The Tyranny of Protein – or – Vegan No More

This decision has been weighing on my mind for months.

I’ve struggled with my vegan dietary habits mightily, and after about 8+ months of eating mostly vegan, I have decided that I can no longer sustain this level of dietary restriction.

However, I have particular reasons and I have a set of ideas about what I will do next, moving forward.

For those of you that have been following along with me on this journey, please keep reading.

1) I originally thought going vegan was going to help me lower my cholesterol to the point where I could get off my cholesterol medications. This was a patently false assumption on my part, and was unfortunately validated through blood tests with my doctor. After eating vegan with a rare exceptional egg in the diet, my bad cholesterol and triglycerides were higher than my previous readings … because I’d slacked off on my cholesterol medication. According to my doctor my form of cholesterol is (probably) genetic. There will be no miracle dietary intake to get me off my meds.

2) Now that I am entering week five of my daily gym routine, and I am one week into eating eggs again, and because I have not successfully kicked my daily hopping on the scale habit, I have noticed something radical.

I AM LOSING WEIGHT.

And I’m losing weight now at a more steady pace, since I have re-introduced animal protein into my diet.

Other than the dietary change, I am not exercising more, so I ascribe the weight loss to the dietary change.

I have to say, this is not a shock to me. As someone who has been eating vegan for 8+ months, I know that in order to consume my vegan protein it comes with a LOT of carbs. Black beans, lentils, and quinoa are all terrific sources of vegetable protein.

However, please consider:

  • 15 oz can of black beans = 315 calories / 24.5 grams protein / 66.5 grams carbs
  • 1 cup of lentils, cooked = 622 calories / 48.4 grams protein / 108 grams carbs
  • I cup quinoa, cooked =    635 calories / 22.3 grams protein / 117 grams carbs

VERSUS

  • 3 fried eggs                   = 260 calories / 18.6 grams protein / ZERO CARBS

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I’m not making complex carbohydrates my enemy, however in my struggles to lose weight at a steady pace, the levels of carbohydrate intake in a vegan diet are not working with me, they’re working against me. I have to work much harder to lose weight with the levels of carbs I’m taking in.

In the subject line of this post, I’ve put it out there – I am vegan no more because I am eating eggs again.

Theoretically, I’m now a vegetarian… except, I’m still not eating dairy. I see no need to reintroduce dairy into my diet at this time and I’m comfortable sticking to that.

But given where I am in my journey, I am going to reconsider the possibility of consuming two other foods, in addition to eggs, that are animal based: chicken and tuna fish.

Both chicken and tuna fish are lean sources of protein, and are generally healthier than most other forms of animal protein (like red meat, pork, bacon, etc.)

Also, like eggs, they are extremely high in protein, relatively low in calories and cholesterol and have zero carbs. These factors make these particular food sources attractive options if I decide I’m okay to go back to eating animal protein again.

Since I have proven to myself that I can live with many different kinds of dietary restrictions and stick with them, I’m comfortable with the idea of eating chicken or tuna every once in a while. I suspect my body will “tell me” if it wants animal protein.

In fact, higher levels of protein … between my brown rice protein shakes, which I still use daily for a decent boost of 24 grams of protein, along with other sources, has made my workout recoveries more bearable. I can tell I need higher levels of protein than the “normal” 46 grams of daily protein recommended for an adult woman to see the results I want.

And speaking of results, it’s been a while since I posted a progress photo of how I am doing.

Here’s how I look now… and the journey continues………

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Progress photo - 7-25-14

Progress photo – 7-25-14

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The Amazing Birthday Do-Over

Every year, on my birthday, I try to take extreme precautions. I’m superstitious about that day as I believe it can set the tone for the entire coming year (my own personal “New Year”).

Most years, I plan something for myself… a trip, something interesting, even if that means going away by myself.

Last year I was in Amsterdam on my birthday … solo. It was an interesting birthday (I was serenaded by a band in a blues club in Amsterdam – I was the only one in the bar), but I also found myself feeling lonely many thousands of miles away from home on my own.

So this year, I decided I was not going to go on a trip on my birthday. Instead I was going to stay close to home so I could be around people that care about me.

And in fact, I had a few offers to go out on my birthday. Unfortunately, the choice I made for that particular night was a very bad one. I won’t say anything more about it. Those who know what happened know why it was such a bad night. I’ll leave it there.

However, my very dear friend Michelle, who is so sweet and wonderful offered me a birthday do-over. And this year, I wholeheartedly accepted.

Tonight, Michelle took me to Dirt Candy, a reservation-only vegetarian restaurant in the East Village. People wait months to score a table there, and Michelle had planned well in advance (because she is such an awesome friend!) We had a fantastic meal, it was inventive and tasty.

Afterwards, we had some “time” before her next surprise, so we stopped at a charming bar called Booker and Dax, also in the East Village. We sat and chatted for a while, before heading off to 55 Bar, our final stop.

At Booker and Dax, for part of the birthday do-over!

At Booker and Dax, for part of the birthday do-over!

And what a stop it was! Playing tonight at 55 Bar was the Chris Bergson Band — an amazingly talented blues band.

 

Chris Bergson and his very talented band

Chris Bergson and his very talented band

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Chris Bergson ... and Craig the highly talented sax and keyboard player in the background

Chris Bergson … and Craig the highly talented sax and keyboard player in the background

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This is a YouTube video of Chris Bergson playing at the Jazz Standard, it’s worth watching.

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday this year. Tonight was so incredible, from dinner to a charming stop along the way, and winding up at 55 Bar to watch live blues…truly an amazing night.

And so it is that I can now officially declare my birthday this year to have been phenomenal. (And how lucky am I to have such an amazing friend?!) I’m ready for the rest of the year to come. 🙂

 

 

My (mostly) vegan experiment gone horribly wrong

A little over 6 months ago, I began to transition from my vegetarian eating habits to a new regimen of eating (mostly) vegan.

I was already restricting my diet, but I decided that to further my health goals of lowering my cholesterol, I was going to give up all dairy and egg yolks, but – I decided – that I’d continue to consume egg whites for protein.

And I can tell you that for the past 6 months, I have … for 99% of the time … not consumed any dairy. No cheese, no pizza, no milk, no ice cream, no sour cream… nope. Every once in a while, I would get a craving for toast with a little butter on it, and I’d estimate I ate a slice of buttered toast less than once a month during that time. That would have constituted ALL dairy ingested, which is – to say the least – such a miniscule amount as to be nearly nothing.

As for eggs, the vast majority of the time I was consuming egg whites, although every once in a while … again, very rarely and mostly while on the road, I would eat whole eggs.

While all this was going on, of course I consumed absolutely no meat, chicken, seafood… nada. Zero. Zip.

I ALSO added a daily, high-dose Omega 3 supplement too…which has been shown to help reduce cholesterol. I have been taking Omega 3’s every day, without fail.

I was SO excited about the fact that I’d given up 99% of any and all sources of cholesterol in my diet, that I admit I began slacking off on taking my cholesterol medication. I was fully prepared to go in to see my doctor after 6 months and for her to tell me, wow your cholesterol has dropped tremendously, of course you can go off your meds!

Since I have already written the title of this post, you know this isn’t a good news story.

BAD RESULTS

After 6 months of a lot of sacrifice, my triglycerides are HIGHER than what they were 6 months ago. My LDL (bad cholesterol) is HIGHER than it was 6 months ago. And my HDL, while still in a good range, is still lower overall than it was 6 months ago.

This is TERRIBLE news. It is a horrific result based on the many, many changes I have made.

Moreover, it’s very clear to me that I need to be taking my cholesterol meds religiously, NO exceptions.

Eating (mostly) vegan has literally done nothing at all to lower my cholesterol levels. (And if you’re going to tell me that eating the equivalent of less than a teaspoon of butter in 6 months was the thing preventing me from lowering my cholesterol, I will knock your block off. The changes I made were serious, and difficult.)

Now, some people would take that news and use it as an excuse to fall off the bandwagon and start chowing down on pizza and ice cream and whatever else happens to come across their path.

Not me.

I’m WAY too stubborn for that.

In fact, I’m going to up the ante on myself. Not only am I going to start taking my cholesterol meds every night, I have already started removing white carbs from my diet. That means: no white bread or pasta, no white rice, and sadly … no white potatoes.

Why remove white carbs? Because eating white carbs can drive up the amount of sugar your body produces, and when the body has an excess amount of sugar, it stores it as fat on the body. When the body stores fat, it can elevate your triglyceride levels (particularly fat stored in the abdomen.)

I’ve been clinging to eating eggs for the past 6 months, and maybe it’s time for me to bite the bullet and try to go the next 6 months without eating them, to see if I can do it.

Also, I want to say, for the record, eating like this SUCKS. It’s HIGHLY restrictive, and it makes for some difficult conversations with friends about “where to go for dinner” when I eat out. Yes, I cook for myself a lot at home, but with the new restrictions, it’s going to further limit what I can eat and will require me to change up my habits yet again.

You know, you’d think with all these restrictions, plus the amount of exercise I’m doing every week that I would have been losing weight too, right? But no, I’m not. I have been working on increasing the amount of exercise I’m doing, and I with the additional restrictions I’m imposing on myself, I hope to break through the plateau I’ve been at, weight wise, for many months.

I am not happy to be writing this post, but I AM being honest. The changes I undertook have not really seemed to make a difference in contributing to my health, and that is extraordinarily disappointing.

Once I go back to taking my cholesterol meds every day, religiously, there will be no way for me to tell if any further changes to my diet have helped reduce my cholesterol … and at this point, I no longer have cholesterol reduction through dietary changes as a goal because it seems completely unrealistic.

However, I do want to see my overall health improve. I want to lose weight and achieve a healthier Body Mass Index (BMI).

I’ve been dabbling with the idea of seeing a holistic nutritionist to help craft a strategy with me. I’m very knowledgeable about nutrition, supplements, the glycemic index and eating habits in general, but I’m not a professional … and maybe it’s time to “up my game” and go the extra step.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to figure out how to readjust my eating habits yet again…

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.

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!