Friday, February 18, 2011

a guide to going vegan

When Oprah's episode about veganism aired a few weeks ago (unless you've been living under a rock, the vegan community has been commenting about it for some time!) I received a message from my cousin Melissa, a 20-something living in suburban Orlando with her boyfriend. Melissa has always been fairly active and healthy but wanted to complete a vegan challenge for a week. She also enlisted my aunt to join her in their "vegan week" which is now scheduled for early March when they are traveling less. She asked me for some meal ideas, but of course, being the thorough person and experienced vegan that I am, this is the message that I sent her. Obviously this is entirely my opinions and expressed beliefs, not medical advice or facts.

This is a bit long, but overall I wanted to give you a lot of recommendations so you and William will (hopefully) have a good experience with veganism! I've been doing this diet for 1.5 years and have tried many different recipes and used ingredients I never would have as an omnivore -- it really is an entirely different way of living and eating.

Soy-based products:
Generally, I avoid purchasing soy-based products frequently, but do so on occasion as they are not the best option. Soybeans are heavily processed in order to become soymilk or soy protein isolate, which ruins a lot of the health benefits. Soybeans are often genetically-modified and not something I would want to eat. I really enjoy knowing about what goes into my body rather than having to guess or ignore funny preservatives or foreign chemicals. Many of these include several processed "fake-meats" (containing that funky soy protein isolate that I try to avoid) and soymilk (I much prefer the taste of almond milk or coconut milk, both of which are more natural and a perfect replacement for dairy-based milk).
That being said, tofu and tempeh are all really exempt from these. When tofu is organic, it is not genetically-modified, and in moderation is completely fine (and tasty when prepared well!). Tempeh is a fermented soybean product, completely healthy and adapts well to baking.
A major complaint by many in the vegan community against the Oprah episode was that on Kathy Freston's trip to Whole Foods, she emphasized many meat alternatives. In transitioning or flirting with a vegan diet, I think these are a suitable alternative, but these aren't really ideal for any diet. So much of being vegan is about knowing what you are eating, and so many great bloggers I follow have helped me create delicious meals that are focused around delicious, pure, and healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes, so why would I waste that potential on over-processed, frozen products? I do use Gardein products probably once or twice per month when I'm short on time (the scallopini is incredibly similar to chicken) and those are fairly natural in ingredients. These are often found at WF or even your regular grocery store.
You can dabble in vegan imitations for cream cheese, sour cream, even regular cheese (Daiya is the new brand of choice for many, although I personally don't enjoy it completely, only finding it especially tasty when melted down into a sauce). Earth balance is a great substitute for butter. All of these are available at WF and some are available at regular stores. I shop at WF more often only because I don't like my regular grocery stores, and I have a WF less than 10 minutes from my house. Trader Joe's is another great option, not sure if you guys have that.

Obviously there is a whole lot of information in films or books that emphasize the negative health effects of meat products, dairy, and eggs, which are very important to me, and then even more that cover the lack of humanity and respect for animals, important as well. You don't need to go out and purchase cookbooks or anything like that right away. If you think that the diet really agrees with you guys and fits into your lifestyle and is something you'd like to integrate more often, I can definitely recommend some great cookbooks (I think I own about 10 or 12, haha). Here are some blogs that offer some great recipes and tips:
Oh She Glows: I swear by everything she makes. Angela embraces wholesome ingredients over the processed in favor of great recipes. She definitely makes sure that balance and protein are emphasized and her food photography is stunning!
Mama Pea: Sarah throws together some brilliantly creative recipes that are never labor intensive. She always uses very accessible ingredients, and because she cooks for her family of four, they are always kid-friendly. She recently put together a complete meal plan that is completely structured, you may want to glance at that as well!
Happy Herbivore: All of Lindsay's recipes are whole-wheat and fat-free (well, no fat added cooking) and she just came out with a cookbook last month that has many more recipes!

I am not a big daily breakfast person by any means. Normally I get up and go straight to classes 2-3 days per week, so I am not really in the mood to do anything that requires preparation. I usually eat a soy-milk based yogurt (o'soy and whole soy & company make great flavors) and an apple/banana on my way in, or when I get to work. I would suggest adapting whatever you eat now to a vegan alternative: mix non-dairy milk in your cereal or oatmeal, schmear vegan cream cheese or earth balance on your toast (or opt for a natural fruit spread) or something of the like.
I enjoy a green monster smoothie of some kind almost every day, usually after the gym or on my way to work. I find it really refreshing and an amazing way to get your vegetables in the morning. I would suggest starting with spinach because it's flavor is so mild and transitioning to kale eventually as it is more nutrient-packed. I like about a tablespoon of flax seed, some peanut butter, 2-3 handfulls of spinach, an apple, and a frozen banana, plus some sweetener (I use stevia or agave, natural!) to taste.
When I'm not working, I like to make a hearty brunch, something really satisfying. Tofu scrambles are a staple in the vegan community. This fruit & nut quinoa is similar to oatmeal and is great. This french toast is ridiculously easy. And I've made this fast sausage/cheese sandwich several times already.

I combined these as 9/10x, my lunch is just leftovers from dinner. When I'm at work, I usually eat a microwaveable Amy's product (the enchiladas are awesome, as are the burritos and the mac and cheese, although the green labeled one is the gluten/dairy free!) when I don't have leftovers. Otherwise, I make a large serving of whatever I cook for dinner and it's lunch throughout the week. This Zucchini Quinoa Lasagna is a recipe I keep going back to, I've made it at least five times. I've made this Red-Hot Chili Tofu many times, it is probably my favorite tofu dish, super spicy and great over brown rice with double the sauce. My go to burger recipe has been the Spicoli Burgers from eat, drink, & be vegan -- they are simply the best. A hearty entree, even for someone that never liked mushrooms, are the really delicious Portobello Steaks. I am not big on salads. I probably eat fewer salads then many other vegetarians/vegans, haha. I just find so many other foods much more satisfying. If you're looking for a salad, this Kale Salad with Peanut Dressing gets better over time as the kale holds up to a dressing, and you can throw in whatever you have (celery, red onion, cucumbers, bell peppers, what have you). This Butternut Squash and Garbanzo Bean Salad was also really great as well.

Snacks/Dessert:I put these categories together because for me, my desserts are usually healthy enough to snack on, and my snacks are typically salty/sweet. I definitely snack on things like Cliff bars and nuts regularly (I buy a combo pack of almonds/cashews/peanuts from costco) both of which are great sources of protein. I also snack on hummus, veggies, and crackers. Reid enjoys these kale chips, and when perfectly dry and crispy, they are really good. These super fudge low-fat brownies are a little time consuming but well worth the effort - extremely rich and fudgy brownies full of flavor without the fat. And the brown sugar bars are my new addiction.

Hopefully you enjoyed my compilation of information! :)

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