Fantastic discussion yesterday! I’ve been meaning to write about supplementation and veganism for a long time, and I’m so happy that it seems to have been on other people’s minds, too. I was especially moved by how many of us seem to feel that a supplement now and then is a tiny price to pay in exchange for doing something big to prevent unnecessary suffering.
“Nutrient dense” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in plant based eating circles. When I use it here on CR, I just tend to assume that people know what it means, but I realize that those of you who are just exploring vegan diets are probably wondering! The expression is often used to describe foods that contain a lot of nutrients without containing a lot of calories; vegetables are the prime example.
Have you see the “ANDI” ratings at Whole Foods? Nutrient density is key to that system, but in that particular context the ratio between nutrients and calories is taken into account, too. It’s similar to what Brendan Brazier talks about when he describes foods as having a high “net gain”—that is, a lot of nutrition without a lot of caloric expenditure. Brendan is speaking in the context of a food landscape in which a lot of what we eat is calorie dense and nutrient poor, so the emphasis on caloric expenditure as a negative thing makes sense. Given my readership and my own history, I personally do all I can to present calories as neutral—neither good nor bad by definition, but potentially either of those things depending on the nature of calories involved. The fact that a food is caloric isn’t a bad thing in its own right; the question is where are the calories coming from? To me, a food can be plenty nutrient dense while also having plentiful calories; what interests me is how nourishing those calories are.
Often, when I hear people talking about nutrient density, it seems that they’re talking primarily about micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants). I agree totally, but into the category of “nutrient dense” I also welcome grains, legumes, high quality soy foods, nuts, and seeds—in other words, foods that provide ample macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) as well. I love that we in the plant based community put a lot of emphasis on the beauty and importance of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, but I think it’s also important for us to talk about how important adequate macronutrients are, especially since going vegan means suddenly excluding from your diet foods like meat, which are far from ideal on numerous fronts, but do present us with concentrated, easy sources of protein, minerals and fat. How to replace those easy sources is a question every vegan or vegetarian faces at first.
Thankfully, so many plant foods offer us vitamins and minerals, along with certain potent phytonutrients that can’t be found in animal proteins, and plenty of healthy sources of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, too. Take beans, for instance: not only a source of complex carbs and protein, but also packed with calcium, iron, and numerous vitamins. Or avocado: both brimming with healthy fat, and rich in fiber, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Folate, Vitamin B5, and potassium. Talk about nutrient density!
So how does this all relate to today’s post? Well, school is back, and this semester will be not only academically rigorous, but also full of Choosing Raw work and research work (which I’ll probably say more about at a later time). I’m going to be stretched to the gills, which means I’ll need food that is easy, and that sustains me. Enter nutrient density.
The following grain, seed, and legume salad embodies plant-based nutrient density at its finest. By “finest,” I mean not only that it’s incredibly rich in fat, protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, but also that it’s quick, easy, and (of course) tasty. It came to me on a whim, simply because I’d just gotten back from traveling and had to throw together dinner with nothing but what was in my pantry. As usual, I had canned legumes, pumpkin seeds, tahini, toasted sesame oil, and quinoa. As it turns out, that’s all it takes to make a hearty, satisfying meal. Well, that, and some greens, of course: salad is what makes every meal in my home feel complete!
Red Quinoa, Pumpkinseed, and Tahini Salad (vegan, gluten free, soy free if you use sea salt)
1 cup red quinoa, dry
1 can (or 1 3/4 cups cooked) navy beans or chickpeas
1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw tahini
1/4 tsp sea salt or 1 tbsp tamari (note that tamari is not soy free)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon ot lime juice
1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup
3 tbsp water
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1. Rinse the quinoa, and bring it and 2 1/4 cups water and a dash of sea salt to boil. When it does, reduce to a simmer and cook with a lid ajar on the pot, till all liquid is absorbed, quinoa is fluffy, and you can see the little “ribs” coming off of the grain. Allow to cool a little and transfer to a mixing bowl.
2. Whisky together the tahini, sea salt or tamari, lemon, agave or syrup, water, ginger powder, and sesame oil.
3. Mix the quinoa, beans, and pumpkin seeds. Add at least 1/4 cup of the dressing, and more as desired, till the dish is creamy and flavorful. Reserve remaining dressing for salad. Serve!
Nutrients hanging out in this salad, in no particular order:
- Complete Protein
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
And that’s not even complete. But it is proof of how nutritionally complete, rich, and nourishing a quick vegan dish can be! Serve this one with a big salad and some raw crackers for a rewarding and delicious dinner.
I’ll see you back here tomorrow. And in the meantime, tell me: what does nutrient density mean to you?