SNAAC Approved

May 14, 2011 at 8:09 am 3 comments

As part of the Student Nutrition Awareness and Action Council (SNAAC), I have spent the past year learning more about nutrition and how to bring awareness and action to medical students, patients, and the community. One project that some of my classmates are working on is getting “SNAAC approved” items in the cafeteria, which currently boasts an impressively unhealthy selection of fried foods and oily entrees. This post is definitely SNAAC approved! A recipe for healthy, homemade salsa (see end of post) and a recap of an interesting documentary about nutrition and chronic disease!

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There are some things I thought I would never be able to make from scratch, like pasta or sauce or ravioli. Some things you just have to buy from the store, right? Salsa also fell in the from-a-jar category in my mind as well. However, my friend Kat enlightened me during one of our girl’s nights, and I have been making fresh salsa ever since! It requires no equipment or know-how, and the recipe can be modified to suit your tastes. Plus, it is chock full of good-for-you veggies with a lot less sodium, making it an even better treat! Make it for your next party (I brought mine to our SNAAC end-of-year potluck) or make it and keep it in your fridge (should last about a week). You can add it to spice up rice and beans, black bean omelettes, veggie burgers – go crazy! Salsa is an easy and tasty way to add extra vegetables without even realizing it!

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After our mini-potluck, some classmates and I headed to Kendall Square Cinema to see the documentary Forks Over Knives. The movie focused on the link between nutrition and chronic disease, and specifically advocated for a whole food, plant-based diet. I really enjoyed the movie, much more than I was expecting actually, despite not agreeing with all of their conclusions.

Praises

  • I was impressed by the amount of science that was contained in the documentary – I felt like I was studying for histology or endocrinology at certain points! I was also impressed by the substantiative research that was presented, and the way that they tied this much information into a rather cohesive story line. Most of the featured research was from Dr. Campbell’s China Study, in which he partnered with a Chinese researcher with data from a nationwide study to look at variable diet factors and their correlation with cancer and chronic disease. This study found over 9,000 statistically significant correlations between nutrition and health outcomes – pretty impressive! They also featured Dr. Esselstyn’s clinical studies showing the survival of a small cohort of patients put on a plant-based diet after undergoing major bypass surgery and their ability to reverse some of their disease process with their diet. I am astounded by the health outcomes that people were able to achieve simply by committing to a changed diet. Patients were able to halt the progress or even reverse heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, and even breast cancer!
  • The filmmakers were rather brilliant to choose the terminology of “plant-based diet” rather than “vegan”, since veganism tends to be stigmatizing and associated with animal rights. Because of their terminology, it allowed viewers to assess the health claims made and evaluate it apart from their associations with sad cows.

Criticisms

  • With that being said, I did not agree with the extent to which the health claims of this diet were extrapolated. It seemed to propose that a plant-based diet is a cure-all for disease, a miracle therapy of sorts. Sure, it would be great if we could cure cancer, heart disease and diabetes just by eating more real food. I agree that it will lower the incidence of these epidemics, but, as my friend Joy pointed out, Africans (who traditionally eat mostly unprocessed plant foods) still have diseases despite all of this. Whether we like it or not, we will have to face mortality and disease is a fact of life. I still agree that we should do everything we can to prevent and help treat these diseases with as easy a fix as diet modifications, but this will never eradicate chronic disease.
  • There was very little done to address the practicality of this diet for most Americans. Fruits and vegetables still remain inaccessible for many people (see my post about Whole Foods and food deserts for more thoughts.) And even if they are available at grocery stores, many people are bewildered at how to prepare them in a way that makes them taste good. Even more, a plant-based diet does take more time, effort, and money – it is undeniable. For working families who are already time crunched, this radical lifestyle change may seem inconceivable. It would be helpful to offer ideas of where to start first, and how to practically make steps towards this type of lifestyle, especially while trying to fit it into a busy schedule and tight budget.
  • I also still am not convinced that you should never eat animal products. In one of the main studies presented, rats fed a diet of 20% animal protein were more likely to develop liver cancer, while rats fed a diet of 5% animal protein never developed this complication. That is strong evidence to show that animal proteins in high quantities are carcinogenic, but not that animal proteins (found in milk or eggs) should never be consumed. Plus, we may be able to get all of the essential amino acids we need from plants and grains, but animal proteins are the only source of vitamin B12 short of vitamin supplements.

Regardless, I thought the documentary was well-made and thought-provoking, and definitely reaffirmed my desire to eat a less processed and more plant-based diet. It is only playing in small theaters, but check your local theaters to see if it is playing near you. If not, definitely check it out when it is released on DVD. It will really make you evaluate how and why you eat the way you do!

If you want to read more on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, check out some of these links:

Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

Former President Clinton on his decision to switch to a plant-based diet

Oprah on Plant Based Diets

Question: Do you ever make meatless meals for you or your family? Do you know sources of protein that are not animal based?

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Spicy Salsa

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

3 large tomatoes, finely chopped

3/4 green pepper, finely chopped

large pinch kosher salt

2 tbsp lime juice

3 tbsp cilantro, minced

2 jalapenos, minced (seeded for less heat or with seeds for extra spice)

Chop onions and garlic and combine in a bowl with olive oil. Let marinate while chopping the rest of the vegetables. Combine the rest of the ingredients and adjust seasoning to taste. Let stand in the fridge for a few hours before serving to let all flavors combine.

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