Vesanto Melina, MS, RD is the co-author, with fellow dietitian Brenda Davis of a series of books that have become classics on plant-based nutrition: the award winning Becoming Vegan: Express Edition (2013); Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition (2014), Becoming Raw (2010), The New Becoming Vegetarian (2003), and Becoming Vegan (2000). She also has co-authored The Food Allergy Survival Guide (2004), The Raw Food Revolution Diet (2008), Food Allergies Health and Healing (2010) and Raising Vegetarian Children. Her Cooking Vegan was co-authored with Joseph Forest in 2012, and featured healthy delicious and easy recipes, all with nutritional analysis. Her books have sold over 650,000 copies and are in 8 languages.
Vesanto has a column in Canada’s Common Ground Magazine. She is an internationally known nutrition consultant and speaker, academic instructor and writer. She has taught nutrition at the University of British Columbia and at Seattle’s Bastyr University and some of her nutrition books are used as college texts.
Her speaking engagements and consulting have taken her across North America, the U.K. and Europe where she has given presentations to dietetic organizations, health professionals, vegetarian societies. She is a regular consultant for the Government of British Columbia (British Columbia Corrections Department). In addition to private consultations, she has worked with Dr. Dean Ornish Retreats and other health care facilities and projects.
Professional memberships include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association) and its Vegetarian Dietary Practice Group, Dietitians of Canada, College of Dietitians of British Columbia, and the Washington State Dietetic Association.
Vesanto Melina’s undergraduate training in nutrition was at the University of London, England and the University of Toronto, Canada. Graduate work included a Master’s degree in Nutrition at the University of Toronto, Ontario and graduate work in Adult Education at the University of British Columbia, and becoming a Registered Dietitian (RD).
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s November 25th, 2014. I always like to know what time it is–even though, you know what, there really is no time. But it is cool and lovely here in New York, and it’s one of my favorite times—autumn—and also just before Thanksgiving; we’ve got so many wonderful, good smells going on here in my home. I’m looking forward to the day when technology allows us to transmit smells across the internet or across the phone lines, so that we can really get to smell—and maybe even taste—things virtually. Wouldn’t that be something else? Than I could really share with you what’s going on here. I hope to be taking some pictures and things of some of the great things we’re making and post them later at my website, responsibleeatingandliving.com. Meanwhile, we do have some wonderful recipes up there for Thanksgiving and we’re going to be getting into more detail about lots of holiday recipes later on in the program. So I hope you’re ready and hungry for that. In the meantime, let’s move on and get started with the main event for today’s show. I’m going to be bringing on my guest, Vesanto Melina, who is the co-author with fellow dietician, CARYN HARTGLASS, who we had on the show several weeks ago. They’ve both authored a series of books that have become classics on plant-based nutrition, including the award-winning Becoming Vegan: Express Edition and the Comprehensive Edition, which just came out; we’re going to be talking about that. They’ve got a whole bunch of other books and you can read more about Vesanto at my website, or her websites, which are: nutrispeak.com and becomingvegan.ca. Hi, Vesanto!
Vesanto Melina: Hi, Caryn!
Caryn Hartglass: How are you?
Vesanto Melina: Good, I was just looking at what the number is today, November 25th!
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and is that a good day!
Vesanto Melina: Yes, it’s not only two days before Thanksgiving but also a month before Christmas and, for many of us, just moving into that holiday season that spreads for weeks.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s starting. The crazy time has begun!
Vesanto Melina: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: I was just thinking about this the other day – I always have a long list of things to do, and I’m always very motivated and disciplined, getting my work done. And somehow just a few days ago, it just came over me that it’s Thanksgiving time; it’s time to cook! And everything else disappeared, all the things I needed to do. I’m just allowing myself to do what I love most, which is preparing delicious food for a holiday, and I love it!
Vesanto Melina: Isn’t that fun! And it’s fun if you can do it together with other people. I really like that, too.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well I’m really lucky. My partner, Gary, is a great cook, and we like making different things. So he focuses more on the savory stuff, and I do more of the sweets. Although we kind of share everything, but one person focuses in the kitchen while the other person does some other things. And it’s just really harmonious right now.
Vesanto Melina: We have that, too, except I’m the kind that follows the recipe exactly, because I always need to make sure that it’ll be good for readers of our books. And they’re [the readers] reading at all different levels, some are gourmet cooks and some are beginners, so I want the recipe to be really clear and work for all these different kinds of people. Whereas my partner, he just likes to get adventurous and throw in mandarin orange slices into your fry, and do all kinds of things that I never would have expected. We approach it very differently and both come up with great food.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, I guess I’m a little bit of both, and there are some recipes that I like to make and so I like to follow them exactly so they’re always right, and other times I play around. I’ve actually been trying some new recipes from cookbooks (because I do have a lot of them), and it’s frustrating sometimes when the recipes haven’t really been tested. And fortunately I can handle it, but I do something and go, “This wasn’t proved” because this isn’t working and I need to play with it a little bit.
Vesanto Melina: I remember one weekend when we were doing recipes for Cooking Vegan (this was quite a long time ago). In a weekend I made twenty piecrusts, because piecrust used to be made with lard and hydrogenated fats and all that and I was trying to do it with different, more modern and health-oriented fats and it was quite the knock. But then we ended up getting it perfectly, and Chris had some really good pies around and had to invite hundreds of friends over to eat them.
Caryn Hartglass: Nice! Well that segues very nicely into one of the things I wanted to talk about, which I’m going to get to in just a moment. But I was doing something like that yesterday…I started making the pie crust for the pies I want to make for Thanksgiving, I had four in mind, and I wanted to do things a little differently. I haven’t quite come up with my favorite gluten-free crust, and so I was playing around with that yesterday, and a few recipes I was following weren’t going exactly as planned. But—happy ending—I got them all, and I’ve come up with a recipe that I personally like, which I’m excited about, and so that was fun. And now I’ve got my dough all ready to go for Thursday. But what I wanted to say was: things change all the time. Our knowledge changes, and we’re learning along the way, and so we have to modify our recipes to accommodate our new knowledge and our tastes and our learning. I’m sure you’ve seen that, even just writing the books that you have, you’ve learned new things along the way. That’s where all the new books come from, right?
Vesanto Melina: That’s right! We did our book, Cooking Vegan. In 1995, it was called Cooking Vegetarian. It was entirely plant-based at that time. But we were asked by our publisher to update it. And I thought, “Gee! Well that’ll be easy. We’ve already got great recipes in it!” So we didn’t think we had that much to do. But when we looked at it, the fat choices we would make had changed drastically. And there were a number of little things, and of course we had moved a little bit more towards whole foods, or quite a lot more towards whole foods, and our concepts about protein had changed a little bit. So we did end up changing what was already a wonderful cookbook that people loved and had great recipes to that cooking beacon that now is just beautiful but much updated. So it’s quite interesting, cause it was an already good book.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I think the message that’s important here is that we don’t want to be rigid, and we should just kind of flow with life because we know far from everything. We’re always going to be learning new things, and we should look forward to those new things, but not judge ourselves for doing things ‘wrong’ in the past. They weren’t wrong at the time; we’re just getting better all the time.
Vesanto Melina: That’s true! This is the hundred-year anniversary of when the first vitamin was discovered, that was 1914. They were tracking down vitamin A, “fat-soluble A” they called it. And then there was “water-soluble B” a few years later that turned out to be a complex of several vitamins, seven or so. Anyway, that’s a hundred years! And so the whole science of nutrition has really been moving along quite quickly since that century of time.
Caryn Hartglass: And unfortunately some people aren’t moving along with the new knowledge, and keep sharing old information. So people really get confused and misinformed.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. There’s quite a lot out there, isn’t there?
Caryn Hartglass: There is, but not when we listen to Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis, and get all the new updates in their wonderful books. I always use it as a great reference. I know that I can trust what’s in there.
Vesanto Melina: Oh, thanks! That’s what’s on our becomingvegan.ca website. That’s what some of the experts, medical doctors, the American Library Association, all these people, are saying, that this is the trusted resource.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s nice. And it’s true. Okay, so let’s just jump into “protein.” We decided we were going to talk a little about protein. It’s a subject that I think gets a little too much airplay. And it’s a very misunderstood nutrient.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right! And yet, it is really important. A lot of people have been shifting, say, towards Paleo diets, high-protein diets. And finding that approach can be helpful for their weight loss, and yet they’re choosing a diet that is also leading them towards more cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes; it’s got its perils in it, even though you can lose weight. But it made us look at the whole protein issue very carefully. And update out ideas about that as well, because I personally like to have a pretty high-protein diet. But I choose to have one that’s based on plant foods. I think, as we get older, we find that we possible don’t need so much of the grains, unless we’re a competitive athlete or something like that. What we need are the protein-rich plant foods and all the vegetables and fruits. Those are the priorities that come up.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so not all protein is the same.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. The amino acids that are present and that we require are all in plant foods. But we definitely need an assortment of foods to get those amino acids. And an assortment of plant foods works extremely well to give you every single one of these essential amino acids (or a newer phrase for that is “indispensible amino acids”) that we need.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s great being a dietician and knowing about human physiology, and all the different things about food and nutrition, but people can really be overwhelmed when they hear this information—hear chemical terms that are hard to pronounce—but we really don’t need to know this. I mean it’s good that people like you know this and can write some books that we can refer to. But it’s not hard to eat healthfully and deliciously, that’s the point I wanted to make.
Vesanto Melina: That’s very true. Some people like to do gourmet cooking and just wow their friends, and have things that are very beautiful and elegant and that are plant-based. Some people like to have a handful of peanuts and a few bananas, and have a smoothie that has some vegetables and fruit in it, and that’s great. I’ve got the rest of my life to live – I’m not going to spend the rest of it in the kitchen – but I still want to be healthy and plant-based.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I’m happy in the kitchen. But I know most people aren’t. Some people ask me, “How do I know I’m getting a balance of nutrition?”
Vesanto Melina: Okay. Well some of the ways that people can get into trouble about protein, and not get it right, are first of all if they’re not getting enough calories overall. If we’re on a weight loss diet, or on a very limited caloric intake, for some reason—an elderly person with a tea-and-toast diet—then our protein-intake can certainly be low, and the intake of many other nutrients. The other one is if we’re on kind of a junk-food diet, because we can still eat a lot of potato chips which are vegan or plant-based and candies and sweets and chocolate bars, and just grab those kind of things because we weren’t quite sure what else to have. And the third area is with a raw food diet that’s mainly fruitarian. So these are the three that can be low in protein. And that would be true if you had a diet that included animal products as well. You can fail in any of these ways if you don’t get the balance right. But getting it right isn’t really that hard. And we certainly have moved towards suggesting more whole-plant foods, and that doesn’t mean you’re eating the whole plant. But it means that you’re eating things like peas and different vegetables; you’re not eating the sugar that’s extracted out of sugar cane or sugar peas. You’re eating vegetables and greens. You’re not just eating oils that are extracted out of something, like seeds. But you’re eating the seeds themselves—the tahini dressing—this kind of thing. It is so easy to meet your recommended protein when you’re eating a balance of vegetables, some legumes—which are really the protein superstars—and some nuts and seeds, and bitter fruit, some grains… just that balance. It easily provides the protein that an adult needs or a child needs.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m very excited about beans, even though we just started learning more about nutrition recently—like you said the vitamin was discovered a hundred years ago, which was really not a long time ago. But we keep learning wonderful things about beans! I get so excited about them because they have such a starring role.
Vesanto Melina: That’s funny when you say you get excited about beans!
Caryn Hartglass: Well I was just reading that they’re great for our bones.
Vesanto Melina: They are! They’re really good. And in our Cooking Vegan book, we really emphasize using legumes. People will often say, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve had baked beans” or “I’ve had chili,” But there are twenty different kinds of legumes that are eaten across America. So a lot of people aren’t aware of the many options until they really start to put their mind to it. So legumes are things that grow in pods. They have that little zipper down the side—a pod. Even lentils, they’re in this cute little pod on a bush. There’s lentils, there’s peas, there’s split peas. Can you think of the different kinds of beans that you like, and then I’ll add a few more?
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yes, there are so many of them. So there’s the pinto bean; there’s the kidney bean; there’s a variety of black beans; and there’s red lentils, green lentils, brown lentils; there are yellow split peas and green split peas; there’s adzuki beans; there’s garbanzo beans; there’s cannellini beans; and navy beans (which are white); then there’s a ton of beans that I don’t know the name of in the local Indian restaurant that I occasionally go to…wonderful variety, and cheap.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right! And apparently some that were in the pyramids—found from ancient Egypt—that we’re still able to sprout.
Caryn Hartglass: And fava beans!
Vesanto Melina: Oh, fava beans! And mung beans, that grow into bean sprouts. Peanuts are also a legume, and were discovered by George Washington Carver as a really important part of the diet that could up the protein intake and be at a very reasonable cost. And it’s so easy to have those for a desperate protein.
Caryn Hartglass: I have to remember, though, to say ‘legume’ and not ‘bean.’ I was having a conversation recently with John Robbins and he was preferring to use the word ‘legume’ and that ‘bean’ was kind of a lowly word and legume is more encompassing than bean is.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. And there are adzuki beans from Japan; there’s black-eyed peas, there’s little red cranberry beans; there’s edamame from Japan. And then they can be made into lovely things like falafels – the chickpeas are a rare and versatile type of bean. Most of the beans are extremely low in fat—like 3% calories from fat—way less than lettuce. They’re really low in fat. They’re high-protein, low fat. But the chickpeas are a little bit higher and that changes their texture a bit. And then the soybeans are higher in protein—they’re much more like animal products—and so they have different sensory qualities and different options for preparing them, changing them into tofu and this kind of thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Because of their amino acid profile we can do a lot of interesting things with them.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right! Oh, gosh. They’re amazing. Very versatile.
Caryn Hartglass: And with these legumes—not just soy—we can do so much with. And like I was saying, I recently read that there are new studies that show that they’re good for our bones, to eat beans. And then there’s this resistant starch that was recently studied a lot. And all of the things we’ve learned about where these legumes are digested, and how they protect against colon cancer. And…oh, there was something else I wanted to mention…what was it? Oh well…
Vesanto Melina: Well, if little kids have things like soybeans, it protects them from breast cancer in later life if they’re a little girl; and prostate cancer in later life if they’re a little boy. We’re finding that one or two servings a day of soymilk or tofu or edamame or whatever assortment they choose to use—tempeh—if they have that when they’re young and preteen and teenager, then later in life their risk of these devastating hormone-related cancers is reduced considerably.
Caryn Hartglass: Just from little ol’ beans…
Vesanto Melina: Just from little ol’ beans! That’s right!
Caryn Hartglass: So, hail to the bean! But people need to know, if they’re afraid of soy or allergic to soy for any reason, they don’t have to eat soy. There are plenty of other legumes—
Vesanto Melina: Nineteen other kinds! Don’t worry. I mean it’s way more options than you would get if you were just stuck with beef and chicken and pork. You’ve got twenty kinds of beans.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, you’ve mentioned athletes before. And this is a frequent question: What do athletes eat, or what do they need to eat, and can they get enough protein from plants, blah blah blah…
Vesanto Melina: Well, I guess we’re finding more and more of the really competitive athletes going towards plant-based diets. So we’re finding, for example, that there’s a website called veganbodybuilding.com. And there’s one called plantbuilt.com. And different athletes have shown up on these sites, and it’s quite interesting because they’re Olympic skaters, enforcers in the National Hockey League, long-distance runners, basketball players, just all kinds of people are turning out to be interested in both being winning, competitive athletes and being vegan. So it’s changed quite a lot, because people used to wonder. There’s ultimate fighters, cyclists like Brendan Brazier, tri-athletes. There’s Heidrich, who was considered one of the world’s fittest American women, the ten fittest American women, who in her sixties was winning Ironman triathlons. There are just all kinds of people.
Caryn Hartglass: And they’re not just feeling good and looking good—they’re winning.
Vesanto Melina: They’re winning! That’s right. Heidrich was considered one of the top ten athletes. And when we were in Hawai’i a while ago we had a friend, a cardiologist, who celebrated his eightieth birthday by jumping out of a plane twice. We were at the bottom taking pictures of him—not jumping out of the plane. But that was kind of fun. Doctor Bill Harris.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I spoke to him a while ago. He is one crazy but very knowledgeable fellow.
Vesanto Melina: Oh, and he’s good on the trampoline. I asked him (because his birthday was a couple years ago at 80; now he’s 82), I said, “Are you still jumping out of planes?” And he said, “Yeah, I’ve taken up paragliding too, though!”
Caryn Hartglass: Oh gosh, good for him.
Vesanto Melina: Yeah, it’s wonderful. We’re finding that all sorts of people, and all sorts of ages… And certainly I’m not recommending that everybody has to win their Ironman triathlon. It’s just good to get out there at the gym, to be cycling, that kind of thing; and enjoying your body and to stay really healthy into your later years, which is what I think we all really want.
Caryn Hartglass: And what are the life cycle issues we need to be concerned about?
Vesanto Melina: Okay, well for children: As you know, little kids can easily be tempted into a diet that is based on these sugary, high-fat junk food kind of things that are so heavily promoted to children—and also the calorie-laden beverages that are just based on carbohydrates.
Caryn Hartglass: And breads and mac-and-cheese.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. But children, if they’re exposed to vegetables early—that’s what they’re served, and if the parents are eating those too—they’ll get to love them. I know with my children, we started cooking together and preparing food together right from the beginning. My kids are in their mid-forties now and I’m a grandma, but they were enjoying food right from early on. You can give them a plastic, little stubby knife and a banana and let them slice it up when they’re really small; a piece of cucumber… I remember my son and I went on a TV program when he was one and a half and he could stir something on the TV program. They just have fun with things like that…so sensory! And you get all these gorgeous colors. So they will end up loving vegetables. And the thing with children is they don’t like some weird, gourmet recipe where they can’t even tell what’s in it. They like a piece of something that they can identify—a piece of papaya, a tomato, a carrot, this kind of thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Simple.
Vesanto Melina: They also like beans. They will enjoy those. They can pick up a little cube of tofu, whether it’s just simple, or if it’s marinated. And they’ll really enjoy that. And they like the texture, feeling it. So children’s diets are, in balance, pretty similar to adults. Just with this combination of legumes, or some form of it, like tofu. And the whole grains, the vegetables, the fruit. And our concepts for children have changed. This is one of the huge changes in the last couple of years – that, for allergy reasons, we used to be saying don’t give your little kid nuts and even tofu was delayed and this kind of thing. Now, we’re saying, introduce those (unless there’s some serious allergy that you know of), introduce them at six months/seven months. Those are good iron sources, and you can end up including them early. And the child builds up their tolerance with this early introduction. So that got completely turned on its head.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. You just can’t ever know. Now, a couple of things… So it’s the best thing, obviously, to bring children up with healthy food from day one, and to get them involved and interested, and they’ll develop good habits. But let’s say you’re a parent who didn’t do that with their children, and started to become more knowledgeable about the importance of nutrition; and foods that you may have thought were good, you’re discovering are not so good. And now your kids are a little older and you want to change the way the family eats, and you’re getting a lot of push-back. Do you have any recommendations for that?
Vesanto Melina: From the kids?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Once the behaviors and habits have been developed…
Transcribed by Mekala Bertocci, 1/9/2015
Caryn Hartglass: …recommendations for that.
Vesanto Melina: From the kids?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, I mean once the behaviors and habits have developed.
Vesanto Melina: Well, some of the things that have changed in recent years are that there are fast foods that are vegan and are plant-based and don’t have any cholesterol or saturated-fat in them. But there are still instants like there’s a lot of alternatives such as the Gardein products, the Eve’s products, you probably know a couple of brand names—they can be kept in the freezer and used for these instant options for meals. I find that one of the things…kids like to just like to be able to get something quick, they want it to taste good. They don’t really care whether it’s an animal product or not an animal product. What they want is fast and tasty. People can end up getting some actually very well designed and nourishing veggie burgers and keep those in their fridge and then a teenager can pull it out. I think a lot of times parents don’t want to be the short order cook for the family. They like it if a teenager wants to eat a slightly different way from the rest of the family that they take some responsibility for that. If they want something quick after school that they may be able to prepare that themselves. So just having things like veggie burgers around, hummus. I know hummus saved the day when my daughter…my daughter was a vegetarian before I was and she got a little bit anemic for awhile, as a teenager. Girls suddenly get this need for menstruation and the extra iron requirements and she was eating just what she could get really quickly but she learned to make hummus and her hemoglobin level got right back up to normal again. Because hummus is made with chickpeas, it’s got protein, it’s got iron, it’s got these good blood building ingredients. So she learned to make it herself. She made it all these different ways with different herbs, different kinds. Now you can go into a supermarket and get eight different flavorings of hummus and have those around and see which ones become the favorite and then have after school a tray of veggies—raw, cut up carrots, celery, all that kind of thing, pepper strips which increases the iron absorption—and then a dip like hummus, sometimes an avocado dip just for variety and the whole protein thing, the vegetable thing is solved very easily. It will just vanish.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s say hallelujah for hummus. It’s really saved the day, not just for your family but so many others. I’m so glad that it’s becoming more popular that you can almost guarantee if you’re at some party and there’s not going to be anything to eat there’ll at least be hummus.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. So many people are getting that. Another thing that we do is have bean salad around a lot. That can have maybe three kinds of beans. We’ve got in our Cooking Vegan book a multicolored bean salad. It has red pepper and corn and maybe celery in it. So it has some crunch in things that are added a bit later and then a lightly marinated combination about three beans, whichever ones you like. That can be just sitting there in the fridge. It’s just an instant protein source.
Caryn Hartglass: I know kids like that a lot. I know a lot of kids who like that. I wanted to say one thing about garbanzo beans which I remembered I wanted to say before when you mentioned hummus I remembered it. I recently read that garbanzo beans are extremely satisfying, more satisfying than any of the other legumes. Maybe that’s because it has more fat in it, you were saying?
Vesanto Melina: I think so. They have this kind of satiety value. They are slightly, slowly digested. A lot of the beans have a very good blood sugar leveling quality because they have a type of carbohydrate that’s released very slowly but I think chickpeas are quite special, also called garbanzo beans. They’re used in so many different cultures. Just around the world there are different meals and items made out of it. I just thought of another really, really easy one for kids: peanut butter sandwich. It’s so simple. I remember even with small kids you can let them spread their own peanut butter onto the toast or cracker or bread or whatever. They feel like they’re participating and making the meal.
Caryn Hartglass: I have an older big kid in this house and he loves his peanut butter sandwiches.
Vesanto Melina: And that’s so healthy. Several times in my life…I do nutritional analysis and I see clients and parents and this kind of thing and several times I’ve seen situations where either, in one case for severe allergy reason and in another case because of a kind of picky eater reason, the person wouldn’t eat very many things and I found that just with a very limited selection you can actually have quite a balanced diet and get your nutrient needs met. So I found even when a kid wouldn’t eat one single vegetable I’d say eat some papaya and some of the fruit that’s yellow and orange. They’d get Vitamin A from that and after awhile they get on to eating a broader variety of things.
Caryn Hartglass: Such a good message that if we’re eating whole minimally processed foods it’s almost a no brainer to get the nutrition we need.
Vesanto Melina: That’s true. That’s very true, yes.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned nutritional analyses. I know that’s kind of a staple that dieticians do very often for people that have recipes that they can come up with the analyses, but do we really need this analysis, these nutritional analyses with recipes?
Vesanto Melina: I’ve found that it can give people a kind of confidence. Like I’ve had people come and say my mother-in-law is just driving me crazy saying she’s worried about our child being brought up on a plant based diet and we’re aware that we’re giving them the healthiest diet we can. It’s a very good, nutrient-rich, but we need to prove it. Or we need to prove it for our doctor because our doctor…I mean doctors don’t learn about nutrition. They are so busy learning about medications and surgery and so on. They don’t have time to even learn even basic nutrition let alone plant-based. So I find that sometimes having a nutritional analysis of the diet… with young children we easily find their meeting their protein intake and then some, so it just proves to anyone that’s concerned whether it’s a family member or a health professional that doesn’t know that much about nutrition necessarily they go “oh good, well I guess it’s ok.” I had one grandmother actually bring her son and her daughter-in-law to a cooking class that I was doing a long time ago. She said she was just having nightmares that the baby who was being brought up vegan wouldn’t have enough calcium for adequate bone structure. She just learned a few things like the multitude of plant foods that can give strong bones to all the big herbivorous animals and to us—terrific bone structure. Then she was like “oh ok, now I can sleep.”
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad you brought up calcium. I want to get to your Cooking Vegan book in a little bit so we can end on a delicious note so just know we’ll be talking about that but I have two more nutrition questions. One is, exactly, about calcium. So people are concerned about calcium. Most of us are not dieticians and we’re clueless about nutrition but we hear these sound bites and we get worried. People think they need to supplement calcium but bones are a lot more than calcium.
Vesanto Melina: They are. It’s like a whole baseball team. You don’t just have the pitcher.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good.
Vesanto Melina: You’ve got the outfielders and all these different people. Bones are definitely made of calcium and we absolutely have to make sure like children who are being brought up on more plant-based diets need to have, for example, fortified soy milk or calcium-fortified yogurts and the Vitamin D in them. The Vitamin D is added to cow’s milk. We need to make sure that our non-dairy alternatives have the Vitamin D as well. So that’s one. And we can get calcium from greens, from the calcium set tofu, from almonds, from black beans or white beans, just lots of sources of calcium but we need that. We also need the Vitamin D that helps us absorb calcium. In New York in 2014 in winter you’re not going to get a lot of Vitamin D, the same right across North America, in these somewhat northern latitudes. So we need to have either a Vitamin D supplement or a fortified food that delivers Vitamin D which helps with calcium absorption. Then we need a host of other just minerals like magnesium, the Vitamin A that helps our bones remodel and grow. The Vitamin A is from all these yellow and orange plant foods—vegetables and fruits. There’s just a whole variety. And we need protein. We’ve established I think quite clearly that all these things do come from plant foods. So we need this mix of the colorful fruits and vegetables, the legumes, the nuts and seeds help and the fat in them helps with mineral absorption and the grains and fruits.
Vesanto Melina: Building strong bones is a complicated process and we need the rainbow of foods so that our body can get what it needs. We also need exercise too.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right! When people are stuck in bed and sedentary they start to lose their bone strength.
Caryn Hartglass: So we get some mixed information on calcium supplementation. So do we need to or not?
Vesanto Melina: It really depends. People are building bones at different ages. So little kids are at a bone building stage. They are well off if they are using these calcium fortified soy milks or things like that. They put down a good percentage of their calcium in the pre-teen years, then another big chunk in their teen years then we kind of level off with our bones. We want to have a good bone structure built by then. So that’s an important period to make sure we’re getting enough calcium. Then when we’re seniors we want to prevent losing calcium because after about menopause or age 50 our bone density starts to drop down a bit. Again we need to make sure that we’re getting, more at this point Vitamin D that helps us hold on to the calcium but some good sources. I think what we need in terms of supplements and when we’re older is a bit of calcium, maybe 250, 500 mg and we also need Vitamin D and especially as we get older we may even need a thousand or two thousand international units, more than the recommended. So there’s a lot of controversy about Vitamin D. Our concepts have changed drastically in the last ten years or so.
Caryn Hartglass: Another thing that we’re continually learning and we have to go with the flow. The last thing before we get to the recipes is Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. I talked a bit to Brenda about this a few weeks ago but I got some questions from people so I thought I’d talk a little bit more about that. One thing I recently heard in a documentary that I’m not going to mention and I didn’t like it very much but one of the doctors was saying that Omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory. I think this is where people really get confused because—and I want you to explain this a little bit more—but we need a lot of these nutrients like Omega-6 but sometimes too much is too much and too little is too little and we need the right amount.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. On a more plant-based diet we get plenty of Omega-6s. We really do—from nuts and seeds, some of the legumes, from tofu, even from different vegetables we get a lot of Omega-6s already. Inflammation has its value in certain stages of our life processes. But what we need is usually the balance of the Omega-3s to offset that. It’s not a matter of one’s good and one’s bad. We just need a balance and we don’t usually get enough of the Omega-3s. So the Omega-6s are really not a problem to get.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. And it’s not black and white. They’re not inflammatory all the time. It depends on how much we’re getting and how much Omega-3 we’re getting if we’re in balance or not.
Vesanto Melina: That’s exactly right.
Caryn Hartglass: The other question is how much Omega-3 do we need and where do we get it from and how much do we need from the sources?
Vesanto Melina: I think we need more research to keep evolving on that.
Caryn Hartglass: Good answer.
Vesanto Melina: What we’re finding right now that works quite well and I’ve been exploring this. You know Brenda and I really watch our own processes. Brenda’s in phenomenal health. She can do great handstands and leaps and all sorts of things. I’ve seen pictures of her doing that. I’m in good shape too. I go to the gym every day. We get lab tests done if we’re curious about something. I had this vegan health study done—once I had 146 lab tests done because I was curious. They were all about things like DHA and Omega-3s and everything, on and on and on. So I was quite clear and I actually had it done three times. I splurged because I was so curious about all these things. We’ve watched the research as well. It seems that we can manage quite well if we have like a teaspoon of flax seed oil or a tablespoon of some different oils like hemp seed oil, canola oil for the Omega-3s. In our Becoming Vegan Comprehensive Edition and Becoming Vegan Express Edition we’ve given very exact amounts and alternatives. So you can get your Omega-3s from oils, you can get them from ground flax seed and sprinkle that on things, use it to thicken a salad dressing, this kind of thing. You can use supplements that are from the same source that fish get their Omega-3s—DHA, from the microalgae. But we’re not really sure that people need that. It is very vulnerable to oxidation compound and we’re not sure… we can make it ourselves. We can make it from things like flax seed oil or ground flax seed, chia seed, hemp seed. We can make our own long-chain Omega-3s.
Caryn Hartglass: So it’s something that we’re going to learn a lot more about in the future because it’s one of these new topics people are looking into.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. Very, very lively and exactly how much. We’re not sure we want a lot of extra DHA because it’s easily oxidized and could become a damaging molecule then. Anyway, we’re kind of interested about all this.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about the fun part now and that’s the yummy delicious foods.
Vesanto Melina: OK
Caryn Hartglass: You have this wonderful book Cooking Vegan which came out a couple of years ago. It’s very comprehensive, has lots of great nutritional information but also great simple recipes. Let’s just dive into this. In Canada you celebrate Thanksgiving in October.
Vesanto Melina: We’ve had Thanksgiving. We’re getting ready for Christmas…
Caryn Hartglass: We always joke after Thanksgiving all the commercials start coming out about Christmas. Does that happen a month earlier for you in Canada?
Vesanto Melina: Here I saw Christmas trees this week, three of them.
Caryn Hartglass: Too soon.
Vesanto Melina: They just started popping up.
Caryn Hartglass: What did your Thanksgiving meal consist of this year?
Vesanto Melina: One of the fun things that I do is belong to a little group of friends—I live in a co-housing community. It’s a modern form of a village, a Danish concept. So we have 31 townhouses and quite a number of the people are members of a veggie meal club. Sometimes I’ve done this with neighbors and friends. So we each cook once in a rotation. So there’s ten of us. So we cook every tenth week. We get a lovely meal provided by someone else the other ten. With my partner and I we have to do it twice in the ten weeks. So we had this lovely meal of stuffed squash and gravy and then we made a kale wreath that has red peppers sprinkled on it. The kale is just lightly steamed and the red pepper looks like cranberries or like little berries on a wreath, those red berries, you know? A stuffed squash can be a very pretty centerpiece for Thanksgiving and that’s what we did with this little group. I took some pictures of it.
Caryn Hartglass: One of our favorites, too.
Vesanto Melina: Stuffed squash can be sliced. It’s got stuffing in it. It’s kind of like a stuffing with a wedge-shaped piece and then with gravy on it. The stuffing can be made gluten free. It can be made of quinoa. You can add nuts and seeds and corn and it can be very pretty with different vegetables, little pieces in it. So the whole dinner ends up being quite lovely. People don’t get this hugely over stuffed feeling where they can barely move after.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right, in a couple of hours you’re ready for leftovers.
Vesanto Melina: That’s a good thought.
Caryn Hartglass: We did it last year and we’re doing it again this year where we’re open from 2 to 2—2 p.m. to 2 a.m. We have different family and friends come through. Better in the neighborhood after their family events. So we have a family event and then other people come through and we just serve dinner and then we serve leftovers. We keep eating and you never feel bad.
Vesanto Melina: You mentioned about the gluten free pie crust. I just wanted to tell you one of my favorite of any pie I’ve ever made in my whole life, especially ever eaten in my whole life is a mango-strawberry pie with a crust that’s made of almonds, dates and coconut. It’s an entirely raw pie. And I would never have thought, it’s actually really easy. And it’s only got four ingredients.
Caryn Hartglass: Is it in this book?
Vesanto Melina: It is.
Caryn Hartglass: Here it is, page 236.
Vesanto Melina: All you do is grind up your little nuts, your almonds and add dates which stick the whole thing together, and coconut and then press that into a pie pan. Clean out your food processor and add some mango and add some dried mango that’s just been soaked for a little while. That seems to give a bit of body so that the mango doesn’t sag. Put that into the crust that’s been cooled in your freezer for a few minutes. So the crust is pressed into the pie pan and then you add the filling which is just mango, then put on some sliced strawberries or whatever you like for the beautiful decoration and that’s it. It’s gluten free. It’s like the best you could ever, ever eat. It’s really good.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m sure people have different opinions of the raw food diet and there are different kinds of raw food diets and I know that I did it for about two years. You and Brenda did a great book or a couple books.
Vesanto Melina: Becoming Raw, yes we did and Raw Food Revolution Diet.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things a lot of us have learned from the raw food world is the great raw desserts.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right!
Caryn Hartglass: You can’t feel guilty about these at all. They’re decadent and yet they’re made from whole foods and they’re good for you. Crazy.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. There’s a key lime pie in here too that’s really good, right around the same part of the book.
Caryn Hartglass: It kind of tells us something about nature and how important raw foods are. There may be a handful of raw foods that people are allergic to but for the most part we don’t have allergies to the simple foods that don’t need to be cooked and haven’t been manipulated and hybridized.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. They can be absolutely delicious, nice combinations.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmmmm, mango strawberry pie. Sounds very, very good. One of the things I like that you mention early in the book and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this in another book—talking about using your senses in the kitchen.
Vesanto Melina: Oh yes. This book was done with a professional chef, Joseph Forest, who was formerly a banquet chef in the Four Seasons Hotel. I got together with him. We did the first version of this book twenty years ago. I was a dietician and I didn’t have chef skills. So I’d be trying a recipe for this book and I’d have it all very nutritious and I’d give him a taste of it, what I thought was a good idea. His face would go kind of…that kind of person who’s polite, they’re not really saying what they think.
Caryn Hartglass: Mm hmm, what is this?
Vesanto Melina: Finally I tried a salad dressing that I’d experimented with quite a bit and the corners of his mouth went up and he said “I think you’re getting it”. It was so fun to work with somebody who’s got a very good sensory accomplishment which dieticians don’t get that as part of their training at all. Later on I did go to the Raw Chef’s School that Cherie Soria has in Fort Bragg and took three weeks of chef training there and that was so fun. We experimented with different combinations so I got to enjoy over time both the combination of flavors and also the visual beauty of food in a new way.
Caryn Hartglass: Here’s a problem with specialization which is going on in our society all over the place, specialization in everything—a dietician needs to know more than the nutrition in the food. A dietician needs to know how to prepare food. How can you help people if you can’t tell them how to make the food that’s good for them? The same thing with doctors, doctors need to know about nutrition because how can they advise people to take care of themselves if they don’t know what’s good for people to eat? Specialization—we need to expand a little bit.
Vesanto Melina: That’s right. There’s a website, a blog came out today—nutritionfacts.org?
Caryn Hartglass: Sure, Dr. Greger
Vesanto Melina: Yeah. He actually posted a website blog today that had some of the recipes that we’re talking about for Thanksgiving including pictures—nutritionfacts.org/healthy-holiday-eating/ it is.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, very nice.
Vesanto Melina: Yes, that just came out. This morning I saw it and it was some pictures we sent him of some of our Thanksgiving and holiday ideas. He’s an MD that has actually taken quite an interest in nutrition. If you look at our website becomingvegan.ca you’ll see some of the reviews that there are for our two books that there are a number of MDs that have acclaimed these nutrition books and really do take quite a bit of interest—of course Joel Fuhrman and Michael Klapper…
Caryn Hartglass: My favorite doctors
Vesanto Melina: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: The good guys.
Vesanto Melina: They are the good guys. They understand the body and health. Some of them really take an interest in food in quite a wonderful way.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Vesanto it was really delightful speaking with you and delicious and now I’ve got to go eat something because all this conversation about food has made me starving.
Vesanto Melina: Good. Caryn it’s such a pleasure to talk to you.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you so much for joining me during this hour and for everything that you’ve done. Please people pick up your copies of Becoming Vegan the Comprehensive Edition which will tell you everything you need to know or the Express Edition if you don’t want to digest every detail and this wonderful cookbook Cooking Vegan. All good stuff.
Transcribed by Mekala Bertocci 1/9/2015, Suzanne Kelly 2/23/2015