Last week, I asked a friend of mine who specializes in holistic nutrition to help me move towards a more plant-based diet and find creative ways to enjoy more foods without dairy. My husband and I spent the summer eating an abundance of fresh organic vegetables from a local farmer and I must say, I never felt so great. Coming from me, this means a lot as I am known to love nothing more than a big messy burger and hot chicken wings. But after receiving our weekly vegetable basket from the farmer, it was clear that our bodies rejoiced and our palettes feasted on such incredibly fresh veggies.
One of my main concerns was how to get more calcium in our diet. It’s been nearly six months that I have been dairy-free, and just recently, my husband seems to have jumped on the bandwagon too. So what should we eat? I decided to ask Amy for a little help.
Like me, Amy studied communications and began her career in this field before moving to nutrition. Naturally, I had to ask:
What made you switch into nutrition?
It was honestly a series of events, and life circumstances, that ultimately led me to make the switch. Throughout my twenties, I had been slowly modifying my diet and gradually making healthier lifestyle choices. I was eating less and less dairy, more vegetables, cutting out processed foods and trying to avoid refined sugars too. I also started learning about yoga and stress management. In doing all of this, my sleep improved, my energy was more balanced, and my cravings dissipated. I started feeling really, really good! I learned so much in doing my own research, but I wanted to know more.
In the summer of 2012, I had a great (possibly once in a lifetime opportunity) to leave my government communications job in Ottawa. I decided to take a two-year leave and enrolled at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, which is a culinary school focussed on health supportive cooking. It was an amazing experience, and I learned so much about food and cooking, but I wasn’t keen on being stuck in a kitchen everyday and I wanted to know more about why and how food affects our body. After graduating from culinary school, I moved back to Ottawa to study Holistic Nutrition at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. After graduation, I started my consultation company, Amy Longard Nutrition, which has allowed me to connect people to healthy foods, healthy products, and healthier ways of living. The way this has all transpired is really a dream come true!
You mentioned you were eating less and less dairy, and now you have stopped entirely. What made you stop and did you find it difficult?
At first, yes! I was diagnosed with a dairy allergy early in life. However, it wasn’t until my early 20’s before I actually began reducing milk and trying out the alternatives, like soy and almond milk. The hardest thing for me was cheese. On January 1, 2012, as a result of a dare, I tried eliminating all dairy (along with all other animal products) for a whole month. I stuck with it, and the results were phenomenal. I felt great, my skin was glowing, and some people even said my eyes looked greener. The changes impacted me so positively that I wanted to keep it up. Before quitting dairy, I had been plagued by chronic coughs (due to post nasal drip) every winter since childhood. The coughs would come on in spurts and last for anywhere from 10 minutes to a half an hour of loud, hacking, painful coughs. My sleep used to suffer terribly because I’d spend most nights in the winter coughing non-stop. Since eliminating dairy years ago, my coughing fits have gone away. So, even thought it was tough to give up my cheese, I definitely don’t regret it.
When I first cut it out of my diet, I was worried I wouldn’t be getting an adequate amount of calcium. What are some great sources of calcium that I can get directly from other foods? Initially, I was worried about the same thing. I spoke with my doctor about it, and she urged me to talk calcium supplements. She was quite concerned that I wouldn’t be getting enough calcium if I wasn’t consuming milk products. For a while, I took supplements, but after doing a bit more research, I found that there are so many plant-based sources of calcium. Not to mention that they are just as bioavailable (easily absorbed) as calcium from cow’s milk. Really good sources of calcium in plant-based foods include leafy greens (kale, collard greens, bok choy, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, and more), sesame seeds (tahini), brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, almonds, chickpeas, black turtle peas, lentils, kidney beans, figs, oranges, and much more. I went for a blood test after three years of being dairy free and my calcium levels were excellent. My doctor later admitted that her fears were probably unfounded, and the she simply wasn’t aware that there were so many plant-based sources of calcium.
I’ve heard lots of different thoughts of soy-based products. What are your thoughts on them? Are they good for my family and I? I’m personally not a fan of soy-based products, like veggie dogs, burgers, ice creams, cheeses or any packaged or processed foods containing soy. As a general rule, I would advise you to stay away from heavily processed or refined foods anyway — whether or not they contain soy. That being said, in their whole form, soy beans are a great source of protein and calcium. Depending on how you are consuming soy, it can be included as part of a healthy diet. I’ll occasionally eat whole, organic or fermented forms of soy, such as edamame, tempeh, miso, or tamari (which is a soy sauce). Every now and then I’ll have some organic tofu in a stir fry or pad thai. If you’re consuming it these ways, and in moderation, it’s fine for you and your family to enjoy.
Finally, I must admit, the one thing I have found very hard when it comes to cutting out dairy is finding sweets that are dairy-free and still delicious. Do you have a recipe you could share to indulge my sweet tooth? I have the perfect thing for you! Especially since we’re coming up to the holiday season. It’s a simple and tasty recipe that will wow everybody. I wish I could take credit for inventing this recipe, but it was developed by one of my culinary idols, Caroline Ishii, former owner of Ottawa’s first ever vegan restaurant, Zen Kitchen. The restaurant closed this year, but these truffles always remind me of the fantastic meals I enjoyed there. The base recipe is Caroline’s, but I decided to spice it up a bit with cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne.
1/2 cup, full fat coconut milk
1 tbsp, vanilla extract
1 cup, organic semi-sweet dairy-free chocolate chips (I like Camino brand)
2-3 tbsp, cocoa powder
1 tsp, cinnamon
1/2 tsp, ground ginger
1/8 tsp, cayenne
Pinch of salt
In a small saucepan combine coconut milk and vanilla extract and bring to a boil, covered, over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes allowing liquid to evaporate.
Remove from heat and add chocolate, spices and salt, stirring or whisking until chocolate melts and the mixture is well combined.
Chill in freezer about 1 hour, or until firm enough to shape into balls about 1 inch diameter. Place cocoa powder in a bowl and roll truffle balls in the powder to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate to set completely.
Storage: place in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where they will keep about 3 weeks.
Photos taken by Caroline Yung of http://www.cy-iwander.com.