SARATOGA SPRINGS — With COVID-19, it seems like many people are focusing on health and nutrition.
With that increased focus, Deb Czech, the owner of Planted Platter in Saratoga Springs and a plant-based cooking instructor, hopes that people might reconsider what they’re putting on their plates.
“When COVID hit, we all heard about the comorbidities that make it more likely that you will die from [it]. Some of those things are chronic diseases: hypertension, obesity, diabetes [and] heart disease,” Czech said.
Those living with conditions such as these may benefit from a more plant-based diet (one with little to no animal products), according to Czech. It’s part of the reason she teamed up with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, to offer virtual Food for Life classes starting next week.
Czech will teach Lunch and Learn classes via Zoom, covering the basics of a plant-based diet, from noon to 1 p.m. each Tuesday in June. Throughout the summer, she’ll offer cooking and nutrition classes based around boosting immunity, fighting cancer, heart health, diabetes and weight control.
“We know that a plant-based diet, based on research, seems to be optimal for many of the chronic diseases we suffer here in the States,” said Susan Levin, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee.“It’s not only about prevention, but it’s about treatment. We think it’s important that people understand the level of power they may have to prevent [and] even reverse some of these conditions.”
“There’s so much information about nutrition out there, whether it’s on the internet or reported in the media and people are often confused,” Czech said, “We’re really trying to help people understand the value of eating plant-based foods whether it’s the abundance of fiber, vitamins, minerals, [and] of course, protein.”
Czech, who works in marketing, made the switch to a plant-based diet in 2012 after taking a nutrition course through Cornell University.
“I was lucky to be quite healthy at the time so I didn’t have a major health issue that I was trying to resolve but I found I have a lot more energy. I had always had a lot of congestion in my head and when I gave up animal-based food, that disappeared. As a runner, being able to breathe more easily makes a huge difference,” Czech said.
After noticing changes in her health, she wanted to find a way to share the benefits with other people. In 2019, she turned to the Physicians Committee and trained to become an instructor with their Food for Life education program. Shortly after, she started Planted Platter, which provides plant-based education programs to individuals and businesses.
“This is a side hustle, but I’m very serious about it. It’s not a casual thing for me. I’d like to help people make a change in their health,” Czech said.
Through the classes, which she’ll be teaching from her home kitchen, she also hopes to clear up some misconceptions about plant-based diets.
“People have a perception that it has to be organic or that you have to shop at a fancy market but plant-based [diets] can be very inexpensive. With the issues with the food supply right now both in terms of safety and the rising cost, plant-based food can be very inexpensive,” Czech said, stating that dishes made with rice and beans are both healthy and relatively low-cost.
“This is not an expensive diet. It can be, just like an omnivorous diet can be very expensive. But this doesn’t have to be,” Levin said.
When switching to a plant-based diet, Czech said people often only have to make a few adjustments in their cooking and shopping.
“Many times, what we’re showing them is how to combine flavors in a way that they haven’t thought of before … We’re making pasta salad with no cheese in it for example. Sauteing without butter and olive oil,” Czech said.
Lately, she’s been making Buffalo tofu, instead of Buffalo wings, and tacos with a lentil mixture instead of meat.
“A lot of people find that when they go plant-based, they lose the discomfort that they used to experience after they had a really rich meal because the food is lighter. The high amount of fiber fills us up and helps us know when we’re full. So you tend not to overeat. That said, because plants have much less caloric density than animal-based foods, you can eat a huge amount of food on a plant-based diet,” Czech said.
The classes range in price from $15 for some single classes to $45-$100 for certain class pairings and series.
The Lunch and Learn series runs from noon to 1 p.m. every Tuesday in June. In both June and July, on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 6-8 p.m., classes will cover topics such as boosting immunity and fighting cancer (June 1-2 or July 6-7), healthy heart and blood pressure (June 8-9 or July 13-14), and diabetes and weight control (June 15-16 or July 20-21). For more information visit plantedplatter.com or call 518-350-4080