Category Archives: Health

Becoming (and Staying) Vegetarian


When I tell non-vegetarians or vegans that I don’t eat meat or fish, they usually respond in one of two ways: they either look surprised (sometimes pleasantly, sometimes less so) or they say that they’re impressed, because, while they like the idea of vegetarianism, they don’t think they could ever do it. The reality is though, it’s not hard to make the transition if you’re committed to it.

It probably seems as though I’m preaching to the choir here – and to an extent, I am. But given that October is Vegetarian Awareness Month it seems like a good time to share some tips for those who have perhaps ‘flirted’ with vegetarianism or those who like the concept but aren’t sure if they’re ready to actually become vegetarian.

These tips are based on my own experiences with giving up meat. I became vegetarian in 2010 after thinking about it for several years, and was happily surprised that it was easier than I thought it would be. (I made the transition to veganism in early 2014 and will cover that in a separate post.)

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. If you’re already veg and you have other suggestions, ideas or personal stories to share, please post them in the comments below.

Tip 1: Know why you’re doing it.

There are many good reasons to go veg, whether it’s for moral reasons or because you want to improve your health or lessen your carbon footprint. Taking the time to think seriously about why you want to be vegetarian is important, since there may be times when you feel like giving up and it will help to remind yourself of why you made the decision to go veg in the first place.

Tip 2: Decide on an approach.

Some people stop eating all meat and fish immediately, while others opt for a more gradual approach. I personally was worried that I might relapse if I gave it up overnight, so I decided to eliminate one animal from my diet at a time. I eventually became vegetarian after several months of cutting out animal products and experimenting with vegetarian recipes. I suggest that you do whatever feels right for you.

Tip 3: Look for alternatives to staples in your diet.

If you consume a lot of meat/fish or have favourite dishes that include animal products, it’s not a bad idea to find substitutions so that you can still enjoy foods you know you like. For example, there are some very convincing ‘faux meats’ that are popular among many vegetarians and vegans (like products by Yves or Field Roast) and meat alternatives like soy, tempeh and seitan. If you’re used to having spaghetti and meatballs, try adding lentils or roasted vegetables to your pasta instead. Used to having turkey on a sandwich? Hummus is a great alternative. It may feel like a bit of hassle at first but I promise, there are so many delicious vegetarian options out there that you won’t feel like you’re missing out.

Tip 4: Do your homework.

A lot of processed/pre-packaged foods contain ingredients that are not vegetarian, or that may come from non-vegetarian sources. You’ll have to carefully check labels for things like gelatin (found in marshmallows and gummy candies, for example), shellac (common in candies with a shiny coating), anchovies (in Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad dressing), rennet (in some cheese/dairy products), carmine (used as a colouring agent), stearates (like calcium or magnesium stearate) or any derivatives of glycerine (like mono and di-glycerides, which are found in most commercial bread products). Some of these ingredients can be derived from plant sources, but more often than not they are not suitable for vegetarians. It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of asking questions in restaurants. Although almost every menu has at least one vegetarian option, seemingly innocent items like soup are often made with animal broths.

Tip 5: Talk to your friends and family about your decision.

This is especially important if most of the people you’re close to are omnivores. I recommend telling the people in your life about your new dietary preferences and your reasons for becoming vegetarian, since they will likely want to know the reason for the change and may wonder what you expect from them. Ask them to support you in your new lifestyle and suggest ways to make the transition easier for everyone. For example, you may need to be a little more involved in planning the menu for your next family gathering, or you could offer to prepare something the next time you go over to a friend’s house. Ultimately it will be up to you to work out the logistics (it will be more of an issue for some people than others) but it’s usually a discussion worth having.

Tip 6: Pay attention to your body.

Most people seem to feel great after ditching meat and fish from their diet. Before long, you should start to see and feel positive changes in your body such as increased energy, easier digestion, deeper sleep and of course, a clearer conscience if you’ve gone veg for non-health reasons. However, it’s important to make sure you’re eating balanced meals and getting the right nutrients (this goes for everyone, regardless of how they eat). If you start to notice any negative changes that don’t clear up on their own, like low energy levels or significant weight loss, it may be worth seeing a doctor or nutritionist. Eating a variety of fresh, whole foods should leave you feeling strong and healthy, but you may need or choose to supplement your diet with extra doses of vitamins and minerals like iron, B12 and calcium.

If you’re thinking about making the switch to vegetarianism but don’t feel ready to give up meat/fish completely, just do what you can at first. Some people do meatless Mondays, or follow a weekday vegetarian diet, or make 2 out of 3 meals each day vegetarian. Every little bit helps your body, the planet and the animals. And when you’re ready to fully commit to being vegetarian, you’ll already know which vegetarian meals you like and which restaurants in your area offer good veggie fare.

Stay tuned for another article with tips on becoming vegan, coming soon!

New NCVA member discount: 10% off purchases at terra20


The NCVA has enrolled in terra20’s Saving For Change program, which offers members a discount on terra20 merchandise.  By enrolling in this program as an NCVA member, you will save 10% on every regularly priced item in-store and while shopping at terra20’s online store, which offers more than 8,000 products. terra20 will also refund 2% of the total purchase amount made by NCVA members to support the association eco-initiatives.

terra20 is an Ottawa-based retailer, with North America’s largest selection of healthy and sustainable products under one roof, including personal care, electronics, household goods, apparel, home décor and much more.  Keep an eye out for the “Contains No Bunnies” icon which signifies that a product is vegan. The beaker icon indicates products that are free of 27 problematic chemicals (although all products at terra20 are vetted to be free of the 15 worst offenders, and to also not be tested on animals.)

The first location is a 15,000 sq. ft. flagship store beside Ikea. terra20 is opening a second location on Nov. 2 at 1304 Wellington Street W.

The enrollment process is easy –

  • To enroll in-store – simply visit the guest services desk in the store, identify yourself as a NCVA member by presenting your membership card or this email on your smartphone or in printed form. From there, you can quickly build a profile, and immediately begin to make purchases at the 10% discount
  •  To enroll online – simply click here and follow the instructions;  your profile will require two business days to become active.

(Here’s a blog post about vegan cosmetics written by NCVA board member (and terra20 staffer) Pamela Tourigny.)



The Healthy Vegetarian

Guest blogger Vanessa Morley is a registered dietetic technician and writes health blogs for Everyday Health.

People choose to embrace a vegetarian diet for a number of reasons especially to stay healthy. According to Everyday Health vegetarians live longer and healthier lives, but other reasons people choose vegetarianism is to lose weight, to save money or based on personal beliefs. Before you choose to change your diet, make sure to do your research. There are many healthy vegetarian options available, especially on the market today compared to twenty years ago, but if you aren’t in the know you could end up making pasta for every meal. Below are some healthy and delicious alternatives to meat, which you can start adding to your diet today, vegetarian or not.

1. Quinoa

Quinoa by Flikr user Gloria Cabada-Leman

Quinoa isn’t called a super food for nothing; it’s packed with protein (more than any other grain), fiber, essential vitamins and minerals–plus it’s gluten-free. Quinoa is also the only grain that is a complete protein; this means that it contains all the necessary amino acids that our bodies need. Quinoa is also very easy to use in the kitchen; just make a big batch of it and you’ll have it at hand to use in any recipe throughout the week. There are many recipes on different ways to utilize it for your meals, including a hot cereal for breakfast, a crunchy addition to your salads or a stuffing into vegetables, like bell peppers, for a delicious twist on a classic meal.

2. Soy Products

Edamame (soy beans) by Flikr user Camknows

There are a number of soy products on the market today for vegetarians, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy dairy products and ready to eat entrees. When choosing soy products, the more natural the product the better, which includes all the products I listed above besides the entrees. These products are minimally processed and allow you to make many different meals with them, while still getting the protein and calcium that may be lacking in your diet. Soy products are also very versatile in how they can be used in the kitchen including tofu smoothies, tempeh ratatouille and edamame dip. When choosing soy dairy products, look for products with no or low amounts of added sugar and products with soybeans as one of the first ingredients, and remember that just because it says it’s made with soy, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy.

3. Legumes

Mixed legumes by Flikr user Vanhookc

Legumes include beans, peas and lentils, which are a great source of protein, fiber, iron and folate, and contain no cholesterol and little fat. There are a countless number of legumes that you can incorporate into your diet, by adding them to soups, salads, ethnic dishes, snacks, side dishes and more. Legumes are also a very inexpensive alternative to meat, which can help cut your grocery bill while improving your health. Make sure to thoroughly rinse canned legumes, specifically beans, before adding them to a recipe to lower the sodium content.

Becoming a vegetarian can open the door to many new and delicious dishes that you may have never tried before. Get creative in the kitchen and make sure to fill your plate with a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits as well. Being a vegetarian may not be for everyone, but experimenting with these meat alternatives could help you live a long and healthy life!

The Mysteries of Food

by Carol Moshier on Flikr

People who know me know that I am a lazy bastard. So you can understand how the idea that a healthy vegan diet must be “planned” never flew too well with me. When I went vegan, I just decided to eat a variety of foods, light on the grains, and wait to see if I died.

It’s been sixteen years and so far, so good.

Still, I’ve always been kind of fascinated by all the myth and legend surrounding nutrition, and vegan nutrition in particular.

Chocolate is the real third food group.

Questions like:

1) Is processing food really the devil’s work, or can it be a good thing sometimes?
2) Is there any scientific evidence that people with certain blood types need to eat meat? Cause it sounds like crap to me.
3) Do we “absorb” things like calcium, iron and B12 better from animal than from vegetable products?
4) If I take vitamin supplements, is that the same thing as eating vitamin-rich foods? And should I take a multivitamin or high dose single vitamins (like B12)?
5) I heard that milk actually causes osteoporosis because it leaches calcium out of your bones. Is that true? Do other things leach calcium out of your bones?
6) What is the essential fatty acid stuff all about? I thought flax was good, but now I hear flax isn’t good. Also, people are taking spoonfuls of oils (e.g. Udo’s) and saying it is making them smarter. Have they completely lost their minds?
7) I hear that red meat is bad for colon cancer, but is white meat OK?
8 ) What makes me fat, fat or carbs?
9) Some of the things raw foodists say make me think they’ve been eating the crazy flakes. Is raw food really better for you? Is cooked food actually bad for you?
10) In the end, how much do we “really know” about nutrition?

Vesanto Melina, R.D.

If you’re likewise intrigued by the mysteries of food, this Monday’s event is for you. Vesanto Melina, registered dietician and co-author of such classics as Becoming Vegan and Becoming Raw will be giving a talk at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library at 7pm. The talk, entitled “Veg Nutrition for Superb Health“, will answer many of your questions, and the reception afterwards will give you a chance to ask Vesanto whatever other questions you might have.

THe NCVA will be providing healthy treats for the reception. So far, we’ve lined up “burrito cornbread bites”, carrot cake, gluten free brownies and the ubiquitous veggies and dip. If you’ve got a favourite healthy and delicious finger food recipe that you’d like to bring, contact me at

Hope to see you there!

Veg Nutrition for Superb Health – Free presentation on Oct. 15

Vesanto Melina, R.D.

The NCVA was absolutely delighted a few months ago when, out of the blue, one of North America’s leading vegan dietitians contacted us to offer to speak for the NCVA in Ottawa.

Vesanto Melina, R.D., is the award-winning co-author of best-selling books Becoming Raw, Becoming Vegan, The New Becoming Vegetarian, Raising Vegetarian Children, The Raw Food Revolution Diet, The Food Allergy Survival Guide, and the new Cooking Vegetarian.  She co-authored many of these with the equally magnificent Brenda Davis R.D., who was a speaker at Veg Fest 2009. Ms. Davis had suggested she get in touch with us, since Ms. Melina is visiting Ottawa for a conference.

We are so fortunate to have access to such top-tier expertise, right here at home.  On Oct. 15  Ms. Melina will present a comprehensive overview on how to keep yourself in superb health on a plant-based diet.  Those who attend will be treated to an update on protein power from plant foods, bone building without a drop of dairy, getting reliable sources of vitamin B12, including the good fats in your menus, and keeping your blood sugar level between meals without resorting to vegan junk food.  They will also be treated to some semi-healthy vegan treats, in honour of Ms. Melina.

Ms. Melina has taught nutrition at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and at Seattle’s Bastyr University. She co-authored the joint position paper on vegetarian diets of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada. Her website is

Here are the details:

Veg Nutrition for Superb Health
by Vesanto Melina
Ottawa Public Library, main branch
(Metcalfe Street, downtown Ottawa)
7:00 p.m. – Come early to ensure you get a seat!

What would you like to hear a renowned dietitian talk about?

On the evening of October 15, the NCVA will be hosting a talk by Vesanto Melina, R.D., co-author of the classics Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, and Becoming Raw.  All the details for that event will be announced soon, but we have something exciting to share right away: we get to pick the talk she’ll be giving!

Option #1: “Veg Nutrition for Superb Health”

“A comprehensive overview on how to keep yourself in superb health on a plant-based diet. Enjoy an update on protein power from plant foods, bone building without a drop of dairy, getting reliable sources of vitamin B12, including the good fats in your menus, and keeping your blood sugar level between meals without resorting to vegan junk food.”

Option #2: “Raw Food Diets: What’s True, What’s Not?”

“Can we survive—and thrive—on a raw food diet? Why would anyone want to? Do our bodies need the enzymes from plant foods? Are cooked foods toxic? Is food combining important for optimal digestion and health? Should we be eating buckwheat greens, sprouted legumes, raw mushrooms, and seaweeds? What do we learn from the major scientific studies about the health benefits of a diet composed entirely, or mainly, or raw plant foods? For maximum benefit, must our diet be 100 percent raw? What does a nutritionally adequate raw food diet look like?”

Don’t miss this chance to request the talk you’d like to hear from one of the most respected authorities on vegetarian, vegan, and raw nutrition (and food allergies and sensitivities too!) The poll closes Tuesday night, so go vote for your choice!

Update Thursday night: Option #1, “Veg Nutrition for Superb Health”, wins 14-11!

A few books co-authored by Vesanto Melina

Tofu tips and starter recipes from the 31-Day Vegan Challenge

So every few days, the Vegan Challenge participants get an informative email that shares recipes, tips, and other info.  In fact, they have been so informative that even I- a vegan of nearly eight years- am learning new things with each new email!  I thought, is there any reason why these should not be shared with everyone else?

What follows is an excerpt from the welcome email that was sent to Vegan Challenge participants by organizers Krista Mayer and Marc Charron.


Not so delicious.

Although some of you may already be familiar with it, we had to start with a classic veg delight – tofu! Tofu is a very versatile cooking ingredient. It can take on and absorb the taste of many of your favourite dishes, so your options are almost endless…You can also try other delicious soy products like tempeh and miso.

Tips on Cooking Tofu:

  • Delicious.

    Use firm or extra firm tofu for most recipes. Excess water may be squeezed out to make the texture even firmer.

  • An adult serving size is about ¼ of a block of tofu.
  • Some sources say that raw tofu should be steamed for 5 minutes to kill bacteria.
  • Silken tofu is already cooked before packaging, so it can be used without any prior preparation in things such as smoothies and desserts.
  • To store unused tofu for up to a week, completely submerge it in water and keep in the refrigerator. Be sure to change the water daily.
  • For longer periods of time, try freezing your tofu. This will change the texture and the colour but don’t worry – it’s normal and safe to consume. Simply defrost and squeeze out excess water before using.
  • Fried Tofu: Slice firm tofu in 1/2 x 1″ pieces, marinate in soy sauce 5 minutes, then fry both sides until crispy. This can be placed into pasta, rice, casseroles, stir fries, etc…Tofu can be marinated in any sauce you love. Add garlic or ginger (or any other favourite) to tailor the taste of the tofu to your liking.


Easy Tofu Recipes:

(The title for each recipe links to the original recipe source. These are not original NCVA recipes.)

Tofu Salad

We just tried this recipe the other day and it was delicious!

Serves 4


1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 (16 ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained and diced

1 cup snow peas, trimmed

2 small carrots, grated

1 cup finely shredded red cabbage

2 tablespoons chopped peanuts


1. In a large bowl, mix the chili sauce, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Place tofu in the mixture, and marinate 1 hour in the refrigerator.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Immerse the snow peas in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, then immerse in a a bowl of cold water. Drain, and set aside.

3. Toss the peas, carrots, cabbage, and peanuts with the tofu and marinade to serve.



Lime Curry Tofu

You can use this recipe as a stir fry or throw it into a wrap instead.

Serves 4


2 tablespoons peanut oil (can substitute with other oil)

16 ounces extra firm tofu (cut into bite sized cubes)

1 tablespoon ginger root (minced fresh)

2 tablespoons red curry paste

1 lb zucchini (diced)

1 red bell pepper (diced)

3 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons maple syrup

14 ounces coconut milk

½ cup fresh basil (chopped)


1. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the tofu and stir-fry until golden brown.

2. Remove the tofu and set aside, leaving the remaining oil in the wok.

3. Stir the ginger and curry paste into the hot oil for a few seconds until the curry paste is fragrant and the ginger begins to turn golden. Add the zucchini and bell pepper; cook and stir for 1 minute.

4. Pour in the lime juice, soy sauce, maple syrup, coconut milk, and tofu. Bring the coconut milk to a simmer, and cook a few minutes until the vegetables are tender and the tofu is hot.

5. Stir in the chopped basil just before serving.


Peanut Sauce Vegetable Stir Fry with Tofu

Serves 4


1 tablespoon oil

1 small head broccoli, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

5 medium mushrooms, sliced

1 (12 -14 ounce) package extra firm tofu, cubed

1/2 cup hot water

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 cup peanut butter

cayenne pepper, to taste

3 cups cooked rice


1. In a small bowl, combine peanut butter, hot water, vinegar, soy sauce, and cayenne pepper. (Don’t worry if sauce is not entirely blended; heat will melt the peanut butter into a smooth texture when added to wok.)

2. Heat oil in large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Sauté broccoli, pepper, mushrooms, and tofu for 5 minutes.

3. Pour peanut sauce over vegetable-tofu mix. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and crisp.

4. Serve over rice, and enjoy!