A recent article in AARP The Magazine: “Bill Clinton Explains Why He Became A Vegan” caught my attention. The article explains President Clinton’s mostly vegan diet, and gives readers a glimpse of what he may eat on any given day. I have been in practice as a macrobiotic educator, seminar leader and counselor since the early ’70s, enabling people to rebuild their health when dealing with issues of weight loss, life threatening diseases, heart attacks and other maladies. I do this using food and lifestyle as the basis for health. Macrobiotics is an orderly approach to life where we learn how to make healthy, balanced choices in diet and lifestyle. I enjoy working with people who want to be empowered through their health by realizing the difference food can make in accomplishing this goal. I often see people when everything else they tried has failed and witness them regain and maintain wellness without the use of a vitamin or supplements. This is possible through learning what balances the body, and what it takes to establish the kind of homeostasis that builds health. Several of my cases were documented on the show The Incurables and in published books and articles.
The article on President Clinton brings into focus the transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet many people undergo in order to solve a health problem or improve overall wellness. However, I notice in some instances that the adoption of a vegetarian or vegan diet does not necessarily improve health and in some cases, worsens health. People are generally on the right road with this choice, but they simply need a bit more insight about food and lifestyle. Some people give up and go back to ill health and old habits when just a few small changes would have helped them to reach their goal. I witness time and again how the combination of eating habits and complete, balanced meals creates lasting health. It is my goal in this article to bring to light what makes a balanced and healthy plant-based meal and lifestyle.
Many now believe that a good diet is essential to health, but know little about what constitutes a good diet. In order to build and maintain health on a plant-based diet, balance is essential. A balanced diet in the practice of macrobiotics is one that is composed of complete meals. A complete meal in my approach to macrobiotic practice consists of a grain and a separate, seasonal, regional vegetable dish. For example, rice and separately steamed kale is a complete meal, whereas a vegetable cooked with rice (although a wonderful combination) is still a grain dish.
Let me explain further. There are three main categories of plant-based foods: grains (some cultures eat grains and beans together), vegetables, and soups. Anything prepared with a grain constitutes a grain dish. Anything cooked in soup constitutes a soup. This means, for example, that lentils, barley and vegetables can be cooked in soup, but it is still a soup. The diversity between the food categories promotes a dynamic interaction of the foods we prepare, which enhances the nutrition of each dish. It is like having a conversation; when different people join a conversation, it becomes richer and more dynamic. It is the same way with a meal. Because grains, beans and soups are powerful, they encompass the foods that accompany them; vegetables do not possess this same power.
We are led to think that we need to get complete chains of amino acids to be well nourished. Modern nutrition insinuates that these complete amino acid chains are primarily in animal and dairy foods, which is simply not true. A varied plant-based diet also provides complete proteins.
A grain is the seed and the fruit of a plant literally merged into one. Different types of vegetables complement the grain. The interaction between vegetables and grains provides the most complete balance of all nutrients, not limited to proteins. Beans are a further nutritional complement to grains and vegetables, which combine well with a lunch or a dinner and help us to feel more satisfied.
When dining out or away from home, Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern restaurants usually serve meals and dishes that follow the format suggested. Italian food features soups as well as pasta and vegetable dishes. Middle Eastern food often features rice with lentils, or couscous, and vegetable dishes. Falafel with pickles and lettuce on a pita is a complete meal! Consider Mexican meals also without the meat or dairy; another good choice is a vegetarian burrito without the cheese. Whether at home or away, following this format is the most important, especially if we can integrate a bean dish or a soup as well. It is better to lower the standard on food quality than to compromise the format of complete and balanced meals. White rice and broccoli conform to the format of a complete meal. These formats for a meal are by far the healthiest and are the ways the world’s civilizations have been eating for thousands of years. My wife and I went out recently and had the following meal without a soup:
-Grilled polenta with sautéed broccoli rabe
-Cannellini beans in a light tomato broth
-I had pappardelle pasta with porcini mushrooms
-And my wife had capellini pasta with broccoli rabe and a few fresh tomatoes
This meal had a nice arrangement of grains, vegetables and bean dishes. The soup would have likely been too much! Polenta and pasta both grains, the broccoli rabe, the vegetable and the beans made the meal even more satisfying. We accompanied the meal with a nice red wine.
No doubt many are watching our former President as he embraces a new way of eating to enhance his heart health and longevity. I, for one, want to see him succeed! To our beloved former President Clinton and to all of those observing and embracing his diet, I would like to suggest the following additions and changes. Because we live in a fast paced world, people often look for a quick and easy breakfast. The answer to this need is often a smoothie. President Clinton(and many others) often starts the day with a smoothie. I do not recommend smoothies for a variety of reasons.
Smoothies weaken our health because our blood absorbs the sugars so quickly that they can upset our balance of blood sugar. By adding a protein supplement to a smoothie, we run a further risk of upsetting our nutritional balance since all foods in a balanced diet already contain the proper proportion of proteins.
Smoothies are not the best way to start the day because they weaken rather than strengthen digestion. Good digestion is crucial for good health, well-being, and energy. The fiber in whole foods such as grains, beans, and vegetables activates digestion through the process of chewing and moving through our digestive system. Liquefying the fiber in a food can have the opposite effect because it dulls the digestive process. The fiber in food promotes regularity, absorbs toxins, and helps cultivate beneficial bacteria. Additionally, I observe in my counseling that iced beverages can shock our kidneys and digestive system. I do not recommend cold drinks for this reason. Drinks are best at room temperature or warmer.
Remember, healthy, balanced meals are based around a whole grain and vegetable. An excellent breakfast: miso soup followed by oatmeal and steamed greens. Miso soup aids digestion, and furthermore strengthens and nourishes the body. Miso soup is one of the two most unique probiotics on the planet(the other being naturally fermented sauerkraut). Naturally fermented miso soup, prepared with wakame seaweed and vegetables, eaten often or daily, regulates and maintains healthy digestion. Substituting miso soup for a smoothie is better for a vegetarian diet in the long term. Miso soup followed by a grain and vegetable dish is not only delicious and satisfying, but it is the best way to receive the most nutrition possible. The soup can be made in a batch to last for a few days. It can then be heated and taken in a thermos to accommodate an on-the-go lifestyle.
You may not know that quinoa, although a wonderful food is a wild grass and not a grain– like that of rice or barley. Although high in protein, quinoa does not provide the same nutritional balance within the body as do grains. So, eating and incorporating quinoa into a diet is healthy, but quinoa is no substitute for a vital whole grain. That is, it could be the base of a dish with other vegetables, but it does not complete the meal.
Apart from primarily focusing on what to eat, considering how and when we eat is equally important. Many clients report that one of the most profound and immediate effects–even from those without vegetarian diets– is that of having regular and consistent meal times. Our digestive system is not “on call” as our lifestyles may like it to be, but eating when the digestive system is most active helps us to be more satisfied.
Honoring the relationship between the body and mind by having meals at the same time everyday regulates digestion, hormones and stabilizes blood sugar. Starting breakfasts no later than 9 a.m., starting lunches no later than 1 p.m. and starting dinners no later than 7:30 p.m. works best and even accommodates a diverse or varied schedule. If we have a couple of hours after our last meal before we sleep, sleeping becomes easier too. Developing these habits promotes long-term health for the vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. I have clients that have lost weight and improved their health simply by adhering to regular meal times and taking the time to eat slowly and chew until the food is liquid in their mouth and then swallowed. This liquefying also helps to maintain or improve health.
For a vegetarian or vegan diet that promotes health, it is not simply a matter of eating vegetables and cutting out dairy and meat. It involves developing health-supporting habits. We get much more benefit from the habits we practice than the habits or behaviors we abstain from. In the short term, we benefit from avoiding animal and dairy foods, but the habits we form are what promote long-term health. My concern is that President Clinton’s current diet will not nourish his health and vitality in the long run, nor allow him to operate at full potential. I am concerned that he is using up his reserve nutrition to keep going and is not replenishing himself with meals that are complete and balanced nutritionally. I encourage President Clinton to start having grain and vegetable based meals while also trying to include a bean dish and a soup on a daily basis as well. Savory soups condition our digestive system and help to absorb the maximum nutrition from our foods. I believe smoothies compromise digestion and interfere with overall absorption of nutrients.
The combination and interaction of grains, beans, vegetables and soups not only satisfy more, but also nourish us much more deeply on all levels. Even just one meal a day with this combination will yield health-enhancing results in a short period of time–in a matter of days or weeks.
If you are choosing to become vegan or vegetarian in an effort to have optimal health, I want this blog to serve as an encouragement to you and provide the information to take you to the next step for optimal health. You have given up meat and dairy and I support this choice. I now invite you to embrace the right combination of plant-based foods to give you a healthy life with sustained energy, vitality and balance. Take my challenge and try eating for one or two weeks based on the menus below. I promise you will feel wonderful, operate at full capacity and fulfill your destiny to eat healthy.
Compiled and designed by Susan Waxman, this sample menu is for those who enjoy cooking and demonstrates the variety of grains, vegetables and flavors possible in one week. There is further direction on how to use leftover dishes in future meals, whether incorporated or as a separate dish. If you follow a gluten free diet, there are minimal substitutions necessary to tailor the menu. The versatility within this week can also be modified to fit the pace of your lifestyle and modifications for vinegars or vegetables where appropriate. I’ve provided links to some of the foods that may be unfamiliar. Check out more recipes on Susan’s blog called “Taste with Integrity”. Have fun, enjoy, and let me hear about your experience of the challenge!
* Soft millet cooked with sweet vegetables – onions and cauliflower
* Quick steamed leafy greens (collards or kale) with fresh squeezed lemon juice
* Brown rice cooked with pearled barley
* Miso soup with naturally fermented miso (wakame sea vegetable, dried shitake mushrooms, daikon radish, napa cabbage; finely chopped scallion garnish)
* Sautéed and simmered sweet root vegetables using toasted sesame oil (carrot, onions; seasoned with shoyu(natural soy sauce),fresh grated ginger juice)
* Blanched vegetable salad (bok choy, broccoli, and red radish – served with brown rice/cider vinegar condiment)
Mid-afternoon snack -Fresh carrot, apple and celery juice
* Farro with sautéed vegetables and white beans (red onions, baby kale and navy beans)
* Steamed sweet potato
* Fresh arugula salad with tofu cheese
* Poached pear in a balsamic barley malt reduction
* Soft cooked rice and barley using the leftover rice
* Blanched vegetable salad (napa cabbage, broccoli and carrots)
* Leftover farro with sautéed vegetables and white beans
* Miso soup made with naturally fermented miso (wakame sea vegetable, onions, turnips and turnip greens; scallion garnish)
* Leftover steamed sweet potatoes
* Quick-sautéed leafy greens (baby bok choy, and collards greens)
Mid afternoon snack – Warm apple cider with fresh lemon
* Pan-fried millet croquettes using the left over millet and corn meal flour with vegan tartar sauce (tahini based with horseradish and fresh herbs)
* French lentils cooked with onions and leeks and fresh herbs
* Quick-steamed kale with fresh lemon
* Sauerkraut or kimchi
*Fresh fruit kanten(agar)
*Steel-cut oats with maple syrup
*Blanched vegetable salad(collards, green cabbage, and carrots)
*Brown rice cooked with sweet brown rice with a condiment of lightly toasted chopped walnuts
*Miso soup made with naturally fermented miso(wakame sea vegetable, dried hen-of-the-woods mushroom, onion and watercress)
*Leftover French lentils*Quick Steamed mustard greens with mustard dressing
Mid Afternoon snack -Fresh Carrot apple and orange juice
*Udon style noodles with sautéed vegetables and creamy tofu sauce(onions, baby kale, feather like carrot matchsticks and tofu cream cheese)
*Special Vegetable Dish – Nishime Style(long-steamed vegetables) cooking(onions, green cabbage, hard winter kabocha or buttercup squash, and parsnip)
*Fresh salad(Hearts of Romaine lettuce, cucumbers and pickled red onion)Served with a light vinaigrette dressing
*Amasake lemon pudding
*Leftover steel-cut oats with a condiment of ume-shiso sprinkles
*Quick-steamed napa cabbage
* Vegetable sushi roll using your leftover brown rice and sweet rice (fried tempeh, sauerkraut, blanched carrots and cucumber, or keep it simple using cucumber, fresh shiso leaves and umeboshi paste) Susan’s special sauce made with roasted tahini, umeboshi paste and mustard; wasabi is optional
* Leftover Nice
* Quick-sautéed leafy greens using extra virgin olive oil (baby bok choy and bok choy)
Mid – afternoon Pick me up – Warmed apple cider with fresh lemon
* Couscous with sautéed vegetables (red onion, carrot and green peas)
* Chickpea stew (onion, burdock root, sweet potato and spices)
* Fresh arugula and Belgium endive salad
* Red grape fruit kanten
* Steamed sourdough bread with apple butter or your favorite fruit spread
* Blanched vegetable salad (cabbage, kale and red radish)
* Leftover couscous
* Leftover chick pea stew
* Quick steamed collard greens with fresh lemon
* Quick pickles made with umeboshi vinegar
Mid-afternoon snack – fresh carrot and leafy greens juice
* Brown rice cooked with quinoa – toasted sesame seeds
* Leftover cream of cauliflower soup with fresh herb garnish
* Sautéed broccoli using olive oil
* Fresh iceberg lettuce and hearts of romaine salad (cucumber, radicchio and tofu cheese)
* Leftover red grape canteen
* Soft corn grits (make extra, pour into a pyrex dish and let sit to use the next day)
* Water-sautéed baby kale
* Leftover brown rice and quinoa
* Miso soup (wakame sea vegetable, turnips, turnip greens and chopped scallions)
* Arame sea-vegetables with onions, carrots, fresh tofu
* Quick-steamed collard greens with fresh lemon
Mid- afternoon snack – warmed and diluted amasake
* Penne pasta with sautéed broccoli rabe and sun-dried tomatoes
* White beans with sautéed escarole
* Fresh arugula salad with pickled red radish, poached pears and toasted pine nuts
* Soft rice porridge
* Quick-steamed watercress
* Pan fried polenta
* Leftover white beans
* Blanched vegetable salad (napa cabbage, broccoli)
* Quick umeboshi vinegar pickles
Mid-afternoon pick me up – Fresh tangerines
* Brown rice cooked with lentils and sautéed onions
* Miso soup (wakame sea vegetable, dried shitake mushrooms, daikon radish and leafy greens)
* Leftover Arame sea-vegetable dish
* Pressed salad with Tahini dressing (green cabbage, celery and cucumber and red radish)
* Baked apple stuffed with toasted walnuts and currants
To a great life.