Building a Healthier Pasta Bowl: Quinoa Spaghetti with Tomato Cream Sauce! Plus, Some Thoughts on Oils in a Plant Based Diet


In yesterday’s post—apricot almond muffins, daughter-made and mom-approved—I talked a bit about how and why my mom has been on a mission to improve some of her eating habits. Full recap is here, but to sum it up: my mom has made a ton of healthy improvements in the last year, minimizing dairy, cutting back on animal protein, exercising more, and ultimately lowering her cholesterol. That said, she’s still got a slight weakness for muffins, scones, cookies, and the like (who doesn’t?). And, as I learned on Friday when we were making dinner together, she also tends to overdo it on oils.

Oils seem to be a loaded topic at the moment: a lot of vegans are strictly against them, even in small amounts. The major claim here, which is argued eloquently by numerous vegan doctors, including Joel Fuhrman, Caldwell Esselstyn, and Neal Barnard, is that oils provide incredibly concentrated amounts of fat and calories without providing any nutrition. They are a processed food, and therefore inherently less valuable than whole foods, and on top of all of that, Esselstyn makes a powerful case that oils—even the so called “heart healthy” olive oil—contribute to heart disease just as surely (though not as drastically) as animal fats. Barnard allows for some very limited use of oil in his recipes; Esselstyn, not a drop.

So, where do I stand on this issue? I suppose someplace in between these perspectives and a more mainstream position. I agree that the vast majority of oils, olive oil included, are not a health food; in spite of the health mythology that surrounds olive oil (and the “Mediterranean Diet”), it provides little nutrient density for all of its concentrated stores of fat. Yes, mono and polyunsaturated fats are enormously important for health and satiety, but I basically agree with the lower-fat vegan docs that you can get these fats along with other kinds of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) in the form of nuts, seeds, and avocadoes.

Saying that whole food sources of fat are preferable to oils, however, is not the same thing as saying that all oils in any quantity are akin to poison. Oils may not be nutrient-packed, and I think they should be used in moderation (especially if you’re trying to lose weight or you have a history of high cholesterol), but they can work wonders in certain kinds of recipes—especially salads! And the nice thing is that (in my experience) a very small amount of oil can go a long way in cooking. I myself use oils regularly, as you know from my recipes, but I’m mindful of portions, and often rely on them primarily for texture, rather than as my main source of healthy fat. I make a point of balancing small amounts of oil with other kinds of fat sources; for example, my pesto recipes are primarily nuts/seeds, but I’ll use a tablespoon or so of oil to get things moving in the food processor. Many of my dressings contain oil, but a good many start with tahini or avocado instead.

That said? If using a small drizzle of flax or hemp oil on a salad is more likely to make you eat leafy greens, and replace animal proteins with veggies, I’m fine with it. And speaking of flax or hemp oils, it’s worth noting that these two may actually provide some nutrient value in exchange for fat. They both provide Omega-3 fatty acids, which are being shown to have an important impact on health, and which aren’t always easy to obtain. One of the problems with many conventional oils is that they’re very rich in Omega-6 fatty acids (olive oil, safflower oil, and palm oil all fall into this category), which most of us already eat enough—or too much—of. So using flax and hemp oil (in moderation) can help us to access some of those sorely needed Omega-3s.

Flax and hemp oil, however, can’t be heated (they have very low smoke points, which means that they can release harmful compounds upon heating), so for high temperature cooking, I recommend coconut or avocado oil, which have high smoke points. Coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, but research suggests that it may not contribute to cholesterol in the same way animal fat does. So it’s best to use it with discretion, as with all oils, but you shouldn’t necessarily be horrified by the saturated fat content when you purchase a bottle (look for extra virgin coconut oil).


As far as the evidence of heart disease goes, current research seems to suggest a mixture of findings. I don’t personally think that there’s enough evidence to claim that moderate amounts of flax, hemp, avocado, or olive oil will contribute directly to heart diseasewhen paired with a plant-based diet; indeed, part of the problem is that we haven’t had enough studies on the role of moderate use of olive, avocado, flax, and hemp oils within a plant based paradigm. Of course a no or low-oil approach will be useful to those who come from SAD diets; in this case, any reduction of fat is probably useful and necessary! But there is far less evidence on the role of moderate intake of Omega-3 rich oils in healthy vegan diets. In the meantime, some of the most up-to-date research on oils rich in monounsaturated fats suggests that these oils may actually be beneficial in small amounts. My takeaway? Moderation and discernment: be mindful of quantities, and be smart about which oils you buy.

What does tend to make me worry is what I call the “glug” effect: that’s watching someone prepare a dish with oil, and listening to the oil canister go “glug glug glug” as an enormous amount of oil is poured over naked vegetables. Which is precisely what my Mom was doing as she prepared a pasta dish on Friday night. “What?” she insisted. “It’s the Mediterranean diet!” I gently suggested that four or five tablespoons of oil on a simple, 2-serving pasta dish was probably a little too much; one tablespoon might be a better idea. My mom looked mildly horrified. “One tablespoon…?” she said, incredulously. “That’s barely anything!”

At moments like these, when someone is confronted with a habit change that feels huge, it’s best to focus on rewarding and positive changes, rather than rules or eliminations. So I let my mom know that there are tons of way to add flavor to pastas with moderate fat—not zero fat, but moderate fat. These include:

  • Using fresh, chopped herbs in the pasta, such as basil or thyme, to add flavor
  • Using two tablespoons of pesto, rather than two tablespoons of straight up oil—so much tastier, too!!!
  • Adding many more veggies to the pasta, which increase texture and taste
  • Using a variety of sauces—avocado cream sauce, red pepper hemp sauce—that provide flavor and taste along with nutrition and healthy fats
  • Nutritional yeast, which is not only a great stand-in for parm, but high in protein, too

And I vowed to make mom a tasty vegan pasta dish the next evening that would satisfy her taste buds without too much unnecessary oil. She said she was on board.

This vegan tomato cream sauce featured in this dish is just delicious. It’s also easy, and it’s the kind of recipe I know my Mom will make again, even if I’m not there. It’s all well and good to make recipes for people, but helping them to establish healthy habits also involves giving them the tools to re-create those recipes when you’re not around. Part of what makes the sauce tasty is this stuff:


Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes! They’re packed with flavor, and they’re 100% organic. Plus, cooked tomatoes are great sources of lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant.

To the crushed tomatoes, I added white beans and nutritional yeast; together, these add iron, protein, and B-vitamins to the sauce. And finally, I added cashews, which create a creamy texture and satisfying amount of fat—all without 5 tbsp of olive oil. As you’ll see, I do use a teaspoon of oil or so to help keep the pasta from sticking. And on a different night, I’ll gladly make my mom a pesto dish that’s a little richer in oil. But for now, I’m just happy to have helped her to find new and more nourishing alternatives the the usual combo of olive oil and salt.


Quinoa Pasta with Vegan Tomato Cream Sauce (vegan, gluten free, soy free)

Serves 4

8 oz quinoa pasta
3 cups broccoli, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced thin
Salt and pepper
1-2 tsp olive or avocado oil

For the sauce:

1 can chopped, fire roasted Muir Glen tomatoes (or simply 1 can chopped organic tomatoes, not too salty)
1/2 cup white beans
1/4 cup cashews, soaked 2+ hours
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp almond milk
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse when cooked to your liking, and toss with a tsp oil to keep from sticking, and a dash of salt and pepper. Mix in the broccoli and fresh basil.

2) While pasta cooks, blend all sauce ingredients together till smooth in a blender. Check for seasoning, and season to your tastes.

3) Toss pasta with as much sauce as you like–you’ll likely have some leftover. Serve hot, topped with nooch!


Mom was very happy with her meal, and even requested to keep the leftover sauce. I call that a win!

Notice that this pasta dish has a few other added health benefits, other than the healthy fat switch up: I added broccoli (because no dish is complete without greens!) and we used quinoa pasta. Of all of the amazing, healthy changes my Mom has made in the last year, transitioning from all refined grains to whole grains is by far her most major. I am so, so proud! She’s warming up to the grains themselves, but when she does prefer pasta or bread for a meal, she almost always purchases a whole grain based variety. And now she’s turned me onto quinoa pasta, which I love.


This meal would go beautifully with steamed veggies, steamed veggies and some legumes, or a sald with legumes. I myself had a fresh green salad with mushrooms and chickpeas!

I hope this post offers some helpful feedback on fats. All opinions are my own, naturally, but my friend Ginny Messina, the Vegan RD,  is also a good resource when it comes to parsing through nutrition research. Additionally, I’m glad to mention her this evening, because she recently wrote a tremendously brave and impressive post on the recent PCRM “body shaming” campaigns which I’ve written about here and here. I’m proud of the stand she has taken, and think her criticisms are spot on. It’s also worth saying that Neal Barnard responded in the post with some strong points of his own, and that the comments are worth reading. Check it out if you can!

I’ll be back tomorrow with a final Mom/daughter healthy eating post for the week. See you soon!


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Categories: Pasta
Ingredients: Tomatoes
Dietary Preferences: Soy Free, Vegan

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  1. Amazing! Its really awesome paragraph, I have got much clear idea concerning from
    this article.

  2. How awesome that you are able to help your mom, and that she is so willing to accept your help! I also agree 100% with your view on oils. I use them in moderation because they aren;t nutrient-dense, but I don’t avoid them completely!

  3. I made this recipe last week and absolutely loved it (and so did my husband!). I did add one little ingredient though because to me Italian food just doesn’t taste right without it: garlic. I was in a hurry so I used garlic powder and it worked great. I also found that this sauce makes an excellent leftover too!

    • You’re right! I made this recipe and it was delicious! I did think about putting in some onions, but garlic would have done the trick.

      I had no idea there was an anti-oil revolution! How much olive oil should I put on the pan? I really do need a specific guideline for what sparing is?

  4. Hey Gena,

    I love, love this article!!! I have been struggling with the no-oil thing for YEARS!! I am a big Dr. Fuhrman follower. Believe it or not he allows a little bit of oil. He says if you are thin and exercise having a little oil is no big deal. Which I agree with. BUT, there is so much anti-oil talk out there that when I use it in my kitchen I look over my shoulder in paranoia like the anti-oil police are going to arrest me. Seriously, I think that using a little oil in a whole foods, plant based diet is ok. I make sure to measure my amount to make sure I am not accidentally pouring on 1/2 cup into my veggies. Oil in small amounts can really add something special. I had to laugh when I read someone above say that carmelizing onions just isn’t the same with water. I totally agree. I have tried it many, many times and it is just not the same. I love your view Gena. Thanks to Dreena Burton I will be a regular reader of this blog from now on.

  5. It was nice reading this post! I went all-Dr. Esselstyn for 40 days and developed some gallbladder issues. I totally agree that we shouldn’t be using huge amounts of oil and claim it to be healthy, but olive oil and natural food oils do important things for the body (according to my Naturopath). One of those things is to lubricate your joints. The other is related to keeping a healthy gallbladder. I admire the research that Dr. Esselstyn has done and I think that it may work for some people, but I found adverse health effects myself.

    • I myself don’t thrive without more fat that Dr. Esselstyn prescribes. Thanks for your feedback!

  6. The “no-oil camp” really bothers me with their short-sightedness. I do not believe oils are “nutrient-free” – oftentimes, the oil contains the most important nutrients in the plant! Fiber aside, what good would flax, chia, and hemp be without omega-3 fats? Or coconut oil without the MCTs? Coconut oil is especially important for someone like me to eat plenty of because of my thyroid disease and weakened intestinal lining – it’s an easily-digestible/absorbable form of some really excellent – and NUTRITIOUS – fatty acids.
    I’m glad you’re not anti-oil, Gena!

  7. I find that if I don’t marinate my veggies in a light amount of oil, I’m unable to eat as many…they just don’t go in my stomach as compactly for some reason. I do think that a light amount of oil over a large amount of veggies, from personal experience, can do wonders for the digestion. In that regard, a little oil goes a long way in enabling the body to consume higher amounts of nutrition. So I think abolishing all oil completely could become rather silly and counterproductive for some individuals with digestive issues like I have. Whereas I think more than 2 tablespoons a day could be a bit excessive and unnecessary. Empty calories are empty calories…you want to thrive on as high nutrition from whole foods as possible…I’ve learned from personal experience that’s key. Balance it in tune with your body’s needs and ignore the dogma you’ll find when you near to close to the sides of the spectrum.

  8. Hi Gena! I read this post when you first posted but wanted to come back to it and add just a brief comment about some of the benefits of oils used in moderation – I’ve read that oils can actually help absorb nutrients in certain foods, especially vegetables. Also, when cooking vegetables with a little bit of oil, it can actually act as a sealant/protectant so that water does not leach the nutrients from the vegetables (as occurs when boiling vegetables, for instance). I’m certainly not a nutritionist, and I think that both these phenomena are generalizable to fats from whole foods (avocados, nuts), and I’m definitely partial to fats in the form of whole foods as well, but I thought this might be worth mentioning, just to add to the discussion =)

  9. Ah, this post reminds me of the times living in Kenya. All I ate was white rice, spinach, cabbage, and ugali (a cornmeal playdough looking thing) (because that is what their diet consists of + meat, but no thank you on that), and EVERYTHING was soaked, and I mean SOAKED in oil. It was rather disgusting…but it was not really in my control… Anyways, this was a really comprehensive overview on oil.

  10. Question – nutritional yeast is a processed food, no? I guess it might be preferable for someone looking for a fat-free alternative, but I find the process of making nutritional yeast way weirder and intensive than expelling oils.

  11. I love you. I just do. That sauce looks amazing and it is so simple. I also love your balaced approach on oils. Love. Love. Love. It feels nice to help our parents find new ways huh! Got my dad juicing every morning now. Have a lovely day!

  12. Thanks, Gena, for this balanced perspective on oils. As a dietitian, I’m really bothered by the anti-oil stance, since I think it encourages an overly restrictive approach to vegan diets that isn’t supported by the evidence. And we shouldn’t be making it harder to be vegan!

    I think people often don’t realize that there is a mountain of research on dietary fats, and we need to view the opinions of the handful of anti-oil health professionals within that context. The research doesn’t support a ban on all oils—even for people with heart disease. In fact, it is certainly possible that olive oil—which contains unique phytochemicals—does play a role in the protective effects of the Mediterranean diet. (I’ve been wading through a mountain of the research right now in preparation for a post of my own on this topic.)

    I agree that a little oil goes a long way—but it’s also long been a part of healthy cultural diets, and there is no reason for us to avoid it. Thanks for making such good points. .

    • I agree, Ginny, all the way!

      One thing I forgot to mention here is the “processed food” claim. If one purchases a high quality oil, the “processing” isn’t (in my opinion) so much more extensive than, say, the processing in tofu, which the anti-fat authors’ think is totally acceptable. In other words, I think it’s a slightly arbitrary criticism. After all, if we get to the point where any kind of processing of any kind is discouraged, we’ll be left without tempeh, BPA-free canned beans, almond milk, and tons of other products that I think are both healthful and make the vegan life so much more accessible.

      As a true raw foods lover, I’ll always have an infatuation with the idea of food that’s “back to nature,” and I think my cooking reflects that in a healthy way. But I also think it’s important not to take that stance to a point that is fanatical and inconvenient. So long as health is not compromised, convenience is part of the big picture.

      Anyway, that’s a sidenote, but an important one. I look forward to your post and surely will share it!

      • They don’t really care about “processed” foods. They are perfectly fine with eating frozen veggies and canned foods as most your diet as long as it’s oil-free. That is not healthy. We need to be eating fresh foods. And some are fine using a cup of sugar in a muffin recipe. They are missing the big picture and have little interest in holistic health, which takes into consideration more than just what a scientific study says. Can’t wait to see your post Ginny!

  13. Like everything in life, I believe in moderation, and this goes for oils too. Adding fats to my diet has been a huge part of how I have maintained my weight and transitioned to being a vegetarian. I use to be a no-fat meat eater and that did not work out well for me at all! But I can see how people go over board with oils. I have observed the glug-glug effect in my mom’s own kitchen many times.

    Additionally from a cooking persective, I find oil to be a necessity – or else how to prevent things from sticking in pans? I don’t use teflon and my cast iron skillets can easily get sticky when I add flavorings like soy sauce to the pan.

    Anyway, great post Gena and that sauce looks great. I’ve been in a food rut lately so maybe that’s something I’ll try out soon.

  14. This is such a useful post! I totally agree that everybody has to find balance for himself. I know for a fact I won’t be able to become an “oil-free” cook, however substituting oil with pesto or sauces will do perfectly.

  15. I appreciate this post! I was just discussing this with some friends the other day. When I started my blog and to this day most of recipes do not contain oil and I didn’t use oil for a long time. But, now I am starting to use it in moderation, moderation is key! I don’t use it with everything, but it’s coming back. Sometimes you need it for a recipe to work and I like the flavor. I also have two small children and I use products like Daiya to make them vegan pizza and that’s oil based and I add the “good” fat oils when I cook their food. As I continue on my path, I continue to learn so many new things (thanks to all the wonderful blogs and info out their like yours) and am realizing I do not want to be so restrictive, but make good choices and be healthy. I know following a plant-based diet is doing just that for me and my family and I’m going to do what works for us. We also want to make people make the switch to a healthy vegan lifestyle and make it appealing, not so darn restrictive and boring! 😉

    Thanks for posting this, I’m going to share.



  16. I find that oils help me achieve a level of satiety and food enjoyment that prevents me from eating to the point of “overfull”, which as a recovering ED sufferer I find most triggering from a mental/emotional health perspective. I’m confident you’re utterly unsurprised.

    • I completely agree. When I first switched over to a gluten-free diet, I essentially took away the only thing my damaged villi were capable of absorbing calories from- bread. I would eat and eat until it hurt and still be starving, and I couldn’t make it stop. I used peanut butter as a sedative. It’s gotten better since then (that was 9 months ago) but I still feel like the task of eating has gone a lot better if I have a spoon of peanut butter while I’m preparing a meal. And sometimes (probably more often than makes sense) I like to drizzle melted nut butter on my vegetables and fruit. It tastes like pad Thai on veggies and a PB&Jam on fruit!

    • I also find that eating an extra tablespoon of oil or so with a meal stops me craving a binge on the same level that I would have previously found, especially with pastas or breads which can be quite triggering. In this sense I consider that being vegan, and binging/purging far less, is enough of a health plus to counteract any ill effects from the extra oil I might be consuming.

  17. Gena – would it be inappropriate for this recipe to make two servings instead of four as suggested? It just seems like this would be such a small meal for four given the quantities of ingredients used. I could definitely eat three cups of broccoli on my own!

    • Hi Kate!

      Well, the pasta is meant to be the star of the meal, not the broc (I could eat 3 cups, too, and would definitely serve this dish with many more veggies). The pasta called for is 4 servings by package standards, though I definitely think that you can modify according to appetite here. I routine eat more than a single serving of grains by standard definitions, and it works fine for me, so go for it!


      • Awesome! Will just half the pasta and keep the veggies the same 🙂

        Thanks much for the reply Gena!

  18. That sauce looks really amazing. I’m going to have to try it. Creamy vegan faux-alfredo sauces are one of the dishes most iimpressive to omnivorous eaters in any vegan cooking repertoire and the addition of fire-roasted tomatos is brilliant.

    About the oil debate–I think I’m a bit guilty of adding too much at times, especially when sauteeing vegetables. I also eat a ton of nuts and avocadoes so I really should try some of your oil-free cooking tips and let the natural whole foods take the place of the oil. No matter what, I think whole foods are always better. They’re what our bodies were originally meant to digest.

  19. What about fat-soluble vitamins? I would worry that someone on a 100% vegan and oil-free diet would not be absorbing these effectively, unless every salad you make has a nut or avocado in it…

  20. I wanted to add that it’s a testimony to your recovery that your mom is so willing to let you guide her now. Wow. Also interesting how – despite your very close relationship – your eating styles are so different. My mom was the opposite of your mom – the only added fat in her diet was salad dressing, she had a morbid fear of adding oil or butter to cooked foods (she was the sort to eat bread with jam and no butter, potatoes dry, etc.). She was on a low fat diet before there was such a thing as a low fat diet. So obviously, I had to make my own diet even more restrictive, and I guess, in recovery, I have to make it the opposite of hers. Okay, I take that back, I did none of that consciously, but it is interesting to observe. In other words, even if I could abide, physically, a low fat diet (say, I were convinced by that long list of doctors that I’d be healthier on one – I’m not), I’d find the switch impossible psychologically. Maybe that’s why I’ll never completely 86 frosting from my life. Every time I eat a cupcake, it’s an act of psychological individuation.

    • Elizabeth,

      I never cease to marvel at how differently my Mom and I eat. My mother’s diet was very rich in meats, fats, and dairy as I was growing up, and yet she has an incredibly “European” (to use cultural stereotypes because I’m tired and can’t do better) attitude toward food: moderate portions, no mindless snacking, no guilt, occasional indulgence, with pleasure. I’ve never once seen her guilt-ridden about a food choice. She dieted a few times when I was growing up, but always to lower cholesterol or reduce joint pain — never just to be thin. And she really appreciates her body.

      It’s nice that I can admire these traits, and she in turn can admire how much I care about health-supporting foods and recipes. She shares her sane, appreciative approach to body and food with me, and I share the passion for plant-based food and wellness with her.

      I think you should absolutely exercise your selfhood and individuality through food choices! I felt a great deal of discomfort with my family cooking as a child, and started to refuse red meat at the age of 7 or 8. Though it took me a long time to figure out a way of eating that worked for me, veganism is, in part, my act of individuation. As your diet is for you 🙂

  21. Hi Gena, nice post. I wanted to add that the digestion of oil is also very energy consuming for the body it takes about 3 hours and a acid environment (see food combining). I slowly went to a diet with almost zero oils and it does wonders for your energy levels and sport performance. I use whole flax or hemp seeds to get some extra omega3 besides my leafy greens. Also keep in mind that if you take a whole head of lettuce and add a little teaspoon of oil, all the calories of this meal will come from the oils… I started replacing oil based dressings with sweet fruit based dressing. One of the sad results is that I don’t make your recipes that much since they are stacked with oils 😉

    • Hey Jelle,

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t personally subscribe to food combining theory (I did until I studied the actual science), but appreciate your feedback, especially on the fruit dressings!


  22. Thank you for such an informative post! I totally know what you mean about the “glug” thing, it’s why I cringe everytime I watch Jamie Oliver cook anything. I’ve recently tried experimenting with water sauteeing/cooking things in vegetable stock and have been pleasantly surprised.

  23. I definitely overdo the olive oil on my roasted veggies, but with the massive panfuls I usually make, I can hardly imagine 1tbs covering the whole pan…I guess I need to improve my technique!

    • Well, it’s also proportionate! If you’re cooking for four, one tablespoon may be a bit scant. It all depends.

      • Yes, of course that makes sense! 😀 Though I live alone I cannot cook for fewer than 3 people. Luckily I have a big freezer for all the leftovers!

  24. Here’s one area we disagree. I don’t moderate my fat consumption at all. While I do prefer my raw veggie salads sans oil (or, in the case of raw kale, with the teeniest, tiniest amount), I have a very heavy hand with the olive oil when I’m cooking. I’ll pour it into pea or lentil soup, into hummus, etc. and drizzle more on the final product. I adore vegan pesto, but I am much more likely to omit the nuts than the oil, and in fact, when heirloom tomatoes are in season, I’ll frequently make an olive oil-based pesto and consume the entire recipe. I hardly ever bake, but when I do, I don’t dream of tweaking the fat quantities. I figure, a treat’s a treat. And I ABHOR low fat baked goods. I do wonder if men tolerate low fat diets better than women … in my realm of acquaintances, this seems to be the case.

  25. While the anti-oil sentiments of many plant-based docs have definitely made me more aware of my usage, and I totally agree that there are nutritionally superior sources of fat, I too take have taken the stance that moderation is key. I used to use a Rachael Ray *glug, glug, glug* approach with my EVOO, but have significantly reduced my usage since going vegan and shifting my focus to nutrient-dense foods. Like sugar, oil is sort of nutritionally one-dimensional, so it’s been a no-brainer to pare down. I believe it does have its place in cooking, though (at least for me), and it really is amazing how far just a little can go. Even half a teaspoon can take a salad from squeaky to silky. Plus, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get behind things like caramelizing onions in water–it truly isn’t the same. Moderation all the way!

    Also, this sauce looks fantastic! Props to “mom” for making healthier choices–and to you for helping her navigate. 🙂

  26. Great post as usual, Gena. I love how you weave nutrition and its current debates with your recipes. It’s SO hard to find healthy fats in college – there are nuts and (rarely) guacamole, but hardly ever are there chunks of avocado (they are so expensive) and the olive oil is cheap, mass-produced stuff that doesn’t have any taste. And don’t get me started on the Ken’s salad dressings! If there is one thing I can’t stand it is dry salads, though, or ones lacking a yummy sauce. Sometimes I use sauces from the hot bar and put them on there, haha. Any other ideas?

    • Do you have a mini fridge? Any chance you could keep some of your own dressings in there?

      • I do have a mini fridge! I guess I could – but I usually eat at the vegan dining hall, which is across campus and I spend most of my day away from my dorm. But I guess I could have some for when I am eating closer to my house.

        • Hi Hannah,
          Any chance you have access to lemon or lime wedges, and would a squeeze of either of those be appealing to you? I’ve started packing them in my lunch as an alternative to dressing…

          I also save the little plastic sauce containers that come with takeout, and fill them with a mix of hummus and lemon juice or avocado and lemon juice and carry them around with me. I realize that might not be appealing in a backpack or messenger bag because of spills, but its just a thought!

          • Hi Hannah,

            I was on the meal plan my first two years of college(I’m now a junior), and one thing that I used to do was to buy ground flax seed, keep it in my mini fridge, and then bring a tablespoon of it in a Tupperware to meal to put on my salads with balsamic vinegar. That helped get healthy fats–particularly Omega-3s into my diet. If you don’t like it on salads, I used to also mix it into my morning oatmeal sometimes. Walnuts are also full of Omega-3s, and if your dining hall doesn’t have any, they’re easy to carry around, especially if you just close the bag with a rubber band.

            I also still put hummus on salads all the time, and my dining hall used to always have some. We also had oranges a lot (because they’re cheap and last a long time), sometimes cut up, sometimes whole, and I would sometimes put some of the juice, as well as the wedges, on my salad.

            If you think your dining hall is really lacking in options, definitely talk to whoever is in charge at your housing and dining office–I spent a lot of time last year talking to administrators about my dining issues, and while huge changes weren’t made, some of the little ones they made helped a lot.

  27. another super controversial topic in the vegan health world. as usual, i appreciate your approach. for people with heart issues and some other health issues, being no oil may make a huge difference. for others, being without oil or other sources of health fats might be detrimental to their health. there is a lot of evidence that coconut oil is antiviral and antifungal and lots of people use it medicinally. i’ll never be one to count teaspoons of oil, seems too close to counting calories. but I probably only have a tablespoon a day, including medicinal coconut oil. however going out to eat you can tell you just get so much more oil and it adds up after awhile, even at healthy vegan places or eating salads. making your own food just means more control overall.

  28. This looks wonderful and I totally agree on pasta and moderation – just wish restaurants did! I’ve never tried quinoa pasta, but must track it down now.

  29. That recipe looks amazing, Gena! I’ve yet to try quinoa pasta (I know!) but this recipe makes me want to get on that ASAP.

    While I certainly don’t omit oils from my diet, I definitely use them sparingly. To your point, I would much rather consume nutrent-dense foods instead of more energy-dense ones. Great points, lady love!

  30. Nice work, CR mom! I can’t tell you how much I admire you for being so patient with a family member. Though my parents have certainly come a long way with both accepting my veganism and also making healthier dietary changes for themselves, it’s difficult for me to pace my suggestions and not get overly ambitious with explanations about both animal welfare and healthy living habits. When I shut my mouth, however, and start sharing delicious food, sure enough they want to know more and more! I’m much better at articulating my thoughts when they come to me with questions instead of trying to impose my ways upon them. I doubt they will ever take the total vegan plunge, but I’m grateful that they now see the benefits of my choices instead of fearing for me (and my future kids!).

    Pasta looks delicious. I’ll have to share it with my mom 🙂

  31. In the field of dietetics, I encounter a lot of differing perspectives on oils. Some dietitians are very much in favor of incorporating olive oil (and other MUFA-rich oils) into their clients’ diets, while others are still promoting a low-fat diet in general and thus don’t recommend oil use. Like you, I am somewhere in the middle. In my own diet, I prefer to use oil in “teaspoon or less quantities,” not the tablespoons or even cups (!) called for in so many recipes. I don’t mean to name names, but Rachael Ray is particularly guilty of the “glug” effect–it drives me crazy when she says to add “a tablespoon or so” when in actuality I am sure it closer to 4 or 5. Sigh.
    On a different note: do you have a preferred brand of quinoa pasta? I just received a quinoa cookbook to review for the blog, and several of its recipes call for quinoa pasta. I’ve never used it before, so I thought I’d ask an expert!

  32. Thankfully someone is speaking out in regards to oil with a balanced approach! Like JL said a lot of the no-oilers are very holier than though, make people feel bad for eating certain foods, and use scare tactics to get them to follow their dogma. It isn’t healthy and is creating eating disorders in many people. Sure no oil can have a part in a recovery program from serious health conditions, but it freaks me out when I see young, healthy people jumping on board and taking everything they read as truth. As you said there are no to few studies that show that people on a vegan diet who eat oil and fat in moderation are any less healthy than the no-oilers. In fact I personally know many people who tried it and were sick and demineralized. Once they added some oil back in all was well. Hmmm many vitamins are fat-soluble. People considering this no-oil diet long-term really need to do some more research and keep an open mind.

    • I’m sorry if I ever came off as “holier than thou.” It was not my intention, only my enthusiasm for finding a way of eating that works for me (finally!).

      • because I like to eat A LOT OF FOOD, and eliminating the oil has really helped me to maintain a healthy weight while allowing for a decent volume of food to fill me up. The calories from oil, that I was taught to start any and every cooking occassion with, just put me too easily into calorie over load. Even forgetting about the controversial topic of “is oil bad for your arteries?” I still find that for easy keepers like me, ditching the oil is a great change.

  33. Gena, you’re so lucky to have a good relationship with your mom and it sounds like she really respects your advice! On my last visit to my mom’s house, we made a quinoa salad together that ended in a big argument about how to feed kids. I also wanted to say that I love your take on oils and how you covered the topic in this post. Since I struggle so much in maintaining my healthy weight I likely won’t ever use oils again in my cooking, but I do love my whole-food fats including nuts, seeds and avos!

    • Carrie,

      It’s taken a while. My mom used to feel uncomfortable with the idea of my raising vegan kids (if I have kids). But then she put two and two together, and realized what the diet has done for ME — brought me back from many deficiencies and health problems that were set off by my ED, and allowed me to thrive. So why wouldn’t it help my kids to thrive, and avoid some of the issues I dealt with?

      Also really appreciate the comment re: oils, as I know you do limit them entirely. It’s great that you can make that choice, yet also really support healthy fats from other sources.


    • After being vegan for almost 10 years, I have found that it’s easier to maintain my weight, feel nourished, and be a better athlete now that I eat cook with some oil again. I didn’t cook with it for over a year and I became demineralized (and I eat a very clean unprocessed diet). So do keep an open mind. What works for you now may not work for you next month or next year. We are always evolving 🙂

  34. I am impressed how your Mom is slowly learning more and more about healthy cuisine. I am still a long ways away with my own Mom!

    I am loving the creamy, beany sauces lately, too.. I find beans much more filling than oils, but that’s just me! 😉

  35. Thanks for another great post, Gena. It is true that most folks have an overabundance of Omega-6 fatty acids and not enough Omega-3s. I guess we should be mindful of this. This recipe sounds great, I will have to try it sometime. I think I would prefer using fresh tomatoes due to BPA concerns over canned tomatoes.

      • Thanks, Audrey. I guess I should have checked first :). I emailed them about this actually and here’s their response:

        Thank you for contacting Muir Glen about bisphenol-A or BPA.

        As of October 2011, Muir Glen canned tomato products do not utilize BPA in product packaging.

        Muir Glen continues to believe BPA is safe based on the weight of evidence of scientific and governmental bodies worldwide, including comprehensive risk assessments in Japan and the European Union along with the European Food Safety Authority’s reaffirmation in December 2011 of its opinion that there is no new evidence to suggest the tolerable daily intake of BPA needs to be lowered. The FDA has also endorsed the safety of current exposure levels.

        However, we know that some of our consumers have chosen to avoid BPA, so we had been looking for alternatives. Working with our can suppliers and can manufacturers, Muir Glen was able to develop and test a safe and viable alternative that does not use BPA for our canned tomato products. We began transitioning to those linings with the fall 2010 tomato pack – and we completed that transition with the 2011 tomato pack.

        The new liners are a vinyl based liner. The safety of this can lining has been thoroughly tested. In addition to complying with requirements set forth by the FDA, Small Planet Foods board certified toxicologist has concurred with this assessment.

        Our soup cans do contain BPA, but we continue to work intensively with our can suppliers and are testing alternative liners. We are optimistic that one of these alternatives will be identified in time as acceptable. When it is, in response to consumer interest, we would expect our suppliers to convert to a can coating that does not utilize BPA for our Muir Glen soups as well.

        Thank you for contacting Muir Glen and thank you for your support of our products.

        Lisa Samuels
        Consumer Services

  36. I appreciated this post. My main question walking away from it would be: what would your suggestions for stir-frying be? I always use a “small amount” of EVOO (1 TBSP-ish) to stir-fry my dinner. What would be a good substitute?


    • Veggie broth works beautifully! I myself like a few tablespoons of veggie broth with a bit of miso for flavor and depth. Or you can simply reduce the oil to a tsp or so.

  37. Great post, Gena. I think my biggest issue with the “no oil ever” people is how f*cking judgmental they come off. You are tempered, fair and balanced in your approach. Which is why I respect you so much.

    I like to eat whole foods. I like some processed foods. Welcome to imperfect, real me. Which leads to your link to Ginny’s fantastic post. As long as some vegans try to imply that to be a “good vegan” you are skinny and eat only and ever whole foods, well, hell, they really aren’t inviting everyone to join the animal-loving team, are they? They have picked a select few. And that’s a shame.

    Not that I have an opinion on this or anything 😉

    • Thanks, JL. I agree totally re: the PCRM ads, and my main issue is also that I cannot imagine a single person who does happen to be dangerously overweight for reasons related to dietary choices who would ever see that add and think, “gee, I should experiment with a vegan diet!” The very people who that ad sets out to ridicule are the very ad that this organization claims to want to help. It doesn’t add up.

        • Wendy,

          I’m certainly not!!! I’m so sorry if you thought that. I was “totally agreeing” re: the PCRM ads (and how they only appeal to one segment of vegans).

          I also doubt JL was referring to you, but I’ll let her answer 🙂


        • No way! You’re crystal clear on your approach and you’ve always embraced me, though our approaches differ. I read SO MANY (too many?) blogs and there are some folks out there who simply do not see grey. I love your blog because you have your ideal approach to health, and you write about the times when things are not so idea;. You are human. I love humans. 🙂

          • oh man, I am so human! thanks JL for accepting me, zits and all. okay, that was gross.

  38. As with any food group, moderation is key! Anything – even raw veggies – can should be consumed with discernment (if I go overboard, my tummy sure lets me know!) That just goes to show how a balanced diet a) really requires a LOT of thought and planning, b) is NOT just a ton of “healthy” foods smooshed together, and c)puts more thought into the overall nutrients given to the body over a course of time, not just one single setting.

  39. I think your approach to the “oil issue” is the best one – be aware of portions, but don’t stress too much. I feel the same about it, but to be honest I don’t use more than maybe 1tsp a day – simply because I don’t like it.* To me, the mouthfeel is just uncomfortable, I disliked it very much when I was a kid, but now I can eat it without gagging ;). The oil I use most often is a lemon olive oil to flavour my salad dressing because I like the taste and a little goes a long long way.
    Avocado and hemp seeds are my favourite fats, their taste and texture is so much better than oil, imho.
    Your tomato cream sauce sounds amazing, I think it would be great with zucchini pasta, too! Sadly I can’t get quinoa pasta or fire roasted tomatoes in Germany… Do you think roasting the tomatoes in the oven would work?
    *This often worries people who know of my ED history, but then I’ll just polish off an avocado and they’re like “What? Did you just eat the whole thing?!”. 😀

  40. Moderation and discernment; couldn’t have said it better myself. Great philosophy and approach.

    And that sauce with the nooch, cashews, tomatoes…oh that sounds most excellent, Gena!

  41. Kudos to your mom, it must be wonderful for you to watch her making more strides towards healthier eating – no doubt she respects your expertise. 🙂

    Also appreciate your personal thoughts on oils. I too understand when no-oils are absolutely necessary, particularly for disease reversal. I saw it with my own father-in-law, as he reversed his heart disease using Dr. Dean Ornish’s program. And, I love your bit about the ‘glug’ effect – chefs are notorious for this!!! Like more is definitely always better – not the case! As you highlighted, many other foods enhance flavors in dishes, like herbs. There is a happy medium for most of us. At least I hope so!

    Very thoughtful, informational post as always Gena. You’re a rawk star! (just had to be corny, can’t resist)!!!! xo

    • Dr. Ornish! Of course I ought to have mentioned him in my intro, too. I agree that for people with heart disease, the low fat approach really does seem to be effective. Which is great. But I also agree that there is a happy medium within a plant-based diet that is moderate, but not necessarily 100% exclusive of oils. I actually love your books for that reason: oils are relatively scarce, and you give so many no-oil options, but you do seem to have a sense of when a very small amount of oil will go a long, long way. 🙂

      • yes! thank you so much gena. i know you and i feel very strongly about the role of healthy fats in a balanced diet. of course theres the issue of moderation, so thanks for addressing both quality and quantity.
        regarding the effects of certain fats in cardiac health – there’s so much new research it’s hard to keep up, but cholesterol still seems to be the main culprit as opposed to the healthy fats you highlight. the trick is teaching patients how to differentiate the two – why a glug of avocado oil is way different than a piece of bacon. i cant wait for you to become an MD and share your knowledge with patients! i do all i can, but until we have a united front of medical professionals educated about nutrition as it relates to disease it’s the slowest movement ever. ugh.