Healthy Vegetarian Cooking Presentation

Good Evening Everybody. Thank you all for coming here tonight. As Michelle just mentioned, I’m Vidya Nahar. I teach yoga, Pilates, aerobics and strength-training. I’m a fitness instructor. I’m not a dietitian or a nutritionist by profession or formal academic training. But I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian. I was born and brought up in a family where vegetarianism was big part of religion due to emphasis on non-violence towards all living beings. As I grew older, I discovered numerous benefits of vegetarian eating and I’m thankful for being brought up as a vegetarian.

I must tell you that vegetarian diet automatically doesn’t mean healthy diet, if one’s idea of vegetarian eating is only donuts, French fries, cookies, sodas and coffee. My major switch from a vegetarian to a conscious healthy vegetarian came about 15 years ago, when I started reading books written by Dr. Malti Karwarkar. She is a practicing nutritionist based in Mumbai, India. Because of her husband’s job, she traveled worldwide and was introduced to various ethnic cuisines during those foreign stays.

When she permanently returned to India, she realized the need of educating masses about eating right, about taking holistic approach toward eating. We’re what we eat. Eating, drinking included is arguably the most important thing after breathing for sustaining our bodies. Our diet makes an impression on our bodies and our minds. So we owe it to ourselves to be very aware, very careful about what we put inside us. As responsible adults, it is our duty to take care of ourselves and our families, who depend on us. We cannot blame the government or commercial food manufacturers or our parent for our eating ills. I congratulate you all for making this conscious decision to be here and for actually being here today. Obviously you all want to take charge and maybe make some changes to your diet that will bring positive changes in your life. Can some of you share your reasons for being here today?

Excellent! Before we move our discussion to actual healthy vegetarian eating ideas, let’s just glance at the benefits of such a diet. Note that, I always mention healthy vegetarian and not just vegetarian. Because even if you’re a vegetarian, you can harm yourself if your diet mainly consists of processed carbohydrates, saturated fats, incomplete proteins, empty calories given by sodas and nutritionally lacking foods. I would again like some input from you. What do you think some of the benefits are of a healthy vegetarian diet? Great! Are there any dietitians or nutritionists here today? No? See, we don’t have to be professionals to know the benefit of a healthy vegetarian diet. Although some cultures have been practicing vegetarianism for several centuries, in the west, we started hearing about and accepting vegetarianism very recently. Now all the major health-related organizations such as American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, World Cancer Research Fund, etc. endorse and promote properly planned vegetarian diets for healthy lifestyle.

Let’s summarize all the benefits again:

1) Less heart disease, because of low saturated fats and cholesterol content of a vegetarian diet.

2) Less cancer, because of abundance of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber found in fruits and vegetables. Low fat diets protect against breast cancer and colon cancer.

3) Less bowel disease, because high fiber based vegetarian diets increase the ease with which the food can pass through the system. Shorter transit time reduces the contact between digestive juices and lining of the intestinal tracts.

4) Less obesity, as it is easier to plan a low fat, low calorie diet for a vegetarian than for a meat-eater. 5) Less hyper-tension, due to low sodium diets. 6) Better endurance, because body uses carbohydrates based glucose and not the proteins to produce energy.

Listen to this Position Statement of American Dietetic Association: It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

This is what American Heart Association says: Vegetarian diets can be healthful and nutritionally sound if they are carefully planned to include essential elements.

Choosing a non-vegetarian lifestyle has a significant health, medical, social and environmental cost. The total direct medical cost in the U.S. attributable to meat consumption were estimated to be $ 30 – 60 billion a year, based upon the higher prevalence of hyper-tension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity, food-borne illnesses among omnivores compared with vegetarians. This is just from last Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune. Health-Beat from Tempo section  states that a new study finds that the lifetime bill for treating a woman’s heart-disease-linked angina could total $1 million. Even chest pain associated with mild artery blockages called non-obstructive coronary artery disease, could top $750,000 or more over the lifetime of a person. The same column goes on to mention that low-fiber diets can promote hormonal imbalances that lead children to overeat, one researcher warns. Current food manufacturing practices create a “toxic environment” that dooms children to being overweight, said Dr. Robert Lusitg, professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. In particular, too much fructose and not enough fiber appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin. He noted that obesity is now the most commonly diagnosed childhood ailment in the United States. Diseases previously only seen in adults, such as type 2 diabetes are now becoming widespread in children.

See how it all revolves around sound eating practices. By now, we all agree on the benefits of appropriately planned healthy diets. Now the big question is what counts as appropriately planned vegetarian diet? How to incorporate those healthy eating habits in our everyday lives?

Here is VYANJAN’s 12-S list to guide you along this path. These are the changes and decisions I consciously made and implemented in my and my family’s diet. They’ve worked very well for us so far and I hope, they are of help to you, too. You’ll have the list with you. We’ll go over it one item at a time. If you’ve doubts or questions, please feel free to ask me anytime.

VYANJAN’s 12 - S

1) Soaking – This is the first and foremost idea for making vegetarian cooking simpler. Vegetarians use a variety of dried beans and lentils in place of meat and fish as sources of protein. Best way to cook these dried beans and lentils is to soak them before cooking. Put nature to work for you. Pre-soaking the bean is not necessary for cooking the beans, but soaking in warm water for 12-24 hours makes beans more digestible and reduces their cooking time. You can even eat soaked beans directly without cooking if you have a healthy digestive tract. 
Nuts such as almonds, peanuts can be soaked overnight to increase their digestibility and makes them flavorful and juicy. Soaking releases enzyme inhibitors in nuts and seeds. Soak the beans in just enough water to immerse them. Next day don’t throw out the water, as lot of nutrients will be wasted that way. Instead, cook the beans in the same water. Add some more water, if necessary. For cooking soaked beans that are harder, such as, black beans, kidney beans (rajma), chic peas (kala chana), Garbanzo peas, use a pressure cooker. Softer beans, such as Moong beans, Moth, Masoor (all available in Indian grocery stores or ethnic isles of mainstream grocery stores), black eyed peas can be cooked in a regular saucepan by covering with lid while cooking on slow heat.

2) Sprouting – Sprouting is the next stage of soaking. Although you can eat your beans raw after soaking, wait and let them sprout before eating. A sprout is a stage between a seed and a plant. A sprouted bean is an excellent source of whole proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Sprouting is a great way to grow your own organic food every day. It’s the cheapest, quickest and freshest organic food you’ll ever find, other than a mother’s milk. Cheapest, because you’re not paying for a store’s overhead and selling costs, quickest, because it takes only days for a sprout to grow vs. months it takes for a plant to grow and freshest, because it grows right in your own kitchen in front of your eyes without any chemicals, preservatives, etc.
Seeds are in their peek nutritional form, when eaten as raw sprouts. Other than eating raw you can use your sprouts in oatmeal, soups, stir-fry, noodles, rice, baked dishes, sandwiches, and everything else that you can think of. Every bean / nut can be sprouted. Seeds use their proteins and carbs to make sprouts. Hence sprouts have lower calorie count than seeds, if compared weight to weight. My favorite beans to sprout are Moong, Moth, Masoor, Garbanzo, chic peas, white peas, fenugreek seeds and black eyed peas. For sprouting, soak the beans overnight in a dark, warm place (75 degrees or higher is a good temperature for soaking / sprouting). After 12-15 hours of soaking, remove them from water and put them in any dry vessel (plastic, stainless steel or glass). Cover the container with a sieve or a mesh-like lid, so the container remains aerated. Keep the container in a dark place at room temperature (75 degrees or higher). If your room temperature is lower than that, cover your container with a thick towel when you’re soaking the beans and put the container by a running vent in your house in winter time. Let the seeds sprout for 2-3 days. You can store your sprouts in refrigerator for 5-6 days (in a tight lid container). I’ve added sprouts to a variety of items today. Sprouts are whole proteins, rich in vitamins and minerals and fiber.

3) Steam – cooking is a great way to preserve maximum nutrients in your sprouts or vegetables vs. deep frying or boiling. Use pressure cookers for hard to cook items. To retain the most nutrients possible, most experts recommend that you use as little water as possible and cook foods rapidly because many vitamins are sensitive to water, heat and air exposure. Water used for cooking can dissolve and wash away water soluble vitamins, while the heat deteriorates them. The best way to destroy vitamins is to cook your food in an open pot of boiling water and draining away that water or baking at high temperatures.
Foods are generally more nutritious when steamed and as additional fat is not required for cooking, they are also healthier and lower in fat. Even in recipes, where higher fat content ingredients are called for, lower fat alternatives can generally be substituted such as low-fat milk, cream and cheese. Steaming is a moist cooking method using the natural convection method of heat that is traveling in air, steam or liquid. This gives tender results because foods are not exposed to intense, dry heat as with other cooking methods. Steaming protects foods from direct heating or burning. When the pressure is on to eat right, you can’t eat healthier, tastier and faster than in the pressure cooker. Pressure cooking makes it easy even for the busiest cooks to prepare meals from scratch and take advantage of the “Fresh is Best” philosophy of cooking. It saves energy, uses less heat, less water and wastes least nutrients.

4) Stir-fry or shallow fry is the second best method of cooking vs. deep fry. Instead of deep frying your vegetables or dough, use a shallow pan or a skillet with oil and lid to cook your vegetables, patties or rotis. I’ve samples of shallow-fried rotis today. In 2002, Swedish Food Administration discovered high levels of compound acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods, when cooked at high temperatures. Earlier studies have found acrylamide to be a health hazard and laboratory studies on animals suggest it can induce cancer, cause generic damage in sperm and have adverse effects on reproduction and development. Foods baked commercially at high temperatures also pose the similar risks to health. Remember, you don’t have to put up with any of these risks. You can easily eliminate these risks by choosing to cook in healthier ways.

5) Seeds – Nuts can be eaten raw and play an important role in vegetarian diets. I’m talking about oil seeds and nuts such as raw, unsalted sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, walnuts and many more. These seeds contain essential oils, are rich in vitamins and several minerals, improve body’s HDL, which is good cholesterol and help reduce LDL, which is bad cholesterol. Seeds are also a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber fights cholesterol in the body and moves food faster through the system.

Nuts are good crunchy snacks instead of chips and cookies. Make sure, you eat your nuts either raw, roasted or soaked in water, but not salted or fried. I make my own fresh trail-mix for my family every day with soaked almonds, raw shelled sunflower seeds, walnuts, pecans, raisins, home-roasted peanuts, dates, roasted chic peas and pumpkin seeds. Just mix them in proportion every day and mid-day snack is ready. No cooking hassles, no commercially made junk foods, provides good fats to body and so easy to make, even children can make it. Commercially made granola bars or other snack bars usually contain high-fructose syrup, hydrogenated oils and preservative chemicals, which are all hazardous to your health. Instead of buying your sicknesses with your own money, I highly recommend you try making your trail-mixes at home. Please do not add any candy to it. You can also add your seeds and nuts to your soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta and the possibilities are endless.

6) Spices and herbs make food more appealing by adding taste, texture, color and aroma to food. They are usually loaded with medicinal healing and disease preventing qualities, anti-oxidants and digestive abilities. Spice, the very word conjures up visions of exotic places and tastes. A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetative substance. Possibilities of cooking with spices and herbs creating a variety of flavors are endless. It is not very hard to use spices on daily basis in your food. The spice that has been lately in news a lot and that you’d be hearing more and more about is turmeric. Latest scientific research has proved what a common Indian householder has known for centuries, that turmeric is loaded with anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anticholesterolemic qualities. Turmeric is main ingredient in curry powder. I use cumin, mustard, turmeric, carom, fennel, fenugreek, coriander, chili, pepper on daily basis in my food. Use them moderately and that will make food taste just right vs. make food very hot and or very spicy. Refer to my recipe for Tadka to see how you can use spices every day. Most of these spices are available in mainstream and ethnic grocery stores these days. The food samples that I’ve brought today are made using a variety of spices. Along with spices, use herbs like cilantro, parsley, methi, garlic and ginger to flavor your food. Medicinal herbs have been used safely and effectively since the time of recorded history. You can find a lot of information on spices and herbs on the internet. I’ve brought one page today showing the prominent medical qualities of different spices.

7) Several ingredients in one dish is my favorite idea of cooking. We need 40 nutrients - > 10 essential amino acids from proteins, 15 vitamins, 14 minerals and 1 essential fatty acid called linoleic acid every day to nourish our body. To get all the nutrients through food, it’s a good idea to combine several ingredients in a single item. For example, consider amino acids that play central role, both as building blocks of proteins and as intermediates in metabolism. Out of 20 amino acids, humans can produce 10, but the other 10 must be supplied through food. Failure to obtain enough of even 1 of the 10 essential amino acids, those that we cannot make, results in degradation of body’s proteins, muscles and so forth. Unlike fat and starch, the human body does not store excess amino acids for later use – the amino acids must be in food every day.

How to get these 10 essential amino acids from your diet every day? Grains have 9 out of these 10 amino acids, they have very little of lysine. Dried beans and oil seeds have 9 amino acids and very little of methionine. When we combine grains and beans then all the 10 essential amino acids are present. Presence of all the ten essential amino acids makes any protein whole protein. A good way to do this is to combine black beans with brown rice or serve kidney bean sprouts with pasta or Moong beans with noodles. The food samples that I’ve brought today are prepared by making use of this principle, combining several ingredients in one dish. This makes the meal whole meal. Make this a core philosophy of your healthy cooking. Mixing whole grains and dried beans in whatever dish you make will provide whole protein – whole meal to your family. 

8) Stay away from 5 white things – white bread, white flour, white rice, white sugar and white salt. They are all chemically processed foods. We should eat foods as nature made them. We must preserve the organic chemical salts in food, because once we remove them, we are likely to alter other chemicals as well. For example, table salt is an inorganic substance and hence is not of much use to us organic beings. Taking sodium from spinach, strawberries and carrots is better. Foods rich in sodium are often rich in chlorine and oxygen also. Processed, refined carbs lack essential factor of fiber or roughage. Dietary fibers are the indigestible portion of plant foods that move food through the digestive system and absorb water. You can think of high-fiber food as somewhat of a nutrition bonanza, because they tend to contain several other nutrients as well – including vitamins, minerals, and other valuable substances known as phytochemicals. Think brown rice instead of white rice, whole grain flours such as whole wheat flour, brown rice flour, raggi, which is red millet rich in calcium, oat flour, soy flour instead of white flour. Choose whole grain or multi-grain bread. Better even, make you multi-grain breads at home. Choose whole grain pasta over white pasta, brown sugar or molasses or even better just fruits such as dates, raisins over white sugar.

9) Slow carbs vs. low carbs should be emphasized. Past and present diet fads overemphasize single nutrients such as fat or carbs. These kind of strategies are restrictive and difficult to follow in the long term.
 Futhermore, other important food components are overlooked. One

such component is fiber, which we’ve discussed before. Because it contributes bulk to the diet, it promotes satiety and maintains it for a longer time than other nutrients. Since we’re full longer, we tend to eat less food and less calories. Our digestive system takes longer to break down these foods vs. processed carbohydrates, which get digested in the blood faster and make us hungry sooner.

There are two types of fibers – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber binds cholesterol in the blood and pushes it out of the system. It is found in dried beans, oats, barley and fruits like apples, citrus and seeds such as fenugreek. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, whole grains, cereals, seeds and skins of many fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fiber moves bulk through the intestines and balances acidity in the intestines. This promotes regular bowel movement and prevents constipation. It removes toxic waste through colon in less time reducing the risk of colon cancer. Eat fruits instead of drinking juices or smoothies. Remember, soluble or insoluble both kinds of fibers are available only from plant based diets. Eating raw salads and fruits with skins is a great source of fiber and other nutrients. Take some vegetables like beans, pickles, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, green peas out of your refrigerator in the morning to be eaten as midday snacks.

10) Seasonal fruits and vegetable are a wonderful source of nutrients. Nature is the best resource manager. Look at and listen to nature when you eat. Eat the fruits that are in season. Nature gives us juicy fruits such as mangoes, berries, melons, peaches, nectarines, figs in summer and dates, dried fruits in winter. Vitamin A, D, E and K are fat soluble and can be stored in the body until next season. Yellow, red, orange fruits and vegetables are great for vitamin A. Dry fruits are energy stores and give us much needed energy during winter time. Even though we can buy a lot of fruits these days throughout the year, buying them during their natural growing season is most advantageous for our health and wealth, as they are cheaper during their growing season. Look out for sales flyers to lessen the cost of organic buying.

11) Simplify and have a system to incorporate all these ideas in your daily cooking. Make up your mind to make more vegetarian choices when you go out to eat or buy groceries. Make a conscious decision about what you eat and why you eat that. Keep a stock of a variety of dried beans in your pantry and soak at least one of them in just enough water every night. Take them out of water next day and let them sprout over next 2-3 days. Count on nature as your friend. Let nature help you. Find out what combination of spices works for you, keep them in stock and use them. Add your sprouts to whatever you’re cooking. Use a pressure cooker with or without separator pans to cook whole grains and dried beans together.

12) Surprise yourself, keep experimenting. You now know the principles of mixing grains and beans in a single dish, sprouting, pressure cooking, eating fruits and vegetables in as natural form as possible. Apply these principles to your recipes, make suitable changes, come up with your own recipes. You can easily add variety to your cooking by changing proportions of spices. Healthy vegetarian cooking is acting in self-interest. You’ll keep a lot of preventable diseases at bay by planning and preparing your own healthy vegetarian meals.

Hope, this helps you.

Vidya Nahar.

This presentation was given by Vidya at Indian Trails Library in Wheeling, IL in August of 2006. 

A note by Dr. Malati Karwarkar (Vidya's inspiration) after reading above presentation:

  Vidya, you have thoroughly understood the principles of healthy vegetarian cooking.Your sincere efforts and interpretation of the subject will go a long way to impart the correct knowledge to whosoever reads this article.