Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Vegan Experiment

I apologize in advance to all the true, committed vegans who embrace a vegan lifestyle for moral and ethical reasons.

I'm afraid I'm a little more shallow.

Not horribly so—the reason for my short term conversion is health and diet (as opposed to, for example, trying to impress someone, which would be quite shallow).

However, I can't say I've embraced a vegan lifestyle fully, except for the diet modification. This is perhaps illustrated by the fact that on my first day (January 2), I seriously considered whether I should wear a leather jacket to work, without any realization of the irony and perhaps even inappropriateness of that choice. (In the end, by pure chance, I wore something else.)

So anyhow, I'm doing this vegan diet for the next 10 days in an effort to recuperate from all the cookies and candy and various bad-for-me things I ate over Christmas. Yes, to lose a few pounds, but also just sort of purify my system with fresh foods, fiber, and a change of pace.

I saw this vegan-inspired mini-plan in a magazine a few weeks before Christmas and thought it would be a good change of pace after the new year started. I'm only doing 10 days because then I'm going on a ski trip and it would be too complicated to maintain. Also, I have no real interest in becoming permanently vegan (or vegetarian at all). I love my meat and dairy too much. Salmon, chicken, turkey, eggs & egg whites, yoghurt, and nonfat lattes are my life!

But the diet plan was pretty simple and very much like my typical diet, only with beans and nuts instead of meat, fish, eggs. So adapting has not been too hard (for all of two days). The most challenging aspect was giving up dairy and my beloved lattes! I am not too interested in soy milk so I have come up with a different alternative. In another magazine, I read about Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla almond milk, with half the calories of skim mile (only 40 calories per 8 oz.). So I have been heating some up in the morning and carrying it in a thermos, then going to Starbucks to get shots of espresso and sugar free caramel syrup. I mix them up in the Starbucks cup and have my own almost-latte! It's pretty tasty—actually it tastes so rich and creamy I feel like I'm drinking whole milk. (I sure hope they're right about the calories.) I don't think I'd want it as a permanent substitute (it has less calcium than milk and it's just a pain to make my own lattes, really), but I think that almond milk may have a place in my diet even after I'm done being vegan. (Especially the chocolate unsweetened almond milk—5 calories more per cup but very, very nice in the faux latte!)

Last night I made a huge pot of vegetarian chili, which I expect I will be eating for days. I took this recipe I found on the internet and took it up a notch by adding extra onion, bell peppers (red and green), and a little more jalapeno and cumin. I did use part no-salt-added tomatoes and beans, because I don't like too much sodium in my food, but many people might find it a little flat that way. Also, I didn't bother with the vegetarian burger crumbles, and used a can of tiny black beluga lentils in its place. I ended up with so much chili that it almost overflowed my LeCrueset cookpot! Needless to say, I have been eating it for dinner every day since.

The best thing about this vegan thing, diet-wise, is that it creates an extra incentive to avoid cookies, chocolate, and other fattening treats (including various samples at the grocery store, like cheese, or salmon spread). Whenever I have the urge to grab a goody, I warn myself "it's not vegan!" Amazingly, it works. For some reason, it is more effective than just reminding myself that I'm avoiding sugar and such. Probably because I am able to rationalize the sugar. There is just no way to make products containing butter and eggs appropriately vegan! (There are vegan chocolates, but I'm not sticking with it long enough to seek them out. Except for the chocolate covered espresso beans that I bought at Whole Foods. The ingredients list seems to be appropriate—instead of confectioner's glaze they have something called "pure food glaze," at least I think that's what it is. I'm not asking too many questions there. My research on confectioner's glaze was distressing enough. And I have to have my chocolate espresso beans! I have a few every morning before I go running or to the Y.)

So I'm still waiting for the miraculous weight loss (all I ask is to shed the Christmas pounds plus a few extra). (And yes, I know it's only been a few days, but the Christmas pounds came on in a very short period, days really, and I don't think it's too much to ask that they go away equally quickly.) I don't really believe that this type of diet is really any better than my typical lean protein, good carb plan, but I think the the change of pace (and the strict vegan rules) is good to kick me out of the self-indulgent slump of the holidays. And beans (the main protein source here) are really very good for you, so this is a good opportunity to work them into my diet.

And now I think I've passed enough time to go have dinner (it's actually Saturday night, even though I started writing this on Thursday). So, vegetarian chili and salad it is! Yummo! (No really, I mean it. Although if I were not vegan I could top the chili with a little yoghurt or nonfat sour cream—I do love my dairy!)

But before I go, let me mention what I plan to have for my dessert/evening snack later on. Haagen Dazs has a new açai berry sorbet, which presumably has all the superfood properties that the açai berry is reputed to have. I'll have a scoop atop a bowl of thawed (previously frozen) mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, and boysenberries). I had this last night, and it was scrumptious!

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