Welcome to Nature Maven's Healthy Eating Healthy Planet Blog

Welcome! If you're a vegan, you'll find support and suggestions you may be able to use here. If you're a vegetarian as I was when I started this blog in June 2008, reading my archived posts may be of interest to you. If you haven't gotten here already, I hope you'll consider trying the vegan way of life, too.

As I try new recipes, learn to eat in restaurants, entertain non-veg friends and make the changes necessary to bring my life into greater harmony with the planet, I share what I learn. And little joys and other thoughts get thrown into the mix here, too.

In March 2009 after starting to read The Engine 2 Diet by vegan firefighter Rip Esselstyn, I became fully vegan, to the best of my knowledge and ability, and I post entries here as I live and learn in this lifestyle. It's definitely a process of experience and discovery.

Please check out the Vegan News Headlines supplied by Google News Reader down on the right, and see my Blogroll for just a few of the choice blogs and websites I've found useful.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Half-way Through

Here we are about half-way through Vegetarian Awareness Month and my intention to blog daily for the month has been thwarted by work, weather surprises, and life. That's okay, because life happens and we adjust accordingly, right? Aside from staying vegan this week (natch) by choosing good healthy meal options, I can't say I have contributed much to the promotion of the vegan way of life.

Yesterday after working a short day (a blessing of self-employment, at least until the checks come rolling in) I went to the gym and put in 25 minutes on the recumbent bike on Level 5 (except for the last few cool-down minutes).
My vegan-ness emerged again at the Fairway Market in Red Hook where I was intoxicated with the selections. There's a whole annex of whole food stuff, like a wall of Bob's Red Mill products where I found the Golden Flaxseed Meal I heap on my cereal every morning. I was able to get a box of Nugo Organic Dark Chocolate Pomegranate protein bars, a staple of my busy working life and good to have in one's purse or briefcase in case of sudden hunger and nothing to eat but junk! Then from a huge selection of international olive oils, I found the Ligurian olive oil recommended for a VegNews pesto recipe in the Sept/Oct issue.

After a hot lunch of vegan peas and rice, samosas, and sauteed broccoli rabe, we set out again through the rest of the store where I found Galaxy's Vegan Cheddar slices and Gardein Chick'n Santa Fe vegan chicken cutlets stuffed with black beans and corn and in a marinara sauce, nicely heated in the oven for lunch today. Wow! It's a good chicken substitute, might even fool some folks. A pass through the frozen section bagged me some Morningstar Farms Meal Starter Chick'n Strips, great to have on hand to add to my weekly Mexican (Vegan) Caesar Salad.

So that's this weeks wrap-up, and I am still living the vegan way.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Courage to Change the Things I Can

These Chinese characters mean "the courage to change". This calligraphy painting is an artwork created by Beijing, China artist Xie Tian Hai and is available here.

Going vegan was a huge change for me, just as going vegetarian had been. Managing my nutritional intake as a vegan imposed a kind of discipline on my eating that meant setting limits and sticking with them, lovingly as I would keep a child from eating only candy to her peril or stop her from running into a busy street. I log everything I eat into a web program for guidance.

Now that I have established the habit of healthy eating, one meal at a time, one day at a time, I have changed and feel freed me and liberated my intent and energy to try new things. To change.

Yesterday I had my already short hair cut shorter, and with the cut, away went 90 percent of my artificial hair color, leaving me salt and pepper gray, lighter in front and darker in back. I had planned on waiting until I was 60 to make this change, but living a more natural life one day at a time has allowed me to do it now. So far so good! The overall impression isn't much different, and the short cut is au courant as far as I can tell. My family gave me the seal of approval, and that's a huge endorsement to me. Change can be awesome!

After the hair appointment, we went shopping for winter clothing and a few things for our kitchen. I shopped for new jeans and was so gratified to find I fit well in a smaller size. But my common sense tells me that slow change is best for weight loss in general, and not focusing obsessively on numbers is best for me.

At lunchtime we tried a new place in the neighborhood, Sonic drive in. I had gone online to check out the menu and knew there wouldn't be much I as a vegan could eat. So I ordered a large order of fries, a large diet limeade, and a banana. The fries were hot, tasty and unsalted, my favorite way to have them, and I used a little ketchup. The banana was still a bit green, so I brought it home and will have it with breakfast another day. The limeade was surprisingly delicious and had two wedges of lime in it. The cup was Styrofoam, one negative point. But I was interested to see that an order of fries and a diet drink held me until dinner many hours later, and the calories were high but manageable. I had homemade seitan for dinner with 31 grams of protein, so I ended up doing fine with the nutritional breakdown.

That homemade seitan has worked out very well. I made cutlets of seitan coated with panko breadcrumbs two weeks ago for vegan chicken fried steak (see Vegan with a Vengeance for the recipe) and froze most of them. I've taken half of one and cut it into strips to add to a dinner salad on a work night. Yesterday I took one and placed it on a bed of linguine, topped it with a slice of Tofutti mozzarella and a half cup of marinara sauce mixed with a small can of sliced mushrooms. This was an awesome meal! I added a salad and some crusty bread and Earth Balance, and had spent my target calories for the day, so I stood pat and decided not to have sorbet or even fruit as my customary evening snack. I learned that choice is not deprivation. That's a big change!
So, change comes slowly, sometimes quickly. It's a process, and our usual tendency is to resist change until the pain of staying the same overcomes our fear of changing. I went gray because my discomfort paying big money regularly to have toxic chemicals put on my hair, not to mention my distaste for the constantly emerging roots, overcame my fear of changing and risking looking older. I've been coloring my hair for decades. I feel liberated already! For today I embrace change.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More HFCS Madness

Welcome to Day 6 of Vegetarian Awareness Week!

Would you believe that today, just a day after posting on the wily machinations of the high fructose corn syrup producers and their promoters, a good friend sent me an email with this link: What Doctors Don't Want You to Know

Here's a taste for you:

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener that has revolutionized the processed food and drink industry - but a new study has found that it may be a
bigger source of mercury than fish. There's been a quiet revolution taking place in the food-manufacturing industry since the 1980s, and it's one that could be damaging our health and making us overweight. Indeed, the new evidence suggests that it may even be responsible for the learning and behavioural problems so often seen in our children nowadays. . . .

. . . Even so, there's no such thing as 'safe mercury' in any form, and high doses can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system. Furthermore, this unsuspected additional mercury load from snacks and soft drinks might also be a contributory factor to the alarming rise we've seen in recent years of cases of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), autism and behavioural problems among our youngsters.

Yeow! Now that's food for thought, isn't it? If you read the rest of the article, you'll learn that corn syrup is naturally high in glucose and contains absolutely no fructose. That's right, no fructose occurs in corn syrup naturally. The fructose gets there via a chemical process that in many cases involves substances we should not ingest or inhale such as chlorine or mercury. Check it out!

Natural is better.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The High Fructose Corn Syrup Pushback

Your vegan blogger is dead serious today, on Day 5 of Vegetarian Awareness Month. I'm always dead serious, but usually have a twinkle in my eye, but aside from the silly corn graphic, not so much right now.
I've been reading pro-high-fructose corn syrup propaganda today on a site I use and generally respect and have no patience for it. Now, corn is vegan. That's awesome, and I love an ear of fresh picked corn steamed and slathered with Earth Balance and sprinkled with pepper as much as anyone. But when you fool around with the chemistry in a natural food to make a cheap sweetener that extends shelf-life and can be found in everything from corn flakes to tortilla chips, and practically everything else, I'm not thrilled. The Mayo Clinic gives a good explanation of the issue here.
See that commercial saying the government wants to tax your juice drinks and soda and to urge you to fight it?

How about the one showing a guy picking out the guy in an ear-of-corn suit when asked to pick which sweetener (HFCS, table sugar or honey) leads to the greatest weight gain in a line-up?

Just thought you ought to know that the Corn Refiners Association (with Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland-ADM its most well-known members) is behind this major pushback against HFCS criticism. The corn producers have really been hard at work to create the illusion of real science validating their product as healthful and "natural". The CRA weblink above features the annual report extolling their "multimedia campaign to correct the record on high fructose corn syrup and serves as a commemorative review of this extraordinary effort." They've got some of the best in the business in their defense of their lucrative product.

The line-up ad where the dufus consumer dude with apparently unjustified disdain for HFCS picks out the ear of corn and ignores the sugar cube and honey bear is brought to us by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a non-profit front run by Rick Berman a scandal-plagued lobbyist famous for supporting big tobacco, the booze industry, the safety of mercury in fish, and now high-fructose corn syrup. Here's a taste of his rhetoric from an article posted on the Convenience Store Decisions website:

"People have been spoon-fed misinformation about high fructose corn syrup," said Center for Consumer Freedom Executive Director Rick Berman. "We thought it was time someone explained, in no uncertain terms, that high fructose corn syrup has the exact same number of calories as table sugar and is handled the same way by the body. Any non-agenda driven nutrition expert will tell you the same."

The corn folks bring us SweetSurprise.com, where the "myths" of HFCS's obesity links are "exposed."
The CCF brings you such gems as these:

Judge for yourself. This health-conscious consumer is diligently working to make sure what goes in my body is good for me. Knowledge is power.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flexibility and Commitment

Today is Day 4 of Vegetarian Awareness Month!
Today as I was reading about vegan nutritional requirements on Vegan Health, a site I recommend, I was directed via a link to Vegan Outreach here. Please read what it says about being vegan. It makes sense as I begin to be more aware of non-vegan sources of Vitamins A and D and calcium in many supplements.
Under the heading "Busting the Vegan Police" I read the following (emphasis mine):

It is imperative for us to realize that if our veganism is a statement for animal liberation, veganism cannot be an exclusive, ego-boosting club. Rather, we must become the mainstream. Fostering the impression that “it’s so hard to be vegan – animal products are in everything,” and emphasizing animal products where the connection to animal suffering is tenuous, works against this by allowing most to ignore us and causing others to give up the whole process out of frustration.

The way veganism is presented to a potential vegan is of major importance. The attractive idea behind being a “vegan” is reducing one’s contribution to animal exploitation. Buying meat, eggs, and/or dairy creates animal suffering – animals will be raised and slaughtered specifically for these products. But if the by-products are not sold, they will be thrown out or given away. As more people stop eating animals, the by-products will naturally fade, so there is no real reason to force other people to worry about them in order to call themselves “vegan" . . . We want a vegan world, not a vegan club.

We need to be clear what we hope to accomplish. I want better personal health, but being vegan isn't necessarily the best or only way to accomplish that. If I use that argument in explaining my rationale for eschewing all animal products and byproducts, others will find holes in the logic easily. I feel that I, as a vegan, am perceived as a fanatic by some who enthusiastically eat meat, cheese, eggs, and all the rest. Fair enough, given my parade of evolving food strictures over my adult life thus far, not that different from my evolving spiritual values that have gone from mainstream to nonexistent to oddball to their present state. I guess I have been a seeker for a long time.
So be it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Having Company

Day Three of Vegetarian Awareness Month!

My cousin is on her way for an overnight visit this weekend. I'm the only vegan in the family, so I've been thinking about how to handle the food. I've decided on a pasta dinner tonight, making two versions of easy sauce. I'll put turkey sausage in their sauce and veggie sausage in mine. We'll have a big salad and a crusty artisanal bread, and we ought to be fine. For dessert, I have ice cream for them and sorbet and vegan ice cream for me. I have my eye on a 3-crock crock-pot buffet server that would let me make each simultaneously and be nice and hot whenever we want it.

I have a tentative plan for the day, but we might easily do something completely different!

My plan: Lunch at Sweet Cream's Cafe in Stroudsburg where I can get a vegan PBJ that also had dark chocolate chips in it. Mmmm. The others can get yummy sandwiches with whatever they want, nicely served and freshly built to order.

If we follow my plan we'll dovetail lunch with a trip through the Old Engine Works antique mall. It's always fun to browse. The boys turn 5 in 2 weeks and are coming here for the weekend to celebrate their birthday and maybe we'll find interesting gifts. If not, there's still plenty of time for shopping at Target.

Olde Engine Works

And it's not all about food and shopping, right? The fall foliage here in the Pocono Mountains is awesome right now, thanks to the heavy rains this past summer. The colors are great, and pumpkins and mums are available at roadside stands and nurseries. The sky is a gorgeous blue and the leaves outside my window as I write are orange and golden brown, just spectacular!

Yes indeed . . .

Life is good!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 2 of Vegetarian Awareness Month

October 2 is Day Two of Vegetarian Awareness Month.
So, here's the low-down: since going vegetarian in June 2008 and vegan in March 2009 I've become much healthier and much more eco-conscious. That means...
  • Method and Mrs. Meyer's intead of toxic cleaning products
  • CFL lightbulbs (until the LEDs are readily available), instead of incandescents
  • 2 Toyota Prius cars in our garage
  • Leather-free Rocket Dogs and Madden Girls on my feet
  • Leather purses on the shelf awaiting donation
  • Suede fringe jacket from Denver donated to Salvation Army
  • Low-carb cookbooks given away and Vegan with a Vengeance, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, Vegan Soul Kitchen, etc. in their place
  • PETA t-shirts on my body

  • In my fridge: MimicCreme, Earth Balance, Tofutti cream cheese, Follow Your Heart Vegenaise and vegan sour cream, Galaxy vegan grated Parmesan cheese, flaxseed meal , Bolthouse Farms Soy Vanilla Chai, vegan protein powders and soy milk.

  • Delicious homemade vegan Fettucine Alfredo (right) and vegan Chicken Fried Steak (from my homemade seitan) chubby cutlets on my dinner table.

  • In my pantry: Nutritional yeast, Bragg's Liquid Aminos, Ener-G Egg Replacer, Uncle Sam cereal, Marmite, Road's End Mac 'N Chreese, Florida Crystals (instead of bone-char-whitened sugar), lots of different Bob's Red Mill bags, and much more great stuff.

See anything here you wonder about? Post a comment!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Celebrating Vegetarian Awareness Month

Today is World Vegetarian Day and I'll be posting here daily for October to participate in Vegetarian Awareness Month. What a gift to be vegan now, eating for my health, for animal welfare and for our environment. So many good things are coming from this lifestyle: I've lowered my total cholesterol by 22 points; I've learned to be satisfied with healthy vegan food choices; my cooking repertoire has grown to include wonderful new recipes such as Vegan Chicken Fried Steak made with homemade seitan, Vegan Alfredo Sauce (both soy and non-soy versions) and so many other tasty things; I feel better as a human being that I no longer contribute to the misery and death of animals in my pursuit of sustenance; and I have even lost weight since switching from a lacto-ovo vegetarian way of eating to my vegan lifestyle!

When I'm in New York, I have the abundant selections at Whole Foods and great produce and other treats from the Union Square Greenmarket just a short walk away from the office and a very good health food store and decent neighborhood grocery store near home. I can take a reasonable hike over to Stogo in the East Village for amazing vegan ice cream and sometimes combine this "road trip" with a walking meeting with a like-minded client. When I'm in the country I can try out recipes in my spacious kitchen (comparatively to New York) and enjoy my bright red KitchenAid stand mixer preparing vegan baked goods and protein-rich seitan. The local produce stand offers fresh-picked corn in the summer and pumpkins and squash in the fall and lots of other good things.

Eating out in restaurants has become possible as I've learned more about the ingredients in the foods I order. For example, I love Olive Garden because I can have whole wheat linguine with a tasty marinara there plus abundant salad and bread sticks. Eventually I found out that unless I order the breadsticks "plain" they come buttered. I get the bowl of salad minus dressing, cheese or croutons, ask for the cruets of oil and vinegar and do fine. Most other restaurants have trouble making me what I ask for. They put cheese on the veggie burger, or the veggie burger isn't really vegan as I later learn. I ask for a bruschetta minus cheese and it comes minus mozzarella but loaded with Parmesan. Or I ask for pasta with oil and garlic and fresh vegetables and they come buttered. New York has some wonderful vegan restaurants and most servers don't look at you as if you had two heads when you explain your needs, but in the country, not so much.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Resources for the New and Aspiring Vegan

  • Now that I've been living the meatless life for well over a year and have been fully vegan (to the best of my knowledge and ability) for almost 6 months, I realize how much valuable information I've garnered along the way. Now, I'm still learning, and almost every day I learn a new fact about whole foods or learn about vegan-friendly foods and other resources, but now seems a good time to pass along some information.

  • First of all, check out the Vegan News items down the right side of this blog page. They change every day, so check here often, and you'll get up on a lot of the sorts of things I'm going to share here as I do.

  • Next, consider getting a subscription to VegNews or pick up a current issue at Borders or other comprehensive newstands. It comes out every other month, and I savor each issue for the articles and even the advertising. Here I have learned about new foods (such as Daiya vegan cheese, Sequel's Vega Smoothie Infusion, Earth Balance new soy-free buttery spread, and so much more. The magazine is a great source of vegan websites, restaurants, brick-and-mortar stores and e-stores and all sorts of other cool info. I love the recipes, and everything is vegan! That's right, everything!

  • Consult the Vegetarian Resource Group for their awesome information on vegan protein rquirements and so much else.
  • Check out the Vegan Product or Not site to check on foods you like for their "vegan-ness". There's a similar index for restaurant chains at Abolitionist Vegans that I have found helpful.
  • Check out The Vegan Dietitian, an awesome and informative blog on living the healthy vegan life from a vegan and registered dietitian who has helped vegans the world over better understand and address their protein requirements.
  • There's a fund of important information on cruelty-free products at Veg Family.
  • Visit VeganHealth.org for all sorts of references and resources for the conscientious vegan.
  • Happy Cow offers links to many handy vegan-friendly sites.

There are so many authors who have brought me to my present vegan state. Here are the ones that made the biggest impression:
  • The China Study, by Collin Campbell, MD
  • Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman, MD
  • The Engine 2 Diet, by Rip Esselstyn
And then there are the cookbooks that are helping me eat incredibly deliciously as a vegan:
  • Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
  • Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Romero
  • Vegan Soul Kitchen, by chef Bryant Terry
And a few of the blogs I've enjoyed for great vegan recipes:
That's about it for today. Happy clicking! and Happy and Healthy Eating, Healthy Planet!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vegan and Careful, Even on Vacation

Good Morning from Maine!
I'm here visiting with family, enjoying the coast during wonderful weather, and enjoying a major change of pace. It was over 500 miles and almost 11 hours of driving through portions of 7 states, in one day! All by my lonesome! I brought my little netbook with me and have wi-fi in my hotel, so I am able to stay connected. I may be on vacation, but I am trying to lose weight sensibly, and I'm committed to my vegan lifestyle. I'm not saying I've been squeaky clean in sticking to my food plan, because measuring has been replaced with eyeballing, and I had to wait until 10pm to enter in yesterday's meals into my food diary. But I was only off by 100 calories, as I figured it, and that's okay.

Here's what I'm doing:

  • Planned ahead: called the hotel (which offers free breakfast) and learned they have vegan granola. I dragged a cooler out of the closet and filled it with soy milk, Bolthouse Farms Soy Vanilla Chai, cut up fruit, raisins, flaxseed meal, Nugo Dark Chocolate Pomegranate bars, juice and Vega Smoothie Infusion. The freezy packs had thawed by the time I got here, but nothing spoiled.
  • Made the smartest choices I could: I knew Burger King offers a BK Veggie Burger that is vegan, so at lunchtime I swung through the drive-through and got one without mayo or cheese, and removed the half of the bun that was loaded with catsup. I treated myself to a small order of fries. I had a bottle of water. I ate a Nugo bar for a snack. Dinner with family was easy. They had a spinach salad with cranberries and walnuts and a raspberry vinaigrette, corn on the cob with margarine, sourdough bread, and blueberry pie. They also made a pork tenderloin but as a vegan I didn't even feel tempted. Because I'd had my protein bar, I wasn't worried about getting enough protein. I was just in range when I finally logged my food into my online nutrition tracker.

What I've Learned:

  • When unable to log in, do my best by estimating.
  • Don't beat myself up if my estimating misses the mark.
  • Next time pack a healthy lunch for the road, save that protein bar for later, and skip the pie if I feel I might be over the top with calories (plus I was unsure about the crust being vegan and chose not to ask).
  • Fries are yummy but not needed. They may be vegan, but they're not very healthy.
  • Every interaction can be a teaching moment. I spoke to the hotel desk clerk about being vegan which allowed me to explain what that is and why I'm doing it. I stopped and saw my son and the grandkids along the way and we had an interesting discussion about the perils of factory farming. He buys his eggs from a friend who has a little farm and lets the chickens run around outside. He wanted my approval, I think, and I told him this was a definite improvement and very good for the animals, but I said that I don't choose to have that either. Then over dinner I explained being vegan to my cousins. The 15 year-old was full of questions and opinions about PETA and people who go overboard, etc. It's all good.
  • I'm trying to remember that 12-Step suggestion to"resign from the debating society." I just reiterated how it's better for the animals, the environment, and my health. Everyone can relate to at least one of those things.

I'm so glad to be on vacation in the most beautiful place on earth. I've been coming here since I was 8 years old. My mother was born and died here, and I'm visiting her grave today, going to the beach to look for rocks and shells, walking around this picturesque town, and enjoying feeling good. Tomorrow we're taking a boat trip to Monhegan Island where Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent and the Wyeths, among other great artists, sought inspiration. Today is mine!

"Clear Morning," by Winslow Homer, painted on Monhegan Island, Maine

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Real Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July!
This year the holiday feels really good. I celebrate our American Democracy, our Constitution, and the Power of the People that emerged so strongly last November. During these difficult economic times, I am very grateful for those trying to address complex issues with courage and strength. I thank those serving in our Armed Forces for their tremendous sacrifice and selfless service to our nation. When I enjoy the fireworks tonight, I'll be very grateful to be an American.

Going Vegetarian:
I completed a full year as a vegetarian on June 11, 2009. I made the move for health, humanitarian and environmental reasons. It was challenging to make the big switch from a low carbohydrate, high animal meat/fat food plan to one eliminating meats, fish and poultry. I took advantage of all foods that were free of these, so I ate tons of cheese, baked goods, rich cream-based sauces, and eggs. No surprise that I packed on many of the pounds I'd once lost low-carbing. In making the conversion to a vegetarian lifestyle, I excused myself from counting calories. This view was inspired by the "no other major changes the first year" admonition from the recovery movement. I was letting go of an addiction to animal meat, and that was the primary focus. I kept weighing in and was dismayed to see the gain. I struggled. I lost a few, gained a few, lost a few more, but the net was a pretty big gain.

Going Vegan:
Then in March 2009 I discovered Rip Esselstyn's "Engine 2 Diet" and found I finally was able to let go of the eggs and dairy. This was easier than I could have expected, and aside from a few moments of weakness, I've done very well. Eating in restaurants has been difficult, but eating at home has been increasingly simple. During the work week, our routine is eating in or taking in from vegan-friendly places and sometimes eating in restaurants. We tend to eat out more on weekends, and I've learned where I can get something on my plan and how to ask for it, something that is not always obvious. Most restaurant chains have nutritional info online or downloadable as a pdf. Websites such as The Daily Plate and SparkPeople (my personal favorite) have many brand-name and chain items in their databases, complete with full nutritional breakdowns.

Our Friends have been really accommodating. If they're cooking, they always ask what I can eat, and I usually bring one or two vegan dishes to share. We were invited to a barbecue and our amazing hosts prepared divine tofu-veggie kabobs and bought veggie burgers for me. I was really touched. If we dine out with friends, they always make sure wherever we go is okay for me. We went to a benefit at the Stroudsmoor Inn recently where the entree choices were beef, salmon and "vegetarian". The friends who invited us called it in, and thanks to their looking out for me, I was served the only vegan entree in the entire huge banquet hall! It was a portabello mushroom cap topped with fresh spinach draped with a whole peeled red pepper and some marinara sauce, over mixed white and wild rice. Absolutely delicious! And it looked better to some who vowed to ask for a vegan plate next year. I sent my thanks and compliments back to the chef.

Using SparkPeople has been a huge help. I get lots of support when I need it, have access to some really great recipes, can log my own receipes in and get an exact nutrition breakdown. Knowledge is Power! What has helped me most to lose over 8 pounds as a vegan has been tracking my food intake online so I can see easily how many calories, and how much of my essential nutrients I've gotten for the day. This helps me at evening snack time to know whether or not to have a snack, and if so, if it needs to be heavy on protein or not. I keep vegan protein bars on hand in case of the latter.

NuGo Organic bars are a favorite, with a whole one only 180 calories and 10g protein. Sometimes half is all I need and they are yummy.

Recently I faced facts that I'd been eating things not logged into my SparkPeople daily nutrition tracker, and I began to get honest about it. I stopped eating gumdrops and hard candies kept in the office for clients and their kids. I stopped grabbing a few pieces of dried fruit, nuts or snack mix. I committed on an online forum for compulsive overeaters to stop doing this, and today is Day 8. If that's not personal progress toward freedom and independence, I don't know what is!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vegan? Like rich, creamy ice cream? Stogo!



Lower Fat!



When I heard about Stogo, the new vegan ice cream store in the East Village started by actor Rob Sedgwick and friends, I wanted to go there. Thursday I made it there with another pilgrim to the vegan shrine of rich, yummy ice cream. It's a hike from my usual hangout just south of Union Square, and this is a very good thing! They have less fat and calories than regular gourmet ice cream, but the 160 calories for a scoop of the mango flavor quickly climbs if you have two scoops and opt for flavors with nuts, caramel or fudge mixed in. Vegan hot fudge and caramel are available for just $1.00 if you want. I'd love nothing more but I'm also trying to shed a few pounds, so no can do.

Great News: free tastes are offered so you can choose among the colorful batches of awesome flavors displayed behind the glass. My friend and I each had two scoops. I had
Pomegranate Chocolate Chip and Salted Caramel Pecan, both amazing and delicious, although the pieces of chocolate in the Pomegranate Chocolate Chip were a bit hard and sort of waxy until they had a chance to melt, not easy if you tend to scarf down your ice cream. My friend had Peanut Butter Fudge, and Chocolate made with coconut milk, both delicious, too. The other three flavors I mentioned here were made with soy milk. They also offer a few hemp milk flavors. In addition to their excellent ice creams, Stogo also carries some Babycakes vegan cupcakes and other pastries, and vegan truffles and other chocolates, available by the gourmet piece.

Click HERE to view NBC New York's "Serious Eats" video on Stogo. And for more info on flavors, nutrition and other good stuff plus "testimonials" go HERE. I highly recommend Stogo to all ice-cream-loving vegans. Our time has come. By the way, I've learned that Lulu's Sweet Apothocary in Alphabet City in Manhattan is another wonderful shrine of vegan treats for us vegan dessert pilgrims.

I'm now going to prepare vegan potato salad using Follow Your Heart's Vegenaise, which I personally think tastes more like old-fashioned homemade mayo than Hellman's or Kraft ever did. Then I'll whip up some vegan carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. We're heading to the country home of dear friends for a Memorial Day barbecue and I'm bringing these goodies plus some Tofurkey Italian Sausages and Yves The Good Dog vegan franks. I'm gonna really enjoy this.

To prepare myself for the holiday fun, I had a healthy shake this morning made with light vanilla soy milk, Crystal Light raspberry ice tea, fresh strawberries, and Living Harvest Hemp Chocolate-Chili protein. Yummy, freed up about 250 calories over my usual bowl of cereal, fruit, nuts, flaxseed meal and raisins.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Need Help with Nutrition?

I'm all psyched right now after spending about 10 days learning how to use a great free online resource for men and women trying to improve their health through better eating and fitness. It's called SparkPeople and there are "Spark Teams" for Vegans and for Vegetarians.

Here's what I really like so far: unlike The Daily Plate, another good site for tracking nutrition, I find it super easy to navigate and to migrate info. For example, yesterday I tried a "Spark Recipe" called Smoky Refried Beans Soup and was able to migrate my dinner portion right into my daily nutrition tracker with all the nutrients listed. How easy is that? Even better, the recipe was awesome and I really enjoyed it as did my omnivore husband. What is especially attractive to me is the community of people who have welcomed me in as a newcomer. I feel I have another great "place" to hang out. SparkPeople has an incentive system of SparkPoints where you accrue points and earn trophies as you participate, whether you log your food, post on forums, or exercise. In the brief time I've been active on SparkPeople I've lost already 2.2 pounds in the week I've been logging in everything I consume. Not a great deal, but progress for me and right in the suggested range for slow but steady and healthy weightloss. In fact The Partnership for Healthy Weight Management, a U.S. Government site, says:

Most overweight people should lose weight gradually. For safe and healthy weight loss, try not to exceed a rate of two pounds per week. Sometimes, people with serious health problems associated with obesity may have legitimate reasons for losing weight rapidly. If so, a physician's supervision is required.
Update on the Protein Powder: earlier this week I returned the Spiru-Tein to Vitamin Shoppe and exchanged it for Nutribiotic Vegan Rice Protein which is quite good but does need to be mixed with juice to taste okay. I have it at home to add when my daily protein intake has been below healthy range. Yes, SparkPeople's nutrition tracker gives you cool pie charts and feedback about that day's intake which is AWESOME! The better find which I'll use for most weekday lunches is Vega Smoothie Infusion which is delicious mixed with juice (I've had Goji-Acai and Acai so far and loved both) or coconut water beverages (they're really good, too).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Dinner

Happy Mother's Day. It was a good one for me. My husband gave me a great card from him and Daisy and then suggested we take an exercise walk to the lake near the house. We did that and saw a mother goose and her four goslings swimming behind her. We also decided on that walk to get a paddle boat for ourselves. Apparently a lot of people in our community have them but we haven't seen them in use much. The one we saw yesterday in a store had a canopy and we thought it would be just the thing. Better for us than a canoe or kayak where we might end up in a disaster, getting in, getting out, getting around.
We decided to go to Olive Garden but when we got there the wait we were told was 2 hours and 40 minutes. That's ridiculous. So we went to LongHorn Steakhouse, and I was able to have a nice vegan dinner with a large salad with pecans and mandarin orange slices over mixed greens, minus the chicken it came with which my husband will enjoy tomorrow, rice pilaf, and lovely unadorned asparagus. Okay, the pilaf may have had some butter in it, and the cornbread croutons on the salad while good probably weren't vegan, so I tasted them and gave them away to my husband. It was nice to be able to eat there and not just have a bunch of sides and call it dinner.
When we got home my son called for Mother's Day, and that capped off the day. I feel very lucky tonight.

I joined Spark People this weekend and have been learning my way around the site and learning how I can use it to help me with my vegan weight loss regimen. I'll write more here as I find out how it works for me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bee Pollen: Navigating the Shoals of Treachery as a Vegan

I've been trying vegan meal replacement powders to keep lunch quick, easy, nutritious and low-calorie. I started with four different one-serving packs of Vega. It seems to be a great product but is expensive, hence the trial packets. Sadly, I found that the stevia gave it an unpleasant aftertaste, and the green color was a little off-putting, so I kept searching. On a trip to my local GNC, the clerk who helped me knew of no vegan products in their store. A passing customer suggested Gary Null's powder, so I thanked him and went to the Vitamin Shoppe. The very helpful guy took me to a section that was "all vegan" according to him, and the Gary Null powder was about $25, so I asked if they carried single-serving packets. No, they didn't but they did have Spiru-tein in a 7-packet assortment with a mixing shaker. I looked over the package quickly and saw that there was no dairy, so I took it.

Later I sat back and took a closer look and read this on the label:

SPIRU-TEIN®, an incredibly delicious, all-natural energy formula, is power-packed with 14 grams on high quality protein from soy, fermented soy, rice, pea and spirulina- nature's premier sources of vegetarian protein.

In addition to 100% of the daily value for all vitamins, and a broad profile of essential minerals, each nutritious and satisfying sip supplies bee pollen, bromelain papaya, lecithin, bio-flavonoids, oat bran, cellulose, apple pectin and chlorophyll.

Other Ingredients: Nature's plus SPIRU-TEIN POWDER features a unique blend of ingredients, including 100% daily value of all vitamins, Broad profile of essential minerals, Energy nutrients: high quality complete protein and bee pollen, Diet aids: lecithin, spirulina, choline and inositol, Enzymes: bromelain and papaya, Cleansing: chlorophyll, FIBER: Bran, cellulose and apple pectin.
Directions: Add contents of packet to 8 fl. oz. of skim milk, whole milk, or juice, and mix (or shake) until smooth. For best results, milk or juice should be very cold.
Warnings: Not to be used as the sole source of dietary calories.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Oh no! Could vegans eat bee pollen? I started a search. Alas, no.

I learned that bee pollen is collected from the legs of bees as they enter the hive and come in contact with a scraper called a pollen trap, and sometimes a bee loses a leg in the process. The University of Florida IFAS Extension posts some interesting information online. In addition to containing flower pollens the bees have collected, bee pollen contains some other substances such as:

The kinds of debris and foreign matter that can be found in pollen is remarkable. A partial listing includes: (1) lost bee parts; (2) bits of plants like leaves and straw; (3) pollinia or stamens from certain plants that stick to bees and pollen; (4) hair-like threads; (5) various insects, some invisible to the human eye and (6) mummies and scales from bee diseases.

The Vegan Society has a detailed treatise on why vegans must avoid all bee products.

So I am clear now that I will be returning the Spiru-Tein to the store and exchanging it for something truly vegan. What I choose remains to be seen. By the way, as I did my search of information, I came across something on a Gary Null site touting the praises of bee pollen as a "perfect food". Apparently a number of years ago Null did an infomercial for bee pollen and was excoriated for lending credibility to claims the FDA later debunked. You can learn more about that here. So, I plan to get my money back, go to Whole Foods, and read everything over carefully before choosing my next meal replacement. The moral of the story may be that eating a healthy meal is better than trying to replace it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Vegan-Friendly Restaurant

We were out shopping in Lowe's today looking for hanging plants, CFL replacements for the track lighting and more, and I suddenly felt out of energy. The plan to go grocery shopping and then have lunch at home was scrapped and we headed to the closest quicky lunch spot, a Moe's Southwestern Grill that just opened in an adjacent strip mall. I was already feeling sorry for myself that I'd have to get something with no cheese, no sour cream, and probably no flavor. Well, was I wrong! They offer grilled marinated tofu as one of their "meat" selections and have a Southwestern Vinaigrette dressing that is really good, and dairy free. I had a "Close Talker" salad in a fried flour tortilla bowl, yummy but more calories than I should have had. Mr. Maven had a burrito with about half the calories of my lunch, but his came with chips and guacamole, and adding those in made us about even. Nevertheless, knowing I can have any of their entrees with tasty tofu and no cheese or sour cream and really enjoy it made my day.

I've been totally vegan about 6 weeks now, and eating out here in PA has been pretty challenging. Where I can go and eat vegan without deprivation: Olive Garden, Red Robin, Subway or our local Italian takeout place (getting a veggie hero and bringing it home to add my own vegan cheese and cold cuts), Chili's (the black bean burger's okay but not great, and the portobello fajitas are pretty good); Sweet Cream ice cream shoppe where they serve a delicious peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwich.

We go to a nice restaurant not far from the house called Robert Christian's. They have a varied menu and the chef has been willing to make me a lovely Pasta Primavera. Last time, however, despite my stressing no butter or cheese, it tasted very buttery and seemed to be sprinkled with Parmesan. Mr.Maven, an omnivore eschewing red meat now, has to put up with my ever shrinking list of options at home and out, but he's patient.

Tonight I am having Road's End Mac & Chreese for the first time. I added half a tablespoon of Earth Balance margarine and a drained can of mushrooms. I'm fixing Mr. Maven turkey meatballs and marinara over Dreamfield's linguine, and we'll share a nice salad and some mixed veggies.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Summer Already??

A gorgeous little violet in the still-wintry brown lawn near our country house. And moments later as I photographed its neighbor:

And yep, that's a real live honeybee, on April 26, and it was 88-degrees up here on the Plateau today in Eastern Pennsylvania, and even higher down the mountain where we were doing a little shopping and the asphalt was sizzling, maybe 95-degrees.
So it's time for shorts and tanks and oh, the distress of the post-Atkins body I now inhabit, with added weight from eating vegetarian for the past 10 months, and being vegan since March. I'm trying to get the right nutrition without overdoing fat and carbs. The worst seems to be eating in restaurants where the only thing I can get that seems like a real entree is pasta, often with garlic and oil and some veggies if I'm lucky or marinara. By the way, Olive Garden has whole wheat pasta with a tasty marinara, and the salad and bread sticks are good. Maybe too good!
I made an awesome vegan Alfredo sauce, thanks to Don't Get Mad Get Vegan's great recipe site. Check it out! I made it with Dreamfield's low-carb macaroni and added a drained can of sliced mushrooms and some baby peas. Yummy, but still pretty rich. I shared some with a vegan friend who agreed it was great, but it didn't help me lose any weight. So the adventure continues.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My First Vegan Passover

Good Pesach to all who celebrate with us here and around the world. We are having our seder tomorrow night with charoset sweetened with agave nectar, matzoh balls made with Ener-G Egg Replacer in a vegetable broth, whole wheat matzohs, horseradish, and Blue Plate Specials from Whole Foods. Why the latter, you ask? Because I am vegan and my partner remains an omnivore. So he'll have chicken, a veggie side and kugel, and I'll have their Candle Cafe Tofu Balls rolled in Sesame Seeds, vegan cherry kugel, and a veggie side.

I feel a lot of gratitude for our many blessings at this special season. More secular than religious, I have chosen to mark the holiday with a few mitzvahs instead of strict adherence to ritual. Somehow it feels that Hashem would find this more worthy of blessing than my stumbling through the Haggadah trying to do all the right things in the right order and telling the story right without losing all the people around the table in my ineptitude.

This is the first year I feel in harmony with the planet and with the values I knew I ought to honor but couldn't seem to reach.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Remembering Mom

Mom died 4 years ago yesterday, and I forgot to light a candle, so this is her yahrtzeit.

God bless you, Mom. You taught me so much about compassion for all living things, and your years as a vegetarian inspired me. Life is okay now without you here, especially with your cares and health issues gone. I miss you terribly nearly every day. But l feel closer to you now in many ways, just a thought, an action, a word or a prayer away. I love you and I always will.

It's day 12 today for me as a real vegan, and I've been managing better than I thought I would. I even lost about a pound this past week. Last night we went to Red Robin and I had Red's Rice Bowl, sauteed zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper, snowpeas and mushrooms with a little teriyaki sauce atop rice with some Chinese noodles, and a side salad.

Breakfast today was my now-usual Big Bowl of high fiber cereals, with a sliced kiwi, cup of mixed fresh berries, some dried currants, sliced almonds and some pumpkin seeds, tablespoon of flax seed meal, and soy milk. For lunch out we went to our local pizza joint and my husband had a couple of plain slices while I had a veggie hero, no cheese, no mayo, and sprinkled with oil and vinegar. I added a small package of pistachios for protein, and it was a good meal.

Dinner tonight will be either a pasta with marinara and no cheese, or something else vegan from the Olive Garden that just opened near us this week. Their minestrone is vegan as far as I can tell, too. Tomorrow night I will make my first Vegan Alfredo Sauce, and I have all the stuff I need, (except vegan parmesan cheese, and not every recipe requires it): Mori-Nu silken tofu, nutritional yeast, soymilk and the appropriate herbs and spices. With some penne, that ought to be good.

And so, my vegan adventure continues, and I am finding it very do-able. More later.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Vegan Living: Today is Day Five!

I finally made the transition from lacto-ovo vegetarian to vegan! Now that I've done it, I can't believe how long I resisted doing it, thinking that giving up the cheese, butter, eggs and other dairy products, not to mention all foods that contain them in any quantity whatever, would be incredibly difficult. Not so.


First, my last physical showed my cholesterol was 263. I went off Lipitor back in 2007 when I was losing a lot of weight on a low-carb diet, and I was sure that because I had been abstaining from all meat, fish and poultry my number would be low now. Wrong! My doc wrote:

Your cholesterol was 263 and your LDL 167, so being a vegetarian doesn't help your lipid profile. You are going to need medication.

Well, I thought I'd just reduce the cheese, eggs and other dairy easily to correct this, but I haven't been able to do so. Then on the Today Show I saw Rip Esselstyn, author of The Engine 2 Diet (E-2) which I mentioned a few weeks back, and I got excited about his plan. However, I'd recently placed a couple of other on-line orders and felt I should wait to send for it, and gradually the idea faded. Then I saw a reference to an interesting cookbook, Terry Bryant's Vegan Soul Food Kitchen.

So I ordered both books, and I told myself I could eat cheese, eggs and other dairy until they came. That day was Tuesday, March 17, 2009, St. Patrick's Day. I opened the box eagerly. I scanned both books briefly, being at work at the time, and brought them home. The E-2 diet seemed daunting, with no added fats or cheese substitutes and no refined carbs. I didn't think I could do it. Bryant Terry's recipes looked awesome and easy to follow. So I told myself I could simply be honestly vegan, no exceptions, and see how it went. Every day I made vegan choices.

We ate in on Tuesday and Thursday, and on Wednesday we brought in Middle Eastern takeout, and I had Koshary, a delicious mix of chopped vegetables, lentils, garbanzos, rice, and rotini pasta, with some marinara sauce and fried onions on top. Last night we went out for Indian food and I asked the waiter which items didn't have any dairy, and it was easy because there were only two (everything else called "vegetarian" had cream or butter in it), so I enjoyed a spicy lentil dish with rice. Yummy, but in the middle of the night I felt I'd overdone the salt.

Yesterday before dinner I shopped at a local health food store and stocked up on many items Rip recommends. That included a loaf of Ezekiel bread, non-dairy yogurt, nutritional yeast, Smart Fiber cereal and some other stuff. Today I went to my local Mr. Z's market and found an even better selection of some items: Mori-Nu silken tofu used in many vegan recipes, organic frozen and fresh fruits, and ingredients for tomorrow's slow-cooker chili.

Today I had an E-2 breakfast ("Rip's Big Bowl") with lots of high fiber cereal, dried fruit, nuts flax seed meal, and soy milk. It was delicious. For lunch we went to a little place my husband loves. "Sweet Creams" features lunch and ice cream. I had a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette on the side and a PBR sandwich--peanut butter, raisins, dark chocolate chips and cinnamon on a dense whole grain bread. It was all good. Later this afternoon, I made Vegan Brownies that are amazing. So, it can be done.

Gist of my experience: it's easier to abstain completely from cheese (Rip calls it addictive and explains why) than to have a little. Kind of like alcoholism. It's easier to stop our drinking altogether than to try to moderate it.

The AA Big Book (on page xxx in "The Doctor's Opinion) says,

The only relief we have to suggest is entire abstinence.

And so I am abstaining entirely, and one day at a time, it's working. I'll keep checking in. Here's a great pyramid to guide my path. Maybe yours, too.