A couple of months ago my 15 year old daughter, Anya, decided to become a vegetarian. This is a reasonably common decision for teenage girls during a developmental period when their empathy grows, and they make the decision to stop eating meat for ethical reasons.
If you've been following my blog for a while, then you know that I support a Paleo or Ancestral way of eating that is especially focused on restoring gut health. I had to go through my own health crisis and journey to reach where I am at today, and that journey included being vegetarian for 10 years. While I was a vegetarian, my health declined even as the quality of my food increased. I spent several days completely bedridden each month with extreme nausea and fatigue, and I suffered from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder that at times left me vomiting and exhausted after exposure to perfumes or chemicals that off-gassed. Finally an alternative practitioner told me I had to start eating meat again, and that was the turning point in regaining my health. That was long before I became a nutritional consultant and started researching the gut microbiome and intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Once I understood how inflammatory grains and legumes were in the gut there was no turning back. I am not 100% free of my chemical sensitivities, but the nausea and fatigue are long gone, and the hay fever that I've suffered from since I was a child is also gone.
So you can probably imagine my reaction when my daughter stopped eating meat. I should mention that like me, she also suffers from chemical sensitivities and hay fever. We have spend many hours discussing leaky gut, and how being a vegetarian will make it worse, but at 15 years of age she doesn't have a frame of reference to really understand what it means to be in poor health. At this stage, the life of an animal is more important to her than her own health.
When I realized she had stopped eating meat we had a discussion about what a good vegetarian diet looks like to ensure she is getting complete proteins (all the amino acids the human body needs to repair and grow). I told her that legumes, and nuts and seeds needed to be part of her diet. I emphasized how often people just take meat out of their diet without understanding the need to replace the nutrients that meat provides.
The next step was to inspire Anya with great vegetarian recipes that were still nutrient dense. Sadly there seem to be very few good vegetarian cookbooks. I think I have signed out every cookbook the Calgary Library offers, and have been dismayed by most of them. Entree recipes typically rely on pasta or bread with vegetables. Rarely are there recipes that ensure adequate protein combinations.
WHERE VEGETARIAN AND PALEO MEET
One of the biggest dilemmas has been finding meal ideas that everyone can eat, but luckily there are a few sources of complete protein that fit into both a vegetarian and a Paleo diet. These ideas can be great to take to dinner parties or social events where you don't know the dietary needs of people.
Vegetables and Fruit
Luckily all vegetables and fruit can be eaten on both diets with the exception of potatoes. Some people on a Paleo diet can eat potatoes, but from a gut-healthy perspective they are too high in carbs, and people with autoimmune conditions can react to them. It's very easy to find a wide variety of vegetable dishes including salads, stir-fries, roasted vegetables and soups.
Avocado oil, olive oil and coconut oil are all plant based fats that are great for both vegetarians and Paleo eaters alike. Use coconut oil for cooking. Olive oil should only be used for salads or drizzled over dishes - never cooked with.
Hemp Seeds - these offer complete proteins and can be used in a variety of ways including making hemp seed milk.
Chia Seeds - these great little seeds also offer complete protein, as well as omega 3 fatty acids.
Spirulina - an algae that contains complete protein. Can be added to smoothies.
Other nuts and seeds - not complete proteins, but a great source of fats, and flours and butters can be used for baking.
Eggs - a nutrient powerhouse and a complete protein. They are incredibly versatile for those people who tolerate them.
Raw or Cultured Dairy - raw milk is difficult to get in Alberta. I suggest everyone avoid pasteurized milk. Cultured dairy includes yogurt, kefir and aged, lactose-free cheeses, which all offer complete proteins. Dairy isn't tolerate well by many people, and lactose should always be avoided when restoring gut health.
NOTE: If you are in the early stages of an autoimmune protocol, then none of these sources of protein are good options - stick to animal proteins.
Cooking for the whole family has been challenging over the last couple of months, but we have found some great favourites that everyone can eat.
Frittatas - eggs and a collection of a variety of vegetables. An easy and simple idea for any meal. Try mushrooms, spinach and black olives. Cheese can be added for those who tolerate it.
Smoothies - leafy greens, fruit, MCT oil and water or a milk alternative.
Hemp & Chia Seed Porridge - served with fruit this dish makes a hearty breakfast. Try this recipe. For a gut-healthy version use honey as the sweetener.
Vegetable Fritters - grate up a variety of root vegetables or zucchini, and mix them up with eggs. Form into patties and bake or fry. Great to freeze or grab on the go.
Almond flour or coconut baking - muffins, cakes, and breads can all be made with a variety of Paleo flours and eggs. My current favourite are Blueberry Lemon Muffins.
Nut & Vegetable Patties - These add variety to the Vegetable Fritters we make. Try this recipe.
Are you living in a household with a variety of dietary needs? What are your strategies to simplify meal preparation?
Happy, Healthy Eating!
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