Who I Am
Hi, everyone! I’m so excited that you are here! My name is Jennifer Provenza and I decided to create a blog that centers on nourishing, yet delicious, whole foods plant based foods that are free of added oil or refined sugars. As a professor of theatre, I have a passion for teaching and sharing my knowledge with others. And, I have learned how important a nutritious diet is to keep both performers and everyone else at their most healthy! I decided to combine my love of teaching with my lifelong love of cooking by creating this blog. Keep reading to learn a little bit more about me and my journey to healthy eating.
As a kid, I grew up eating pretty healthy food that my mom cooked every night. There was some meat and cheese, but we ate a lot of vegetarian food and I always preferred her cooking to more processed foods. As a teen, I became concerned about eating red meat after reading about how a lot of red meat consumption was linked to cancer. I cut red meat from my diet until I was in college and I didn’t miss it. (I’ve also never been a huge meat person anyway.)
In college, Ian (my high school sweetheart) and I lived in NYC. We moved across country to a tiny apartment in Chelsea. I cooked up a storm in our little kitchen that was just a wall of our living room. At this point, I was having some health issues that required me to cut out sugar, dairy, and processed carbs from my diet. That turned out to be a good thing! I learned to cook using lots of vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and sweet potatoes. Ian and I both felt and looked healthier. One thing I’m not proud of is that I did add back in the occasional burger or steak because I felt deprived without sugar. But, overall, we were eating very healthy and walking a lot.
The Early Married Years
After we got married and I finished grad school, we moved to San Diego, where Ian was starting grad school. While living there, I briefly tried to go vegetarian, but I relied on a lot of cheese and carbs instead of meat, and we both started feeling not our best. So, I went back to cooking with some amount of meat.
Life With Kids
However, after moving back near our hometown and having two daughters, I started reading more about healthy eating and I was surprised by what I learned! I had always thought that only red meat was unhealthy and that low fat cheese was totally good for you!
What I Learned
Through reading information on the Plant Based Life Foundation website (led by Dr. Rosane Oliveira, a clinical professor in public health sciences at UC Davis) and reading information written by Timaree Hagenburger, a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, I learned a ton of new things. In fact, the absolute healthiest diet that we know of is a whole foods plant based one, without oil or sugar. For instance, if you look at the “Blue Zones” of the world, where people live the longest, you will see that they eat this way.
So, wouldn’t I want to eat as healthy as possible? Well….yeah, but, um, that diet doesn’t really sound very delicious. Oh how wrong I was! I started reading some blogs and cookbooks (some faves are Oh She Glows and Dreena Burton) and experimenting with their recipes. I also started to develop my own recipes.
How I Did It
I decided to start small and simple, by transitioning my breakfasts to being plant based. That was easy because I was already eating whole grain cereal and almond milk most days. I learned to make delicious pancakes, waffles, smoothies, and other foods that were plant based. Next, I made sure my lunches were plant based too. That was easy too, as I generally ate things like peanut butter and fruit spread on whole wheat toast. I started making non dairy yogurt parfaits, homemade granola, chickpea salad sandwiches, etc. It was all even easier than I thought it would be!
Dinner was more challenging, but I started doing plant based meals just one day a week. Once I had a repertoire of good recipes, I added more days until I was cooking plant based every day! We ate this way for a few years (even though Ian definitely was still eating cheeseburgers outside the house). The changes to our health were enormous even then! I was able to completely get off of prescription antacids that I had been on for years and my chronic heartburn improved by about 90%. Ian (who had high cholesterol) got his levels down significantly.
The Next Steps
Unfortunately, our health was not perfect. Both of us had some minor health issues and Ian’s pre-diabetes turned into full fledged diabetes. I started wondering if I could get us even healthier by cutting out the oil and sugar from our diets. I learned from Plant Based Life that even “healthy” oils like olive oil are bad for you, simply because the amount of calories and fat you get is so much more than you would ever get from a whole food. It’s much better to, say, eat an avocado or some nuts than use avocado or coconut oil. And sugar leads to all kinds of health problems too.
What We Decided To Do
Luckily, Ian was on board and he promised to give up not only cheeseburgers, but even the late night plates of nachos he would consume after I went to bed. Still, I was determined that we would not suffer by eating bland, boring foods. I had some questions though. First, how could I bake or saute foods without oil to keep the food from sticking to the pan? (Turns out, water or broth works perfectly well for most foods. For things like pancakes, I just use a nonstick pan and one or two sprays of nonstick spray, adding a negligible amount of oil to the dish). What about baking? How can you forgo eggs, butter, and sugar? (I’ve learned that a tablespoon of ground flax seed mixed with two tablespoons of water makes a perfect egg substitute in baking. And, nut butters can be used in place of butter. Maple syrup or stevia work great as a sugar replacement.) Finally, what about cheese? What about pizza? (Don’t worry, whole wheat crust topped with my homemade cheese sauce and a boatload of veggies and garlic satisfies that craving just fine.)
Where We Are Now
Today, we eat a 98% whole foods plant based diet that is free of oil and refined sugar. Ian avoids even unrefined sugar because of his diabetes. We aim to fill half of our plate with vegetables. I do (rarely) eat a little oil or sugar and my daughters still eat dairy and eggs. Ian has fish occasionally. But, overall, this new way of eating makes up our diet on a daily basis. Ian looks and feels the healthiest he has in years and I have noticed that I have more energy and less anxiety. The best part, though, is that this doesn’t feel like a restrictive diet that we are stuck with. Instead, this feels like a way of life that we can easily continue indefinitely. We feel nourished and healthy and we enjoy delicious food every single day!