A New Kind of Normal

People often ask “what do you eat‘ since our major treatment for John’s heart disease is our diet.  We’ve researched a lot, talked to specialists in Houston, Cleveland, and Tulsa, and have gradually eased into our new way of eating.  In the year and a half since we began this life style change, John’s health has stabilized and his doctor’s say “keep doing what you are doing.”  John is grade-school skinny but that makes it easier on his heart.

We certainly aren’t experts but from what we have gleamed, it seems there are four major things that play very important roles in our health:

  • Exercise
  • Diet(included in this smoking, drugs, or alcohol)
  • Stress
  • Genes

John’s family has no history of heart disease and he’s never smoked nor drink alcohol. He was, however, exposed to second-hand smoke the first nineteen years of his life because his parents both smoked.  He also worked forty years at a very high stress job (where he was called out also in the middle of the night) and he wasn’t the healthiest of eaters either.  He recalls coming home one night after a long stressful shift.  Tired and hungry, he grabbed the first thing he could find…his dinner was a whole bag of croutons. Sometimes when his days were the busiest, he worked straight through with no stops for meals other than something quickly grabbed from a vending machine….so for him, two of the above four things were out of whack in his life.

For most of us, our world and how we eat has changed drastically over the years. so even when we’re trying to eat correctly, it’s difficult.  When I was a girl, most of our food came from our garden. In the summer it was fresh, in the winter it was from our frozen and canned stash, minus the preservatives of today.  Our meat was from our own grass-fed beef and in the early years our milk and butter were too.  Seldom did we have cheese or any processed foods.  In fact, I guess corn flakes, raisin bran, saltine crackers, peanut butter, white flour, and sugar are all I recall.   We never ate out, or picked up fast food as many in our generation do today.  The stage has gradually been set for more and more disease as our foods have become less and less nutritious.

I don’t propose to have all the answers but what John and I have done has changed our lives for the better.  We don’t do our diet perfectly or as well as some other extremely committed people, but I think we do pretty well.  AND It makes sense that if we are careful what gasoline we put in our cars and are faithful to change the oil every so many miles, shouldn’t we be more diligent about what we put into the bodies God has given us?  If we can’t pronounce the list of ingredients in something, chances are our bodies don’t need it and probably can’t use it effectively either.

That brings me to this, before John’s health crisis, I thought I ate well.  I’ve seen people take a dose of vitamins with a candy bar lunch.  I’d never do that.  I’ve seen people eat a whole bag of cookies or chips or a carton of ice cream at a time, but I’d never do that. I baked with butter and cooked with olive oil because I thought that was healthy.  I never skipped meals. BUT when I had my blood work done and my carotid arteries checked, it showed a forty-five percent blockage in my neck and blood work showed several high risk heart markers along with high cholesterol.  I needed to change some things too.  So with John’s situation only treatable with diet, and mine needing to change directions, we embarked on a plant-based diet….no oil, no dairy, no eggs, no meat. (“The China Study”, “Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease”, ” Forks Over Knives” the documentary(which can be watched online),  “Eat to Live,” “What the Health”(documentary),etc give info on why we choose plant-based eating)

So what does a Southern girl who has twenty plus well-worn cook books and forty-five years of learned recipes, filled with all the before-vegan-ingredients, re-learn how to cook and eat?  VERY SLOWLY!

For those who keep asking how we do it, this is for you.  We can have almost any veggie, fruit, or bean…as much as we’d like, though we have to major on the veggies, not the fruit. (Note: John isn’t supposed to have avocado or nuts because the ‘no oil’ is what is helping to reverse his heart disease.)

What do we eat?  I pick up the two ingredients pictured below at Sam’s and keep them on hand. I do this when we travel also. I buy fresh veggies and fruit a few times a week and try to always have a couple fresh bunches of Kale on hand.  I steam the kale and we eat it with our meals. or snack on it through out the day.  It is filled with vitamins, often called a super food. With the two tubs of ingredients below, I can always make a wonderful salad quickly.  I vary what I put in them but typically I’ll throw in a handful of shredded carrots, sliced mango (when it’s in season), chopped sweet peppers, cucumbers, shredded zucchini, segments of cuties, craisins, pumpkin seeds, edamami (thawed), black beans, or garbonzo’s etc. The more multi-colored stuff I can throw in, the more vitamins I feel we’re getting. Sometimes I’ll use shredded broccoli, some times I’ll chop an apple and toss it in along with a little lime juice.  I love adding fresh blue berries or sliced strawberries.  I’ll use a little of the dressing from the “Sweet Kale package” for myself sometimes but I’m learning to toss it and make my own oil free.  I make John’s dressing or use a vinaigrette (he eats no oil at all). With all the ingredients in the salad, you really don’t need much dressing and there are lots of great no oil dressing recipes out there.   I also have a recipe for just a straight kale salad(it’s at the end of this blog)that we fix and enjoy.  Different programs say eat at least 2 lbs of veggies a day….this puts us in the ball park of eating that much.

IMG_4069IMG_4070I use a lot of the Muir Glen products.  I buy their big cans of crushed tomatoes and use it in soups and sauces. One of our favorites soups (particularly in the winter)is tortilla soup with taco seasoning, canned corn, a big can of crushed tomatoes, one can rotel tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, pintos, and one small can chopped olives.  It’s great. Some days we’ll have it as soup, some times over rice, and sometimes over a baked potato.  We’ll throw steamed kale in our bowl–chopped fine, and John will top it with a variety of hot sauces. This is a great recipe to toss the ingredients in the crockpot before church on Sunday morning.

IMG_4071I make brown rice often in the Instant Pot, baked potatoes, both white and sweet potatoes.  I make hummus often from garbanzo beans and keep plenty of fresh veggies to dip in it.  I use canned, no fat refried beans to make a variety of mexican dishes.  That takes care of our craving for Mexican foods. : ) I also cook a variety of dried beans from scratch but I also keep cans of black beans, garbanzo beans, pintos, and kidney beans. They can be washed with water and drained and thrown on the salads for protein or used in numerous plant-based recipes.  Seasonings are key in cooking with no oil. I’ve broadened the seasonings I use a lot.  I make curried rice (recipe from the Forks Over Knives Reversing Heart Disease book) and a variety of casseroles, lasagna’s,etc.  John cooks a killer stir fry and we’re still learning new recipes.  Here are pics of a couple of our meals.  We love mango with our curried rice as you can see below.

IMG_0006IMG_0011We steam lots of veggies.  We’ve learned to love corn on the cob with nothing on it.  AND we love fresh green beans with veggie broth, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Below, you can see the kale salad with the grapes, pasta, and shredded carrots.  YUM!

IMG_1486IMG_0060We’re also asked often “what do you eat for breakfast.?”   Our answer, “OATMEAL!”   IMG_1472Gone are the days of donuts or McDonald’s sausage biscuits…two of my favorites!  It’s replaced with raw oatmeal (the regular, not minute)  We have a big container filled with oatmeal with a scoop in it.  We place a couple scoops of the dry oatmeal in a bowl, add a TB of chia seed, one TB of pumpkin seeds(Pepita’s raw), and lots of fruit.  John uses mostly berries, frozen or fresh.  I cut up half a banana and throw on a few almonds. Then we pour unsweetened almond milk over that.  It’s’s great, and sticks with you.  You can have cooked oatmeal too…this is just what we eat.  There are tons of recipes for a variety of healthy breakfasts available but we’ve gotten accustomed to this and it is what we typically have.  We travel with our container of oatmeal too.  : )

Below is a picture of a bowl of steamed kale.  I pull the leaf off the stem and discard the stem, chop the kale, and then steam it for about 6 of 7 minutes.  We’ve tried a variety of seasonings but have found we like it best plain.  We’ll walk by and eat a handful (by itself) or serve it on our plate along side what we are already eating.  When we first tried to eat kale, we didn’t like the bitter flavor, but once we chose to eat it for its health benefits…we developed a taste for it and now enjoy it.  Interesting, isn’t it? The picture next to the kale is of one of our salads.

IMG_0496IMG_1516So for those who wanted to know how we eat, hopefully you have a better idea.  When we travel or don’t have a salad bar near, Subway is one of our go-to places…veggie subs are really good(on whole wheat bread of course). (And by the way, I’m sure subway’s bread has oil and isn’t 100% legal but this is how we live)  We have practically all their veggies (asking they go heavy on the spinach), and double the cucumbers and tomatoes. I top mine off with a tiny bit of sweet onion dressing.  It does have sweetener so I go very light on it. John skips dressing or better still just gets a salad instead of the sandwich.  (If we’re traveling, I taken my own hummus with me and used it as my condiment on the bread.)  Also when traveling, we are excited when we find a Chipotle Grill.  It works well. Some Chinese Mongolian grills work for us too.  Some do use oil on their grill so you have to be careful.  We also love to fix a salad at Whole Foods (if we are near one when we are on the road) and traveling by car.  If in the RV, we bring our own veggies. : )  I also use the App “Happy Cow” to look for vegan places if we are on the road.

I do hope this sheds some light on our way of eating.  It takes some learning and trial and error but the benefits are well worth the efforts. If you’re interested, “Forks Over Knives” and Engine 2’s web sites have a wealth of info. So does Dr. McDougal’s web site.  I love the FatFreeVegan’s blog a lot too.  She has a wealth of delicious recipes and quite a few that I use regularly.  Also I have found several recipes here….Oh She Glows   and here BRAND NEW VEGAN. I’ll also share a few of my favorite recipes Mexican Lasagna, Favorite Lasagna, Pasta Fagioli, and Sweet Potato Lasagna.  I also love to make a burrito type casserole with refried beans, black beans, and seasoning of red bell pepper and plus garlic, cumin, and chili powder.

Below is our favorite salad recipe, its keep very well in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.  It took a lot of trial and error to come up with these recipes and links to blogs, but they’re all good.  Hope it helps you on your journey too.  It was very overwhelming at first for me so don’t get discouraged.  Find what works for you. After all, I was a mayonaise, butter, and bacon loving gal.

Quinoa Kale Salad  

-kale, snipped or torn into small pieces –

cooked and cooled quinoa(I’ve used the quinoa pasta)

-lemon zest and fresh lemon juice

-shredded carrot (optional) -craisins – raw sunflower seeds -red grapes, each grape cut in half -(optional) small amount brown sugar in a little bit of warm/hot watIMG_5200.JPGer If you use it for the dressing, dissolve some sugar in the hot water and whisk thoroughly to dissolve. Set aside to cool a little.

Place kale in large bowl. Combine freshly squeezed juice with sugar mixture if you use it. Pour juice only or juice/sugar mixture over washed and chopped kale- massage it in until it coats the kale thoroughly. Add in quinoa and toss thoroughly. Add in grapes and raisins and zest and carrot. Toss again. If you use them, dust with sunflower seeds before serving.  This is so good!

I’m so thankful there are so many resources available to help us all on our journey.   Hope this helps you a bit too. Blessings to you.

Additional Notes to help you: Applesauce is a substitute for oil in baked goods.  1 TB spoon of ground flax seed with 3 TB water is a substitute for eggs in baking.  Nutritional Yeast is high in B-12 and gives things a cheesy flavor. I sprinkle it on a lot of our casserole dishes. We saute veggies in vegetable broth, using non-stick pans.  I make our own bread often but have also found a brand named “Dave’s.  We buy it at Sprouts but you do have to read the list of ingredients on Dave’s. One of theirs has oil but most don’t. Avoid all white refined products like flour, pasta, bread, or sugar.  Choose whole wheat instead.  Most pastas, spaghetti and lasagna come in whole wheat.  I substitute honey, or maple syrup for sugar and use frozen bananas often for sweetener too.  Frozen bananas, thrown in the food processor with frozen fruit makes a delicious “Nice Cream.” It fills our need for ice cream, gives us a couple of servings of our fruit, and is nutrition filled.

Also contemplate Daniel 1: 11-14

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates