Protein’s Last Stand

This is yet another of my blog posts about my struggles with my “mostly vegan” eating regimen. I have to put mostly vegan in quotes, because I have never given up eating egg whites and that’s not vegan.

Being on the road for work continues to be a challenge, but even in my daily life, I’m increasingly concerned about not eating enough protein.

Protein, protein, protein.

It’s become an obsession.

Here are some excellent, nutrient dense sources of protein that I consume regularly:

  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Egg Whites (although it is vegetarian, it ain’t vegan by a long shot)
  • Mushrooms (they are higher in protein content, for a vegetable)
  • Nuts & Seeds

Nutritional Yeast Flakes

Hmm, does that seem like a short list? Yeah, it does to me too. (Before you comment about soy and tofu, those are off my list of consumables. You can read previous posts about why, if you’re interested.)

Since I have been on this mostly vegan regimen for about 4-5 months, every once in a while I will fantasize about eating chicken. Possibly crispy fried chicken. Possibly.

No, no… I’m lying. Alright, sometimes I fantasize about eating bacon. I get cravings for a BLT, with mayo. 😦

And a few weeks ago, I was at a diner, looking over the menu, and I’d just sort of had it. I was grumpy about my eating, and hungry and I wanted meat.

So, I ordered a plate of white meat turkey, with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Nothing crazy, but still, it was a moment of feeling like I was crossing over to the dark side.

The plate arrived and I looked at it. It looked fine. It even smelled okay. I tentatively ate a bite of the turkey. It didn’t taste like much, which I figured was for the best. I ate some stuffing, which was good. Then I ate a few more bites of turkey.

And then…

My stomach was like, UH HELLO? WHAT IS THIS, AND WHY ARE YOU FEEDING IT TO ME??

And then it hurt. More than a little. Not a lot… but still, it hurt enough for me to realize I wasn’t going to be able to eat any more turkey. My stomach wouldn’t have been able to handle it.

Later, a friend told me, “Oh, didn’t you know? When you become vegetarian, your body loses the ability to digest meat.”

And I thought… What? That doesn’t seem possible.

Turns out that, NO, you do NOT lose the ability to digest meat, HOWEVER, the levels of digestive enzymes you normally use to digest meat become diminished in your stomach because, guess what, you don’t produce as much of them when you’re not eating meat.

And while I’m not suggesting that I want to jump back into eating meat and being a carnivore, in my travels I found an interesting blog post about re-introducing meat into your diet if you are a vegetarian. http://whole9life.com/2013/02/eating-meat-a-primer-for-the-meat-challenged-2/

The most interesting part of that post, for me, was this:

Consider taking a digestive enzyme. That idea that vegetarians permanently lose the ability to digest meat is bunk, but that’s not to say the first few days of meat eating won’t create some digestive distress. The levels of enzymes that digest protein and fat decrease when you stop eating meat – but they quickly rise again once you ‘get back on the wagon’. However, when your gut is damaged or compromised (like it often is with a diet containing grains, legumes and dairy), a digestive enzyme can help until the gut’s own enzymes come back.

That post also had a link to another, about why it may make sense to take digestive enzymes to support gut health: http://whole9life.com/2012/09/digestive-enzymes-101/

Frankly, this is all way more than I ever wanted to know about how my body functions. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to understand the human condition, but it’s just a lot to try and digest. Bleh.

But let’s get back to the issue at hand: protein.

Since I’m still trying to stick with a mostly vegan eating regimen, that means steak, fried chicken and BLTs are OUT.

But I need to increase my protein consumption, I’ve decided to give vegan sources of protein powder a try.

MLO Brown Rice Protein (powder) 24 oz

I started by purchasing a container of Hemp Protein Powder. What I found is that Hemp Protein Powder is akin to eating concrete. It’s extremely grainy, and not water soluable so it’s not something you want to put in a shake. Also, it takes many scoops of powder to achieve even a 14 gram protein consumption and that’s a lot of grainy, gritty stuff to mix in with oatmeal. Yes, I tried both the shake and the oatmeal.

Brown Rice Protein Powder, on the other hand, is mostly water soluable and two heaping tablespoons of the mixture give you 14 grams of protein. Considering the average adult woman needs 46 grams of protein a day, one shake can provide nearly a third of my daily protein requirement.

I’m not inclined to use the protein powder for more than a third of my daily requirement, so I’m not planning to drink two shakes a day, for instance. I feel I should be getting as many of my nutrients everyday from whole food sources, not supplements.

For right now I have decided not to use a digestive enzyme to bolster my digestive tract, although I have apparently already depleted the “normal” levels of digestive enzymes as evidenced by my tummy’s reaction to a few bites of turkey. THAT said, I have begun eating candied ginger after some of my meals because ginger is a natural food that assists with digestion. (Papaya and pineapple also help, in case you were wondering.) Another way to assist the gut is to take a probiotic supplement, which is a few million bacteria packed into a pill that helps ensure healthy bacteria colonies thrive in the gut.

However, ALL of these changes in my eating patterns have been – as far as I’m concerned – an experiment. IF I am unable to sustainably continue to be “mostly vegan,” I may, after continued experimentation, determine that I need to go back to eating meat.

Or not.

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I Slipped (Off My High Horse)

I guess it was inevitable that after months of forward progress, that I’d experience a set-back in my plan. And I guess it was inevitable that a set-back would occur while I was traveling…

Last week I was on the road for work. For days last week I was in a conference center, and the food choices for a vegan were not good. (And by not good I mean horrible.)

In the mornings, I had the choice of muffins, bagels, or stuff I couldn’t eat (scrambled whole eggs in tortillas with cheese and ham). Yes, there was fresh fruit, but when you’re going to be locked in a conference room for half a day until lunch, eating a few bites of melon is not optional unless you want to start gnawing on the chairs soon thereafter.

For lunch, I was offered hamburger sliders, mac and cheese, a ham carving station… (I wound up eating white rice and pinto beans with guacamole one day.)

The worst was an evening social and of course the event was catered. There was a sushi station, a roast beef carving station, an empenada station (pork, goat cheese and other gross stuff), and on the main buffet even the salad had big chunks of cheese in it.

The only thing I could eat that night was cooked carrots and mashed potatoes. I’m convinced the mashed potatoes were laced with butter and cream.

And while I suppose I could have made a fuss and said “Hey, I’m vegan, I can’t eat any of this…” It’s just not the thing to do at a company event when the catering menu has already been set. I just sucked it up and suffered.

All of this lead to a series of frustrating choices. Yes to muffins in the morning with melon. Yes to a plateful of mashed potatoes. Yes to rice and beans. Yes to a “vegan sandwich” with potato chips (one of the most disgusting things I ate last week.)

Carbs, carbs, carbs, carbs.

I was terribly protein deficient, which leads to being much more hungry. Eating carbs leads to wanting to eat more carbs.

I was so frustrated by the disastrous eating last week that on the plane ride home, when faced with the choice of a paltry hummus and chips for a six hour flight or a roast beef and cheese sandwich, I broke down and ate the sandwich. I was completely disgusted with myself, my choice, and my hunger.

The scale showed me just how horrific a week like that can be to my waist line. I gained three pounds in one week! THREE POUNDS!!!

With the plan I’m on, I’ve been lucky to lose about a half a pound per week. Gaining three pounds in one week is devastating. It will take me over a month (potentially) to lose it again just to get back to where I started before I hit the road.

I can’t let this happen again, but I’m not sure what to do. Maybe I need to “go vegetarian” the weeks I’m traveling so that I can at least find foods that are “okay” and not “horrible.”

Maybe I need to do something else… but what??

 

 

The Wait is Over

I’ve reached an important milestone today! My mostly vegan* plant-strong diet, coupled with my 4-6 mile exercise walks a few times a week, and my calorie counting on FitDay.com has led to a new low interim goal weight for me.

I’m now a “mere” 8 pounds from my goal weight, and 10 pounds from my stretch goal weight.

It’s been a good challenge, these last three months, watching my calories** – even through the holidays – and now the results are showing. It’s exciting stuff!

Stepping on the scale this morning brought a renewed motivation to get to goal!

What’s cool is FitDay allows me to track my current weight and progress towards the goal online, along with tracking daily calorie consumption and calories burned from exercise. I also created custom nutrition goals*** for myself too. It’s not the only site that offers these tools for free, I just happen to like it.

If you’re also in the process of your journey to lose weight and feel great – please share it here. 🙂

And… more updates as the good news continues!

 

  • * I still eat egg whites.
  • ** My daily calorie intake has been 1500 or less.
  • *** Adult women need to consume 46 grams of protein a day to not be in protein deficit. It’s an important custom nutrition goal I take seriously as a vegan.

A new year with the same resolutions

Happy 2014 everyone. I hope you had a good holiday season. I did!

I held my first ever vegan Christmas Eve dinner party for friends. I wanted to surprise them with a variety of tasty foods that were vegan, but flavorful and filling. They seemed to enjoy the meal, and that was satisfying.

My favorite dish from Christmas Eve was Quinoa stuffed Mushrooms – a recipe I found online. I modified the recipe by cooking the quinoa in vegetable broth and mixing nutritional yeast into the quinoa stuffing for even more flavor. They were a hit!

The biggest compliment I got was when one of my guests said she felt full, but pleasantly so… not in a heavy lead-in-the-belly way you can feel after some holiday meals.

And while it’s not always easy for me to say no to many foods I know I’d enjoy eating, I’ve been able to maintain my mostly vegan eating regimen throughout the holiday season.

My ‘resolution’ for 2014 is the same as it was in 2013. Continue to stick with eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds … and yes, egg whites for protein.

I continue to track what I eat on FitDay.com, to figure out my calorie intake. And yes, I continue to lose weight, although very slowly … especially since it’s been so cold outside which prevents me from doing my 4-6 mile walks (for now.)

My news is not terribly exciting, because I established these habits a few months ago and now I’m maintaining the habits I’ve cultivated. I’m keeping with it, day by day.

One thing that’s interesting though, when I tell people what I’m doing, they usually say “I could never give up (fill in a food.)” Oh, they say, I could never give up cheese! I could never give up coffee! I could never give up hamburgers! And I reply, you don’t have to do what I’m doing… but if you really wanted to give those things up, you could. It’s a matter of deciding what to put in your body. Then they admit, yes, I guess I could, but I don’t want to.

And you know what…? I get it. It’s not easy and you have to be motivated to want to do it in order to stick with it.

I’m still motivated!

I’m cooking for myself much more these days, and it’s helping me stick to my routine. If I go on the road, I’m faced with making compromises and so I do my best to stay “close” to my routine as best I can, and move on.

I also shop differently than I used to… I need to shop more frequently because my food is alive. If I don’t eat the vegetables I purchase within a short period of time, they’ll go bad. Lettuce has a short shelf life, and so do bananas. But I like being reminded of my choices, even if I do have to throw something away now and again.

And so as I begin 2014 I’m feeling good and I continue to embrace the challenge of eating vegan and investing in my health. It makes me extremely happy to know I’m influencing my friends to make better choices for their health too, whether they decide to “go veggie” or not.

As for me, there’s no “new news” to report yet for 2014. I’m doing what I’d been doing, and it’s still working. 🙂

Mark Bittman on Gluttony in the NY Times

My friend Jess sent me a link to a Mark Bittman Op-Ed in the NY Times entitled Dietary Advice for the Gluttony Season, which is an excellent read. (Thanks Jess!)

Bittman espouses plain common sense: “eat more vegetables and fruits” and eat a variety of foods in moderation. When we have good variety, we’re ensuring our daily nutritional needs are being met. It all makes perfect sense.

Bittman got me thinking about “how I’m doing” with the big changes I’ve made to my eating habits over the past few months.

I’ve got excellent news: I’ve continued to live without caffeine, meat/chicken/fish, and dairy for several months now. The changes I hoped to make, I’ve made. My one compromise food is egg whites. For me eating egg whites makes a huge difference on meeting daily protein intakes.

I probably sound like a broken record, but it’s worth repeating. I’ve got higher energy levels, regulated sleep cycles, regulated digestion and a slow but steady weight loss (because I want to lose weight).

I’m on track.

And when I had to fly to California recently for work, I stayed true to my eating plan about 95% of the time. When I was served cream of mushroom soup at a company luncheon, I didn’t say no. What’s funny is that I used to love cream of mushroom soup – but this time it tasted fatty so I didn’t finish it. My tastes have changed.

Other than that, I noticed I ran a protein deficit while I was traveling because the stuff I eat at home for protein (quinoa, black beans, nutritional yeast) either isn’t always available, or isn’t being served. And no, I’m not going to travel around with nutritional yeast to sprinkle on my food!

Moderation is the key. I’m not going to go crazy about eating one bowl of cream of mushroom soup, or under-consuming protein for a few days on the road. When I got home I went back to my routine and adjusted accordingly.

Since we’re in the midst of holiday season, it may be tough to say no to cookies, sweets, cocktails and similar fare. Remember, eating one cookie at a social function is fine … balanced with the rest of what you’re having.

Carrots, right? 😉

 

 

The Incredible Edible Egg (White)

After scrupulously journaling every bite of food going into my mouth for the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a trend: I’m falling short on my daily protein requirement.

And how do I know my daily protein requirement? WebMD is a source I trust, so I got it there.

WebMD says:

Protein requirements are complicated because the amount we need changes with age.

  • Infants require about 10 grams a day.
  • Teenage boys need up to 52 grams a day.
  • Teenage girls need 46 grams a day.
  • Adult men need about 56 grams a day.
  • Adult women need about 46 grams a day.

Okay, so on Fitday.com I set my daily custom nutrient goal to between 45-50 grams a protein a day. On many days I haven’t come close.

Why?

My analysis shows me that I’m eating lots of vegetables everyday, along with fruits, nuts and seeds along with some whole grains like quinoa. But unless I’m eating beans on a given day, my protein requirements don’t stack up.

But I don’t wanna eat beans every day.

Why else?

The Jury is Out on Soy

I have decided that for me, soy is not the right go-to food to supplement my protein intake. And just because the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides huge subsidies for the soy crop in this country, just as they do for corn, doesn’t mean I want soy in every product. (Does anyone remember what high fructose corn syrup has done for us?)

Here are some things to consider:

Beginning in 1996, bacteria, virus and other genes have been artificially inserted to the DNA of soy, corn, cottonseed and canola plants. These unlabeled genetically modified (GM) foods carry a risk of triggering life-threatening allergic reactions, and evidence collected over the past decade now suggests that they are contributing to higher allergy rates.

So after about three weeks of eating vegan, I’m at a fork in the road (yes, pun intended.)

What I’ve decided, for now, is that I will go back to eating egg whites. Egg whites are a protein super-food with zero fat content, and low carbs too. (Bodybuilders have known this for a long time.) Also, I can eliminate cholesterol and saturated fat from the egg by not using the egg yolk.

Last night, after a few days in a row of falling short on protein, I made a “hash” of 1/2 cup of egg whites, mushrooms, 1/4 cup of black beans, and 1/4 cup of diced tomatoes with various spices, salt and pepper. It was delicious, nutritious and filled with protein.

I finally put my protein consumption into the green again.

Ironically, the jar of mayonnaise I’ve been discussing on the blog with religious fervor still remains in the refrigerator unopened with its saturated fat content intact. 🙂

Let me also say, for now, I am still committed to staying off dairy products. Dairy does have saturated fat and cholesterol, so for now I see no reason to go back to it … because there is something pretty satisfying about having a food log that reads: Daily Cholesterol = 0 mg!

It’s just one more step in the journey…

My Well Stocked Veg* Pantry

From left to right: Black Truffle Oil, Chia Seeds, Powdered Peanut Butter, Avocado Oil, Red Quinoa, and organic carrots

From left to right: Black Truffle Oil, Chia Seeds, Powdered Peanut Butter, Avocado Oil, Red Quinoa, and organic carrots

One of the new and unexpected benefits of my recent change in eating habits is the introduction of really interesting foods I have not cooked with at home, and in some cases, had never eaten before.

I find this kind of cooking experimentation a lot of fun! It’s a way for me to create flavor profiles I may not have tasted before and combining ingredients in ways I’d never considered.

Then again, my hunger is propelling me to do these things because one of the issues I’ve faced is lower levels of satiety. It depends what I eat, of course, but I use minimal amounts of oil in cooking and vegetables are filling, but only temporarily. The good news is they are also quite low in calories so it’s okay to have multiple smaller meals during the day.

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The Veg* Pantry

So, here’s some fun items you can acquire for your veg* pantry that will add lots of options to your flavor profiles:

Powdered Peanut Butter – because of how it is processed, powdered peanut butter has 85% less fat than “normal” peanut butter and can be reconstituted using water instead of oil. (I bought this product because I want to make a home version of “Sesame Noodles” which uses peanut butter and soy sauce, along with chinese noodles and toasted sesame seeds. I have yet to try out the recipe in the “lab,” haha.)

Black Truffle Oil – this is actually sunflower oil infused with black truffle mushroom “essence” so the caloric content is really the sunflower oil first and foremost (120 calories per tablespoon), but it can give dishes a rich, meaty and savory quality.

Avocado Oil – I love avocados so the idea of having avocado oil to add to some dishes was too tempting to pass up. Like olive oil, it’s a great source of poly-unsaturated fat, just like the whole avocado.

An important note about avocado oil – it is highly beneficial to dry skin as well and can be applied directly to the face or body. It is ph balanced at the same level of the oils our skin naturally produces.

Chia Seeds – Yes, I keep mentioning chia seeds. They are a super-food and are high in Omega 3’s, have 5x the calcium of milk, high in fiber, on and on! Chia seeds add a wonderful crunch to any dish, but nutritionally these little seeds are a powerhouse.

Quinoa – What food can you think of where, when you eat 1/4 of a cup of it cooked, provides you with 6 grams of protein? Yeah, I thought so. Quinoa – another super-food. It’s got such a wonderful nutty flavor and fantastic texture, it’s very easy to substitute this whole grain instead of rice or pasta.

Dried organic mushrooms – getting fresh organic mushrooms isn’t always possible, and more to the point, mushrooms go bad rapidly if you don’t eat them. If you keep dried mushrooms in your veg* pantry, you’ll always have a wonderful source of flavor on hand to enrich any dish. Also – mushrooms have been scientifically shown to boost the immune system!

Since mushrooms can also absorb bad stuff from the ground, pollutants and heavy metals and other bad stuff – you should try to use organically grown mushrooms.

(I have used North West Foods in Oregon as a source of organic dried mushrooms.)

Tahini – it’s a sesame paste typically used in yummy Mediterranean dishes. Yep, it’s packed with Omega 3’s, calcium, copper and maganese too, and was first made over 4000 years ago!

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So there you have it. This is NOT a complete list of all the stuff you can stock in your wonderful veg* pantry … because that could have been a much longer list!

What “Must Have” Items do you have in your veg* pantry that are a little unusual?

Please share!

Five Websites for Better Health Choices

I’ve been scouring the internet for useful websites as I continue on my journey to eat in the healthiest way possible and take good care of my body.

Below please find a list of five websites that may help you if you are on a similar journey.

Enjoy!

  1. VegWeb touts itself as the largest collection of vegetarian (and vegan) recipes on the web. I don’t know if it’s “the largest” but it does have tons of interesting recipes. If you can’t figure out what to make for dinner tonight, look here.
  2. Local Harvest – I just can’t say enough nice things about this website! It is an encyclopedic database of farms and co-ops and food producers and farmers markets across the United States. You can browse the products you want to source directly from the farm and place an order.
  3. Happy Cow – another good searchable database type website to help you find local providers of vegetarian and vegan offerings, including restaurants. This has links for cities globally. Sometimes it lists places that are “veg friendly” which means not strictly veg, but offering some stuff that is…
  4. What’s On My Food – This website is scary. It will tell you the kinds of pesticide residues you find on produce. If you eat non-organic food, and you take one look here, you’ll shocked at which toxins you’re ingesting. (One of the organic farmers I spoke to – after placing an order with him via Local Harvest – told me he would never eat a commercially raised blueberry again after he looked at this site.)
  5. FitDay – If you are interested in tracking what you’re eating, the FitDay site has a huge database of foods and the exact nutritional and caloric breakdown of each, by portion. FitDay also has journaling for any exercise you are doing, and then if you want to really go crazy, you can graph your progress of daily caloric intake vs. the amount of exercise you’re doing. I find the site most useful to know, let’s say, the number of calories in a cup of grapes, but that’s me.

On the road to health: tough choices

It’s been a little over a week since I’ve begun my adjustment from vegetarian to my new eating habits, which includes giving up eggs, dairy, and processed foods in addition to already having given up meat over a year ago.

Patience is the key in this situation, but it’s been a challenge so far.

First, I’m surprised to report that what I thought would be hard has been easy and what I thought would be easy is much harder than I thought.

What do I mean?

Giving up eggs was, in my mind, a huge sacrifice. But over the past week, not only have I done without them, I have not craved fried eggs or omelettes. What I realized is I was using eggs as a “crutch food” (I made that up) because I’d convinced myself I needed some animal protein in my diet.

However, giving up dairy products has been extremely hard for me, and I’m starting to understand why.

Mouth feel.

When you eat food that turns your brain “on” it has “stuff” in it that let’s your body know it’s higher in calories and is more satisfying to eat.

Butter is an example of a food that creates an experience that you cannot get from olive oil or avocado. (I have not eaten nut butters yet, like cashew butter, but I can see I will be compelled to try them.)

It’s the same for me with cheese. Cheese is calorically dense, and creates a reaction in the brain and body when it’s consumed that increases satiety and is just … satisfying… to eat.

Which leads me to…

I’m freakin’ hungry.

I’m willing to concede that if I’m hungry, it’s my own fault because I could just “eat something else” but what’s happened to me over this past week is strange.

I have to THINK much, much more about whatever it is I want to eat and how I’m going to prepare it and do I have everything I need to prepare what I want, etc.

I’m not saying thinking more about what I’m putting into my body is a bad thing, but I am saying it is taking up mental energy and I will need to get to a place, reasonably soon, where I am not spending this much time thinking about what I’m going to eat and struggling with the available choices.

And I have struggled with my choices.

There are two items I had put on my “give up” list that I’m not currently prepared to give up.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a processed food, and adds a LOT of calories to meals (120 calories for ONE tablespoon, ouch!)

In cooking, you can give up olive oil by using a non-stick pan on a high heat burner, to brown onions and to cook veggies.

BUT, when you add olive oil sparingly, it makes it easier to cook the food more rapidly and to achieve browning, plus it adds mouth feel because it is a fat.

So for right now, I’ve mostly done without it, but in cooking I do use a little. While I am continuing my transition into this new eating lifestyle, I’m going to have it on my list of available ingredients.

Salad Dressing

Same principle as olive oil.

I’m not prepared to use lemon/lime juice, or vinegar by themselves as my salad dressing, along with other herbs and spices. I know I could, but with everything else I’m giving up I just don’t want to give up all salad dressing.

My compromise?

I found a low calorie salad dressing (35 calories per tablespoon) and I measure it out so I don’t over-use.

In case you are wondering it’s: Briannas Special Request “Lively Lemon Tarragon Dressing.” And while “canola oil” is an ingredient, it is number 8 on the list. Without oil, the number one ingredient is water and the number two is honey, so…

But there is an up-side item I have added to my diet that is a great find.

Chia Seeds

When you add Chia seeds to foods they get a great crunch, and while they look similar to poppy seeds, Chia seeds are a superfood. They have TONS of Omega 3’s in them, which make them an extremely healthy addition to salads, and yes, even a bowl of oatmeal.

Results, so far

Results so far have been good!

Sleep patterns are normal. I wake up in the morning, refreshed, without an alarm clock. (Reminder: I do not use caffiene.)

My digestive system loves me. My body is running like clockwork. With all the water I drink, and Vitamin C along with the higher amounts of fiber in my food, everything works properly.

Energy! I have more of it, which I especially notice when I go out for my daily walk, which has turned into a daily walk/jog because I have THAT much excess energy to burn. I’m doing 4-6 miles a day.

And yes, the scale loves me too. I’ve lost a few pounds, and while I’ve been attempting to get to my goal weight for a while now, with my new eating regimen, it’s becoming easier to get rid of the unwanted weight.

That’s it for now, but after only one week in, I think it’s good progress!

Is it possible to be an unhealthy Vegan or Vegetarian?

As my regular readers know, I’ve begun the process of transitioning my ‘eating preferences’ from vegetarian to something that I would have called vegan a few days ago but I’m now realizing is not vegan.

It’s something else.

There is no convenient label for what I’m trying to do, but I’ve also realized something kind of terrible in the last few days also… it’s possible to be an unhealthy vegetarian or vegan.

That’s blasphemy to many, I’m sure!

But please, before I start getting annoyed comments from the folks that have adopted vegetarian and vegan eating habits, let me explain what I mean. You may even agree with me.

First, let’s start with the basics. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you’re not eating meat and that helps dramatically reduce unhealthy saturated fats from your diet. That’s for sure. It’s an excellent start on a road to better health.

Next, if you are vegan, you are further reducing saturated fats by eliminating both eggs and dairy products. Kudos to vegans who are off both eggs and dairy and consuming much less saturated fat. Yay!

HOWEVER.

What I’ve noticed in many of the vegetarian and vegan recipes online is that there is a new boogie man hanging out and readily made available to veg-peoples: processed “veg” alternative foods.

Would you like some fake veg-meat? Or how about some fake veg-cheese? Sure, you can have that… and along with it, tons of oil, sugar and chemicals to preserve it on the shelf.

Want some fake sour cream? Non-dairy ice cream made out of tofu? Oh yeah, that’s our best seller.

See, the thing is… I don’t want to eat that fake chemically laden, oil enriched, sugar coated stuff.

I don’t want to eat food that will stay on a shelf for a month and not go bad. The food we eat should be alive, and if you don’t eat it, it dies and can’t be eaten if you want to stay healthy.

The food industry is SO damn sneaky. They want to make consumers feel really good about their food choices (while charging them a whole lot more than the “regular” products because it’s “healthier”) and so they provide them with plenty of opportunities to buy stuff that, frankly, I don’t see how it’s better for you over not eating it.

THAT is the key.

If you compare eating MEAT, vs. eating fake processed veg. food on the supermarket shelf, I’m sure the argument would be … HEY, this is HEALTHIER than MEAT!

Okay. So what?

Is it healthier than NOT eating the fake veg thing you have in your hand and eating… I don’t know, a carrot? An apple? A carrot and an apple?

And the answer to that is NO, eating fake veg thing is NOT healthier than eating an apple. (Okay, okay, an organic apple.)

Also, and I’m sorry people, I have to point this out… eating baked goods with dark chocolate, raw sugar, wheat flour and oil is not “health food” either.

Imagine… a vegan nightmare…

Breakfast: eat a bowl of sugar coated shredded wheat, with some sugar laden rice milk for a “healthy” vegan breakfast.

Lunch: I can have a baked potato with fake veg cheese, fake sour cream, and fake bacon bits. (I cannot make this stuff up, I’ve seen the recipes and it looks gross.) As my desert, I’ll have chocolate chip cookies with soy milk.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Now, if I’m not doing that and not eating the way some veg peoples do, what am I doing?

WHAT I AM DOING:

WHAT I AM NOT DOING:

  • I’m avoiding as much processed food as I can, which is freaking HARD TO DO.
  • I’m avoiding using processed oils in my food (yep, even olive oil), although again, this is freaking HARD TO DO.
  • I’m avoiding high fructose corn syrup, and avoiding as much sugar as I can (yes, including things like raw/organic honey. It’s still sugar.)

In case you are wondering what the hell am I eating… here is today’s sample:

Breakfast: oatmeal with slivered almonds and two tablespoons of chia seeds (omega 3’s)

Lunch: Half of the following:

Can of Amy’s Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup (minimal oil) with this other stuff I added:

half can of whole kernel corn (no oil, salt or sugar); half can of diced tomato (no oil, salt or sugar); and half of one sweet potato cut into cubes, and one half cup of cooked Reinzi “i bambini” Fusillini with spinach and zucchini (ingredients: duram wheat semolina and 25% vegetable puree.)

Dinner: Finish soup from lunch. Handful of fresh raspberries. One fresh persimmon.

(Cheat item: Pomegranate Blueberry Mash sparkling water drink with fruit juice concentrates and crystalline fructose… sigh. 40 calories per serving, but that’s just my justification.)

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I don’t mind telling you…this transition is very freaking hard… so far.

But the fresh raspberries tasted AMAZING tonight, and I think I can expect to start tasting food differently now … if I’m serious about getting off the other stuff I’d been putting in my body.

How about you?

It’s Sick, How Healthy I Am

Yes, after over a year of being a vegetarian, I am disgustingly healthy. Even my doctor says so.

And while it took me several months, initially, to get over not being able to eat bacon and fried chicken, I’m now fully adjusted to not eating meat. However, as a vegetarian, I’ve continued eating eggs and dairy (cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, ice cream.)

That’s not all. I’ve also given up drinking caffeine.

I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but I had a mean diet cola beverage habit and addiction. After giving that up, I realized all my morning fog and grogginess was due to caffeine. The very product that helps you “wake up” and gives you “energy” is the SAME product that makes you tired later in the afternoon when it wears off. If you don’t ingest caffeine, this cycle of up and down stops. When you feel tired, you’re actually tired.

What do I drink now, you may ask? Answer: Water. Lots of it. (If you do too, your digestive system will behave itself very nicely as it processes your meals.)

I also take vitamins. Everyday. A multi-vitamin, a B complex, and extra Vitamin C (500 – 1000 mg.) Sometimes, for an extra boost, I take an Omega 3 supplement. For people who aren’t taking vitamins but who want to start, I suggest beginning with a complete multi-vitamin of your choice.

I do not take the “best” vitamins on the market, and that’s because I’ve decided to take gummy vitamins. Why gummy? Because they’re extremely easy to take; I don’t have to swallow a pill… which means I will actually take them everyday. If you don’t like swallowing pills, you may also want to consider gummy vitamins or chewable vitamin C, for example.

And yes, now I exercise regularly too. Nothing crazy, I’m not out doing Ironman competitions…but I am walking 4-6 miles several times a week. Walking is good for you, easy to do (do you sense my theme?) and the only “equipment” needed is a pair of sneakers. Walking is easier on your joints than running, although it is also less aerobically intensive and therefore doesn’t burn as many calories.

Coincidentally, other “stuff I don’t do” includes drinking alcohol. I was never a drinker (maybe with the exception of one sip of champagne at a wedding) so I don’t miss it; nor do I miss the calories that get added to your diet when you drink.

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But now I am thinking about going some extra steps. And these steps will be more difficult and challenging.

I’m strongly considering giving up eggs and dairy. Just as it took me several months to give up meat, I’m not planning to go “cold turkey” (haha) on eggs and dairy.

My first step on this journey is giving up butter and liquid milk. Giving up milk is really easy for me because I don’t drink it. If I want a milk substitute, almond milk tastes great. Butter is also relatively easy because in cooking I use olive oil, but I do like the occasional piece of toast with butter that I’m now planning to “sacrifice.”

Eggs, on the other hand, are a HUGE DEAL. Giving up eggs is like… I don’t know. It’s big. Eggs are the last vestiges of “giving up meat” in my diet.

No more fried eggs!

No more omelettes!

Just like with chicken, I’d guess that when it comes to eggs I might slip up for a while. Maybe I’ll go to an egg white system before I wean myself off eggs, I’m not sure. I don’t mind admitting, it seems a bit scary, but I think I can do it.

ALL of these things are taking me down a path towards… ve… veg……… oh man, veganism. I’ll be one of those totally wierd, vegan hippies.

How did this happen?

Well, for starters, I FEEL BETTER.

I HAVE MORE ENERGY.

I am HEALTHIER now than I’ve been in years.

And yes, I’d like to lose even more weight than what I’ve lost to date.

Hell, I’d like to LIVE LONGER.

And while I’ve been investigating all this stuff, I recently came across a documentary that sums up some of the scientific literature behind why this works. It’s called “Forks Over Knives.” It’s interesting to watch, if this area is something you want to know more about, so I’d recommend it.

In the meantime, even I can’t believe that it’s possible to be even healthier than I am right now, which is pretty downright disgustingly healthy.

But I’m gonna try.

Top Secret Frijoles Negros (Black Beans)

As with most things in my life, even black beans is a story.

In the past year, I’ve been practicing vegetarianism. Once in a while I come across a food at one of my local Jersey City take-out places that I fall in love with and crave. So it is with a particular Latin American take out spot in my neighborhood that makes the most heavenly frijoles negros (black beans) I’ve ever eaten.

Those beans are so damn good, I was determined to crack the code on them so I could replicate the flavor at home.

One of the first and easiest steps was to look up recipes on the interwebs. There are tons of them, most of which I don’t like, and which I knew didn’t match what I was getting locally.

The take-out black beans I get have an almost creamy consistency, and had nothing in them except disintegrated cilantro, and some magical blend of spices I needed to decode through some alchemical testing in my laboratory… er, I mean kitchen.

It turns out that the base flavor profile I was looking for hinged on an all-important ingredient: vinegar.

Yes, vinegar is used in the making of black beans. I think people who don’t cook them would be surprised to know that is what creates a tart undertone to the beans and makes flavor explode in your mouth with each delicious bite.

But not just any vinegar will do. Oh no.

Goya Distilled White Vinegar - a top secret ingredient

Goya Distilled White Vinegar – a top secret ingredient

I know this because I had to try out several kinds until I found the right one that matched my local take out. Not surprisingly when it comes to humble dishes simply prepared, this vinegar is the least expensive on the market.

I can buy a bottle of Goya Distilled White Vinegar in a plastic bottle for 85 cents, which is more than enough for many pots of yummy black beans. (I’m also saying do not use “cider vinegar” because I’ve noticed a lot of internet recipes call for it. It doesn’t taste right.)

The other ingredient you must have is fresh cilantro. If you don’t have it, don’t make the beans. The flavor profile won’t be right. Period.

Okay, here we go.

This recipe is one of my favorite “riffs” on frijoles negros and has some traditional elements and other flavors I enjoy too. This version of the dish is more acidic / tart because of the ingredients I prefer; but feel free to make your own riff too.

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TOP SECRET FRIJOLES NEGROS

  • 1 can of Goya Black Beans – do not drain liquid (29 oz.) (Reserve 2 tablespoons of beans from the can in a separate dish)
  • 1 can of stewed or diced tomatoes – do not drain liquid (14.5 oz.)
  • 3 sprigs of fresh Cilantro, well washed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium size onion
  • 2 Tablespoons – Goya White Distilled Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons – olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 fresh lime
  • water (as needed)

Dice the med. size onion and set aside. Mince the 3 cloves of fresh garlic and set aside.

In a pot, empty most of the contents of the can of Goya Black Beans, including the liquid (minus 2 tablespoons of beans) and immediately add 2 Tbsp of Goya White Distillied Vinegar.

Bring the heat up enough to allow the beans to slowly start to bubble.

Chop the cilantro (including the stems) and mix it into the pot, and cover.

Once the beans have begun to bubble, add the can of diced tomatoes with liquid, mix, and re-cover.

In a pan, put 2 Tbsp of olive oil and bring up to saute heat. Add the diced onion to the pan and cook until translucent.  Add the minced garlic and stir rapidly – just enough to permit it to perfume. Add salt and pepper, mix.

Stir the onion and garlic mixture into the pot of beans, and re-cover.

Slice the fresh lime into quarters. Squeeze the juice from two lime quarters into the pot, stir the mixture, and re-cover again. (Discard the actual limes, do not put them in the pot.)

Allow the beans to continue cooking, and take the 2 tablespoons of beans you reserved and put them into a bowl and mash them thoroughly. Add the mashed beans into the pot. The mashed beans will create a creamy consistency.

The beans can stay covered on the stove with their flavors blending together for many hours, with the heat very low, as long as you keep checking the pot. If the amount of liquid is too reduced, add water until the consistency is where you want it. (I prefer my beans to be pretty liquidy with lots of delicious broth.)

Before you’re ready to serve the beans, squeeze the juice from the remaining two quarters of fresh lime into the pot and mix thoroughly.

Serve and enjoy!