A couple of weeks ago, my awesome boyfriend bought me a vegetarian cookbook that I am absolutely in love with. It’s called Vegetarian Cooking: At Home with the Culinary Institute of America.
I’ve only tried two recipes from it so far but they both turned out to be super delicious and quite easy to make, even for someone like me who is a self-proclaimed lousy cook. My success with the recipes helped to reignite my excitement and enthusiasm for being a vegetarian. It’s also pushed me to try a few new things such as cooking with tofu and making something called seitan which I had never heard of before.
A good trick for making tofu taste a little yummier is to first roll in in flour and then cook it in olive oil and garlic. This adds a nice golden brown crispiness to it. The trick with seitan on the other hand is to wash your pots and pans immediately after cooking it as we found that it stuck to absolutely everything.
We created the seitan by mixing Honeyville’s Vital Wheat Gluten with water in a food processor. It ends up basically looking and feeling like silly putty which was a bit alarming at first - I think my boyfriend may have been wondering just what exactly I was feeding him :). However, after cooking it on low heat for about 45 minutes in a mix of soy sauce and vegetable broth, it tasted great.
It has a nice dense consistency that makes it a satisfying meat replacement. It’s also a great source of vegetarian protein, offering a slightly higher amount than tofu with less calories and fat. Just make sure that you have some good SOS pads on hand for doing the dishes after.
I find this statement to be rather interesting. Not something I’ve considered before:
“It’s been said that in a hot race, water is better on you than in you. When we drink water in the heat, it must travel through our digestive system, into our veins, then out our skin before it can evaporate to cool our skin. Throwing it directly on the skin is much more efficient. Even better, holding the moisture against the skin allows the effect to continue over miles.”
So it’s been more than a few months now since I officially cut meat out of my diet, (ok, except for one cheat day when I had a hot dog at the baseball game). Much to my surprise, I feel better than ever. In my past, I’ve had issues with anemia so I just assumed that this would creep back up on me once I decided to go meat free. Quite the opposite - I feel more energized, happier, healthier and have been running better than ever.
I know that many people, (including my own family doctor), will always argue that the human body was designed to be carnivorous and that athletes especially need meat protein in their diets. With zero nutritional training, I’m not in a position to build an informed case against this. My decision to try a meat free diet was pretty whimsical as are most decisions in my life. I am currently reading Eat and Run and like many, was feeling very inspired by vegan Scott Jurek. I am also an animal lover and am drawn to the idea of no longer consuming them. On top of that, I was very proud of my mom who cut out meat for a good length of time, lost some weight and lowered her cholesterol in the process.
In this great blog post Can Athletes Perform Well on a Vegan Diet, three experts are quizzed on whether or not giving up meat is advisable for active people. The general consensus seems to be that the choice is fine as long as ample amounts of certain foods are woven into the diet. For example, vegetarian diets can often be lacking in creatine and vitamin B12. Eating enough grain, nuts and soy along with products fortified with B12, (such as cereals or soy milk), can help to overcome this challenge. And apparently, quantity plays a big role. To quote from the blog post, nutrition expert Nancy Clark states:
“Women need about 60 to 90 grams of protein a day, and athletes are on the high end of that. That means you have to eat cupfuls of chickpeas. And you can’t eat a quarter of that cake of tofu. You need to eat the whole thing. It’s not that there aren’t good sources of vegan protein. But it’s not as bioavailable as meat. So you need to have more.”
It’s also important to try and include multiple sources of protein to ensure that your body is getting enough amino acids, (eating tofu day in and out won’t do the trick). Since trying the meat free thing myself, I’ve begun to rely on staples such as chick peas, black beans, lentils, walnuts, almond butter, spinach and bok choy. One of my favourite, easy-to-make snacks is bok choy steamed with a little bit of butter, garlic salt and lemon juice – yum! For great recipes, advice and other information, I find Meat Free Athlete to be extremely helpful.
I would say that the most surprising change I have noticed is a serious uplift in my mood, (could be a coincidence?) Prior to cutting out meat, I was also experiencing some painful swelling in my body that has completely gone away. I know it’s never a good idea to self diagnose, however, I can’t help but wonder if avoiding the hormones and steroids that are pumped into today’s meat products is the reason I feel so much better. Though, I suppose the same could be achieved by eating organic meat.
As with any major lifestyle change, I think the decision to go meat free can be a very positive experience if done slowly and in such a way that is well thought out. Do your research and plan carefully. And most importantly, listen to your body – it will tell you everything you need to know.
Now if only I could ween myself off of Kraft Dinner!