Anna Rios is a Registered Dietician at Marin Community Clinics in California providing medical nutrition therapy to patients of all ages. 

I met Nancy at the beginning of last year. She came into the clinic after the holidays and was shocked to find out that her cholesterol levels were extremely high and that she had gained 12 pounds since her last doctor’s visit. Her doctor offered her the opportunity to be referred to the nutrition department and make lifestyle changes or begin taking a statin. Rather than taking a statin, Nancy chose to make an appointment with me – the registered dietitian of the clinic.

Tweaking a favorite dish

During the first visit, Nancy seemed extremely nervous and I saw uncertainty in her eyes. The initial nutrition visit is typically generalized to provide basic education on how certain types of foods can affect chronic diseases – in her case, how foods can impact cholesterol levels. She was surprised to learn that saturated fats are mostly found in meats and animal products: of which, her diet was heavy in, especially pork in one of her favorite dishes, pozole verde! Pozole verde is an authentic Mexican soup with hominy, pork, spices, chiles and cilantro.

Nancy was hesitant to make any changes at all. Her dishes were connected to her culture and family. “I’m not sure I can do this. Food is very important to me and my family. Lots of unexpected events have happened to us this year and our dishes give us comfort and happiness, especially our weekly pozole verde. I have heard plant-based and healthy foods are very bland and boring. I need flavor and spice in my foods!”

I informed Nancy that she did not have to give up her favorite meals: Instead, I told her we could work together to modify her favorite dishes into healthier versions while keeping all the flavor. She stared at me with a very confused look on her face, unsure of what I meant. That is when I pulled out my vegan pozole verde recipe and had her look at the ingredients. “The only main difference is that it does not have pork, what is jackfruit? It looks very similar to pork!” I took the opportunity to explain what jackfruit was and how many health benefits it has. After some more discussion, she agreed to make her first goal around the plant-based pozole verde recipe. Her goal was to make it for her family this week so that they could all try it.

She seemed much more at ease knowing that her first goal seemed attainable and was created based on modifying her food preferences, rather than making her switch them entirely. I reassured her that making small changes instead of big ones would make the process a whole lot easier. I saw her shoulders relax a little bit after she heard that. We decided that we could make one small goal at every visit so that she could make progress at her own pace. She agreed and left the visit with much more certainty and confidence.

Two weeks later…

I saw Nancy two weeks later and this time her face was glowing with happiness. “I loved the pozole recipe! My family did not notice the difference until I told them it had no pork. They thought the pork was just more tender this time around. I added a little avocado oil to replicate the oily texture of the original pozole, is that okay?” I informed her that avocado oil was heart healthy with great amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and an amazing substitute. I could already tell that Nancy was getting the hang of it, she was already figuring our substitutes all on her own!

I continued to see Nancy for a little over a year, each time making a goal or two. Every time she saw me she was even more excited to find the next replacement or substitute. After 6 months she repeated her labs and her results showed overall cholesterol levels dropped 17.3 percent from 245mg/dL to  210mg/dL which is a significant drop. To her surprise, she had also lost a total of 20 pounds! 

“I feel like I am eating well and not starving myself. I did not try to lose weight; I just made the small adjustments and modifications!” These results encouraged Nancy to keep going and after about 2 more months she was happy to announce that she had gone fully plant-based!

Nancy was genuinely shocked by how easy it was to find replacements for meat and animal products. She was very happy to continue making traditional Mexican dishes for her and her family without having to change the flavors much or at all. Her advice to someone starting a plant-based diet: “Just think about the flavors, spices, herbs and that is what makes the dish! You don’t need meat or animal products to obtain the great flavor in dishes. Jackfruit and tofu are such great substitutes because they ABSORB all the flavors of the spices and herbs. If I can do it I know that anyone can do it!”

If Nancy can do it, we can all do it!

Vegan Pozole Verde

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Green tomatillos
  • 1 cup of cilantro
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2-4 jalapenos peppers (adjust to spice level)
  • 1 small onion
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup pepita seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large can of hominy (25 oz can)
  • 2 cans of jackfruit (20 0z each)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Optional toppings

  • Shredded cabbage
  • Chopped onion
  • Dried oregano
  • Sliced avocados
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Crushed tortilla chips

Instructions

  1. Fill a large pot with a vegetable broth and boil on high. After pot begins to boil turn down to simmer.
  2. Blend tomatillos, jalapeños, garlic, pepitas, cilantro, spinach and onion in blender.
  3. Add a green mixture to the pot. Taste the broth, add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Start shredding the jackfruit with your hands or two forks. Add about 1 tablespoon oil to a pan and sauté jackfruit until it's lightly crispy. Add salt, pepper and cumin.
  5. Add the hominy and the jackfruit to the pot and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve in a bowl, add toppings and enjoy!