A plant-based diet can boost body and mind wellness
Over the decades, the baby boomer generation has found many ways to differentiate itself, from its role in the counterculture to the rise of feminism to, now, if my cooking classes are any indication, dietary choices in the kitchen.
They are embracing the trend of unprocessed, natural foods and other healthy eating habits. Baby boomers aren’t interested in aging as their parents did. They want to feel and look better — and live longer.
But what is healthy for one demographic might not be right for another. It turns out that baby boomers have a number of nutritional needs that require special attention. To learn more about them, I turned to my go-to health expert — also known as my sister — Dr. Tamara Horwich, attending cardiologist and associate clinical professor of medicine/cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. I also reached out to Sally Kravich, my personal nutritionist who specializes in holistic nutrition and healing.
Although these two women approach health from different angles, their thoughts on the matter frequently intersected. Here’s what I came to understand, in layman’s terms: As we age, our bodies harden. We recognize this easily in our muscles, which stiffen, and in our joints, which become less flexible. It shouldn’t be surprising then that the interior fabric of our bodies — such as our arteries — also loses pliability.
It’s probably not surprising either, then, that the top killer in the United States is heart disease, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. So that’s the bad news. (Worse news, guys: The same things that cause heart disease can be the culprits behind erectile dysfunction.) The good news is that there are delicious preventative measures one can take to reduce one’s risk, such as drinking coffee and following a Mediterranean diet.
Cancer is the No. 2 killer. However, there is evidence that certain dietary measures can help thwart the growth of cancer in our cells. “Animal products are associated with risk of cancer. The more plant-based foods you eat, the lower the risk of cancer seems to be,” my sister said.
Kravich, a baby boomer herself, stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy immune system by consuming foods rich in vitamin A, such as dark orange veggies. She also encourages her clients to add ginger, garlic and turmeric to their food to further boost immune health.
Both Horwich and Kravich advise eating a rainbow of different colored fruits and vegetables, which means lots of various minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. The answer to healthy living is not in overeating one food, but in focusing on consuming a spectrum of colors. Think red tomatoes, orange squash, yellow peppers, green leafy vegetables, blue berries, pink radicchio and purple cauliflower.
For baby boomers worried about brain health and lowering the risk of dementia as they age, Kravich recommends magnesium, which can be found in dark chocolate and dark greens such as collards or kale. She also points to foods with omega-3 fatty acids — found in walnuts, fish and whole eggs — as well as blueberries and the lycopene found in tomato sauce.
Bone fragility and osteoporosis affect men and women as they get older, and not surprisingly, the key mineral for bone health is calcium. But there’s also the protein collagen, found in bones — and hence many soups.
“Old-fashioned soups strengthen the bones,” Kravich said. “Broths cooked at length made from chicken bones, beef bones and fish bones support your bones, but you have to cook them at least three to four hours if not longer. And by adding dark greens like bok choy or broccoli, you increase the calcium content.”
In order to stay healthy year-round, I’m providing one dish for each season of the year, filled with fresh ingredients that specifically target immune support for the body. Start this summer by making some pasta to go with my Heirloom Tomato Basil Sauce — it’s full of lycopene, which is great for heart, brain, bone, eye and prostate health. Everyone should have a go-to tomato sauce and this one, with its purity and simplicity, will transport you right to Italy.
When things start to cool off in the fall, boomers can fill themselves with the immune boosters in my Rainbow Roasted Root Veggies With Caramelized Onions and Sage. In the winter, Bok Choy Chicken Soup With Ginger and Garlic can provide generous doses of collagen and calcium to support bone health. And in the spring, enjoy some Quinoa Tabouli With Four Fresh Herbs filled with antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories. Plus quinoa is a delicious plant-based protein, especially when you dress it like I do.
Healing recipes for all seasons
HEIRLOOM TOMATO BASIL SAUCE AND GREEN LENTIL PASTA
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with side of knife
- 1 1/4 pounds (3 large) organic heirloom tomatoes of mixed colors, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 3 sprigs basil leaves, totaling around 15 leaves, left on stems
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for salting pasta water
- 8 ounces green lentil pasta
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- Parmigiano Reggiano to taste, freshly grated, for serving, optional
Put pan over medium heat and add olive oil, followed by red pepper flakes and garlic. Let garlic infuse its flavor into the olive oil for a few minutes, until it becomes translucent and becomes slightly golden. The exact time will depend on your pan’s thickness and the heat but do not let it burn. Add tomatoes and stir, then add basil, on the stems, and stir. Let sauté for 3 minutes. Add salt and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes. When the tomatoes are soft enough, smush them with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. Taste the sauce. If you want it to be a little thicker, cook for a few minutes longer. Set aside. (Return to medium/high heat a minute before your pasta is done cooking.)
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Throw in a handful of kosher salt and the pasta and stir vigorously to separate the strands of noodles. Let cook until al dente, the moment when the crunchiness just gives over to chewiness, and drain. Do not rinse pasta.
With a vivacious flame under the sauce, add the noodles to it and toss with tongs until all of the noodles are covered in sauce and continue to toss for another 45 seconds. Top with toasted pine nuts, and Parmigiano if using, and serve immediately, or serve and pass around the cheese with a grater.
Makes 2 to 3 servings.
RAINBOW ROASTED ROOT VEGGIES WITH CARAMELIZED ONION AND SAGE
- 1 organic medium sweet potato, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 organic medium yam unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 medium or two small purple sweet potatoes
- 1 fennel bulb, core and tops removed, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 organic parsnip, unpeeled, sliced into 1/4-inch rings
- 1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced, white and light green parts only
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper (about 50 grinds)
- 2 teaspoons dried sage
Place rack on lowest level of oven, and preheat oven to 425 F.
Place the vegetables on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and grind pepper over them. Sprinkle with the sage. Use your fingers to toss all the pieces so they are evenly coated with oil and spices. Add more spices to taste. Bake for 45 minutes or until vegetables have browned. Toss and serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
BOK CHOY CHICKEN SOUP WITH GINGER AND GARLIC
- 4 cups Chicken Broth (recipe follows)
- 1 organic boneless, skinless chicken breast, optional
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow or red onion
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped, plus
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped, for serving bowls
- 4 baby bok choy, sliced horizontally in 1⁄2-inch strips
- Grated fresh ginger to taste (up to a teaspoon per bowl/person)
- Fresh cilantro leaves, a handful or a 1/2 cup
- Kosher salt to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon per serving
Prepare Chicken Broth, then set aside.
If you want chicken in the soup, boil the chicken breast in the broth, covered, until just cooked through. Turn off heat. Remove and shred with you fingers.
In a separate medium pot, coat bottom with olive oil and place over medium heat.
Sauté onions along with the chopped garlic. When translucent, add broth and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste.
Add bok choy and boil for a minute, until cooked but still bright green. Divide the rest of the chopped garlic to taste and grated ginger in each serving bowl and pour in the soup. Top generously with fresh cilantro leaves.
Makes 4 servings.
- 3 pounds organic chicken backs, necks or wings
- 2 yellow onions, unpeeled and left whole
- 3 carrots
- 3 stalks celery
- 3 sprigs parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves garlic
- 6 quarts water or just fill a large stock pot to cover vegetables
- Kosher salt to taste
Put all the ingredients into a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and continue to cook, covered, for 4 hours. Let cool before storing in fridge or freezer.
Makes about 6 quarts.
QUINOA TABOULI WITH FOUR FRESH HERBS
- 2 cups quinoa
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 scant teaspoons kosher salt
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon wheat-free tamari (or good soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon coconut aminos or Bragg Liquid Aminos (or another 1/2 teaspoon wheat-free tamari)
- 1 1/4 cups finely chopped fresh mint
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 15 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Cook quinoa with water in an automatic rice cooker, or follow package instructions. When done, remove lid to let cool slightly.
While still warm, add olive oil and salt and stir. Add lemon juice and lemon zest. Stir. Add tamari and coconut aminos. Stir. Add fresh herbs and and tomatoes and stir.
Let sit for 10 minutes for flavors to harmonize, then serve.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
ELANA HORWICH is the founder of Meal and a Spiel, a private cooking school based in Los Angeles.