Vegan (or Bust?)

Changing your diet can be a difficult undertaking. We tend to stick with what we know, our favourite flavours and textures that we know how to cook with best. I remember growing up that my stepfather would be more than happy to have peas, potatoes and chicken for dinner every night. Sometimes, it would be a burger or hotdog instead, and whenever he made it on the BBQ, it would be so well done it would be black on the edges (which, in the case of burgers, I came to enjoy the flavour of myself).

For a couple of years now, I’ve followed a largely Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian diet. What this means is that I’ll eat dairy and eggs, but I don’t buy meat or fish. It isn’t intentional, it’s more because I don’t want to spend ten dollars on a single chicken when I could spend ten dollars on various legumes and vegetables and end up with more meals out of it. That being said, I absolutely adore cheese, yoghurt and eggs. They are very important to me, and when I was younger, I used to drive my mother nuts drinking all the milk in the house (sometimes fourteen ounces in one sitting!). It was just so delicious to me, especially ice-cold out of the fridge. It’s no wonder I have strong enough bones to survive being hit by a van (Yes, this actually happened)!

However, as my culinary education continues, we’ve been challenged with changing our diet for a week. I decided to go full-steam-ahead, and take on the challenge for a month (so I could get an idea of any physiological changes I may experience). I was going to be Vegan.

Being Vegan isn’t too different from my regular diet. I would still be eating a lot of vegetables and legumes, but the animal products (those delicious, soft-boiled eggs and that thick, creamy greek yoghurt) would be taken away.

No Eggs. No Milk. No Cheese. No Butter.

For a classical baker, this is a nightmare, but I’m innovative, and have experimented with vegan food before for my ex-sister-in-law. Cheese and Eggs were going to be the hardest to live without, but as I decided to start the challenge at the beginning of February, we cleaned the fridge out of all animal products. I ordered a book of vegan and vegetarian recipes written by the owners of a successful franchise here in the city, “Fresh”, where I’ve tasted the fare before (their almond patties are delicious!).

We went shopping as Vegans (which was incredibly hard, as there were entire aisles I had to avoid, and we had to scrupulously check labels for animal products now), and for about a week and a half ate this way. The only time I strayed was during my class, when I had to taste the various meats we were cooking (but as soon as I walked out the doors of the lab, I was vegan again!).

It wasn’t too bad (aside from the fake cheese I tried), but it all came to a crashing halt after two weeks. It turns out that it’s difficult to get some important nutrients as a vegan. The B-vitamins, specifically B12, are largely found only in animal products, and iron can also be hard to come by, or not as easily absorbed (Arnarson, 2016). Calcium was another problematic nutrient, as I just couldn’t bring myself to eat so many cups of cooked collards in one sitting.

You may be asking why I went from being completely Gung-ho for Veganism to suddenly being so caught up in my nutrition. Well, you see, I found out I was pregnant!

As an independent person, I’m fine experimenting with my diet. But now I was supplying nutrients to another being. I had to be smart about what I was eating, and my diet had to change. I didn’t want to take a million supplements in the morning (nausea doesn’t like the one prenatal I take as it is), so I wanted to get these nutrients from whole foods.

So I started a new diet, and I lovingly call it the “Pregnancy Diet”. It’s oriented towards eating healthy, getting all my servings of vegetables and fruit every day, as well as all my micronutrients. I started logging everything I ate into an app on my phone. But what’s the big deal? Why is it so different from my regular diet?

The major difference is the amount of certain nutrients I need to get. According to Doctor Judith Brown, I would need to take in a few more nutrients than I used to, specifically: Protein, at a whopping 71 grams a day (at least); Calcium, with at least 1,000 micrograms a day; Folate at 600 grams; and Iron, at 27 micrograms a day (Brown, 2006, pg.37). I also need to be sure to get some healthy fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, two omega-3 fatty acids that are helpful in healthy vision, as well as healthy brain development (pg.88). On top of all this, I need to limit my caffeine consumption, as it’s been linked with miscarriage (pg.67).

My concerns? Protein and Calcium. Both are important in the development of my new embryo, so I don’t want to be short on these. However, looking at the serving sizes of foods I can eat to meet these requirements, I am a little overwhelmed. For protein, I need to have 3 servings a day. What to Expect When You’re Expecting suggests a few serving sizes of various foods to try for. Their examples are (with each one representing a single serving): 1 cup of Cottage Cheese; 24 ounces of Milk; 4 Whole Eggs (or 7 egg whites); 4 ounces cooked Shellfish, or Canned Salmon; and 4 ounces of skinless Chicken or Turkey. Those last few don’t sound too bad, but I hardly ever buy meat. However, given that I can’t stomach four eggs in one sitting, nor an entire cup of cottage cheese, I may start stocking the freezer with salmon (which would also help meet my EPA and DHA needs)(Murkoff, 2008, pg. 95).

As for Calcium, the same book provides several examples of a serving of calcium, of which I should try to get four a day. They include: 1 ounce of hard Cheese; 1 cup of Milk; 1 cup of Yoghurt; 1 cup cooked Collard Greens; 1 1/2 cups cooked Bok Choy; 1 3/4 tablespoons of Blackstrap Molasses (Murkoff, 2008, pg.95-96). As you can see, it isn’t too hard to get Calcium from a few dairy products, but as soon as you look at other non-animal sources, you need to consume much more of it. I can’t eat so many greens or molasses at once, so dairy needed to return to my diet. I can certainly enjoy a cup of Yoghurt and an ounce of hard cheese. Also, luckily for me, these items provide a little bit of protein to my diet as well. Remaining a Vegan while trying to meet the necessary nutrients for my embryo would have been too difficult to manage (as someone new to Veganism, anyway).

What else do I need? According to What to Expect… I also need: 3 servings of Vitamin C-rich foods (1/2 a Grapefruit, 1 medium Tomato, 1/3 cup of Strawberries, 2/3 cup Blackberries or Raspberries as examples); 3-4 servings of Leafy Greens and yellow vegetables (1 Clementine, 1 cup raw Spinach, 1/2 Sweet Potato, 2 medium Tomatoes); plus another serving or two of fruits and vegetables (1 Apple, 1 Banana, 1/2 cup cooked Green Beans, 1/2 avocado); 6 servings of Grains and Legumes (1 slice Whole-Grain Bread, 1 cup Whole-Grain cereal, 1/2 cup cooked Brown Rice, 1/2 cup cooked Beans or Lentils) (Murkoff, 2008, pg. 97-98).

I decided the best way to start off was to try and get at least one meal constant: Breakfast. Breakfast would be 1/3 cup of Quick Oats (which I would pour boiling water into to make oatmeal), 1 tablespoon of Natural Peanut Butter (because I love it, and it provides a small amount of protein), 1 Banana, and 1/2 cup of fat-free Greek Yoghurt. If we had extra fruit, such as Strawberries or Blueberries, I would throw a few on there as well. This meal would get me a helping of grains, calcium, protein and fruit.

For lunch, I would try for more protein and vegetables. For instance, one day I scrambled a couple Eggs with Cottage Cheese, and enjoyed two slices of Toast and some Arugula. Plain (save for the salt and pepper in the eggs, of course), but filling. Dinner would focus on roasted Vegetables, like Sweet Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts, with some cheese and more Arugula. Tonight’s dinner, for instance, will be a baked Sweet Potato, split in half and filled with Goat Cheese and Arugula (Check out the bottom of the page for this recipe!).

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Stuffed Sweet Potato with Salmon

For snacks, I try to keep the choices as useful as possible. If, for some reason, I didn’t add Yoghurt to my oatmeal, I may have it with Granola for a snack. Or I may have Cheese and Tomatoes. I also may eat a couple of dried Dates and Apricots, as these have some iron and fibre.

The challenges of this diet are very different from others. Changing your diet can require a lot of willpower and time for your body to adjust, as well as your habits. This diet is similar, however it will undergo constant change for months, and then will change again! While there is willpower involved to take a prenatal vitamin every morning and to try to stick to a healthy diet without empty calories, there are other factors involved. Nausea is certainly a present aspect of life now, as well as food aversions. For instance, I am learning that leftovers are not something I can stomach the idea of eating. Normally, I can imagine a recipe and the idea of enjoying it as a meal, but that has now changed. I could read the title of a recipe, and feel my stomach turn at the idea of it. Certain foods I loved are now being forgotten about, while I find it very easy to stick with one dish for the whole day (but this is NOT a good idea, as it doesn’t provide enough variety for nutrients). My appetite and mood are serious components of this diet, with interesting reasons. One theory on food aversions is a built-in mechanism being activated that keeps me avoiding potentially hazardous foods (Hartwig, 2014). Otherwise, my lack of enthusiasm for leftovers and almost every recipe I see online proves to be a serious obstacle in maintaining a healthy diet.

Researching diets online will always yield a million confusing results, all claiming to be the healthiest or quickest way to losing weight. Pregnancy is another ballgame. Now there are opinions on how to raise your embryo and fetus into a proper human being, beginning with nutrition in utero. While I am excited at this new phase of life, I’m also aware of the world of judgement that will be thrown at me for the items in my grocery cart, for my exercise regime (as I am a jogger), and so on. It isn’t just about me, and I can’t help but think of the old phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”. Every action of mine will now be under scrutiny by those around me and in my community, which is a shame, as there is a vast amount of misinformation out there on pregnancy – even beyond nutrition- and I will have to sift through the wives-tails, judgement and suggestions for the entire course of it.

In the meantime, I’m trying to get all my servings of protein and calcium while keeping a lot of vegetables and fruit in my diet. Some days are hard, and I only want to eat cream cheese on bread. Some days, the idea of cooking a fresh meal is exhausting, and I end up scrounging for fruit and forgetting protein entirely. Keeping boiled eggs in the fridge may help, but eating 4 hard-boiled eggs is a difficult task. I’m using an app on my phone called “My Fitness Pal”. While not designed for pregnancy, it does have a large database of food and nutrients, so I’m able to track what I eat while seeing how short I am in nutrients. Some days I meet my targets, but it seems to be every other day (and this takes into account the nutrients my prenatal vitamin provides). My appetite is playing an incredible role in how often I meet the guidelines of this diet, and I’m hoping the second trimester treats me a little better in this way.

It’s been a few weeks now, and our shopping trips are getting a little more efficient in finding ingredients to feed the raspberry sized being. We are often buying organic, aiming for higher quality and safety instead of cost, and we keep a lot of Yoghurt and Cheese on hand (they seem to be the most appealing foods to me). I obviously plan to stay on this diet and try to be as healthy as possible, and while I’m trying not to stress too much about how I’m eating, I’m also trying to educate myself every day about it, to stay on top of my health (After all, I have to be healthy for two now!). As a chef, I will likely struggle at times with having to cook foods I may be experiencing an aversion to. I haven’t been too nauseous to have to walk away from anything, and hopefully this will not become an issue at any point. Hopefully the aversions will dissipate a little over time, and I can resume enjoying most of the things I cook. I have a very open mind for food, but for now, I’ll focus on simple, fresh dishes that are dense with nutrients.

It’s almost utilitarian, isn’t it?

Stuffed Sweet Potato and Lemon Salmon En Papillote

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A simple, no-fuss dinner packed with nutrients and made with easy-to-find ingredients!

Ingredients

  • 1 Large Sweet Potato
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 handfuls of Arugula
  • 2 ounces Goat Cheese
  • 2 frozen Salmon fillets
  • 2 slices of lemon, 1/2cm thick
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • parchment paper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat your oven to 400F. Scrub the sweet potato well and dry. Rub with olive oil and some salt and pepper (A healthy helping goes a long way) and poke a few holes in the skin with a fork or knife. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour (Mine was especially large and needed an extra 20 minutes. To test if it’s done, just try putting a knife through it. If you get resistance, it’s not thoroughly cooked).

Once your Potato has been baking for a half-hour or so (If you’ve got a massive potato, wait 40 minutes), start getting your salmon together. Get two pieces of parchment paper, large enough that when you fold it in half and tuck the salmon inside, the salmon will have a few inches of parchment all around it. Place the salmon on one half of the parchment and top with the remaining seasonings, lemon and butter. Now fold over the parchment so the salmon appears to be in a pocket. Starting at one side, start folding the edges of the parchment together. Move along the entire edge of the parchment and all around to the opposite side of the salmon, tucking the last fold in the best you can. You should now have a little packet with the salmon inside.

When your potato has about twenty minutes left to bake (check to see if it’s done! If it is, just take it out, no harm in letting it sit on the counter for a little bit to cool enough to handle), put the salmon on a tray and into the oven. It should take 20 minutes for the salmon to cook.

20120817-PapilloteFolding.png
Diagram for how to fold fish en papillote, from “Fish {Tilapia} Baked en Papillote with a French Vinaigrette”, by Jess, 2012,  http://www.cooksmarts.com/articles/fish-tilapia-baked-en-papillote-easy-recipes/

Once everything is out of the oven, take your sweet potato (careful, it may be hot still!) and slice it in half length-wise. Scoop and mash the inside a little bit and make some room for the Arugula and Goat Cheese. Stuff a handful of the Arugula inside, and top with some crumbled goat cheese and more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with the salmon, and enjoy!

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My “Bun in the Oven” would be a great addition to dinner!

References

Arnarson, A. (2016, August 18). 7 Nutrients That You Can’t Get From Plant Foods. Retrieved March 02, 2017, from https://authoritynutrition.com/7-nutrients-you-cant-get-from-plants/

Brown, J. E. (2006). What to eat before, during, and after pregnancy. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hartwig, M. (2014, January 17). Pregnancy and Food Aversions | Whole9. Retrieved March 02, 2017, from http://whole9life.com/2013/01/pregnancy-and-food-aversions/

Murkoff, H. (2008). What to Expect When You’re Expecting. New York: Workman Publishing Company.

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