Going Vegan

The health benefits of eating vegan can be dramatic-as long as you avoid pitfalls.
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The health benefits of eating vegan can be dramatic-as long as you avoid pitfalls.


What is this raw food diet we've been hearing so much about? More sushi? Hardly. A raw food diet consists of at least 75 percent unprocessed and uncooked plant food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, beans, dried fruit, and seaweed. The diet eliminates refined sugar and starches, and any form of animal protein, including dairy products. Proponents of raw food diets claim it helps boost energy and promotes healthier skin, better digestion, and weight loss, and reduces risk of heart and other diseases.

Although similar, a raw foods diet differs from a vegan diet in that foods are not heated above 116°F. Heating foods above a certain temperature is thought to destroy important enzymes and other nutrients. Food preparation is done by sprouting seeds, grains, and beans; juicing fresh fruits and vegetables; soaking nuts and dried fruits; and using dehydrators. Be aware that your body is likely to go through a detox for several days when starting a raw foods diet. Symptoms can include headaches, nausea, and food cravings. Be sure to supplement with added calcium and B vitamins, and to consume enough protein and calories. You may also need to supplement with iron if you are a woman of childbearing age.

Raw supplements are perhaps the biggest trend in this area. For example, Vibrant Health just introduced Field of Greens Raw Food Packets (with organic greens), and Garden of Life's Vitamin Code line features raw, vegan, and gluten-free nutrients from uncooked whole foods.

Go Eggless

Why do people go eggless? That was my first question for Los Angeles-based Sarah Desai, creator of the Go Eggless blog (goeggless .com). "People stop eating eggs for a variety of reasons," explains Desai. "They have religious or moral issues, are vegans, are allergic to eggs, or just don't like them."

Goeggless.com has a wealth of information for vegetarians, vegans, and of course those who just want to eliminate eggs from their diets. Desai's blog lists items that are egg-free at a variety of restaurants and bakeries.

When cooking at home, there are a few tricks you can employ to substitute eggs in a recipe, says Desai. Each of following combinations, for example, replaces one egg in a recipe (avoid recipes calling for more than three eggs):

  • 1 tsp. baking powder + 1 Tbs. liquid + 1 Tbs. vinegar
  • 1 tsp. yeast dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
  • 1½ Tbs. water + 1½ Tbs. oil + 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbs. puréed fruit, such as apricots or bananas.

These days it seems everybody's going vegan-from Oprah Winfrey to rocker Chrissie Hynde to Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich to track and field star Carl Lewis. But veganism is much more than a hip trend. It's a lifestyle choice.

Some of the main tenants of veganism are the exclusion of meat, dairy, and all animal by-products (such as rennet, gelatin, and even honey) in one's diet. Common reasons for adopting this lifestyle have to do with health, religion, and an ethical concern for animal rights.

Veganism has been cited as controlling or curing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Christina Pirello, Emmy Award-winning host of public television's Christina Cooks and author of This Crazy Vegan Life: A Prescription for an Endangered Species, claims to have cured her cancer through a vegan diet. "I was diagnosed with a terminal form of leukemia when I was 26 years old," says Pirello. "So I adopted a very austere vegan/macrobiotic approach to eating and got better in 14 months." She has remained cancer free for 25 years, and asserts, "Your diet is the foundation that you build your health on. I've seen only rare conditions that weren't at least affected positively by a diet change." Of course, a balanced and healthful vegan diet is a far cry from the unhealthful form as practiced by some. Pirello says she was often frustrated with vegan recipes because they were loaded with white flour and sugar. The truth is that veganism isn't necessarily healthful; it simply means no animal food.

What Is a Healthy Vegan Diet?
Eliminating refined sugar and white flour is a good start. It's also imperative to get enough protein. Plant-based proteins include beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh; whole grains, such as quinoa; and nuts and seeds, such as hemp seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and seitan (wheat gluten).

In terms of supplements, it's important to take a B12 supplement. Vitamin B12 isn't found in plants but is crucial for a healthy nervous system. Try Garden of Life's new Vitamin Code Raw B-12, part of their cutting-edge vegan line of supplements.

Responsible for many vital body functions, omega-3 fatty acids are another essential nutrient for vegans. Although found mainly in fish, vegans can get omega-3s from flaxseeds, hemp seed oils, algae, and other sources. Try Dr. Ohhira's Essential Living Oils from Essential Formulas or Udo's Choice Oil Blend from Flora.

According to Jeanette Ryan, DC, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and chiropractor, another nutrient a vegan diet may lack is choline, which is found in egg yolks, cheese, and meat-all animal proteins. Surprisingly, lettuce is a rich source of choline as well. "Choline is one of the building blocks for acetylcholine, which is one of the main neurotransmitters that lets you think," says Ryan. "Without it vegans may complain that they're spacey and can't remember." Choline can be found in a supplement form called phosphatidylcholine.

The Vegan Advantage
There are myriad aspects of a vegan diet that are inherently healthful. "It's a diet rich in fiber, which promotes a healthy gut," says Ryan. "Seventy to 80 percent of the immune system is in the gut. And fiber also lowers the glycemic index of foods, so it tends to slow down the release of glucose into the blood, which prevents insulin surges. The high fiber also means that the food is low in caloric density, which is a good way to keep your weight down."

Christina Pirello agrees that a healthful vegan diet is an effective way to manage weight, and believes that organic foods are critical for a healthful vegan diet. "Anything carrying an organic label has been grown and produced without the use of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, growth hormones, and antibiotics."

Do some of us need to eat meat? Ryan thinks so. "If your ancestors came from someplace nearer to the equator, you have a body that's more adapted to vegetarianism. If they came from the north, and you've got fair skin, your physiology is designed to handle some animal protein." She says the animal protein should always be lean and organic.

Switching to veganism is a process. "Do a meatless meal this week or become flexitarian," says Pirello. "Try it out and really pay attention to how you feel. You will find yourself gravitating more and more to food that's appropriate."


Raw Cashew Cheesecake
Serves 12

This rich, dairy-free, no-bake cheesecake is flavored with agave nectar. Agave nectar is sweeter than honey with a milder, more floral taste-ideal for desserts or drinks. Recipe by Andrea Kowalski

  • 2 cups macadamia nuts
  • 1½ cups cashews
  • ½ cup pitted Medjool dates
  • ¼ cup dried coconut
  • 6 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
    (gently warmed)
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup raw agave nectar
  • ½ sun-dried vanilla bean
  • 3 cups mixed berries, such as blueberries and raspberries
  1. Place macadamia nuts in large bowl, and cover with cold water. Place cashews in separate bowl, and cover with cold water. Soak nuts 4 hours, then rinse, drain, and set aside.
  2. Pulse macadamia nuts and dates in food processor to a sticky crumb-like consistency. Sprinkle dried coconut on bottom of 8-inch pie pan. Press macadamia nut mixture onto coconut to make crust.
  3. Place cashews, coconut oil, lime juice, agave nectar, and 6 Tbs. water in bowl of food processor. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into food processor bowl, and purée until smooth. Pour mixture into crust, and freeze 1 to 2 hours, or until firm. Remove from freezer, slice while frozen, and transfer to serving platter. Defrost in fridge 1 hour, or on countertop 30 minutes; top with berries; and serve.


Tempeh Cutlets Provençal
Serves 12

Typical tempeh preparation calls for the soybean cake to be marinated and steamed before cooking. Here, pouring a hot marinade over the slices does both in a single step. Serve with whole-wheat pasta or brown rice. Recipe by Robin Asbell

  • 1 8-oz. pkg. tempeh, cut widthwise
    into 2 cutlets
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 Tbs. herbes de Provence
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ large red bell pepper, chopped
    (½ cup)
  • ¼ cup smooth tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbs. capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  • ½ cup fresh basil, chopped, plus
    more for garnish
  1. Place tempeh slices in large baking dish. Bring wine, herbes de Provence, oil, garlic, and pepper to a boil in small saucepan. Pour over tempeh, cover, and refrigerate 4 hours, or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Remove tempeh from marinade, and place on baking sheet, reserving marinade. Spray top of cutlets with cooking spray, and bake 15 minutes. Flip tempeh, spray again with cooking spray, and bake 15 minutes more, or until edges are golden.
  3. Meanwhile, strain reserved marinade into small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and add bell pepper. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes, or until bell pepper is softened and liquid is nearly absorbed. Add tomato sauce, capers, and sugar, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Simmer 10 minutes over low heat, or until sauce is thick. Stir in basil.
  4. Place tempeh on plates, and divide sauce between servings. Garnish with basil sprigs, if desired.



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