We all know we should eat more vegetables, but what does this really mean for those of us diagnosed with haemochromatosis?
With new diets seemingly presenting themselves weekly, and conflicting studies just as quickly supporting or discrediting the new kid on the block, the benefits of eating a broad variety of vegetables daily continues to stand tall through all of the “noise”.
The benefits of eating a plant based diet are many and varied, including helping to ward off a range of health issues such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
For those of us with haemochromatosis, vegetables in particular are an important and simple way through which to receive all of the essential vitamins and minerals necessary for optimum health without overloading on iron. This is because vegetables (along with whole grains, nuts, tofu, dried beans and pulses) are a non heme iron source and therefore not as readily absorbed by the body as heme iron originating from animal products. You can learn more about heme and non heme iron here.
Now, a little disclaimer here – I’m not vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian or abide by any other strict dietary regime. Raised in a farming family, I grew up on “meat and veg”, mostly sourced from our own fat lambs and vegetable garden. Back then, no one used the words free range or organic, however that’s largely the diet I grew up on. We called it “making do with what we had”, particularly as the nearest supermarket was some 40 minutes away.
It was through this wonderfully simple upbringing that I developed a love of cooking and fearlessness in creating new vegetable based recipes using what we had on hand. An abundance of tomatoes? No problem let’s make sauce, chutney and stewed tomatoes for winter casseroles and bakes. Too many zucchinis? No problem, let’s make soup, pickles, fritters and cakes. Too much for us to eat? No problem, lets drop off surprise packages to friends, family and elderly residents living on their own. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have been raised in such a generous and resourceful community.
Hence, whilst we may have had a ready supply of prime Mallee lamb, our diet was actually quite diverse, with meals often consisting of creative dishes dreamed up from the garden – primarily out of necessity to deplete the abundance of a productive vegetable patch fuelled by organic compost.
Plant based diets should similarly form an important part of the diet of anyone with haemochromatosis. I quite like the new term which is floating around to describe this type of eating – flexitarianism – as some days I do just prefer a meat free meal, filling the gap with an array of delicious plant based foods.
Follow these tips below and you too will stop seeing vegetables as a side dish and more frequently the hero of any meal.
- Skip Meat as A Main Meal Once a Week – Whilst “Meatless Monday” might have started as a public health and environmental campaign, there is no disputing this global movement has made eating a plant based main meal more acceptable in many households. As most of you would know, I love soups as a simple, inexpensive and tasty meat free meal option, with the added benefit of being able to prepare a large pot of seasonal vegetable goodness and freezing leftovers for filling and nutritious midweek lunches.
- Choose Variety – There are so many new varieties of vegetables popping up now that it is hard not to get excited. Call me odd, but I can rarely visit a market or green grocer without looking at an enticing vegetable and thinking “now, what can I do with you?”. My current favourite is heirloom carrots, with their purple, yellow and orange exteriors just waiting to be washed, trimmed and baked en papilotte with thyme, butter, verjuice, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Trust me, these are delicious and the benefits of the carrots steaming in their own little parcel not only turns them the most gorgeous, vivid colour but also retains the most phytonutrients, thereby increasing the antioxidant benefits! We really do eat with our eyes, so what could be better than eating a rainbow of steaming, sweet, caramelised carrots?
- Keep it Simple – You don’t need to do too much to vegetables to make them magnificent. Toss together a couple of cups of veggies (carrots, mushrooms, capsicum, baby corn, bok choy, broccoli, kale etc) with some coconut oil, garlic, ginger, chilli and tamari and sprinkle over some sesame oil at the end and you have a vibrant and nutritious stir fry which will not only taste incredible but also smell amazing. Make a super salad bowl by starting with a bed of greens, add a few cups of chopped veggies of your choice, top with some toasted walnuts, avocado or feta, drizzle over homemade dressing of olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar and you have a delicious salad bowl from fridge to table in under 5 minutes.
- Get Creative – Think you’ll miss all of your favourite foods by cutting out meat? Think again! Incorporating more vegetables into your diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out if you use your imagination. Look to replace a steak with a hearty Portobello mushroom, swap a beef burger for a sweet potato and veggie pattie or make a meal of vegetable fritters and serve with your favourite topping, such as smashed avocado, rocket and a poached egg (check out my zucchini fritter recipe below for inspiration).
- Have Fun with It – There are a plethora of cookbooks on the market now which include simple, low fuss vegetable based dishes with everyday ingredients. Two of my favourites are The Chef Gets Healthy (Tobie and Georgia Puttock, Penguin Group, 2015) and Deliciously Ella (Ella Woodward, Yellow Kite Books, 2015).
We all know we need to eat more vegetables, particularly those of us with haemochromatosis. By adopting the tips above, and incorporating more plant based meals like my yummy zucchini, mint and pea fritters and green tea and soba noodle soup, into your diet, not only will you be eating smarter for better health but also satiating your taste buds, and what could be better than that?
- 2 zucchini, grated and set aside to drain for 5 minutes
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 cup peas (frozen or fresh)
- 100g feta, crumbled (optional)
- 1/4 cup coconut flour
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 handful of mint, chopped finely
- 1 handful of parsley, chopped finely
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1. Mix together all ingredients (with the exception of the coconut oil) and form into 8 fritters.
- 2. Melt coconut oil in a shallow frying pan.
- 3. Place fritters into pan (4 at a time) and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden.
- 4. Drain on paper towel.
- You can also drain the zucchini by placing in a clean tea towel and twisting the towel until all moisture is released.
- Coconut flour is highly absorbent. You can substitute the 1/4 cup of coconut flour with 1 cup of regular flour and 2 eggs.
- Feta is optional.
- 2 tbsp loose leaf green tea (or 4 teabags)
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped with white and green parts separated
- 1/2 inch knob of ginger, grated
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 80g shitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 small carrot, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 50g snow peas, sliced in half
- 100g bean shoots
- 90g organic soba noodles (pre-cooked and drained according to instructions)
- 1 handful coriander, chopped finely
- I handful thai basil leaves, torn
- 1/4 red chilli, sliced thinly
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1. Firstly, prepare the green tea in 2 cups of water and set aside to steep for 5 minutes.
- 2. Add sesame oil to a large saucepan and add the white sections of spring onions, ginger and garlic. Cook gently until softened.
- 3. Pour in green tea, vegetable stock and tamari. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.
- 4. Add mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the broth is earthy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- 5. Add bok choy, snow peas and bean shoots and simmer for 3 minutes.
- 6. Add pre-cooked noodles and heat for 3 minutes.
- 7. Garnish with herbs and thinly sliced chilli.
- Chicken, prawns or tofu can be added after Step 6 above.
- Green tea is known to reduce iron absorption by around 60-70%.