Making veg the star of your plate


Making veg the star of your plate

By Jane Clarke

January 15, 2018

I’ve just made the most delicious ribollita, the classic Italian soup with as nourishing a list of ingredients as you could hope to find. With its dark kale, tomatoes and beans, it’s a real meal in a bowl. Whenever I make this dish, which I think the word soup undersells, it rekindles happy memories of holidays spent in Tuscany when my daughter Maya was young. There was nothing more idyllic than coming home from the market with boxes of deep red tomatoes and other fresh produce, and making a vat of ribolitta. The soup is as comforting served at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil in the summer, as it is dished up piping hot in the chill of winter.
I love making ribolitta in January, as I tend to eat less meat this month after the festive celebrations. With the popularity of ‘veganuary’ and New Year resolutions to eat less meat (or none at all), I’m not alone in putting plants at the centre of my plate at this time. I’m a huge advocate of eating more fruit and vegetables, as the nutrients and fibre they contain have proven health benefits and may reduce our risk of developing serious illness. But suddenly switching up to a vegetable-packed diet does come with a few side effects, especially if you have a sensitive gut, perhaps as a result of cancer treatment. Here are a few tips to help.

Beans and pulses provide essential protein in a plant-based diet but they can cause trapped wind and bloating, which can be extremely painful, especially if you’re recovering from surgery or have an overly active gut. Make sure you cook the beans well before you add them to dishes and use just a few – just because a recipe says a particular quantity, you can often tweak it to have a less beany hit. You may find specific beans suit you better than others.

Kale and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables renowned for their cancer-fighting phytochemicals but they too can cause wind and bloating. You can cut down the quantity in dishes and swap in French beans and root vegetables instead, which are still packed with goodness but should be gentler on your digestion. Fresh mint or fennel tea helps soothe bloating if it occurs.

Boost your iron intake. Beans and lentils, as well as the dark green leaves, are good sources of iron, which is a key nutrient to watch if you’re focusing on plant-based eating. The non-haem iron they contain is less easily accessible to the body than haem iron from meat sources. Vitamin C can help you to absorb iron from plant sources, so add some fresh lemon to a glass of water to sip as you eat, or stir freshly squeezed lime or lemon into a dish just before you serve (lime is wonderful added to a vegetable stir fry and lemon adds a zesty hit to ribolitta). Lack of iron can be an issue when you’re undergoing cancer treatment, so it’s good to think ahead and help your body out by including lots of the lovely sources of plant-based iron in your diet.

Don’t fill up on fibre. Plant-based diets can be rich in the fibre we know is great for the gut, but eating a lot of fibre can mean we feel full too quickly. If you’re feeling unwell and already have a small appetite, it can mean you stop eating before you’ve taken in all the energy and nutrients you need. You can keep portions small if you add calorie-rich ingredients such as olive, coconut or avocado oils, nut milks and dairy or non-dairy cream, such as coconut cream, or butter. A simple risotto can made more creamy and calorie rich by stirring in some butter and a little Parmesan cheese at the end of cooking.

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