Dipping my toes in vegan waters

A while back, I talked about watching the CNN show The Last Heart Attack. The show was based on the idea that heart attacks could be completely prevented by diet and exercise and based much of its theory on the research of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic.

I thought they presented some pretty strong evidence and so followed up by watching Forks over Knives, a documentary that goes so far as to say that the majority of degenerative diseases, including some cancers, might be kept at bay and in some cases reversed, with a plant-based, whole foods diet.

I’ve been a healthy, whole foods diet proponent for years, but the one thing that I’ve never paid much attention to was the role of dairy in disease. Specifically, the role of casein protein, which is found in dairy. In the comprehensive China Study, T. Colin Campbell (also featured prominently in Forks over Knives) found that casein protein, found in the vast majority of cow’s milk, promoted cancer in all stages of development. I also learned that our calcium is probably better absorbed when it comes from sources other than cow’s milk. Hmm, me with two stress reactions, and two dairy loving kids,  just might want to pay attention to this one.

Topping it all off, there’s the environmental impact of going vegan. With a little effort towards veganism, we can make a pretty big dent in the way we treat the earth.

So all this has led me to start down the vegan path–eating nothing with a mother or a face and no dairy. Have I gone 100 percent? Not at this stage. Here’s where I score on some of the counts:

  • Meat–we haven’t had any in about three weeks and I don’t think anyone really misses it. Challenges–packing the kids lunches and keeping it mixed up for them. I will admit that they were not fans of the Tofurky roast beef I tried to slip in!
  • Fish–This is one I wrestle with. There are plenty of health benefits to be derived from certain fishes and so we are keeping this in our diet about once a week. Fish more falls into an ethical category for me–our waters are severely overfished.
  • Dairy–I’ve replaced all of our yogurts with soy yogurt and this is fine with the kids. I’ve also added soy milk and almond milk into our refrigerator and the kids use it on cereal; I use it in cooking.
  • Produce–We already ate lots of fruits and vegetables, but now we’re getting even more in. I’m also making sure to buy the “dirty dozen” produce items organic, something I wasn’t entirely dedicated to before.

I know--Skinny Bitch and I could have been separated at birth. ; )

As a guide for cooking, I’ve been turning over and over again to the Skinny Bitch Everyday Cookbook by Kim Barnouin. Jason recommended it to me and it’s a real find. She loads it with easy, fantastic vegan recipes. Some of my

My new favorite cookbook

favorites so far: vegan cassoulet, pasta, navy bean and spinach soup, and kale with peanut sauce. The book also comes full of valuable nutritional information, which I appreciate.

The bottom line–I think a vegan(ish) approach can fit into an athlete’s diet quite well. Many might argue that you don’t get enough protein, but really, we 1. think we need more protein than we do, and 2. can get plenty from plants.

What are your thoughts on a vegan diet?

Don’t miss my Recharge hydration giveaway–entries are very low!

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  1. says

    Eating “healthy” is a tough proposition. I have given up most dairy, except cheese every now and again and chocolate milk after the longest of runs. I already eat lots of vegetables, but struggle in other areas (snacks…). I don’t do soy products and decided not to bother trying after several studies came out with the conclusion that soy wasn’t as good for us as originally advertised and causes it’s own set of problems in some folks. I also will not give up meat, but am trying to eat more fish. I appreciate the concern about over fishing, but it’s almost a pick your poison proposition. Vegetable farms cause their own set of problems with what has to be done to the soil to keep it usable for growing as well as the run off of pesticides and other stuff. Also, because most people no longer eat seasonally, shipping fruits and veggies around the globe contributes to pollution. I think what most people forget is that the different diets that work evolved based on what was available in a region and were not reliant on processed foods. People should not use “time” as an excuse for unhealthy eating habits. If you can find time to train for an event, or even watch TV, you can find time to make good food choices.
    Jamoosh recently posted..Some Kind of WonderfulMy Profile

  2. says

    I’m biased, as I am a vegan, but I can’t imagine going back to eating even a vegetarian diet. I feel so much healthier – and I annually go to the doctor for a slew of random bloodwork to back up with numbers how much healthier I feel (I’ll be blogging about that soon).

    My wife and I eat very, very little soy, which seems to be the food of choice for those transitioning from a traditional diet to a veg*** diet. We eat very seasonally, and I look forward to the new foods that each season brings us. And while most people consider a vegan diet to be restrictive, I find that I eat a much greater variety of food than I did when I ate a “traditional” diet.
    Jesse N. recently posted..No MotivationMy Profile

  3. says

    I have been a sorta vegetarian all my life and a complete vegetarian since 1997. Even though I don’t eat meat, I think it would be so hard to become vegan. Saying goodbye to diary and things that have eggs in them would be really hard for me. Did you give up eggs? I think you make excellent points about diary. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes. Maybe I can be inspired to give it up or at least cut back!
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  4. says

    I love reading this…I have actually been vegan/vegetarian for almost 3 months now and have actually had my hubs incorporate a lot of the same ideals into his diet as well. We have always eaten pretty healthy…it is now just jacked up a notch. Fish is the only thing I do eat but only maybe every 2 weeks. I thought it would be difficult but it really hasn’t. We have a diet full of kale, nuts, beans, tofu, root veggies, fruit, Vega products for our workouts and I have never felt better. I haven’t craved chicken/pork/beef at all and I am not sure I could even eat it at this point..
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    • says

      My wife and I are vegan, and we eat a soy product *maybe* once a month. It’s definitely possible to do it without soy. But, there is no great vegan substitute for cheese, at least not that we’ve found yet!
      Jesse N. recently posted..No MotivationMy Profile

  5. Malva says

    My family made the swtich a year and a half ago for pretty much the same reasons you have. Interestingly, what started as a great way to remain healthy in the long run has mutated as a way to live a more compassionate life. That was totally unexpected, especially since I thought I had it figured out (eating very little meat and buying it directly from farmers we trusted) and was big on “everything in moderation”.

    If you bake, a book that really helped with the transition was Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowicz. We make muffins, waffles and scrambled tofu from that book regularly.

  6. says

    I have just added Kefir and some cheese back to my diet. Kefir is fermented so its something particular to what I need. I cannot do soy at all. It is very hard to digest. I suggest looking into nut and hemp milk instead of soy. Soy has a whole host of its own issues.

    I eat chicken a few times a week however that’s it for meat.

    Oh, I almost forgot, get some Nutritional Yeast!!! Full, I mean, full of nutrition!!
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  7. says

    I am vegan-curious in a similar manner following watching FON. I actually recently have been limiting my dairy intake quite a bit, to 1 serving per day or less.

    I still love pizza and mac and cheese so I don’t think I can give it up completey — barring a health ailment that would require me to do so. I am kind of using meat/dairy as a reverse food pyramid. Put it at the top where sugar is. Only have a little bit.

    I am trying to be more careful with soy though because of all this hormone/soy/women issues I read about. I have tried coconut milk and that’s pretty good – until someone comes out saying I shouldn’t drink that either.

    It’s so difficult to find “replacements” in the American diet wa all have grown to know and enjoy.

    Sorry so wordy.
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  8. says

    I don’t think I could ever go vegan but i do agree that cutting out dairy is a good idea. Its kind of like sugar, the less you eat the better off you and are. A few nights ago I had a huge bowl of ice cream and then my stomach basically revolted. I love ice cream but obviously my body doesn’t. Its so hard to give up that stuff. I think listening to your body is the best way to go and mine is telling me to cut back on dairy and sugar. I am sure we would all benefit from more fruits and veggies too.
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  9. says

    As you know, my entire family are vegetarians. But, we are almost vegans. I say “almost” because we still eat some cheese (I’ve tried the vegan cheese and it was gross!) and ice cream/froyo. We do soy/almond milk/yogurt and my boys love it! Honestly, this kind of whole foods eating just makes sense to me. :) Good luck with it! Let me know if you want any of my favorite recipes!
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  10. Colleen says

    I don’t have any experience with a vegan diet, but kudos for you for doing it and getting the family on board! :)

  11. says

    I do love meat but I think I could get myself to where I would only eat it once a week. I love veggies. Do eggs count as well?? I love eggs. Don’t think I could do without the eggs.

    I agree with you about our food supply, I worry about what I feed my kids and just how pure and quality controlled the food is.
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  12. says

    This is all really interesting, but we’re not at a point to make big changes to what we eat. I’d be fine with eating considerably less meat, but I’d get no support from my husband there. I’d definitely also like to start buying more locally. Right now it’s just in that thinking about stage, though.

    I can definitely see where changing to a vegan diet would actually increase the variety of foods you made; you’d have to find new things to make rather than be able to rely on the same old things (like I typically do).
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  13. says

    Woah, totally interesting post. Thanks for bringing this stuff up. My hubs and I eat vegan 90% of the time (no eggs, no butter, no milk, no meat), but since worrying that protein from ONLY soy products (we love Tofurkey and veggie sausage), I’ve started being brave and cooking chicken maybe once or twice a month. I’m also concerned about not getting enough calcium, so I’m on the fence about milk and yogurt. Help! Do you know where the study is out there, that says too much soy protein is not good?
    Just Run With It recently posted..Fall-tasticMy Profile

  14. says

    i was vegan for awhile but then had to have some cheese… which made me eat ice cream… sigh. it’s not really that hard to do though (be vegan). AND i can’t have soy or nuts (almond milk), so that makes it harder, but it was still doable. coconut milk is my favorite!

    i commend you and your family for making the switch! i try to keep fish out too – but sometimes when i’m out eating a salad w/ fish is one of a few options… (i also can’t have dressing – so a plain salad is PRETTY boring)
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  15. says

    I was a vegetarian until my twin pregnancy, when I was advised to add back chicken and fish if possible to increase protein. I felt much better and haven’t gone back to vegetarianism (nor has my husband). Avoiding red meat and pork has never been hard for me as I never liked them much in the first place. Dairy? I love it.

    As for veganism…..there are a lot of vegan eaters in this area, and I’m turned off by the self-righteousness a lot of them embrace along with the diet (of course, there are some very nice people who are vegan too). I looked at the first Skinny Bitch book at one point and found that same attitude there, along with a lot of hipster bad language–big turn-off. I’m kind of a moderation in all things gal and probably won’t change my diet much (except for hopefully eliminating more sugar!).
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  16. says

    Interesting stuff!

    The only thing I am concerned with is the *soy* factor? I’ve always read that excessive soy intake is actual detrimental to one’s health. Something about all the phytoestrogens in soy as well as how most soy is genetically engineered.

    It sounds like it’s working for you though, and some of those recipes you listed sound darn tasty.

    I’ve branched out and have been drinking a lot more Almond and Coconut milks. Big fan of both!
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  17. says

    Interesting – I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Forks over Knives and want to see it. We’ve been making a conscious effort to eat less meat and overall I think we have a pretty healthy diet. I have no interest in going vegan though and I think I’d have a family revolt on my hands if I tried!
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  18. says

    I am too afraid to open my mouth here simply because I know of the sparks & arrangements this topic can create, but I was under the impression that vegan diets and endurance athletes could exist peacefully together. And then I got so burned out and exhausted after my hard race, and for months afterward I would have an alarmingly high heart rate when working out. After taking a complete break, scaling down my training, and still seeing no results in my burnout, I added a smidgen of diary and the tiniest amount of eggs back in my diet (to play around with my food intake rather than my exercise, simply because I believe they really do go hand in hand — and I’d rather play around with food that play around with adding pills and supplements). Voila. I feel 100% better — and the amazing thing, I feel even better than I did when I was a true vegan. It was amazing to me how used to feeling lethargic I made myself become.

    I am still playing around with all of this since I do have ethical issues with eating animals and animal bi-products. I told myself the eggs + dairy thing would only be temporary, and I’m interested in seeing what happens when I get back off of them again. Will I go back to feeling lethargic? Were my symptoms actually related to something else? I guess we’ll see!
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  19. says

    I was vegan for almost two years and really enjoyed it — my body thrives on protein, so if I ever went vegan again, I’d have to do it 100% different than how I originally did it. Kudos to you for revamping your ohana’s health and lifestyle!

    I haven’t read through the comments, so I apologize in advance if this was previously brought up–but be careful with soy. It’s actually not good for us, which is *probably* why the USDA is promoting it now. Keep it simple; stick to nut milks:)

  20. susan says

    i went vegan after 2 years of stomach problems, but for me it is not just about eliminating meat, dairy and fish…it is more about avoiding chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, gmo’s,etc. so they might have been healthy things to eat at some point. here in the United States, our “food” is no longer food and it becomes harder to find “real food”. i feel so much healthier now after the changes. for those that are eating soy, over 90% of the soy here in the U.S., is genetically modified, meaning that the plant has been altered so that it grows with pesticides in it.Insecticide is engineered into every cell, saving the farmer from having to spray it on the field, so when an insect eats the plant IT DIES! Insecticide that can’t be washed off . for those of you avoiding dairy, the countries with the highest consumption rate of milk, have the highest rates of osteoporosis.if you eat fish, please read this article :http://perfectformuladiet.com/health/fish-contains-worm-larvae/ . If you take a look at the alarming growth rates in autism, obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc., you will see that it parallels with the introduction of genetically modified foods and chemicals etc being added to our food supply. all i can say was that 2 years ago, i was so ignorant and just assumed anything in the store was ok to consume, but the more i read , the more alarmed i became at what i was eating. i encourage you to read, keep reading, consider the source of the study or the article before you accept it as fact. i do not mean to alarm you, i mean to empower you to be aware. if you wish to modify your diet to make it healthier, there are so many healthy vegan recipes on the web, even google “raw diet”, where you will find much info on recipes for simple ingredients without sugar and processed foods. remember we really don’t know if moderation saves us from cancer or disease, we only assume it does. i would rather err on the side of caution, then pay the price later with poor health.

  21. says

    Well, I think you know where I stand. Perhaps everybody does. Bravo to you for trying a new approach!

    I wrote about the whole Milk (dairy) issue awhile back: http://runwithkate.blogspot.com/2010/08/got-milk-hell-no.html

    Another great recommendation for cookbooks – Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s ‘The Vegan Table’. I could honestly live the rest of my life eating nothing but food from this book. It’s that good! Try it!

    Good luck to you!

  22. says

    I could go vegetarian, but probably not vegan. I like cheese and yogurt way too much.

    I try to eat as much organic food as possible, but with how busy my life has been over the last few months, my eating habits went on the back burner. It’s been rough getting back into the swing of things, especially with my meat-and-potatoes-loving husband.

    Thanks for the info about casein and dairy. I will have to do more research on my own about it.
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  23. says

    Forks over Knives is next on my list of movies to watch. So far I’ve watched Food Matters, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Food Inc and Future of Food. I imagine FOK will be just as eye opening as the others. When I was doing vegetarian I felt the best this year. I honestly don’t think I would miss meat well except for bacon. THough I doubt I could get my husband on board with the no meat idea. :(
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  24. says

    I think ANY changes you make working towards a healthier, cleaner diet are a GOOD thing! I’m a vegetarian but not vegan. I really admire those that have the dedication and discipline to go vegan! Kudos to you for trying new things!
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  25. says

    I’ve toyed with going meat free on and off, I balance meat free days along with meat days. I have noticed a change with limiting my dairy, I use almond milk, and no longer eat yogurt. I do have hard cheeses once or twice a week, but I feel less nasal, if that makes sense. You’re doing great with the switch!!!
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  26. says

    i really still want to see forks over knives. I have greatly reduced meat in my diet and switched to goats cheese and almond milk. The more I have read about soy products I don’t think the processed one’s are actually very good for us either, so I am not using those.

    I don’t think I will ever say I’m fully vegetarian because that is like when I said no sugar :) my brain has a switch that says oh yeah…you will eat it!
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  27. says

    I have been a vegetarian for a little over three years now and I haven’t had any problems with it. I do occasionally eat fish, so I am not sure if there is a different name for that or not, but in any case, I don’t miss eating meat at all.
    I also replaced milk and dairy with soy based products and I have noticed a HUGE difference in my allergies. I don’t have them any more….
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  28. says

    That’s very interesting. Cow’s milk is such a sneaky culprit because we’ve been brainwashed that we need it for calcium.

    I’m not sure I would be a happy vegetarian much less a happy vegan…grew up in central Tx where beef is a staple, but I have to say I feel my best when I am gluten and dairy (inc. casein and whey) free.

    What sorts of things are you packing for your kids’ lunches? Mine like beans but only so often. If I took their fish sticks and baked chicken away, they might revolt!

    And thank you for your kind words re: my Eleanor Roosevelt comparison!
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