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8 Things I've Learned as a Vegetarian

HealthAmanda Walter | Maple AlpsComment

I’ve been a vegetarian for a long time now. Over the years, I’ve had many people ask me about it and just the other day, I sat down and wrote out a few things I’ve learned from my experience. It’s so natural for me as I view it as a lifestyle rather than a dietary restriction. It has become second nature to me, and I feel better and more intentional with my food choices. Vegetarian is the only title I exclusively “subscribe” to when asked about my diet, though we mostly eat completely plant based at home.

There are a few things I’ve learned over the years, and I’m going to share 7 of them with you today!

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8 Things I've Learned as a Vegetarian | www.maplealps.com

Cravings Change, and so do taste bud preferences. This has definitely been true for me. Tastes and even certain smells (like meat cooking) that used to be so good to me now make me feel ill. I remember a time when I thought I could never go completely vegetarian, and I was totally wrong. Now, I can’t imagine going back.



One can still be an unhealthy vegetarian! I know a lot of people who are vegetarian who are unhealthy. I also know a lot of people who don’t understand that it really is possible to be healthy as a vegetarian. Crazy, right? Even as a vegetarian, it’s important to eat your daily servings of vegetables, fruits, and grains! Getting the nutrition one needs is important. Substitute meat products are oftentimes even less healthy than the actual stuff, so I’m careful about them and limit the amount of processed foods I consume. I’ve caught myself from time to time not eating as healthy as I could be, even as a vegetarian! Making sure I plan meals ahead helps reduce the amount of processed and unhealthy food we consume!

 
meal planning guide | www.maplealps.com



B12 is important. There are a few supplements to consider when going vegetarian. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak. Vitamin B12 is necessary for us to function properly, and yet it is hard to get on a vegetarian diet (and especially on a vegan diet).  Finding vegetarian supplements (I use this B12 from Amazon) and buying fortified nutritional yeast flakes to add to food help with B12 levels. A few other supplements I’ve needed as a vegetarian have been iron and vitamin D.



Protein is actually pretty easy to get enough of. Besides finding out that protein is easy to get, I found out that so many people became concerned with my protein levels once becoming vegetarian. It turns out, however, that protein is not the main concern when going vegetarian after all! I mean, of course cows get protein somewhere, right? It is indeed possible to get plenty of protein on a vegetarian diet. Some examples of some high protein foods are edamame, beans, dark leafy greens, and my favourite, tofu. By the way, my doctor of many years has never once asked me if I get enough protein and she knows I’m a vegetarian. She doesn’t seem too concerned.



Reading Food Labels is Key! It’s interesting what foods we may assume are vegetarian are indeed not! Reading food labels ensures food really is animal-product free or vegetarian-friendly. Barbeque chips, marshmallows, and even some vitamin capsules are just three examples of snacks that are not usually vegetarian-friendly. Ideally, one should be eating foods with no labels at all (fresh produce, bulk grains, etc.).



It is not that weird after all. When I first went vegetarian years ago, there were so many people who thought it was the strangest thing. Nowadays, there are a lot of people who choose to go vegetarian, either for health or ethical reasons. It is much easier to live and eat out and enjoy lots of different foods now. I enjoy food more because experimenting with foods is enthralling and fun! I’ve met so many new people who have taught me how to enjoy life as a vegetarian.



Being a vegetarian has made me more mindful. Instead of just being okay with everything I eat, once I decided to be vegetarian, I became more mindful of what I was putting in my body. I want to make sure that my food nourishes me, not just fills my stomach. Of course, you don’t need to be vegetarian to be mindful of your consumption habits, but it has helped me on the course of healthier living.



Vegetables are tasty AND pretty! I love experimenting with different vegetable combinations to make delicious meals! And I love the color that is added to my plate. because of them! If I have a meal that has too many brown tones, I immediately start to miss my fresh veggies - I can’t go without them!


Are you a vegetarian? What have you learned about it?


 
vegan pantry | www.maplealps.com
 

Going Plant-Based? Here are 15 Things to Think About

HealthAmanda Walter | Maple Alps5 Comments

Different individuals want to go plant-based for different reasons. Some are told by a medical professional to do so, others just want to because they see the benefit (or saw too many documentaries). Whatever your decision, it’s important to note that going plant-based should not be seen as a diet. It is a lifestyle that will greatly improve your wellbeing and life!

Several times this past year I’ve been asked about how I went about going on a plant-based diet, and so I decided to share some tips on the blog. My plant based journey started for health reasons, and as I learned more and saw the benefits, I kept adding to the list. Ethical reasons, for example, were not something I originally thought of, but now is something I strongly advocate for. I feel satisfied with what I eat, because choosing a plant based diet has really forced me to be intentional about what I put in my body.

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Going Plant-Based? Here are 15 Things to Think About | www.maplealps.com

 

Motivation & Commitment

Remember your motivation for wanting to start a plant-based diet. Do you want to make healthier choices? Lose weight? Have more energy to accomplish your daily tasks? Live longer? Save animals? Remember your why!

 

Eat A Lot

Fresh plant-based food has a lot less caloric density than foods filled with empty and fatty [the bad kind] calories. Expect to want to eat a lot. I remember first transitioning and wondering why I was eating double the food, but losing weight.

 


Fill Your Fridge & Pantry with Healthy Food

It’s harder to eat unhealthy foods when your home is stocked with the good stuff! Purge your pantry and refrigerator and don’t feel guilty about tossing the food that is of little to no benefit for your body! If you’re thinking about money, think of it this way: a doctor bill in the USA will cost more than it costed for your junk food! A note: many products out there marketed for those on a plant-based diet are more or less “vegan junk food.” Be sure to read labels to ensure you’re getting nutritious foods - not just unhealthy alternatives to products that normally contain animal products. More on that later in this post.

 
vegan pantry | www.maplealps.com

 

Focus on Vegetables & Fruits - & Don’t Forget: Legumes Are Your friends.

Stock up on vegetables and fruits (bonus points if it’s all mostly in season!). Legumes are filling and so delicious! Best part? No nutrition labels to read! Try to avoid having to read them by getting foods that do not have a nutrition label (ideas: fresh produce, bulk beans and rices, etc.)

 

Make Food Swaps

Avocado on toast instead of butter or cream cheese, tofu instead of chicken, water instead of sugary drinks; there are plenty of easy food swaps to make your new plant-based diet doable

 

Take Food on the Go

We live in a time where we are always on the go. Eliminate the temptation to eat junk food or fast food by making sure to have wholesome snacks with you. Keep almonds in your bag and pack your own lunch - it’s not as hard as you might think! If you’re like me, using pretty, waste-free food storage containers might motivate you more!

 

Start One Meal at a Time

Eating plant-based is more than a diet. It is an entire lifestyle change. Ease into by starting with just one meal a day being completely plant-based. A good one to start with is breakfast. It’s so easy to make vegan pancakes, smoothies, granolas, muffins, and other great breakfast foods. Gradually add a plant-based afternoon meal, and you’ll soon find it is easy to have all of your meals completely free of animal products.

 

 

Get Educated and Get Resourceful

Watch documentaries, read books, talk with nutrition professionals. Just a few of my favorite resources: The Cheese Trap (book - get it here on Amazon), Forks Over Knives (documentary, cookbook, magazine, website), What the Health (documentary), How Not to Die (book - get on Amazon)

 

Get a Support Group/Friend

Everything is easier when you have someone supporting you or keeping you accountable. Enter the journey with a friend, or have your best cheerleader support you along the way. Have someone to report to if you need accountability. Maybe enlist someone to be your guinea pig for all the tasty recipes you’ll be whipping up.

 

But Start Your Change Quietly

Instead of telling everyone you know about your decision, you may want to start quietly. To be frank, you will avoid a lot of scrutiny and questioning as you answer these questions for yourself and figure out how to listen to your own body and deal with your own addictions (mine was cheese!). Focus on yourself and your mission. Remember your why and think about how much better you will feel.

 

Equip your Kitchen

Some plant-based foods require different kitchen tools. For example, you’ll likely scarcely use steak knives, but you’ll definitely need a high powered blender (definitely a kitchen essential)

 

Don’t Worry About the Protein

Those on a plant-based diet get plenty of protein. Unless you have an extreme medical condition, you do not need protein shakes to get it. Great sources of protein include beans, soy products like seitan and tofu, quinoa, hemp seeds and even nuts. Chances are, you’ll get more protein than those who are concerned about you getting that protein.

 

Keep Things Exciting

Try new foods and prepare ingredients in different ways. Blend flavors, experiment, and have fun! Start a dinner club. Buy a cookbook or two. Browse recipes on the web. Test out restaurants. There are also a ton of ethnic foods that are plant based and wholesome! Just have a blast trying out new things.

 

Be Mindful: Read Food Labels

This may shock you at first - especially if you were not in the habit of reading food labels. The first thing to look at is not the nutritional value, but the ingredient list. You may be surprised about what exactly is lurking in your favourite vegan snacks, but you will start feeling good about others! Remember: aim for have to read as few food labels as possible by buying whole foods that don’t require them!


 

Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. You’re human. Just get back up, dust yourself off and try again! And again(!) if need be.

 

 
Meal Planner | www.maplealps.com
 

Some Recipes to Get You Started:


 

Creamy Roasted Garlic & Tomato Pasta (nut free)

RecipesAmanda Walter | Maple Alps11 Comments

I suppose everyone has a staple that is always in their pantry. When I was growing up, we always had rice. I would eat rice for every meal and I had no qualms about it. Now, it's all about pasta.

We love pasta in this house. It's quick, it's easy, and it's delicious. There are all different varieties - the kind made from black beans or rice or gorbonzo beans. They can be red or green or brown. Pasta is just so much fun! I know many people who would agree with me.

So because of my love for pasta, and becuase of my love for creamy sauces that contain no yucky ingredients, I bring to you: creamy roasted garlic and tomato pasta! It's nut free, but still creamy!

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Creamy Roasted Garlic & Tomato Pasta (nut free) | www.maplealps.com

This dish is the perfect main if you're expecting last-minute company. Seriously. It takes 30 minutes to whip up, but still looks good and impressive on a table. It's perfect and light and tasty! Plus, if there is a nut allergy, no need to look any further!

I love making a full batch of this just for the two of us and packing it up for lunches the next day too. Leftovers are the bomb dot com!

Roasted Garlic & Tomato Pasta | www.maplealps.com

It's all about the sauce! You can use any kind of pasta with it and add any kind of additional vegetables! The tomato and spinach by themselves is fabulous too. Obviously, you can add less pasta if you want a higher sauce to pasta ratio too. I'm super hungry just thinking about it. 

The roasted garlic adds that extra kick of flavour it needs!

I love enjoying this on a warm summer evening out on the deck. Yes! Don't tell me I'm the only one who loves eating outside!

Enjoy!

Roasted Garlic & Tomato Pasta | www.maplealps.com

Creamy Roasted Garlic & Tomato Pasta

Makes about 8 servings

what you need:

  • 1 bulb garlic

  • 1 large onion, sliced

  • 16 ounces (1 lb) pasta of your choice

  • Olive oil

  • 2 tsp sea salt

  • Pinch sea salt

  • 3 TBSP arrowroot powder

  • 3 TBSP nutritional yeast flakes

  • 2 ½ cups unsweetened plain non-dairy milk

  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved

  • 4 cups fresh spinach

what to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Clean the outside layer of the garlic bulb, keeping the whole thing intact. Cut the top off the bulb, and brush the exposed garlic with olive oil. Roast entire bulb for 30 minutes.

  3. Wash and halve the tomatoes and place them on a baking tray. Toss with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt and add them to the oven to roast for 20 minutes.

  4. While the garlic and tomatoes are roasting, cook pasta and set aside.

  5. Once the garlic and tomatoes are finished, set aside.

  6. Prepare the sauce by adding onions to a large saucepan on low-medium heat. Begin cooking the onions, adding a pinch of salt. Cook until soft.

  7. Add onions, roasted garlic, almond milk, 2 tsp sea salt, arrowroot powder, and nutritional yeast flakes to a high speed blender.

  8. Blend until smooth.

  9. Add mixture back to saucepan and slowly bring it to a simmer.

  10. Add the spinach to the mixture, cooking until wilted. Then add the pasta. To finish, stir in the roasted tomatoes.

  11. Serve right away. Keep leftovers in an airtight container up to 3 days - though it won’t likely last that long!

 

 
vegan pantry | www.maplealps.com
 

 

Vegan Tofu Ricotta

RecipesAmanda Walter | Maple Alps5 Comments

What a sad thing: I have gone SO MANY YEARS without trying to make a tofu ricotta. Why has it never crossed my mind? Well, besides the fact that I hardly ever ate ricotta and didn’t know what it was or what it was used for...

Anyway, I finally got around to doing it, and I'm so glad I tried something new!

Simple and Delicious Vegan Tofu Ricotta | www.maplealps.com


A few weeks ago I wanted to try my hand at a new vegan lasagna. I’ve been making them for years, but wanted to try something different. I decided to put the tofu into the food processor to make it more ricotta-like instead of just crumbling it finely like I usually do. The result? Well, let’s just say that my cheese-loving husband told me that he never wanted the real stuff ever again. That’s pretty strong. Of course, all the other elements of the lasagna were playing a part, but this ricotta was one of the VIPs.

Turns out this is great for a lot of things - spreading on crackers or bread, and stuffing manicotti noodles with. I’m going to be trying it in some meatballs, so stay tuned for that experiment as well.

ricotta-2.jpg
 

Easy Tofu Ricotta

What you need:

  • 16 ounces super firm tofu

  • 2 TBSP nutritional yeast flakes

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 TBSP lemon juice

  • 1 TBSP basil (dried)

  • 2 small cloves garlic (or one large)

What to do:

1) Drain the tofu, getting as much moisture out as possible
2) Add all ingredients to food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the sides as you go.

 

What do you use ricotta for?


 

Vegan Corn Chowder

RecipesAmanda Walter | Maple Alps3 Comments

The best thing about Autumn (besides fireplaces, candles, fuzzy blankets and cuddling, that is) is soup. I love soup. All sorts of soup. I could eat soup year-round to be completely honest. I have been holding on to this recipe, just waiting for the perfect moment to share it with you all, and I decided that instead of waiting until it was cold out, I would share it now so that you can brace yourselves for it!

Autumn is indeed coming.

Vegan Corn Chowder | www.maplealps.com

So my mom and brother came to visit and just left after two weeks. I hadn't seen the two of them in two years, so I was so excited and was literally bouncing off things I couldn't wait! Two weeks went by way too quickly, and even though we did a ton of fun stuff, I felt bad because they came just as I was prepping my life and classroom for the school year to start. It was a total bummer, but we are hoping to visit them for a few days at Christmas. They allegedly had a good time despite helping me haul desks and label books, so that is good I suppose. 

Anyway, back to the soup: Growing up, corn chowder was seriously my favourite. I actually loved (and still love) soup in general, but I could down bowls of this if I was in the mood. Even today, I love enjoying a hot bowl of this on a chilly day. Since we just concluded a lovely visit with my family, I thought it would be appropriate to [finally] share this recipe. It's a bit different than the original but still tastes delicious.

By the way, this soup has cashews in it. If I get enough nut-free requests, I'll share that version too ;-)

Vegan Corn Chowder | www.maplealps.com

Vegan Corn Chowder
Makes About 12 Cups of Soup

3 small potatoes
1 medium onion
1 red pepper
1 TBSP homemade vegan chicken-style seasoning
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp basil
1 tsp garlic powder
1 stalk celery
3/4 cup cashews
2 cups water
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup fresh parsley (or 1 TBSP dried)
4 cups corn
2 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth

1) Dice onion, pepper and potatoes and put in a large pot with 4 cups of vegetable broth.
2) Bring to a boil, and then a simmer. Add salt and garlic powder
3) Blend the cashews, celery, water and rice until smooth. Add the parsley and blend for a few more seconds
4) Add cashew mixture to the pot
5) Put 2 cups of corn and 2 cups of water in blender. Blend and then add to the soup.
6) Add the remaining 2 cups of corn to the pot
7) Add salt to taste
 

 

What's your favourite soup when the weather starts getting chilly?