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Diversity in Diet

One area often overlooked in diversity is the issue of diet. People follow different diets for a wide variety of reasons such as health, ethics, and religion. It is important to be aware of a person’s dietary preferences and the motivation behind why they choose to eat and drink what they do.


A Vegetarian and/or Vegan Diet

People who follow a vegetarian diet focus their meals on plant-based foods. There are several classifications those following a vegetable/plant based diet:

  • Vegans eat only plant-based foods. They don't eat foods from animals, including meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs and cheese.
  • Lacto-vegetarians consume milk and milk products along with plant-based foods. They omit eggs as well as meat, fish and poultry.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat eggs, milk and milk products, such as cheese and yogurt, in addition to plant-based foods. They omit red meat, fish and poultry.
  • Flexitarians (semivegetarians) primarily follow a plant-based diet but occasionally eat small amounts of meat, poultry or fish.

From:, 9-24-2009.

Health is a major reason people choose a vegetarian diet. Those following a plant-based diet often have greater health benefits than those following diets that are higher in fats and animal-based products.

Some people choose to adopt a plant-based diet for ethical reasons. Many believe that the production, slaughter practices, and consumption of meat is unethical and cruel. Often animals are raised and bred in unsanitary conditions, fed unhealthy foods and additives to create a "meatier" product, and can also be mistreated. Animals that are "factory" raised also have very little access to sunlight and/or pasture land and can be raised completely indoors in very restrictive areas, in which they have little room to move or grow properly. Because of these issues and many others pertaining to the rights of animals, some people choose to follow completely plant-based vegan diets.

Protecting the environment is another reason people choose a plant-based lifestyle. Due to the advancement of global warming, many are trying to find ways to reduce their use of non-renewable energy sources. It is argued that using valuable land resources strictly for the purposes of growing food to feed livestock (which will then be processed for human consumption) is wasteful and a destructive way to use precious food resources.

"According to a study done by the University of Chicago and reprinted in Time magazine, switching from a meat-eating diet to vegetarianism reduces ones carbon footprint by 1.4 times the amount of switching from a Toyota Camry to a Hybrid car. This is because of the amount of methane produced by livestock, methane being a 32% more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Shipment of the grain and the cattle itself also plays a part in this issue, being that it takes 8 pounds of grain to get 1 pound of meat."

From:, 9/25/2009.

Because raising animals can be such a costly endeavor to both the land, the environment, and the impact on animal welfare, many choose to follow a diet free of animal products.

Another reason people also choose a plant-based diet is to follow religious guidelines. Some examples of religions that follow vegetarian or vegan lifestyles include:

  • Hinduisum, Buddhism, and Jianism - These religions often encourage followers to adopt a vegetarian diet for reasons of moral conduct, non-violence to animals, and to advocate the developement of compassion. Many sects of Buddhism do not prohibit eating meat, but advocate plant-based diets.
  • Seventh-Day Adventists - This denomination encourage all followers to adhere to a vegetarian diet because of their believe in the holistic nature of humankind. They believe that everything (including eating and drinking) should be done to honor and glorify their God and by doing so to preserve the health of their body, mind, and spirit.
  • Sikhism - Certain sects of this religion choose to abstain from meat & eggs, and follow certain aspects of a vegetarian diet to adhere to their code of conduct.
  • Judiaism - Jews are not prohibited to eat meat or other non-plant based foods, but some followers choose to do so in light of how they view the ethics and ideals of their faith.
  • Islam - Followers of Islam are not restricted from eating meat as long as the meat is "halal" or permissible according to Islamic law. Vegetarianism is practiced by many Muslims who support the kind treatment of animals.

Helpful websites about Vegetarian and Vegan diets


Gluten Free, Soy Free, and Casein Free Diets

A gluten free diet has gained attention in recent years as the prevalence of celiac disease has become more well known.

“Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat (or any derivative thereof), rye, barley, (and oats which are often avoided due to cross-contamination while being grown and during processing). Gluten is found mainly in foods but may also be found in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms.”

From:, 9/24/2009.

Those following a gluten free diet, usually do so for health reasons, such as celiac disease. Another health reason for adhering to a gluten free diet is due to gluten and/or wheat allergies and intolerances.

A food allergy is an immune system response to food. The body mistakes an ingredient in food (usually a protein) as being harmful to the body and creates antibodies to fight it. Symptoms are usually immediate and dramatic; they can even be life-threatening. They typically are visible and resemble seasonal allergies – coughing, wheezing, runny nose, difficulty breathing, tingling in the mouth and throat, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, rashes, hives, eczema and even anaphylactic shock, requiring emergency intervention. Gastro-intestinal symptoms such as vomiting, cramping and gas may also occur. True food allergies are rare, affecting 2 to 4 percent of adults and 6 to 8 percent of children while food intolerances are much more common.

A food intolerance (also known as a food sensitivity) is a digestive system response to food. It occurs when foods irritate the digestive system or when the body is unable to properly digest some foods, most often due to a lack of certain enzymes. Reactions are typically slower, taking hours or even days. Symptoms of food intolerances are generally gastro-intestinal: heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and abdominal pain including gas, cramps and bloating. However, other symptoms are possible – migraines, irritability, anxiousness, exhaustion and nervousness. Furthermore, for some people, offending foods can cause an adrenalin rush and a kind of "high" after eating them. This can cause an addiction to the very foods to which a person is intolerant!

The only treatment for both food allergies and food intolerances is diligent avoidance of offending foods. Food allergies can be triggered by minute amounts, so strict and absolute avoidance is necessary. Conversely, with food intolerances, small amount of offending foods are typically tolerated. The allowable dosage varies from person to person. The top eight allergens are: wheat, dairy, soybeans, fish, shellfish (including crab, lobster, and shrimp), peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, wal¬nuts, and pecans) and eggs. Common intolerances include gluten, lactose, salicylates, nightshades, sulfites, yeast, caffeine and sugar.

Gluten and gluten-like proteins are found in wheat and other grains, including rye, barley, bulgar, durum, kamut and spelt, and foods made from those grains. Oats are continuously a controversial subject in defining gluten free foods. Oats are often cross-contaminated with gluten during processing in factories and they are often grown in fields that are rotated with wheat. There are companies that sell oats that are certified to be gluten free. Some individuals can tolerate these grains, while others with serious sensitivities cannot. Gluten can also be found in some food starches, semolina, couscous, malt, some vinegars, some brands of soy sauce, flavorings (especially if they contain dark artificial colors), artificial colors and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.

Many people find that after beginning a gluten free diet, they are also intolerant or sensitive to other food proteins such as casein or soy. Casein is a protein found in milk and foods containing milk, such as cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, whey and even some brands of margarine. It also may be added to non-milk products such as soy cheese and hot dogs in the form of caseinate.

While soy is currently popular as a health food, it can also be a food that some people are highly intolerant or allergic to. People who have allergies or intolerances to soy, usually react to the proteins found in soy, which are very similar to gluten and casein proteins. Many people with soy sensitivies can tolerate small amounts of soy lecithin or soy oils, which are found abundantly in most packaged convenience foods.

Learn more about food allergies versus intolerances

Autism and other Behavioral Disorders

Another reason some people choose to follow a gluten free (and casein-free) diet is for a non-medical treatment approach to autism and other behavioral disorders, primarily in children. This treatment is currently very controversial. The reasons for following the diet for treatment of behavioral disorders are due to the hypothesis that the gluten and casein proteins cannot be properly digested in children with these disorders and the proteins form a substance that acts as an opiate in the body. The opiate reaction then causes the person to have severe changes in behavior, personality, and responses to their environment. Studies are currently underway to ascertain the effectiveness of a gluten free/casein free diet for these individuals. Many parents of children with autism and other behavioral disorders are highly in support of this natural treatment, especially when they try the diet and see significant behavioral results in their children.

Adhering to a Gluten Free,Casein Free, and/or Soy Free Diet

Following a gluten free diet can be difficult at first. Learning to read food labels is essential. Thanks to current food labeling laws, food labels MUST show if the product contains any of the top 8 food allergens. This is extremely helpful to the gluten free community, although some ingredients containing gluten such as barley and rye are not highlighted on food labels, and therefore it is imperitive to learn to read these labels properly.

Gluten free and casein free convenience foods are becoming more readily available and accessible in many grocery stores. Foods such as breakfast cereal, cake mixes, breads, etc... can usually be found in health food sections or are specifically labeled in many grocery stores.

Many main stream restaurants have also started catering to the gluten free community with gluten free menu options and knowledgeable wait staff and chefs. There are also restaurant dining cards available in many different languages online which can be printed and taken into restaurants to educate the staff on the needs of the diner.

Cooking and baking gluten free is not as complicated as it may sound. There are many gluten free flour alternatives such as rice flours, sorghum flour, millet flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, cornstarch, etc... these flours can often be combined along with a small amount of a gluten replacement such as xanthan gum, for a wonderful baked good. Breads, cookies, cakes, muffins, donuts, etc... can all be created with alternative gluten free flours and a little practice. For main dishes, gluten free pastas, rice, quinoa, millet, potatoes, etc.. are excellent starch replacements for wheat-based products and can now be found in many grocery stores.

Additional information on following a gluten free diet and gluten free recipes



Potato and Spinach Enchiladas

(Gluten, Casein & Soy Free, Vegan)
Created by Carrie Forbes @

3 tablespoons green sofrito (can be found in Hispanic or Ethnic sections in grocery store)
6 cups fresh spinach, chopped & rinsed
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
1 large baking potato, washed and diced
Half of a (15.5 oz.) can of your favorite cooked beans (such as pink beans, pinto beans, or black beans), drained and rinsed
Freshly ground salt & pepper, to taste
10 corn tortillas


  1.  On the stove, boil the diced potato in enough water to cover (or in a microwave safe bowl on high for about 5-6 minutes) until fork tender, drain and slightly mash. You want a very chunky potato mixture. Set aside.
  2. In a large non-stick pan saute sofrito for 3-4 minutes on med.-high heat to release the savory oils and fragrance.Add chopped spinach and diced grape tomatoes and cook until spinach is bright green and wilted.
  3. Add salsa, chunky mashed potatoes, and cooked beans. Mix thoroughly with spinach mixture and heat through.
  4. Wrap corn tortillas with a damp paper towel or cloth and heat them for about 1 minute in the microwave.
  5. To serve: Add 3-4 tablespoons of potato-spinach mixture in the middle of warmed tortillas and wrap tortillas quickly around mixture. Pour a little salsa over each wrapped enchilada and serve immediately.

Makes 3-4 (2-3 enchilada) servings.



Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Easy Marinara Sauce

Roasted Spaghetti Squash
(Gluten, Casein, & Soy Free, Vegan)
Created by Carrie Forbes

1 2-3 lb. spaghetti squash
Good quality olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Sea Salt
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Split the spaghetti squash in half with a very sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. Place the two sides skin down in a large baking dish. Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over the two peices of squash. Sprinkle several teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt over the squash. Finally drizzle about 1/4 cup of water over the two pieces of squash and add the remaining 1/4 cup of water to the baking dish (this will help to steam the squash.) Roast in a 350 oven for 35-50 minutes until the edges of the squash are just turning slightly golden and caramelizing. Remove from oven and allow to cool in baking dish for several minutes. Using a folk, scrape out strands of spaghetti squash. I usually make my squash first, and then place the roasted strands in a covered, insulated dish to stay warm while you prepare the marinara sauce below.


Jennifer Yandle's Easy Marinara Sauce
(Gluten, Casein, & Soy Free, Vegan)
Created by Jennifer Yandle

1 (28 oz) can cooked whole peeled roma tomatoes with basil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 sweet onion, finely minced

In a medium sized saucepan heat oil to sizzling. Add garlic and onions and saute until golden. Pour in can of tomatoes with liquid. As tomatoes heat through, take a potato masher and crush tomotoes until they are the consistancy you desire for a sauce. I prefer them chunky and thick. If you want your sauce more smooth you could certainly use an immersion blender or add the sauce to your counter blender and blend until smooth. Simmer sauce for 30 minutes or more before serving. This is also great in the crock pot for an all day simmer. Serve over pasta or roasted spaghetti squash.


Southern Vegetable Curry with Tomato Sauce

(Gluten & Soy Free, Vegan & Casein Free Option)
Created by Carrie Forbes

For the Curry
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 green -or- red bell pepper
1 (16 oz) package of thawed California vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) -or- whatever veggies you prefer!
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup fresh vegetables of your choice, chopped to bite size pieces, and steamed until fork-tender (I used additional fresh broccoli)
1 russet potato, diced and boiled
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Tomato Sauce
1 (12 oz.) can tomato puree -or- sauce
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon Saigon Cinnamon
2 tablespoons agave nectar -or- honey (optional, leave out for vegan dish)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional, leave out for vegan & casein free dish)

Garnish (optional)
1-2 boiled eggs, cooled, peeled, and diced
freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional, leave out for vegan & casein free dish)
freshly ground black pepper


For the Vegetable Curry
In your rice cooker on the COOK setting, or on the stovetop in a heavy bottomed skillet (like cast iron) add olive oil and crushed garlic and diced green or red pepper. Cook several minutes until peppers have softened slightly. Add thawed California vegetables, cup of additional vegetables, and cooked, diced potato. Add seasonings for curry. Cover rice cooker or skillet and cook for 5-10 minutes until all vegetables are warmed through.

For the Tomato Sauce
While vegetables are heating, in a small saucepan add tomato puree or sauce and all remaining sauce ingredients including grated parmesan cheese. Stir together thoroughly and simmer until heated through.

For Presentation
Attractively plate vegetables. For each serving of vegetables, sprinkle on top, 1 diced boiled egg, 2-3 tablespoons curried tomato sauce, and a little freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly grated black pepper.


Veggies a la Rosa

(Gluten & Soy Free, Vegan & Casein Free Option)
Created by Carrie Forbes

1/2 of a large eggplant, sliced thinly and cubed
1 green zucchini, sliced thinly
1 yellow zucchini, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
** Any other veggies you would like to add, button mushrooms, red or green peppers, would be a lovely addition!

4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
2-4 tablespoons a good quality Merlot (-or- white wine for a lighter flavor)
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Optional Toppings
Freshly shaved parmesan (optional -- leave off for Vegan & casein free meal)
Toasted pine nuts or walnuts

In a large non-stick wok or skillet melt butter and add olive oil on medium-high heat until lightly sizzling. Add onion and garlic and lightly saute for 1-2 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and sauce ingredients. Saute 5-8 minutes until vegetables are soft and tender. Plate and top with shaved parmesan and toasted nuts! Makes 2-4 medium sized servings. Serve hot with rice or brown rice pasta.


Chocolate Brownie Bites

(Gluten, Casein, & Soy Free, Vegan, Raw)
Created by Carrie Forbes

1/2 cup raw pecans or almonds
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup chopped and/or pitted dates
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Optional Ingredients
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon coconut oil -or- olive oil
1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut flakes, finely chopped

Soak dates in a small bowl of warm water for 5 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Set aside. In your food processor or *blender (see note below) grind pecans or almonds and walnuts until very fine. Add dates and grind into a paste. Pour into a bowl and add cocoa powder, sea salt, and any additional ingredients you desire. Stir ingredients together thoroughly. You should have a thick, shiny, chocolate dough.

For Bars
Spread dough into a small rectangular container. Flatten with spatula. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Cut into 8 bars.

For Mini Brownie Bites
Add roughly 1 tablespoon of dough into a candy mold or mini cupcake tin. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Makes around 16 mini brownie bites.


Whole Grain Banana Nut Muffins

(Gluten, Casein, & Soy Free, Vegan)
Created by Carrie Forbes

Dry Ingredients
1/2 cup millet flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)
*1/2 cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

Wet Ingredients
2 "flax" eggs = 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds, mixed with 6 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup non-dairy milk (hemp, rice, or soy milk)
3 tablespoons heart healthy oil -or- melted butter
2 ripe bananas (about 1 - 1 1/2 cups mashed)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 granulated sugar -or- agave nectar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners or non-stick cooking spray. In a medium sized bowl whisk together all dry ingredients, EXCEPT walnuts. Set walnuts aside. In another bowl mash bananas with a fork, cream in sugar or agave nectar. Add "flax eggs" mixture, vanilla, non-dairy milk, and oil. Mix together thoroughly. Add banana/egg mixture to dry ingredients. Stir together just until incorporated. Fold in walnuts. Pour batter 2/3 full into prepared muffin tins. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out mostly clean with just a few crumbs. Makes 12 nice sized muffins.

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