Two amateur cooks explore the world of cooking for a Crohn's and Colitis diet

The virtues and vices of red meat is a hot-topic right now, especially after the publication of a Harvard study entitled “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from 2 Prospective Cohort Studies.”  The study looked at the association between red meat consumption and mortality, and the researchers concluded “a higher intake of red meat was associated with a significantly elevated risk of total, [cardiovascular disease] CVD and cancer mortality.”[1]

One of the primary researchers, Dr. An Pan, noted that despite the findings, the results do not indicate that cutting red meat from the diet would have a direct effect on lifespan.  Instead, it is the other foods consumed in the diet that are most likely to have the greatest effect on mortality.  In essence, the red meat is not the primary cause of increased mortality rates, but instead, it is the lack of other foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and veggies, that contribute most to longevity. The question is not whether we should eat red meat or not, but in the current American diet we are eating it too much and it is crowding out healthier food options.

For those with IBD, excessive intake of red meat, along with refined sugars, saturated fats and nitrates, and a low fruit and veggie intake, have been shown to increase the likelihood of flares.  For more information about the role of diet and IBD, check out this PowerPoint presentation from the 17th Annual Medical Symposium & Patient and Family Education Conference on IBD.

Red meat is not a very significant part of Marnina’s diet.  She eats red meat about 1-2 times a month. When we buy red meat, it is always lean.  The full fat hamburger beef and steaks are problematic for her.  Unfortunately, since she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, Marnina has fully avoided hot dogs. She finds that they just don’t sit well. She can, however eat chicken and turkey dogs, although I don’t like to buy them because they are saturated with sodium (which is not good for anyone).  Marnina’s inability to eat hot dogs doesn’t mix well with my love for baseball (Go Washington Nationals!) , but going to baseball games can still be fun even without the traditional ballpark food.

Again, red meat does not lead to death.  Diets low in fruits and vegetables and fish, and high in animal fat are associated with less favorable outcomes.  Also, people who consume a lot of red meat may also engage in other bad dietary habits that are also associated with increased health risks, and it is impossible to correct for all those residual factors.  We recommend eating red meat in moderation (while choosing to eat lean cuts), and considering replacing red meat with poultry, fish, plant-based proteins, while also incorporating plenty of whole grains, fruits, and veggies.

We like to cook meat for our Friday night Shabbat dinners, but we are mostly vegetarian the rest of the week  (we go above and beyond the Meatless Mondays!).   We are often trying to substitute other ingredients to imitate a dish that originally calls for meat, such as chili.  Marnina knows that I love meatballs in some kind of sauce, so she suggested making vegetarian meatballs with a traditional tomato sauce.  We used my mom’s veggie meatball recipe that has withstood the rigors of the thumbs up/thumbs down process that decided the fate of so many recipes when my brothers and I all lived under one roof.

It is definitely a challenge to make a vegetarian meatball that sufficiently holds together and is not super dense.  One must find a perfect combination of meatball mixture, eggs, and breadcrumbs.  The mixture should easily form into a ball.  My mom’s recipe calls for peas to be added to the meatballs, but we omitted them due to their high fiber content.  We had some leftover mushrooms from the sauce, and so we threw in some chopped mushrooms to replace the peas.  Vegetarian meatballs are a great way to come up with new flavor components – you could substitute spinach, broccoli, beets, or just about any veggie.  You could even add some pureed beans to increase the protein content, and to help bind the mixture together (if you can tolerate the added fiber).  Just remember to adjust the seasonings accordingly to match the flavor profiles of the vegetarian meatballs.

Delicious homemade sauce!

Veggie meatballs!

The finished product!

Vegetarian Meatball Recipe


Sauce ingredients:

  • 3 onions, diced
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 30 oz. canned tomatoes
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1/2 tspn. oregano
Meatball ingredients:

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped (we omitted the celery because it is stringy and difficult to digest)
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 3 Tbsp. margarine
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups cooked green peas (we substituted 1/2 lb. mushrooms)
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1/2 tspn pepper
  • 1 lb. spaghetti, cooked
  • grated swiss cheese (you can omit this to make it dairy free)
To make the sauce:
1. Cook the diced onions and mushrooms in some olive oil for 10 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and oregano.  Cover and cook over low heat for 35 minutes.  Correct seasonings (feel free to add some thyme, basil, or some other type of italian seasoning).
To make the meatballs:
1. Cook the chopped onions, celery (or omit if you have difficulty digesting celery), and carrots in half the margarine for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool.
2.  Add the eggs, 1 cup breadcrumbs, peas (or mushrooms), salt and pepper.
3. Roll into small balls and dip in remaining breadcrumbs.  Fry in remaining margarine until browned.
4. Place on spaghetti, and pour sauce over everything.  Serve with grated swiss cheese.

Comments on: "Saucy Meatballs (& Vegetarian too!)" (1)

  1. I love that this can be made gluten and dairy free! Will be trying this soon!

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