By Dilip Barman
We’re all suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic. While there isn’t evidence that plant-based eating will reduce the impact if one becomes infected, there’s plenty of strong evidence that it can greatly reduce the likelihood of underlying health conditions that make one more susceptible to contract COVID-19 in the first place. That, combined with talk of meat shortages, inspired me to write a column with a bit of background and then a simple, healthful and filling recipe.
The Centers for Disease Control have advised that people who have underlying health conditions like obesity (about 93 million in the United States), diabetes (about 34 million), chronic kidney disease (about 27 million), cancer (also about 27 million), and coronary artery disease (about 18 million) are among those at greatest risk for having severe outcomes if they do get the COVID-19 infection.
That adds up to well more than half of the country’s population. People with one or more of these conditions constitute 94 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the country.
The good news: lifestyle changes, including moving to a whole food plant-based diet (and exercising and getting sufficient rest), have been shown to not only have markedly positive effects in preventing these health conditions, but also to help in treating and possibly reversing many chronic diseases.
My film “Code Blue” (codebluedoc.com), which will be available on various platforms on May 26, describes the health-care crisis and argues for the very strong role lifestyle medicine can and should play in health care.
There are also great resources like PCRM (pcrm.org) and Nutrition Facts (nutritionfacts.org), as well as growing numbers of health professionals (for example, at plantbaseddocs.com and plantbaseddoctors.org) and numerous books and films that make the same case.
A new resource, plantbaseddata.org, has recently been published by a pair of experts, an ER physician and an environmental researcher, with, so far, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed articles about the benefits of plant-based eating, including resources about zoonotic diseases caused by eating animal foods.
It’s easy to obtain those benefits locally. I’ve been quite pleased with the local food landscape. I’ve reduced my shopping to once a week and have been frequenting a local coop. It has excellent choice in a wide variety of produce, such as Brussel sprouts, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes and citrus.
Bulk foods have been suspended, but more and more are now being offered packaged. Canned goods include beans, sauces, lentil-based pastas and much more. Great frozen choices in vegetables of all kinds and fruits are plentiful. My family has a strong preference for organics, and all of the produce I’ve been purchasing has been organic. I’ll share one of my favorite “go-to” recipes below.
In addition, we’re lucky to have a number of local Food for Life (bit.ly/FFLPromo, fflclasses.org) instructors, including me; we use evidence-based nutrition lectures in combination with food preparation and sampling to demonstrate the science and practicality of eating well to avoid, possibly manage or even reverse health issues, and to build and maintain good health.
I am working with a group of about a dozen fellow instructors to offer a fun and free “tag team” online event about beans on Saturday, May 23, from 2-3:30 p. m. I’m also working with a Long Island-based instructor to offer four Saturday afternoon classes in June focused on building health and fighting the underlying conditions mentioned earlier.
Other local instructors, like Chapel Hill-based Karen Pullen, are also offering Food for Life classes. Watch for announcements of upcoming classes!
Here’s to your health — bon appétit!
Dilip Barman leads the Triangle Vegetarian Society and teaches food and nutrition classes.
Dilip’s Easy Bean Salad
With warmer days in front of us, some of us are starting to look to transition to more hearty salads and less cooking. Beans are great choices to use as salad bases, especially now that local salad bars are closed. If you don’t mind a bit of planning, soak dried beans overnight and pressure cook them; you will save money and have a fresher tasting end result. But canned beans are fine and also cheap.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- Large 29 ounce can of beans (or freshly prepared); take your pick of favorites like black, cannellini, kidney, navy, garbanzo or other
- About a half cup of Vidalia or other sweet onion (about half of a medium onion), cut into ¼” cubes (or, alternately, cut into larger ½” cubes and grilled, as per notes below)
- (optional) 1-2 cloves (or more if you wish!) garlic, finely minced with a garlic press or chopped with a knife to 1/8” or less pieces
- Large bell pepper chopped to ¼” cubes
- 8-10 ounces of frozen corn (a typical bag is 16 ounces)
- (optional) 3 kale leaves rinsed and hand torn to approximately 1” squares, stems excepted
- Juice of half a tangerine or half a lime
- ½ cup of your favorite salsa or 14.5 ounce of stewed tomatoes
- (optional) ½ teaspoon garlic granules or garlic powder
- (optional) ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- (optional) ¼ teaspoon lemon pepper or freshly ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
If you like the caramelized taste of sweet onions, as I do, then consider grilling the coarser ½” chop. Simply put the onions on a cast iron pan that has been heating for two minutes on medium heat; I don’t add any oil. Occasionally turn the onion until you get to the darkness you want. Having the cut sides almost black results in a very tasty onion, but you can stop grilling earlier if you wish.
Mix the onions in with all the other ingredients and serve. This is great at room temperature or chilled.
Dilip Barman leads the Triangle Vegetarian Society, teaches food and nutrition classes, and recently made his first film, Code Blue, about the health benefits of moving toward a whole food plant-based diet and the importance of nutrition education in medical training.
His periodic column in The Local Reporter will cover various aspects of plant-based eating, including recipes and cooking techniques; health and environmental benefits of eating low on the food chain; and pointers to important relevant resources and news.