“Why on earth are you going vegan again?” my husband cried as though he has just heard another of my craziest new ideas yet. “Because I want to!” is usually my first stern reaction. It shows that I am the boss of me while at the same time affording me time to collect my thoughts for a much better answer! I then explained to him that my primary motivation is to become familiar with the delicious world of vegan food. I feel towards vegetables and fruits how a connoisseur feels towards wine. I reap immense pleasure from exploring new vegetables and fruits and he, the resident chef, thinks up fresh ideas for us on how to consume them. This “going vegan” move would be the impetus to explore more uncharted territory in vegetable land. That was my primary reason to turn to a vegan diet but certainly not my only one.
Eating is an evolution. We cannot eat the same way every day and every year of our life and expect the same results. Change in our diets is inevitable in order to adapt to our body’s changing needs over time. We should be refining our diets periodically and monitoring our health closely. Complacence here is our shortest path to illness and disease. Sometimes, we choose to listen and embrace the need to change and sometimes, we may fight and refuse to believe that we cannot continue eating the same way as before. Remember, we always make the choice either through indecision or an active decision!
I have eaten relatively healthy all my life but in 2007, I shifted my perspective about food altogether. That was the exciting start of my food evolution: green juices, raw foods, green smoothies, detoxing with juice fasting, and a mainly vegetarian diet. Shifts of those scale produce a completely different reaction from our body and mind than minor changes, such as giving up fried foods or eating less meat per week, would ever produce. It is along this exciting journey that I decided to explore an extreme version of a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet.
What is a Vegan Diet: Avoiding all animal and animal-derived products – no meat, no dairy. That leaves you with the exciting world of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, legumes, grains and dark chocolate!
Today marks the 20th day of my vegan challenge and here are the highlights of my experience:
The Surprise Reaction:
“Oh My God!”, I gasped the first evening, “I cannot have sushi!”. Real sushi and sashimi, you know, raw fish! Andy was right, I had not thought this through completely! I decided to go about this rather quickly. On July 1st, I posted a little challenge on my Facebook Fan page, “Who wants to go on a vegan challenge?” – A blogging buddy, Tony Teegarden, showed interest and challenged me to start right then and there along with him. Why wait? Why indeed! July 1st thus marked the first day of my vegan challenge. No regrets so far.
The Ease of going Vegan:
The switch from my diet to vegan was sweet, pleasant, warm and welcoming. My normal diet was about 90% vegetarian and 50% raw. While I would generally eat the delicacies of whatever culture we happened to visit during our travels and while I love the creamy Indian vegetarian dishes and my occasional Persian feasts, giving them up (so far) has not been difficult at all. My dependence on meat of any kind as a meal has long since been subsided. The majority of the day, my meals would consist of a mixture of fruits, vegetables, delicious salads and nuts, mostly raw foods. I truly eased into a vegan diet as you would ease into a perfect bed that has been waiting to cuddle you all its life. It felt so good right from the beginning.
The Goal of having a Balanced Nutrition:
Going vegan was a reminder to ensure that I eat a balanced diet. You can go dizzy in just trying to figure whether you are getting every single nutrient and mineral your body needs but a quick assessment is in order. In a healthy vegan diet, you would still need to make sure enough calcium and protein reaches your blood cells. I opted for Pure Essence Labs for minerals and vitamins; they worked so well with me a few years ago. It adds some calcium to my diet and the rest comes from okra, kale, and tahini! Tempeh, seitan, nuts, hummus and legumes hopefully fulfill the protein needs. I admit I do not like tofu much at all! Iron is plentiful in the dark leafy vegetables. And this is as balanced as it gets!
The Healthy Approach to Vegan:
The biggest misconception is that you can eat anything or as much as you like when you are vegan. In fact, this may explain my slight (but horrifying!) 5-lb weight gain even after weeks of cycling and pushing my body to the max so do be ware of portions and quantities. If I could, I would have done a raw vegan diet but it is too much to give up the comfort of warm food just yet. Stay away from packaged and processed foods as much as possible and eat more natural foods in reasonable quantities. Remember this is a move to a plant-based diet and away from manufactured food. Make it easy on your body to adapt to this new diet by staying as natural and unprocessed as possible!
The General Eating Style:
What do I generally eat? Tons of delicious food and whatever the resident chef feeds me with his stamp of “Yes, it’s vegan” approval! I like to eat in stages and in snack bites but I do eat meals too. For breakfast, I would either have a handful of nuts or a 1/2 banana with walnuts or some fruit (mango, blueberries, watermelon). Then I would make a salad mid-morning with avocado and more nuts. Hummus, lentil soups, eggplant- and mushroom-based dishes, pasta with pesto, sweet potatoes, baked beets, and any other vegetable dishes cooked or baked in the vegan kitchen. I have had a larger appetite but convinced it is the intense cardio and not just going vegan. The vegan food is however very filling so no going hungry! For desserts, I would eat dried figs, dark chocolate, almonds, mango or fresh-cut pineapple. Variety is super important while planning ahead is your biggest challenge.
The Challenge with Restaurants:
Contrary to what my husband thinks, I did not go vegan so that I announce loudly in the restaurant, “Excuse me, I am vegan – What special dish can your chef cook for me because nothing on this 38-page menu will do, thank you!” Much as I enjoy attention, it is rather embarrassing to be a “fussy eater” but alas, you have to deal with it. I happened to have many restaurant engagements during this 20-day period and the experience varied. I recommend always asking very nicely about changes to an existing dish and selecting at least 3 dishes from the menu that you can suggest alterations for, if no vegan options. Be ware of being left with nothing but a tiny salad, bread and olive oil!
The Strike of Weakness:
I had a few moments of weakness and oddly enough, all for one single thing I missed the most: My plain yogurt. My attachment to plain yogurt is rooted in the Iranian culture where we eat this delicious food along with our main dishes, as opposed to consuming an ultra-sweetened-version of it with fruit or granola. Besides, plain yogurt has excellent bacteria for the stomach and makes the most delicious snack with dried dill. Yum! My mouth is watering just writing this. Yes, this was to be my first strike of weakness when one night, my body’s incessant cry for this food sent me into a deep self-analysis of my choice to go vegan and finally, my vegan friend’s super approval sealed the deal: I had a few bites of the heavenly yogurt. Then the next day, the owner of the Lebanese restaurant who is always too happy to see me, added the usual portion of complimentary Baklava to my order and I did not get the memo soon enough on how far the original Baklava falls from vegan land! Second strike but I am not out yet!
The Delicious Favorite Dishes:
Experimenting in the kitchen is always fun and my chef did not disappoint when it came to vegan cooking. I have been eating superbly well and below, you will find a selection of a few favorites from my menu. Having access to plenty of recipes and options is very important for this diet. My favorite website so far is Vegan Yum Yum and for a good vegan recipe book, we opted for 30-Minute Vegan. Of course you must do the shopping often and keep your vegetables and fruits fresh before they perish so planning ahead is imperative!
The Vegan Approach Long-term:
The healthiest approach must feed not just your body but also your mind and your mental well-being. I love vegan cuisine and consider it to be among the most delicious foods even from my short encounter. The vegan dishes are mouth-watering and satisfying! All the same, I have decided that depriving myself of the yogurt and the occasional sushi immediately and indefinitely is too stressful so perhaps gradually, I may be able to make the transition. I seriously plan to continue eating a vegan, a raw-food and plant-based diet as much as possible for the foreseeable future but I will do so while listening to my body and my mind.
My overarching goal is to achieve a sustainable diet promoting optimal health in a strong body and with a happy mind. It is a journey that evolves and I truly believe the vegan experiment has brought me one step closer to finding the most refined balance for that body and mind.
Updated October 2010: I admit that with intense travels to Europe, Canada & Asia, I was unable to stay 100% vegan. I have maintained a mostly vegan diet at home and given in to some non-vegan cravings. My challenge ahead is how to maintain the best diet (for my body) with travels and intense cycling and yoga – a work in progress! Open to suggestions ! Watch for a new update in this space before end of 2010 and always listen to your body!
Share your Food Thoughts:
I would love to know what you eat and who among the readers is a vegetarian, a vegan, a raw foodist, a green juice enthusiast, an omnivore, or perhaps a fusion of all options perfected to your own human individualism. Let’s talk about food!