I went to the doctor's the other day for my annual physical: something I hate to do and perhaps don't do often enough, certainly not annually. My doctor, a great guy otherwise, is -- not unlike many doctors -- absolutely uneducated on nutrition. In the past, making concessions for my veganism (a lifestyle he thoroughly disapproves of) his advice to me on warding off weight gain has been to drink a protein smoothie in the morning, eat a protein bar for lunch, and dine on processed meatless patties and salads for dinner.
I've tried doing things his way, and then, fed up, gone back to eating the more healthful, fresh foods I love, like beans and whole grains.
This time, when I gave him a rundown of my diet, he stopped me at "chickpeas."
"Do you know chickpeas are very high in calories?" he asked me. "They can cause weight gain."
I was a little dumbstruck, literally, because I had never expected chickpeas to be cast as unhealthy food. Not by a doctor, not even my doctor. Yes, chickpeas have calories, like every food you can possibly eat does, but I am not deep-frying them or smothering them in cheese or eating a bucketful at a sitting. And chickpeas, like all legumes, also have tons of fiber, and protein, and they are naturally fat free. I love them, and I can't imagine giving them up for chicken, as this doctor would have me do.
"I'm not giving them up," I told him out loud, and he shrugged. Well, that's your problem, he seemed to say. "Most vegan diets are too high in carbs," he repeated, even gloating to me that despite literature and arguments brought forth by me and other patients of his who are plant-based (numbering in the hundreds, he said), he hasn't been swayed. He then warned me to prepare for a lifetime of taking prescription medications.
My results came back the following day, and, not surprisingly, everything was just fine, no need for prescriptions. Thanks to my vegan diet, it was my turn to gloat this time. To which he went on to tell me how he could never go vegan and about the one whole day when he tried to be a vegetarian, because a relative convinced him to try it.
"I couldn't do it -- I dreamed of cheeseburgers all the time," he threw over his shoulder, before closing the door behind him.
No, I haven't yet dumped him, because, honestly, how many doctors are out there who are equipped to give you sound advice on nutrition? But isn't it common sense that doctors should be educated in nutrition so they can prescribe pills less often and focus instead on preventative, health-promoting advice, like eating a plant-based diet, at least mostly if not exclusively?
There is so much evidence around us today that eating more plants prevents some of the deadliest diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Even the latest U.S. dietary guidelines, released this week, talk about meat reduction and eating more plants, despite the heavy influence of meat and dairy lobbies on the way the guidelines are shaped.
Because I've never been able to get satisfactory answers about nutrition from a doctor, I have always tended to educate myself on food and what kind is good for the body -- important whether you're a vegan or not -- to make sure that my family and I are eating balanced, healthy meals that taste good to our tastebuds and feel good inside our bellies. Like this vegan Tuscan White Bean Stew with sun dried tomatoes.
Tuscan food appeals to me for many reasons, the chief ones being its frugality, freshness, and ease of making, especially in large quantities. The deliciousness, of course, goes without saying.
This vegan Tuscan White Bean vegetable stew, called a Ribollita, has it all. It's full of healthy proteins and sunshine-y vitamins to keep you looking and feeling good. The white beans are creamy and melt-in-the-mouth, the red pepper flakes and garlic add a fragrance to die for, and the sundried tomatoes-- well, they take an already delicious dish into sublime territory.
Try making this over the winter with some Rustic Tuscan Bread, and tell me if you don't think food like that is what we should all eat every day. Not just because it's good for us, but because it tastes so darn good.
Try these recipes next:
Vegan Tuscan White Bean Stew
- 1 cup dry or 2 cups canned white beans like navy beans or cannellini beans or great northern beans. If you're using dry beans, soak for a few hours then pressure-cook or cook on the stovetop, covered with water, for an hour or as long as it takes to tenderize them.
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 large onion finely minced
- 1 large carrot finely chopped
- 2 sticks of celery finely chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 8 ounces of cremini or button mushrooms sliced or quartered
- 2 vegan Italian sausages like Field Roast (optional), removed from the plastic casing and minced
- 8-10 sun dried tomatoes (try to make sure you buy ones that are not oil-packed but are still quite juicy and tender. The dry hard ones can be a little bitter)
- 1 tsp dry rosemary
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tbsp oregano if using dry reduce to 1 tsp
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 2-4 tbsp parsley finely chopped
- Place the sundried tomatoes in a blender with the rosemary and oregano. Blend with ¼ cup of water into a coarse paste.
- Heat the olive oil and add the onions, celery and carrots. Season with salt and ground black pepper.
- Saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened but not turning color, about five minutes.
- Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and stir-fry for a minute.
- Add the mushrooms and saute about three to four minutes or until the mushrooms soften slightly.
- Add the cooked beans and the sundried tomato-herb paste. Stir well to mix. Add water or vegetable stock to thin out the stew if it's too thick.
- Bring the stew to a boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes so all the flavors merge together.
- Stir in the lemon juice and oregano and turn off the heat. Serve hot with some crusty bread or couscous.