying its efficiency. Microwaving is best done briefly for thawing or reheating — not done over long periods of time, says Holloway. For fresh corn on the cob, she suggests wrapping the cob in parchment paper and briefly microwaving it. This process causes less vitamin loss than boiling the corn.

Raw: "If you can eat it raw, eat it raw," says Barrios, adding that leafy greens like kale and romaine are especially beneficial in raw form. Despite the fact that raw foods are the most nutritionally dense, Holloway is quick to note that an entirely raw diet is neither encouraged nor health-conscious. "There’s a notion that you shouldn’t ever eat cooked food because heating destroys the enzymes, but your body isn’t meant to digest such large quantities of fibrous foods," says Holloway. "We were designed to have diets rich in both raw and cooked foods." Both Barrios and Holloway recommend raw nuts as a source of healthy fat and protein.

Roast: Stick to an assortment of seasonally appropriate vegetables and allium when roasting. In the summer months, combine a single layer of Mediterranean vegetables like peppers, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and mushrooms on a baking sheet, season with salt, pepper and fresh garlic, and toss in olive oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, creating a caramelizing effect. "It makes the vegetables very sweet and tasty," says Holloway. The best part? Roasted veggies are just as tasty served cold and used as leftovers in salads, wraps or omelets.

Simmer: Simmer carefully, as many nutrients are retained in the cooking liquid. Holloway says that eating everything — and not throwing away the cooking liquid — is key. "With boiled carrots, for example, you lose the fat-soluble vitamin beta carotene when you pour out the water," she explains. "When you make soup, you drink the broth, so make soup often." Incorporating legumes (beans), a great source of protein, fiber and low glycemic carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, into the soup creates a well-balanced, nutrient-dense meal.

Dried: Barrios warns that many dried fruits are pre-sweetened and contain extra sugar. She says to check the label — look for "100 percent dehydrated" instead of "dehydrated and sugared." Combining iron-rich foods like apricots and prunes, which usually contain no added sugars, and raw nuts provide a healthful source of energy.

Did you know?

Plant-based foods like kale, legumes and whole intact grains (think quinoa, barley and steel-cut oats) are packed with protein — oftentimes putting their animal-based competition to shame. Don’t believe us? Here’s a comparison in nutritional density of 100 calories of sirloin steak vs. 100 calories of kale to prove the point.

100 calories of sirloin steak vs. 100 calories of kale

The kale contains twice as much protein, four times more iron, 190 times more calcium, 800 times more provitamin A, 15 times more folate, 12 times more magnesium and 11,000 times more antioxidants.

 





 

This story ran in the July 2015 issue of: