Vegan and Plant-Based Diets
I use Vegan and Plant-Based Diet interchangeably, but I guess there are some to which Veganism also means, no animal products whatsoever such as leather. I am referring only to Dietary Vegans in this article.
Most of my life I wanted to become vegan because of my profound love of animals. I always had a hard time reconciling being a meat eater and an animal lover, but it seemed very daunting, especially since vegetables are not my favorite food. I don’t hate them but I really had to go out of my way to eat them.
I tried to “sneak” vegetables into the meals I made by chopping them up and putting them in meatloaf, casseroles, etc. I bought and drank V-8, which I like, especially with gin, tabasco, and a stick of celery, but that’s beside the point. I’ve really never been a huge meat eater, preferring to use it as a condiment, such as in beef stroganoff, rather than sitting down to a steak. Eating a plant-based diet just seemed bland and undoable for me.
How I got there
I had a heart attack. I am going to somewhat diverge here for a few moments to share some important information. One night after eating dinner, I was feeling a little uncomfortable so since we have a long hall in our house, I decided to walk a little bit to maybe help me digest a little better. When I started walking, I felt a little burning sensation in my chest, just like indigestion. I have felt this before when I have gone walking and I figured it was just because I was out of shape. It usually went away if I just pushed through it.
I started belching and it went away. Then it came back, only more intense, again I started belching and it went away. It kept coming back, a little stronger each time. It was getting pretty uncomfortable and I was starting to feel some aching between by shoulder blades that went up my neck and my head felt like it was swelling. I decided to lie down, thinking that would make it go away. When I lay down, it got much stronger and didn’t go away. It just so happened I had just read an article on female symptoms of heart attack the day before. I told my husband I thought we should go to the hospital, even though I wasn’t accepting this was what was happening to me, but the symptoms fit.
My husband drove me to emergency and by the time I got there my systolic blood pressure reading was over 200! It turns out that the heart starts doing this at the beginning of a heart attack. OK, I’m starting to believe it now. It turns out I had a 99% blockage of a main artery to the heart and had a stent installed.
Here’s the moral of this little story. Be sure to read up on heart attack symptoms. If you have ANY symptoms, go to the hospital, and this applies to men as well. Some men have the same symptoms as women, and some women have the same symptoms as men!
All the way to the hospital, the belching relieved the symptoms and I told my husband it was probably just a bad case of indigestion. Many times I just wanted to turn around and go home, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be embarrassed at the hospital if I just had a bad case of indigestion. The doctor told me that because I responded to the symptoms and got to the hospital right away, my heart was not damaged at all. Don’t worry about being embarrassed if you are not sure, GO! It could save your life!
On Becoming Vegan
So back to becoming a vegan. A couple of months later during my recovery, my cardiologist told me about eating a plant-based diet. He recommended I watch a documentary called “Forks Over Knives”. Faerie Dust Online also carries the Forks Over Knives Paperback book and Forks Over Knives Cookbook. After having watched it, he decided to go plant-based because of the scientific evidence presented in this documentary that eating meat was damaging. I watched it with my husband and both of us decided to also eat a plant-based diet.
This documentary not only pointed out the negative way the body responds to meat, but it also showed evidence of how a plant-based diet can reverse some major diseases like diabetes, cancer, and inflammation diseases. And of course it will help get cholesterol under control and helps with heart diseases as well.
Ok, so where do I start. I did not realize I would be at such a loss. One can only eat enough beans and rice. One can only eat so many salads, especially me. We spent a lot of time looking through plant-based and vegan websites looking for recipes. None seemed appealing, but we still fumbled through. I was still motivated by having had a heart attack. When I was really craving something tasty with meat in it, like hamburgers, I had to tell myself I have already eaten enough hamburgers to last two lifetimes, or that in another universe I am enjoying hamburgers. I know this seems silly but it did take the sting out of the cravings.
What really helped me make the transition was when I took a trip to Las Vegas. I just needed to get away and I wanted to tour the casinos as they seemed to be updated to some pretty spectacular places. I found some vegan restaurants even though I really wanted to get in on some buffets (I ended up going to one and it was not good for vegan options). The first place I went was a restaurant called “VegeNation”. The reviews were really good and the pictures of their food were even better! I ordered a “FOOD NOT BOMBS BOWL” which had house spiced tofu, black bean chili, and breakfast potatoes. topped with “cheese”, avocado, and chipotle “cream”. served with corn tortillas. This honestly was one of the best things I ever ate!
All of a sudden I got it. I finally could see how to prepare plant-based food that was REALLY good! The next place I went to was “Chef Kennys Asian Vegan Restaurant”. I ordered 4 different entrees. I am sure people thought I was a pig, but I wanted to try lots of stuff. It was again spectacularly delicious. I took the rest back to the hotel with me for the next day. I was getting excited. This vegan stuff was actually doable. The last day there I ate at “Vege-Way”, also a Chef Kenny Restaurant, but it was a burger joint. I had a burger, fries, and milkshake, all to die for!
Now you may not live in Vegas, but my advice to you is to first of all, eat at a really good vegan restaurant. Most larger towns have them. Try different things. You need to know that it can be done and this is the best orientation. Read the reviews, look at pictures, and then go eat there.
How to Survive the Transition
Even though I used to be a cook and worked many years in restaurants, I just don’t like to cook much anymore. Fortunately, for me, my husband does and he is damn good at it! My husband has always gone on diets with me because he figures it is easier to go along than to prepare different types of food for each meal, he is so supportive of my efforts. Love that man!
I have to have food that is handy and fast to cook. I find I get hungry immediately on a plant-based diet and when I am hungry I need to have stuff that is either ready to go or that cooks quickly. I am also an ex fast food junkie, so I need to have some of that stuff on hand as well. If I want to do some “chef-ing” I need to get started preparing food early, because as I said, when I get hungry it has to go fast. I have included some recipes that are great for guests or just as a special dinner for you and your family.
If you are having a craving for meat, there are lots of really good meat substitutes. The Beyond Meat brand has some really excellent choices. The Italian Sausage is the best. It is so close to the flavor of Italian Sausage that you may not be able to tell the difference. I like the HOT ones because they have more depth of flavor. We like the Bratwurst Sausages served with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut made with a touch of brown sugar and caraway seeds. To die for! Beyond Meat also makes hamburgers that are really good. I add Za’atar (my new favorite herb), garlic and onion powders, salt & pepper, and vegan worcestershire sauce. They also make fake chicken and several flavors of ground “beef” crumbles. You can find Beyond Meat products at Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, and some grocery stores like Safeway and Kroger. If you subscribe to their website you can get coupons now and then and be notified of new products and information. FYI, I prefer the Sprouts brand meatless burgers. I like the flavor better and they are easy to fix. You can actually find Beyond Meat Burgers on menus in many restaurants now as well as Impossible Burgers, also very good but not available in stores yet.
Gardein is also a very good “Meatless” brand. We use their Meatless Meatballs for Spaghetti and Meatballs or sandwiches. We also use their Golden Fishless Filets. You can make Fish & Chips or I like to use them if I have a fast food craving by putting them on a bun with “cheese” and tartar sauce for a fake McDonald’s Filet O Fish sandwich. Pretty darned good, however, the texture is a little light for a fish filet, but the flavor is there.
Amy’s products are pretty good but I usually only buy their Gluten-Free, Dairy Free Beans & Rice Burritos. I am also Gluten Free because of an inflammatory disease and it helps, but I like the Gluten-Free Burritos the best anyhow. The non-gluten free is a heavier tortilla and tends to overpower the filling. I usually thaw these in the microwave for 1.5 minutes, then finish them off in a little oil in a frying pan to brown them, otherwise they come out doughy. It makes them like a lite chimichanga, which I love. The flavor is so good you don’t miss the cheese. I usually put some salsa and Tofutti Sour Cream (excellent!) on top or guacamole or just sliced avocados. Quite good for a fast meal with fruit.
Another fast-food fix: Annie’s Mac & Cheese. There are 2 types, one is regular flavor Mac & Cheese and the other is made with pumpkin and sweet potato. I love them both. Amazing that there is no dairy in it! If you like the boxed Mac & Cheese, it tastes just the same! It is made with Rice Noodles (if you want Gluten-Free) or regular pasta. The cheese mix is a little salty but I usually put beans (I like Limas) with it to make a complete protein and add some Tofutti Sour Cream. That cuts the salt a little. Anyhow, it’s very good.
And now for non-dairy cheeses: I really like Follow Your Heart “cheeses” for sandwiches and burgers. My favorites are the Smoked Gouda and American flavors. Follow Your Heart also makes a shredded Parmesan Cheese as well. It is similar to Parmesan, but is a little lacking. Works if you use sparingly like in pesto. And finally, I use Original Vegenaise from Follow Your Heart. I love mayo and this one is pretty darned good! Diaya makes a good SHARP cheddar, but it is quite tangy. If you like really sharp cheddar you would like this. Their Mozzarella shreds are good when melted on a pizza, but make sure it is really melted or it is very tangy. Chao has some quite tasty cheeses, my favorite being the Tomato Cayenne Slices. I can just munch on a slice right out of the package. I also stumbled on a recipe for Queso using a full package of the Creamy Original and a can of Ro-tel. I haven’t tried it yet but I miss Queso so I will. Tofutti Sour Cream and Cream Cheese are both really good. Tofutti seems to have upped the sourness of the sour cream so it tastes more authentic. Non-dairy cheeses do not melt as easily as regular cheeses. You have to give them more time so plan for this when using them.
I haven’t found a good milk substitute to replace good old cow’s milk for drinking without adding some truvia and maybe some vanilla, but you can use non-dairy milks (soy, almond, coconut) in a lot of recipes that call for milk. So, if you are a big milk drinker, I’m sorry, but one good thing to know is that some non-dairy milks contain a lot of calcium and protein, which you need to add to a vegan diet unless you are really conscientious, which I am not. I used to like the Coffee Mate creamers but now I use Original Silk Soy Creamer. Just as tasty and the Original is plenty sweet for me, however they also have Vanilla, and I think some other flavors.
Some hard-core vegans think you should not eat the prepared foods I have mentioned that are available now and everything should be whole foods and made from scratch. I agree, but I won’t do it and I will be worse off for it. I tend to not eat at all if I am hungry and I have to make something from scratch. That’s up to you. The idea is to improve your life and do the best you can. I have proof that this works. I just had a bone density scan and my bone density has improved since the last one two years ago. My cholesterol is also down to a normal level from being way high. You can be hard-core about this if you can, or you can do what you can do. Maybe even just cutting down on how much meat you eat and adding more fruits and vegetables is what you can do. It is still an improvement in your nutrition. No guilt. That’s my motto.
Be good to yourself.
I will be adding recipes, suggestions, and information as we go along so be sure to check THIS PAGE now and then.