Being a good vegetarian

old wooden typesetter box with 16 samples of assorted legumes: gThis week I saw a teen who has become a vegetarian for ethical reasons which is a decision I applaud. On a nutritional level however if you do want to cut out meat its critical to make sure that you do include the right sort of vegetarian proteins in your diet as well as lots of vegetables. The worst vegetarians I see in clinic are usually the ones who don’t like vegetables – chips and tomato sauce or toasted cheese sandwiches are not adequate sources of nutrition!!

So how do you become a good vegetarian? First off lets assume that you love your veggies or if not you had better learn to love them as its going to comprise the bulk of your diet – ideally at least 3 to 4 cups of vegetables a day. Then we need to add some protein sources, eggs, cheese, tofu and legumes are all good options. The egg is in fact the perfect source of protein against which all others are measured. Cheese and dairy foods are great if you can tolerate them, as many adults become lactose intolerant as they age and lactase levels decline. In which case yoghurt may be a better option as the fermentation breaks down the lactose.

Indian vegetable curry with spinach, cauliflower and potatoNext its really about seeking inspiration from cultures that have a wide range of vegetarian foods – Indian curries are a great source of variety and flavour. One of my favourite simple curries – potato, pea and cauliflower I found one day as I was googling recipes with only three ingredients to cook at Taste and its now a firm favourite. Another version of a simple potato curry I found in Stephanie Alexander’s cookbook and then modified to reduce the number of ingredients – if you like it spicy double the curry paste!.

One tablespoon curry paste,
1 tsp each cumin, mustard, ginger and garlic
One onion
2 potatoes
1 piece sweet potato or pumpkin or 2 carrots
2 red capsicum
1 eggplant
2 zucchini
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can coconut milk
Add a little oil to the pan and a chopped onion plus the spices. Fry the onion in the spices. Add two potatoes, a quarter pumpkin, two red capsicum (scrub potatoes, don’t peel – less work and better for you). Cut all the vegetables about the same size – for instance, in quarters.

Chop and slice salted eggplant and two zucchini. (Before you use eggplant – slice it, pour salt on it and then after 10 minutes scrape it off). Cut into cubes and then stir this through, add a can of chopped tomatoes, cover for 20 minutes, cook on low heat. Check that the potatoes are getting soft. Add a small can of coconut milk and simmer for a further 5 mins before serving.

Variations: add a bunch of spinach (chopped) or Chinese cabbage a few minutes before its finished cooking.Leftovers will make another meal with a tin of legumes or chickpeas added for some variety.

Whilst many people think of humuus as a good option to add to a vegetarian meal realistically most beans lend themselves to being cooked, pureed and flavoured with lemon, garlic and herbs. Try a cannellini bean dip for example.

Another option with vegetarian food is to look at Mexican recipes for inspiration – a recent addition to my repetoire was Mexican rice and beans. Basically saute an onion in olive oil , add 1 cup of rice to the brown and warm it through and then add a can of black beans , a crushed clove of garlic and two cups of stock. Cook through and serve. Makes a good filling for tacos or fajita’s, specially if you add some guacamole for a source of good fats and a flavour some topping!

Risotto with some type of legume like pea or mushroom also can create easy options. think about asparagus and pea risotto for example or spring vegetables. Use leeks rather than onions as your base to create a creamier taste.

Soups and noodle dishes can also add variety and inspiration – think about Malaysian laska with tofu for example or pad thai noodles.

Still struggling to find options? Christine Pope is an experienced nutritionist and can help you create nutritious vegetarian or other menu’s. Appointments are available on Tuesday or Wednesday on 8084 0081.

Are probiotics worth the money?

Spoon Of Yogurt With Blueberries On Top

Probiotics seem to one area where even doctors and pharamacists seem to be comfortable recommending that patients take a probiotic with or after an antibiotic. However regular probiotics can help you avoid the need for the antibiotics in the first place.

The Cochrane Collection, which is the gold standard of scientific research, has reviewed 14 clinical trials on probiotics involving over 3454 people. Overall they concluded that probiotics reduced the risk of developing upper respiratory tract infections and reduced the need for antibiotics. Nice to have the scientific evidence however I know from my own practice that a good general preventative through winter is a daily probiotic plus Vitamin C, particularly if your children are in daycare.

Home Made Cultured Or Fermented Vegetables

Probiotics for the whole family may be an expensive option (although getting sick is often more expensive) and some other great ways to include a good range of gut bacteria are to introduce fermented foods. This can be through a good quality yoghurt without a lot of sugar and additives or through regular consumption of fermented vegetables such as kim chi and sauerkraut. If you are interested in making your own fermented foods there are a number of people running workshops – have a look at Georgia at Stirring Change on facebook or Pinkfarm. The ladies at Pinkfarm even provide lists of people with starter cultures who are happy to share.

There are quite a few different strains of probiotics and we are just beginning to understand all the different roles that they can play in terms of keeping our immune system strong as well as in supporting effective digestion. The advantage in using foods is that often there are up to 50 strains or good bacteria in keffir whereas a commercial probiotic will only have a few strains.

There are several strains that we know are useful in the gut and often because they help crowd out problematic strains, such as candida. Some strains are known to be anti-inflammatory such as the lactobacillus plantarum which is often recommended to people with IBS. The predominant strain researched in the Cochrane collection was lactobacillus rhamnosus. If you do have more specialised health problems you may need advice on tailoring the strains to suit your particular needs.

Christine Pope is a nutritionist and homeopath who practices at Elemental Health at St Ives. She can be contacted on (02) 8084 0081. If you are looking for practitioners in other areas of Australia have a look at the metagenics website which lists practitioners who are experienced at working with probiotics and natural medicine.