Our munching munchkins

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina and Claudia Lemay

Like a super-powered magnet, children are often drawn to sugary and non-nutritious foods. However, regular consumption of junk food can lead to health problems, such as chronic illness and poor performance at school and in sports. It can also lead to kids becoming overweight, fostering low self-esteem. Even when they are protected from junk foods as infants, watch a young tot’s eyes light up with the first lick of something sweet.Registered dietitian Claudia Lemay explored this phenomenon with her lively young daughter, Amelie. Every time they went grocery shopping, Claudia would discover candy bars, chips and lollipops in her cart that little Amelie had added with Houdini-like deftness. The result became a children’s book, Stargold the Food Fairy: The Plant-Based Edition. This beautifully illustrated story takes readers on a journey towards healthy eating. It features young Lucie, who is swept into an adventure by Stargold, the food fairy. Together, they reach Growland where Lucie is amazed to find elves building magical houses that represent our human bodies. Each food group, and the nutrients it provides, furnish an essential building material. Only when the proper types of foods are eaten does the house, and thus the human body, grow healthy and strong. With the help of Stargold, Lucie learns to associate choosing nutritious foods with an energetic and healthy body.

Some people may be hesitant about an entirely plant-based diet for children, but based on a solid and vast foundation of scientific evidence, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics gives the following reassurance. “Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer and obesity.”

The metaphor that compares house construction to the building of a person’s body helps kids visualize how food choices either positively or negatively impact growth and well-being. This book is a wonderful resource for parents, dietitians and educators. It is backed by science, yet fun and easy to understand. This book and Claudia’s earlier edition, Stargold the Food Fairy (non-vegan) are available at amazon.ca and stargoldthefoodfairy.com Claudia’s writing has earned a Mom’s Choice Award®. Part of the proceeds from the book sales will go to the Malala Fund, which helps promote the access of education to children worldwide. “Good foods build the brain; good books expand it.” (malala.org)


DECEMBER 10: Meet author Claudia Lemay (5-7PM) at Vegan Supply, 250 E. Pender in Vancouver. Vesanto Melina will also be present to chat and answer questions. Lemay and Melina’s books will be available for purchase.

Claudia Lemay is a Surrey-based dietitian, author and consultant. www.truehealthnutrition.ca

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian author and consultant. www.nutrispeak.com, www.becomingvegan.ca

Healthy snacking

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Do you ever eat mindlessly? It would be very surprising if even one reader replied, “No, never.” So if we are occasionally going to eat mindlessly, we may as well eat food that offers a big boost to our health. Chopping veggies on a regular basis, storing them in ziplock bags and gathering tasty dips is a winning approach.

Serve a platter of colourful, cut up vegetables:

  • to family members when they return from school or work.
  • as an attractive way to serve vegetables at meals and for festive occasions.
  • as a low-calorie, healthy snack for TV watching.
  • as a great way to get vitamins, antioxidants, protective phytochemicals and fibre.

To extend your crudité horizons, here’s some to serve on their own or with a dip.


Asparagus tips
Broccoli florets
Carrot sticks
Cauliflower florets
Celery sticks
Cherry tomatoes
Cucumber discs
Green onions
Green or snow pea pods
Jicama sticks
Mushrooms, sliced or whole
Parsnip sticks
Red, orange, yellow and green pepper strips
Turnip strips
Yam strips
Zucchini strips or discs

For dips, choose from the various hummus variations on display at supermarkets. “Spread Em” is a fun, cashew-based line of dips available at Famous Foods and other stores and at www.vegansupply.ca Also see the tapenades and guacamole.

Avocados are surprisingly nutritious with monounsaturated fatty acids and phytochemicals. They contain more folate and potassium per ounce than any other fruit, with 60 percent more potassium than bananas. They are great sources of vitamin C and E. When I do nutritional analyses with clients, we often discover that a low intake of vitamin E and plant foods are far better sources than pills. The average avocado provides 13 grams of fibre, equal to three medium-sized apples. Avocados are also rich in carotenoids; of commonly eaten fruits, they are highest in lutein, known to reduce risk of prostate cancer and maintain eye health.

Again, foods are superior to supplements; their plant sterols, such as beta-sitosterol, inhibit cholesterol absorption and possibly inhibit tumour growth. Avocados are among the richest sources of the powerful antioxidant glutathione and may have anti-inflammatory effects.

Limey avocado dip

Makes about 3/4 of a cup

To retain its colour, make this dressing right before use. To keep it for several hours or a day, store it in an air-tight container or tighly cover it. Freshly squeezed lime juice gives a special flavour and nutritional yeast is rich in B vitamins. Adjust all seasonings to suit your tastes.

  • 1 ripe avocado • 2 tbs. lime juice • 1 tsp. tamari or ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. each of chili powder, garlic powder and/or onion powder
  • Pinch of pepper • 1 tsp. nutritional yeast (optional)

Place avocado flesh into a bowl and blend or mash with a fork until smooth. Stir in lime juice, tamari, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper and (optional) nutritional yeast. Scoop avocado flesh into bowl and mash until smooth. Blend in lime juice, tamari, yeast, chili powder, garlic powder and pepper. Stir in onions and cilantro. Adjust seasoning.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and author. The list of crudités is from the Raw Food Revolution Diet by C. Soria, B. Davis and V. Melina (Book Publishing Co). Information on avocados is from her award-winning ​Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and ​Becoming Vegan: Express Edition, ​both with B. Davis (Book Publishing Co). ​Limey Avocado Dip is from Cooking Vegetarian by V. Melina and J. Forest (Harper Collins). www.nutrispeak.com

Fish farming

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Last month, we explored the cruelty and environmental damage inherent in commercial fishing. This month, we look at aquaculture. Today, approximately half the fish consumed are reared in crowded enclosures whether on land or in water. Globally, between 40-120 billion farmed fish are slaughtered for food each year.

The goal in fish farming is the same as in agri-business: to generate the most meat for the least money. Fish farms maintain a density of animals never seen in the wild. Growth accelerators are used to speed weight gain and antibiotics are used to contain the spread of disease. The consequences of these intensive operations are widespread and severe.

Fish welfare: Poor conditions in aquaculture operations include crowding, polluted water and disease outbreaks, causing stress, fear and pain in these animals.

Pressure on wild fish stocks: One argument used to justify fish farming is the protection of wild fish. Yet many of the farmed fish, such as salmon, are carnivorous. Seventy percent of salmon on the market is farmed. It can take 2.5-5 pounds of wild fish to yield one pound of farmed carnivorous fish. Farmed fish that manage to escape can transfer serious diseases, sea lice and other parasites to wild fish stocks; they can devastate native fish populations.

Environmental damage: Ecologically sensitive areas, such as mangroves, coastal estuaries and salmon migration routes, may be seriously threatened by fish-farm outputs, including nitrogenous waste (mainly from fish feces), food pellets and drug residues. This untreated waste released into the ocean affects water quality and other sea life and also fuels a proliferation of toxin-producing algae that can cause massive die-offs of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds and animals that consume them.

Proponents argue that eating farmed fish is better than eating beef in terms of greenhouse emissions while admitting that, on average, the environmental footprint is somewhat higher than for chicken and pork.

Risk to human health: Frequent use of antibiotics in aquaculture allows disease microbes to become resistant to antibiotic treatments, making it more difficult to treat human disease.

Fish life: Scientists now confirm fish demonstrate myriad complex behaviours and skills; they form relationships, recognize other individuals, pass on knowledge and skills, have long-term memories, solve problems, collaborate in food finding, experience fear and distress and avoid risky situations. They have neurotransmitters and feel pain.

Death as a farmed fish: Until the 90s, there was little scientific agreement that fish could feel. Since then, studies have made us rethink these beliefs. Scientific thinking can be strange; even as a child, the one time I went fishing, it was obvious the fish was not comfortable having a hook through its cheek.

While farmed fish do not get the hook, out of water, their gills collapse leading to a slow, stressful death by asphyxiation. Other commercial methods of killing include being clubbed to death, gill cutting and being allowed to bleed to death, carbon dioxide stunning, spiking the brain and live chilling.

Alternatives? If you like the flavour of seafood, try vegan alternatives such as Sophie’s or Gardein’s fishless filets. Check out www.vegan supply.ca, Whole Foods and Choices.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com See www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/239422374/

Something fishy

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Fish has long been viewed as an ideal protein source and the significant source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. Health authorities have sometimes advised people to consume at least two servings of fish per week.

Globally, an estimated one trillion fish are caught each year, excluding illegal catches and bycatch. About half of the commercial fishing industry targets wild fish and other aquatic animals and half relies on “farms.” Concerns about both sectors grow each year. This article features wild sea life. Next month’s topic is fish farming.

Overfishing is rapidly devastating marine ecosystems. Experts predict that, if current trends continue, by 2048 there will be a global collapse of all stocks currently fished. Sea lice and other infections from farmed salmon have an impact on numbers and global warming is changing habitat; for example, aquatic temperatures in the Strait of Georgia and Fraser River are one and a half degrees warmer than 50 years ago.

Bottom-trawling – dragging huge nets with metal plates and metal wheels – along the ocean floor is the underwater equivalent of clear-cutting. It is like bulldozing entire communities and it is wasteful. For example, shrimp trawlers kill up to 20 pounds of non-target marine life for every pound of shrimp plucked from the trawling net. The creatures trapped inside the nets are dragged upward, along with rocks, coral and other fragments of ocean habitat. They experience rapid decompression, causing vital organs to rupture. This bycatch, including sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and numerous other species, is commonly tossed overboard.

Long-lining uses one or more main lines from which dangle short branch lines with hooks at the ends. Lines can be as long as 75 miles and hold hundreds or thousands of baited hooks, set at varying depths depending on target species. In addition, other animals are hooked. This industry is notorious for the deaths of millions of birds, dolphins, sharks and turtles, all of which (along with the fish) can be dragged behind a boat for hours or days.

Gill-netting uses huge floating nets with mesh, sized to snare the target species. Targeted fish become trapped by their gills and nets are often left unmonitored for long periods so trapped fish can slowly suffocate.

Purse-seining also employs a large net like a purse with a giant drawstring rope that is hauled to the surface. Dolphins are commonly trapped and can drown. Fish are often still alive and conscious when they’re pulled on deck to be gutted.

Fortunately, those who like the flavour of seafood can still enjoy it without supporting environmental damage and cruelty. Products similar to breaded filets and crab cakes are now made from pea or soy protein and the textures and flavours are good. Examples include Sophie’s Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets, Toona and crab cakes and Gardein’s Golden Fishless Filet, available at www.vegan supply.ca (250 East Pender St. in Vancouver). Whole Foods and Choices carry Gardein’s Fishless Filets. And you can get DHA (in supplement form) from the same source that fish use to get their DHA: microalgae. Just Google “Vegan DHA.”


September 29, 7:15: A presentation by Nic Waller about aquatic animals and what options we have. A shared evening of snacks and great company. Check out www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/242482062/

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com


Going plant happy

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina
Catherine Jones and Stéphane Lahaye

Are you interested in pursuing a plant-based lifestyle but don’t know where to start? Read on for easy ways to swap out animal products for plant-based alternatives that still provide all the nutrients you need.

“How can I get enough protein?” is one of the first questions people ask when cutting out meat. Science has confirmed we can easily satisfy our protein needs with a plant-based diet. And there’s no need to eat “complementary proteins” in the same meal; simply eat a variety of plant foods throughout the day.

There are endless options for meat alternatives, including convincing vegan renditions of hot dogs, burgers and even bacon. You can also make your own plant-based meals by trying one of these easy swaps: 1) Marinate firm tofu in your favourite sauce and use it to replace meat in stir-fries. 2) Try hummus or tempeh in your sandwiches instead of deli meat. 3) Add beans or lentils to chili instead of ground meat.

Saying farewell to dairy is the next challenge. You’ve probably grown up hearing you need milk to build strong bones. The good news is there are enough calcium-rich plant foods to keep your bones happy. Try calcium-set tofu, almonds, tahini, fortified soy beverage and dark leafy greens such as napa cabbage, bok choy and kale.

Thanks to the growing demand for dairy alternatives, there are myriad plant-based milks, cheeses, ice creams and yogurts in your grocery store. Or try one of these homemade swaps: 1) Sprinkle nutritional yeast on your salads or pasta. The nutty, savoury taste makes a great replacement for parmesan cheese. 2) Use whipped coconut milk in place of whipped cream. 3) Impress your friends by making your own nut milk. Just soak your favourite nuts, blend with a high-speed blender and strain.

So you’ve cut out meat and dairy and you’re about to cut out eggs. At this point, you’re probably wondering, “How can I replace eggs in my favourite recipes?” Try one of these plant-based swaps: 1) Mix 1 tbsp. of ground flax seeds with 2.5 tbsp. of warm water to replace one egg in muffins and pancakes. 2) Replace 1 egg with 1 tsp. of baking soda and 1 tbsp. of vinegar for light and fluffy cakes. 3) Use crumbled, firm tofu sautéed with your favourite mix of vegetables and seasoning for a satisfying, quick alternative to scrambled eggs.

Now that you’re going fully plant-based, the next nutrient of interest is vitamin B12. On a plant-based diet, look for B12 fortified foods including some plant milks, soy products and Red Star Nutritional Yeast or take a B12 supplement (a daily multivitamin or 1000 mcg B12 twice a week).

If you’re not ready to be vegan, introduce alternatives slowly into your diet. Perhaps eat a plant-based meal 2-3 times a week and go from there. Explore vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, blogs and online recipes. Get creative and have fun.

For more information, ideas and recipes:

  • Download the Vegetarian Starter Kit from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org).
  • See Dietitians of Canada Eating Guidelines for Vegans (www.dietitians.ca).
  • Visit Vegetarian Nutrition branch of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.vegetariannutrition.net).

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com, www.becomingvegan.ca). Catherine Jones and Stéphane Lahaye are dietetics students at the University of British Columbia.

Summer fare

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

When we get a spontaneous invite to a picnic, one easy choice is to stop by a supermarket or natural foods store and pick up one or more varieties of hummus or guacamole along with an assortment of raw veggies or crackers. If we have a little more preparation time before a barbecue or other event, here are two recipes that are sure to be enjoyed.

Portobello mushrooms are a favourite plant-based burger. They are easy to prepare and take on the flavour of whichever marinade you choose. For a cookout, serve these on whole-grain buns. For an easy meal at home, serve them on a bed of grains with a salad or beside the quinoa salad that follows. This burger recipe is adapted from www.forksoverknives.com

Portobello mushroom burgers

3 tbs. low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
3 tbs. maple syrup or other sweetener
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbs. grated ginger
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large portobella mushrooms, stemmed

For marinade, combine tamari, maple syrup, garlic, ginger and pepper in a small bowl; mix well. Place mushrooms, stem side up, on a dish. Pour the marinade over the mushrooms and let marinate for 1 hour. Prepare the grill. Pour excess marinade off the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Place mushrooms on the grill. Grill each side for 4 minutes, brushing with marinade every few minutes. Variation: during the last few minutes of grilling, brush mushrooms with barbecue sauce.

Fiesta quinoa salad with lime dressing (makes 4 1/2 cups)

This recipe is from the popular Cooking Vegetarian by Melina and Forest (HarperCollins). Quinoa is an ancient grain, native to the high Andes regions of South America, introduced to North America in the 1980s. It is often called a “supergrain” because of its excellent protein content and nutritional profile.

Cooking quinoa

1-1/2 cups water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp. salt

Bring water to boil over high heat, stir in quinoa and salt, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.

Lime dressing

3 tbsp lime juice
2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Pinch pepper

Combine lime juice, olive oil, sesame oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over cooled quinoa mixture and toss gently with fork. Adjust seasoning.

Assemble salad

1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup diced sweet red pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped green onion (optional)
4 tsp. finely chopped parsley or cilantro

Add the cucumber, corn, red pepper, green onion (if using) and parsley to the dressed quinoa. Stir well to incorporate all ingredients. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com) and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition. Once a month, she co-hosts a “Snackluck” event at Vancouver Cohousing with Meatless Meetup. Everyone brings a delicious vegan snack to share. Sometimes, there is a small fee to cover the film rental. www.nutrispeak.com


Friday June 30, 7:15pm: “Snackluck”: includes a Q&A and discussion based on audience interest. Bring any questions related to plant-based nutrition.



Realism and compassion

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

For many, doing what comes naturally is an appealing concept. (For a good laugh, look up “Doin’ what comes natur’lly” on Youtube, from Annie Get Your Gun.) Often, the appeal comes from a realistic concern regarding food mass produced in systems never envisioned a century ago, using toxic pesticides and genetically modified organisms.

The result can be a rather confused mix of practices. People will eat a cow that was permitted to live in a fenced field for much of its life, ate fodder trucked from thousands of miles away and was later sent down the same slaughterhouse line as factory-farmed animals. They will consume a chicken that was sufficiently free range to live in the equivalent of a giant indoor litter box, with a small door to the outdoors that it never reached while alive. Such birds can have increased risk of infection from E coli and other bacteria and of violent pecking and cannibalization from their caged neighbours, compared with chickens protected by confinement in tiny cages with wire walls and bottoms.

“There’s a downside to taking birds out of their cages in that they’re free, but they’re also free to get hurt and free to get in trouble,” says Tina Widowski, Egg Farmers of Canada research chair in poultry welfare at the University of Guelph.

Groups such as Mercy for Animals record undercover images depicting horrendous living conditions and abuse. For some, these stories and images stimulate a quest for natural fare that is also linked with compassion for animals. Yet someone might spend $1,000 at the vet for their pet and then eat part of an equally intelligent animal for dinner. So what can guide our evolving dietary practices?

Jack hirose 3 day mindfulness intensive in Banff

“Natural,” when it comes to human practices, turns out not to be a helpful word. Our actions over many centuries include war, rape and cruel treatment of other humans and animals. Perhaps a more valuable word to guide our behaviour is compassion.

We now have options unavailable to us a century ago, even a generation ago. We can enjoy fresh produce year-round, including legumes, soy foods, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits that are organic and GMO free. Scientific evidence provides indisputable evidence that an optimal diet for humans need not include any animal products. Vitamin B-12 comes not from animals or plants, but from bacteria. In animal products, B-12’s origins are bacterial contamination. In a clean, plant-based diet, we can choose fortified foods or a supplement. As it turns out, our paleo ancestors consumed fibre, a valuable and protective dietary component found only in plant foods, at levels of about 100g a day. This is higher than most people on entirely plant-based diets today, apart from elite athletes who are sufficiently active to consume a lot of calories.


MAY 26: 7:15 – 9pm, co-author Brenda Davis speaks on the Paleo diet at Vancouver Cohousing, www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/236732131/

MAY 28: Brenda speaks at VegExpo in Vancouver, vegexpo.ca


1. Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly ­– Betty Hutton www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1R1-oRO6RY

2. “The cage-free egg trend: Is it just a shell game?” Globe and Mail, March 20, 2017, Ann Hui www.theglobeandmail.com

3. “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets”


and www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(16)31192-3/pdf

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com


Say cheese!

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

The significant health hazards associated with red meat are so well known by now that people are happy to avoid the Neu5Gc (N-Glycolylneuraminic acid) present in all beef, pork and lamb that increases risk of tumour formation. We also know that the gut microbiota of meat eaters change carnitine in meats to the toxic TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, including early atherosclerosis and stroke.

Many people can be heard to say, “I’d love to go vegan, but I could never give up cheese.” Cheeses bring a wealth of flavour to menus and their textures have wide appeal, but until recently, plant-based cheese replacements have been a pretty dismal lot. But this situation has changed, and for the better.

It turns out the flavour development so fundamental to cheese-making depends not on cow’s milk, but on the culturing process. Thus, a variety of entrepreneurs are using non-dairy milks, such as cashew milk, as a foundation and producing amazing products. Miyoko’s extensive line of cheeses (available through www.vegansupply.ca) is a bit pricey, but the Smoked Farmhouse, Sundried Tomato Garlic, Herbes de Provence and many others will change your perspective in a very positive direction. This website has many other tasty options, too.

One local company that has made good across North America is Burnaby-based Daiya. Their products are affordable and widely available in mainstream supermarkets. Their Pepperjack and other flavours provide superb meltable toppings for plant-based pizzas. One great favourite is their Key Lime Cheezecake. For others, see daiyafoods.com

Karen McAthy’s book, The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking (New Society Publishers), will be released on April 25. This BC author helps do-it-yourself cheesemakers understand the process of culturing and fermenting the ingredients that form a top-quality product and provides recipes for quick, or more lengthy, production methods.

People may wonder why anyone making compassion a key feature of their dietary choices would want to avoid dairy products. After all, doesn’t a cow just give milk and we humans can enjoy the excess? It turns out that cows give milk specifically in response to being impregnated and then giving birth, an entirely natural process. The forced separation of dairy cow and her young is far from natural; it involves extensive suffering for mother cow and for her calf. If her calf is female, this calf can be turned into a repeatedly impregnated milk producer. In contrast, male calves typically become veal at a young age. And when the dairy cow’s productivity slows, she too heads down the slaughterhouse line to be turned into burgers.

For decades, Canada’s food guides have featured “Milk and Milk Products” as essential foods. The most recent version allows for one alternative: fortified soymilk. But a food guide that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population has some degree of lactose intolerance is hardly suitable for our multicultural population.

Alternative substitutes for dairy products can provide the same nutrients as dairy products, without the animal abuse. Humans have no requirement for cow’s milk or its products so start exploring the immense and expanding range of dairy alternatives.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com

Long life, great health

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

When you consider the diseases and deaths of older people in your family, does it seem like your life might follow a similar pattern? Well, it turns out that changing your lifestyle can actually change your genes. Through lifestyle choices, we can turn on the genes that keep us healthy and turn off the genes that contribute to chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and the oncogenes that promote prostate, breast and colon cancer.

Studies have shown that within three months, a shift in habits can alter more than 500 genes. One researcher on this subject, Dr. Dean Ornish, revolutionized medicine with his powerful evidence that four lifestyle choices – adopting a plant-centred diet, getting moderate and regular exercise, reducing stress and not smoking – could turn around heart disease. Starting with prostate cancer, Ornish has extended his research into the exploration of various cancers.

One study was co-conducted with Elizabeth Blackburn, who received the 2009 Nobel Prize for her research on telomeres, the protective ends of our chromosomes that control aging. They are like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces that keep your shoelaces from unravelling. The telomeres keep your DNA from unravelling. As our telomeres get shorter, our lives get shorter and the risk of disease and premature death increases. Blackburn investigated the actions of telomerase, the enzyme that can replenish and counteract the shortening of telomeres.

Short telomere length in blood cells is associated with ageing and ageing-related diseases, such as cancer, stroke, vascular dementia (Alzheimer’s), cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. For example, men with shortened telomere length in prostate-cancer-associated stromal cells are at a substantially increased risk of metastasis or dying from prostate cancer.

I had the privilege of being a staff dietitian on some of Ornish’s groundbreaking research on the reversal of cardiovascular disease through the four lifestyle changes noted above. Participants adopted low-fat diets centred on whole plant foods. Simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes were shown to turn around disease indicators within a short period of time, not just by affecting symptoms, as drugs do, but by also addressing the underlying causes.

Whoopi Goldberg says, “74 is the new middle age.” This month, I turn 75 and I hope I am just two-thirds of the way along the path! On March 31, I will be speaking in Vancouver on creating a life lengthening lifestyle. I’ll also address the latest tips about dietary sources of iron, optimal serum ferritin levels, keeping blood glucose level throughout the day, protective phytochemicals and practical tips for excellent protein intakes on plant-based diets. This event takes place in Vancouver`s first cohousing community, a modern form of village that was first developed in Denmark in the early 1970s. Cohousing effectively solves some of the problems of isolation that can occur in modern urban living and allows for the psychosocial support that has been shown to reduce risk of chronic disease.

Vesanto Melina Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com

EVENT Register to see Vesanto Melina in person (limited seating)

Friday March 31, 7:15 PM at Vancouver Cohousing through Meatless Meetup
email: vesanto.melina @gmail.com

Earth-friendly diets

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

Some people are saying, “Take extinction off your plate.” What? I already take shorter showers. Every week, I deposit my recycling into the right bins. I walk whenever I can. I ride my bike a lot, when it’s not so icy I’ll kill myself. I car-share. Isn’t that enough?It seems not. Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions – greater than all transport put together – and our current dietary choices are propelling us toward extinction.

Rearing livestock for animal products requires far more land, water and energy than producing plant foods. Producing a kilo of beef generates 27 kilo of CO2, compared to 0.9 kg per kilo of lentils. That’s 30 times as much! While new technologies for animal farming are available, a recent study found they only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 9%.

One kilo of beef delivers 194 grams protein; one kilo of lentils: 246 grams protein. According to a 2016 Oxford study, adopting vegan diets globally would cut food-related emissions by 70%. That’s an excellent reason to order falafels or curried chickpeas rather than a burger or fried chicken. But how can you make lentils taste even remotely as good? One can start by picking up a veg. cookbook or doing a web search for “vegan lentil recipe.” You’ll find 825,000 tasty results within 0.51 seconds.

The Scientific Committee of the Dietary Guidelines – a conservative group – now provides evidence that diets with more plant foods and less animal products are linked with less environmental damage. Many scientists are calling for a great reduction in livestock production to reverse climate change and to use less water, fossil fuels, pesticides and fertilizers.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics makes the point that, compared with producing 1 kilo of beef protein, 1 kg protein from kidney beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times fewer pesticides. Beef production generates considerably more manure waste than other animal or fish farming, but they are all strong polluters. Pig farming creates immense toxic manure ponds. The Environmental Protection Agency states that about 70% of all water pollution in rivers and lakes in the US results from animal farm waste.

The 620 million chickens slaughtered every year in Canada – plus 9 billion each year in the US – create a lot of chicken shit before they die. And that’s not counting the waste that comes out when they travel down the conveyer belt as their throats are slit and tumble into what workers call fecal soup. No wonder chickens are linked with salmonella food poisoning.

The use of antibiotics as growth promoters and to prevent and treat farm animal diseases generates antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance passes to humans, causing difficult-to-treat illnesses, resulting in greater morbidity, mortality and health care costs.

Does this situation strike you as crazy? By relying on meat and other animal products, we make ourselves obese; raise our risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cancers; and then destroy our planet. Want to really make a change?

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com) and a member of Meatless Meetup.

EVENT: February 24, 7:15 PM: A showing of the documentary Cowspiracy should make for an interesting discussion afterwards. Register at www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/236729787/