New food resolutions

A post-workout blended smoothie.

A post-workout blended smoothie.

PHOTO/Michele Swaczyna

Michele Swaczyna is the author of the cookbook Be Vegan: Skip the Diet, Just Eat Healthy and shares recipes and lifestyle tips on her YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/bvgan) and website (www.bvgan.com).

A local nutrition writer offers diet advice for every New Year’s resolution

Standing at the precipice of a new year grants us all the opportunity to reexamine our lives and behaviors from the past year—what we are pleased with, and what we plan to leave behind once the clock strikes 12. Perhaps you’ve been toying with the idea of cleaning up your diet, or taking on some goals you’d like to accomplish but just haven’t been able to muster up the willpower to do them. The groundwork for all happiness is health. After all, if we don’t have our health, we do not have the energy or time to make a positive impact in our personal world, or the world around us.

I’m a cookbook author, a nutrition writer, a video blogger, a wife and a mother. I attended high school here and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, then left the city for a time and have now returned home.

It’s the season for New Year’s resolutions. Here are 10 common New Year’s resolutions and some dietary advice that might help you maintain your resolve.

Resolution 1: Eat healthier

A plant-based diet excludes animal products: all meat, seafood, dairy—basically anything that has a mother. If done correctly, a plant-based diet uses little to no oil, minimal to no processed ingredients, and focuses on eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds. Eating this way is lower in saturated fats, free of cholesterol, rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Eating a plant-based diet can lower, prevent, and in some cases even reverse heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, allergies, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, dementia, stroke, colon, ovarian and breast cancers, as well as obesity. A plant-based diet can be key to the illusive fountain of health.

At first glance, it may seem restrictive, but this lifestyle can be a simple approach to eating, as well as kinder on your wallet. Just be sure to get in a variety of plant-based proteins (such as beans, quinoa, lentils, tempeh, nuts and seeds), whole grains (like millet, brown rice, oats, barley), as well as fruits and vegetables. Don’t stress—you don’t need to be a culinary genius to eat a healthful, tasty, well-rounded plant-based diet. Think: warming oats or a green smoothie for breakfast, a loaded veggie sandwich or a soup and salad for lunch, brown rice pasta with veggie marinara sauce for a satisfying dinner.

Not interested in transitioning overnight? Slow and steady wins the race, too. Try swapping to a plant-based option one meal at a time—a great way to do this is to try a tour of local eats from a variety of restaurants here in town that offer scrumptious plant-based options. One of my favorites is the Vegan Scramble Wrap from Great Full Gardens for breakfast. For lunch, head over to Süp and have the split pea or roasted mushroom and farro soup to keep you satisfied and loaded up on nutrients. When dinner rolls around, find The Fix, a local vegan food truck specializing in falafel and hand-cut fries, for some of the best falafel I’ve ever had.

Recipe: Loaded veggie sandwich

- 4 slices whole grain bread

- 4 tbsp hummus

- 1/2 ripe avocado (mashed)

- 1 cup mixed greens

- 1/4 large cucumber (sliced)

- 1/2 large tomato (sliced)

- a few slices of red onion

- a few slices of mushroom

-1-2 tbsp Bubbies beet horseradish

- sea or rock salt & pepper to taste

Toast your bread, and while waiting chop up the veggies. Assemble the sandwich with all of the ingredients and devour. Or wrap it up, and have it on the go. Serves two.

Resolution 2: Exercise more

Conventional wisdom is that a vegan diet will negatively affect athletic performance because it doesn’t provide enough protein. However, athletes across many sports are proving the protein myth wrong. Check out vegan bodybuilder Nimai Delgado, or ultra athlete Rich Roll, for example. In fact, the protein requirement for humans is so low (only 5 to 10 percent of total caloric intake) that as long as you are eating enough calories to maintain your weight, it’s practically impossible to be protein deficient.

And if you eat a wide variety of whole, unprocessed plants, you will get enough of every essential amino acid, regardless of which diet you choose. By consuming foods high in nutrients and low in calorie density, you’ll support energy production and muscle recovery without excess fat gain. In fact, one of the primary advantages cited by pro plant-based athletes is that eating this way has lessened their recovery time. An animal-based diet is highly acidic resulting in inflammation and impaired recovery. An alkaline plant-based diet will not only give you the energy to want to exercise more but help you recover quicker to perform at your peak the next time you are in the gym, out on the trail, or playing with your kids. Try this recovery shake after your next workout:

Recipe: post-workout blend

- 1 frozen ripe banana

- 2 kale leaves

- 1 cup mixed berries

- 2 cup dairy free milk (almond, or organic soy work well)

- 1 tsp hemp hearts

- 2 medjool dates (pitted)

Blend until smooth.

Resolution 3: Lose weight

Large portions, without overdoing it on calories? Sign me up? Since most whole plant foods contain 600 calories or fewer per pound (excluding nuts and seeds), you can eat a lot of high volume food and not feel deprived on your journey to health. In fact, on average, people adhering to a plant-based diet have a lower BMI (body mass index) than those on a SAD (standard American diet). Eating high-volume, lower-calorie plant foods allows you the freedom to feel satiated without blowing your daily calorie budget. Switching to a plant-based diet does not give you the license eat everything in sight, but you won’t have that deprivation sensation while whittling your waistline. The award-winning ingredient to help you stay satisfied? Vegetables come in at number one. Vegetables are generally lower in calories per volume than proteins and grains. So if you want to eat a bigger meal, jam it full of veggies. Leafy greens, lettuce, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn, potatoes and the like all deliver lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber to help you feel fuller longer. Other great options are air-popped popcorn, vegetable soups, or frozen whole fruit pops if you are on the hunt to tame your sweet tooth.

Resolution 4: Increase mental clarity

Adding more plant foods to your diet will optimize brain function. You may even find your attention span longer, a new ability to focus, a sharper memory, and just being able to deal with stressful situations with far less of an emotional response. A healthy brain is a key component to a long and enjoyable life, not to mention a handy helper in checking off everything on your to-do list. Start by adding in fruits high in antioxidants, like wild blueberries and red grapes, to help combat brain fog, protect against damage to brain cells, and boost brain power. To keep your brain at its best, look to foods high in beta-carotene like carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, mango, leafy greens, broccoli and pumpkin. This will boost the memory and reduce cognitive decline. Avocados are amazing for the brain as they are a great source of omega-6 fatty acids. Avocados help restore the central nervous system and aid against Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Try my brain food salad with sweet potatoes the next time you need some focus and brain power. Each ingredient aids in cognitive function.

Recipe: sweet potatoes

- 1 - 2 medium sweet potatoes (peeled and sliced into rounds)

- 1/2 tsp garlic salt

A veggie sandwich

PHOTO/Michele Swaczyna

- 1/4 tsp cumin

- 1/4 tsp paprika

- 1/4 tsp sea salt

- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Place potato rounds into a steamer insert with about two inches of water in the sauce pan below. Cover, and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for seven minutes, then remove from heat.

Transfer potatoes to a parchment paper lined baking sheet doing your best not to overlap them.

In a small bowl, combine all the spices, then sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the potatoes. Bake until slightly browned and slightly crispy. About 20 minutes, but you may need up to 30 depending on your oven.

Recipe: sunflower salad dressing

- 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds (soaked for about an hour, then drained)

- 1/2 to 3/4 c water (to desired thickness)

- 3 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

- 2 cloves garlic

- 1 tbsp fresh chives (finely chopped)

- salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients except the chives in a Vitamix and blend on high for one to two minutes, until smooth. Scoop out and mix in the chives.

Recipe: salad

- 1- 2 tbsp raw walnuts

- 1/2 avocado (sliced)

- desired amount red leaf lettuce, or your lettuce of your choice

- desired amount of kale

- desired amount of rainbow chard

- desired amount of tomato

Resolution 5: Learn a new skill

A plant-based diet will force you to hone in on improving your plant-based cooking skills. Creativity in the kitchen will not only help you thrive, but it’s a great way to tempt your tastebuds through curiosity of all the new foods available to your palate. Learn some basics, and then you get three chances every day to practice them. Trying something new is the name of the game, so make a new recipe once a week. Look for inspiration the next time you eat out for dinner. Laughing Planet has a great selection of delectable plant-based plates that do not disappoint. You can’t go wrong with the Highway to Kale Salad or the Cuban Burrito.

Resolution 6: Stop drinking coffee

If you want to kick the caffeine addiction to the curb, there’s an easy plant-based option you can use to reduce your caffeine intake. Chicory root coffee, made from the roots of the chicory plant, which are roasted, ground and then brewed into a coffee-like drink is a phenomenal substitute. It tastes similar to coffee, is naturally caffeine-free, acid free, and has a slightly woody or nutty flavor. It is a good source of insulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that has been linked to increased weight loss and improved gut health. It also contains some manganese and vitamin B6 (nutrients tied to brain health). Try out Teeccino’s French Roast (find it at Natural Grocer’s). Or try out the caffeine-free Turmeric Latte at Great Full Gardens for an anti-inflammatory, immune boosting warming way to start your day.

Resolution 8: Wake up earlier

People following a plant-based diet are more likely to get a better night’s sleep due to the fact that their meals come from easily digestible foods compared to a diet rich in meat and dairy. Vitamin B6, found in avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes and leafy greens, contributes to a full night’s rest, and in turn will help you wake ready to face the day with a smile. If your body is chronically deprived of regenerative sleep, you may still feel fatigued when you wake up. Research suggests that going to bed earlier not only enables you to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, but still leaves time to fit in a bit of exercise before work, giving you even more power and energy to accomplish all your goals for the day.

Resolution 9: Declutter the House

Simple little decisions every single day will allow you to declutter your diet, mind, body … so why not tackle the junk drawer too? With more mental clarity, vibrancy from eating clean, better sleep, quality time with the ones you love, why wouldn’t you want to take on the daunting task of the guest room closet? So take ownership of your excuses, regain responsibility for where you are, and focus on your goals daily. The power to be clean inside and out is within your reach.

Resolution 7: Spend more time with loved ones

Consuming fruits and veggies effectively increases serotonin levels (the happiness chemical), which can transform us into someone people actually want to hang around. And who knows, if you make the decision to eat more plants as a family, you may actually eliminate family drama. Having the support of doing this together will encourage you to stay the course, try out new recipes together, and just generally keep you inspired and excited as you see positive changes in yourself and those you love. Head to West Street Market for your next family night out. There are a variety of plant-based choices to suit everyone’s tastes. My pick is to try Thali’s Vegan and Gluten-Free Plate consisting of legumes, a vegetable dish, vegan yogurt, basmati rice and a vegan dessert. A great way to sample flavorful Indian spices while keeping it plant-based.

Resolution 10: Have a better love life

Feeling comfortable in your own skin is key to being confident and hooking the attention of that special someone. Adopting a diet rich in whole, water-rich foods will help you achieve smooth, glowing, vibrant skin. Choosing fruits and veggies high in antioxidants will help build collagen and increase elasticity, counteracting free radicals and anti-inflammatory responses.

Conversely, consuming a diet high in meats, dairy, processed foods, and high fat result may contribute to acne, allergies, skin inflammation and body odor. Not so sexy. A diet high in fruits and vegetables will keep your body smelling fresh from the inside out. Think of it as an internal deodorant leaving you smelling sweet and luring the one you want closer for some quality time.

To get it on—in the kitchen that is—try adding more watermelon to your diet. This water-rich fruit flushes out toxins quickly and allows the immune system to reset itself, not to mention giving you a flat stomach. It’s good for the blood vessels, may increase libido, and help lessen mystery infertility. It’s such a fast digesting fruit that it’s best to eat it on an empty stomach. Here’s an easy recipe to get your juices flowing for an early morning romp.

Recipe: watermelon

- 4 cups watermelon (diced)

- 2 tablespoons fresh mint (chopped)

- desired amount of fresh lime juice

Place watermelon in a large bowl. Squeeze the lime juice over top, and sprinkle with fresh mint. Feel energized, and hydrated to take on your next conquest.