Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ten Things I Learned While On A 30-Day Vegan Diet

I finished my "30-Day Vegan" Challenge today. My previous knowledge base on Veganism/ eating a plant-based diet was moderate. So I learned quite a bit. It wasn't easy, but I did my best. I made a few slip ups. I expected that to happen.

Here's what I learned:

1. Honey isn't considered Vegan. Oops. Discovered this about half-way through the month. Technically, by Vegan standards, honey is made from bees. Vegans abstain from all animal products, so this one is a no-go. Agave nectar is a great alternative.

2. The American diet is full of meat and animal products. Just try to go out to any American restaurant and order Vegan. You'll discover that often times, your only option is a plain salad with a vinaigrette or oil-based dressing. My lowest of low points were eating a small salad at an Italian Restaurant with my family, and "attempting" to eat Vegan at Disneyland. (Note: the "Veggie Patties" on the burgers at Disneyland are disgusting. You're better off eating nothing.)

3. Marshmallows, gummy candy and such are NOT Vegan. I also learned this the hard way. These items are made using pectin, a stabilizer which is made from boiling animal ligaments and joints. Can you say...disgusting?

4. Unless you eat horribly, you won't lose weight when you transition to a Vegan diet. I actually gained weight. I was eating fruit about 60% of the time, so you can do the math. I didn't balance it enough and was hungry all the time. I was stuffing myself with calories and little amounts of foods that would help me stay full. The result was pigging out on fruits and veggies all day long until I landed myself in a fructose and carb-induced food coma.

5. Getting enough protein should be the cardinal rule of being a Vegan. I did an awful job at this and my body paid the price. Living off only fruits and vegetables is not good for you!

6. I was exhausted. Although I had NO stomach-related issues (other than being stuffed), I generally felt a lack of energy or sustained energy. This really negatively affected my running routine for the month, which was a huge buzz-kill.

7. Saying the word "Vegan" tends to freak people out. I haven't quite figured out why, but I'm thinking it's because people imagine a burger in their minds and then cannot fathom never eating one again.

8. I love Farmer's Markets. Let me repeat that again. I love Farmer's Markets. They turned into my sanctuary during this month, and other than the rare meat or cheese vendors, I learned that almost everything was up for grabs. I discovered so many new recipes, fruits, and vegetables. I forced myself to experiment, entertain my pallat, be adventurous. I consider myself a foodie at heart, and realized that just because I'm not eating meat or animal products does not mean I can't have a delicious meal!

9. I missed fish. I didn't miss anything else, really. The big one was fish. I did a lot of research this past month on the quality of fish we eat and the majority of it is contaminated with chemicals. Farm-raised fish ingest numerous amounts of chemicals during their breeding, and wild fish ingest god knows what while they are in our polluted oceans. I'm still on the fence about this.

10. Overall, I think I'm going to opt for being pescatarian (vegetarian including the consumption of fish) or following a paleo diet (fruits, veggies, meat, nuts, eggs and berries only). I don't crave or eat meat too often, or really want cheese. My diet normally is around 90% Vegan (I love yogurt, honey, and fish). I think the biggest thing I've learned is about moderation and portion control. It's very hard to fill up on only fruits and vegetables. Legumes, grains, and nuts/berries are extremely important. So are dark leafy greens. This next month I'm going to opt for a high protein, low sugar and salt diet. I'm going to take on the best of both worlds-- eat foods that are natural. Hunter-gatherers would rarely eat meat. I don't believe that meat is catastrophic to our health (although the quality and state of the meat we consume is). Avoiding meals because they may contain eggs or traces of milk is exhausting.

I'm glad that I did it. I discovered what works for my body and what doesn't work.

Have any of you experimented with a new diet before? Anyone try out Veganism and love it? Anyone try it out and absolutely hate it?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Scott Jurek's Vegan Chocolate Adzuki Bars

Scott Jurek lists twenty-five Vegan recipes in his new book, Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness.The recipes range from pre-workout smoothies, lentil-mushroom burgers, and even to sweeter desserts like chocolate adzuki bars (very much like a brownie). Initially, I was overwhelmed by the amount of ingredients needed for each meal or snack. It seemed like a lot of work, and like it would cost a ton of money.

That was before I decided to do a month-long Vegan diet. At this point, I'm about a week and a half into it and missing chocolate BAD. Maybe it was having to watch my entire family devour home-made brownies (while I watched longingly), but I started to crave something chocolatey and sweet. My friend, Michelle, just finished Eat & Run as well, and wanted to try out some of the recipes in the book, too. We decided to hit up the local health food store and buy some ingredients. An hour later (and having asked the employees several times where to find certain items), we arrived back at home with a couple bags full of new, exotic foods.

I chose to make the Chocolate Adzuki Bars, Michelle made the hummus, and Bobby made the Rice Balls. I also ended up making the Xocolatl Bars (mini chocolate energy balls with coconut). My kitchen turned into a distaster area for about four hours straight. It was amazing.

Photo taken out of Jurek's book, page 90.

I opted to use goji berries instead of currants or raisins for this recipe. I also used vegan carob chips instead of chocolate chips. 

1/2 teaspoon coconut oil 1 15-ounce can adzuki beans, drained
1 medium overripe banana
1/2 cup almond or rice milk
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup barley flour
1/4 cup rice flour
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup goji berries, currants, or raisins
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips 

1.  Preheat oven to 400° F.
2.  Grease a 9-inch square pan (with coconut oil).
3.  Blend beans and banana with almond and coconut milk until smooth and creamy.
4.  Add the flours, cocoa, maple syrup, vanilla, and sea salt. Blend again until smooth.
5.  Carefully stir in goji berries or currants.
6.  Pour mixture into 9x9 inch pan.
7.  Sprinkle the vegan chocolate chips on top.
8.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out generally clean. (It took 45 minutes for mine to get just right).
9.  When cool, cut into 4 x 4 squares.

CARBS: 23 G 

After mixing the ingredients together in a blender, I poured it into a 9 x 9 inch pan and baked for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.

Final Verdict: For a "Chocolate" bar, being entirely dairy and wheat-free, this was a knock-out. It was ooey and gooey, like the traditional brownies I like to make are. The goji berries were also a great touch. Next time around I think I'll add walnuts and possibly less berries. 

I'll give it an A+, which is a pretty high for something being vegan!