Specialized diets are packed with promises of everything from weight loss to optimal health, even to better-looking skin. As culinary students are bombarded with marketing messages, I am teaching them how to calculate the accuracy of the claims in my nutrition class.
I think it’s important for students to understand the nutritional importance of eliminating certain foods from a diet. Alternative diets like vegetarian, vegan, ketogenic, Atkins, paleolithic or Mediterranean remove food or even entire food groups to achieve their goals. I ask the students is it healthy and will it work? We talk about the pros and cons of eliminating or reducing foods like meat or animal proteins, carbohydrates, sugars or dairy. Then, I give them the tools to analyze the numbers and make informed decisions on the likely alternative diet outcome.
For the exercise, I take one alternative diet – a vegetarian diet – and determine alternatives to a meat-based meal, decide on non-meat protein options and calculate the nutritional values of the vegetarian meal. Through the lesson we talk about incomplete versus complete proteins, complementary proteins and the health aspects of eating too much or not enough protein. We also talk about the amount of fat and saturated fat and how that influences the best choices in ingredients.
I then have students break into two teams to cook taco meat, one with beef and the other with a vegan option. You can also have the students only cook the vegan option and have the beef recipe already prepared. After the cooking demonstration, students run the nutritional calculations and we discuss the differences in taste, texture and nutritional value.
Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger, PhD., CCC, CHEP, is the Culinary Management Program Department Chair at the Poinciana Campus of Valencia College. She is also the vice president of ACF’s Central Florida Chapter. Additionally, Chef Denlinger earned the 2020 Innovation Award, sponsored by CAFÉ and the Idaho Potato Commission, for a creative escape room based on safe food handling procedures. She also earned the 2021 Green Award sponsored by the United Soybean Board and was runner up in 2021 for the Postsecondary Education of the Year sponsored by Sysco Corporation.