Going Vegan: Trimming My Waistline, Trimming My Budget, Expanding My Horizons

Categories: Vegetarian

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I do not subscribe to this brand of veganism; I merely enjoy plants.
For the past two weeks, in an attempt to experiment with new ingredients and foods, I've been eating vegan when I haven't been working. Admittedly, I "work" -- that is, eat -- for about half of my meals. But the other half have been [almost] entirely vegan. And it's been a fulfilling challenge.

As the Boston Globe reported today, a growing number of people are choosing to go vegan for reasons other than a concern for animal welfare. For some, it's about reducing the impact that the meat industry has on the environment. For others, like me, it's about reducing cholesterol and saturated fats in your diet and learning to enjoy the broad spectrum of alternate protein sources in the world.

All-vegetable meals at upscale restaurants and pop-up dinners are even all the rage these days, and not necessarily because of any larger health or ethical trends. In advance of his own recent vegetable dinners in August, Houston chef Justin Yu wrote on his blog recently: "I'm not trying to play to any favors in dietary restrictions or or make any sort of political stance. I'm not cooking vegetarian because of the fact that it's vegetarian, but because I just really, really enjoy cooking vegetables."

But vegan doesn't just mean emphasizing vegetables and doing away with meat; that's vegetarianism, and the two definitions cannot be used interchangeably. Going vegan eliminates every single animal byproduct from your diet, including milk, cheese, eggs, butter and even honey.

This, of course, leads to some interesting discoveries in the kitchen.

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Vegan cuisine is great if you like to eat a lot (like me); you can have all the fruits and vegetables you could ever dream of wanting.
Fitsugar has a list of the must-have foods you should buy if you're attempting to experiment with veganism, as well as a list of excellent recipes for creating meals with complete proteins. Getting enough protein is one of the primary concerns of a vegan diet, although it's simple to accomplish with the smallest amount of planning.

The majority of my protein in my vegan meals has come from quinoa and steel-cut oats. Everyone finds their favorites that they turn to in certain diets; quinoa and steel-cut oats are mine.

A bowl of steel-cut oats for breakfast every morning has eight grams of protein as well as plenty of iron, another nutrient that's often lacking in vegan diets. Topped with maple syrup (real maple syrup, mind; not maple-flavored sugar water) and fresh berries, it's a breakfast that's also full of Vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, manganese and zinc. The oats take a little bit longer to cook, but have an addictively nutty, crunchy flavor and texture that beats the hell out of a cold bowl of Special K.

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Photo by Kim Love
Quinoa is my other great weapon: it's got the same nutty flavor as steel-cut oats, but with the fluffy texture of couscous. It also cooks up quickly, making for a fast meal after a long day at work. Just like rice, it's incredibly versatile and can be topped with nearly anything. Unlike rice, however, quinoa is actually a grass -- not a grain -- and is a complete protein, offering all nine essential amino acids.

I like to top my quinoa with roasted vegetables, another easy-prep meal that provides additional protein and fiber on top of the 24 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber in a cup of quinoa. Roasted carrots, parsnips, potatoes and onions make a hearty evening meal, while roasted beets with a drizzle of olive oil and some toasted hazelnuts make a bright and tasty lunch. Quinoa also absorbs spices easily, so I'll often add things like cardamom and nutmeg to complement the beets, or sage and thyme to complement the roasted carrots and other root vegetables.

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Photo by chocolate-covered katie
Baking isn't completely out, either, as I found out when I made a simple chocolate silk pie with vegan chocolate and silken tofu. It was billed as the "ultimate chocolate fudge pie" (seen above) by the blogger who created it, and it wasn't an exaggeration. Pair it with the easiest vegan pie crust recipe around and you have a dessert that both tastes good (no, seriously; I'm a food critic and I wouldn't lie to you) and is legitimately good for you. As an added bonus, you get even more protein -- complete protein, too -- from that silken tofu.

Buying ingredients to bake a vegan chocolate pie was costly, however, and not something that I'd do on a regular basis. Sticking to a vegan diet doesn't have to be expensive, though, and ideally shouldn't be. After all, it's meat that's generally the most expensive item on your grocery bill, especially as the drought is expected to drive up the cost of beef soon. Eating vegan can be a way to trim your budget as well as your waistline...

As an example, the quinoa that I buy is roughly $5 a box and contains seven servings, for a cost of 71 cents a serving. The steel-cut oats I buy are $3 a bag and contain 15 servings, for an even lower cost of 20 cents a serving. Vegetables (even frozen ones) are similarly inexpensive, as are fruits. And buying fresh or frozen instead of canned keeps the cost down and the nutrients up.

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22 comments
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Claudiu L.
Claudiu L.

I have to drink 8 or 10 glasses of water per day?Hmm..That got me thinking!I only drink two or three glasses a day because I am too busy at work.What could happend if I don't drink the recommended quantity?Great article.I was very interesed about the vegan  piramid.

Erin Hicks Miller
Erin Hicks Miller

I believe the vegan thing is working for you - you were radiant on Sunday night!

Ellen Jaffe Jones
Ellen Jaffe Jones

Hope you'll check out my popular book, "Eat Vegan on $4 a Day," if you haven't already. Former Emmy-winning TV investigative reporter and financial consultant crunched the numbers to show the cost of each recipe and what it really costs to be sick. My mom, aunt and both sisters got breast cancer and many more diseases. I place in 5Ks for my age group, did my first marathon last year (5th oldest female to finish Palm Beaches Marathon), and am a personal trainer and high school cross country running coach. Did I get all the good genes? Somebody study me please? How is it that I'm beating all these "genes?" Ooops...no money in broccoli. ;)

Bruce R
Bruce R

Why would you lose weight by eating vegan?  You can eat a healthy vegan diet, or an unhealthy vegan diet.  Or a healthy diet that includes meat, or an unhealthy diet that includes meat.

tim
tim

Vegans get pissed off at people that go halfway, and use the term vegan. 

Scott218
Scott218

I am contemplating going vegan, but in order to avoid the politics that usually go with it, I will pour a few quarts of oil down the sewer each week, and will club a seal. BTW, how do you know if someone's a vegan? Don't worry, they'll be sure to tell you. a lot.

Megan
Megan

Oooh, just to piss people off more, make sure the oil you pour down the sewer is from the Canadian oil sands. 

TQro
TQro

I don't know if it's vegan or vegetarian, but I heart the Spicy Mexican at Moon Tower Inn.  Truly spicy and red with chile powder in the dog, but I add jalapeno anyway.   I'm by no means vegan or vegetarian, but I eat vegetarian about 90% of the time.  I just lovez it that way.

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

I really think it's a sign from above - The fact that as I read this recent entry an ad for Brisket House stares at me seductively in the side bar right. The little sausages whispering to me - Terry, Do not succumb to the Dark Side. Yes, Master....TA

Houston Patriot
Houston Patriot

As a beaner, I have tried all of these diets, but I still have that Beaner pancake looking but.

Kagan32
Kagan32

I'm down, so long as alcohol is vegan. And tobacco. 

Ted Duchesne
Ted Duchesne

 Alcohol can be tricky.  Some beers and wines use animal by products as a fining agent that would technically not make them vegan.

sunny bogden
sunny bogden

Awesome insights.  I think many people have tried vegetarianism at some point in time but going vegan is quite a challenge.  I think it's an interesting exercise in meal planning to create some self imposed restrictions that force you to consider new foods and techniques.  People set all sort of lifestyle goals (ie running a marathon, traveling, etc) so why not set one for eating as well that isn't simply about cutting calories or watching your fat intake? I think the most salient point you make is to stop focusing on meat replacements because in my experience that is where a person is more likely to get disappointed/discouraged (although there are some vegetarian restaurants that do wonders with soy products).  I hope that this article from an avowed omnivore will encourage people to try vegetables as a main dish.

"Go eat a hamburger and choke on a cow d*ck" ~Shiloh

Guest
Guest

I tried that several years gone, but received a visit from Prudence Standish Simon (yes, clearly a Mayflower descendent), who noted a box of Froot Loops smack in the center of my vegan pantry.  "I'll give you three months", Prudence accurately declared.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

It's worth mentioning, too, that evolutionarily speaking, humans are as smart and (therefore) dominant as we are because of the animal proteins we consumed as we evolved: http://www.npr.org/templates/s... As an example, scientists now believe that early human brain growth was spurred by consuming mass quantities of omega-3 fatty acids in shellfish like oysters: http://www.life-enhancement.co...

On the other hand, the extent to which we have industrialized our meat processing is scary these days. And now that humans have triumphed over those poor schmucks, the H. neanderthalensis, there's not nearly as much reason to eat as much meat as we do. See this great Times piece from Mark Bittman for a broader perspective: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01...

Margin Fades
Margin Fades

One of the reasons (other than my palate) why I won't give up fish.  

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

I'm glad you're writing about this--I've been wondering how it's going for you!

My best friend became vegetarian years ago for health reasons. When I lived in AK I pared down my diet dramatically while trying to lose weight, and eating vegetarian 2-4 nights a week and vegan once a week help me shed almost 30 lbs. That said, I don't feel well after long periods without animal protein. Also, in Alaska, it cost a LOT more to be a vegetarian in the winter than a meat-eater, but that's an extreme example--veggies are a lot cheaper in the L48.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I honestly don't know how much weight I've lost, only that my clothes are fitting better. And although I feel better overall, that's probably more to do with the infusion of extra fiber and veggies in my diet than a specific lack of meat or other animal products.

Ray
Ray

This is awesome. i went vegan about a month ago for health reasons and I am so happy to see all of the options available in Houston. Now seeing this in the Houston Press makes me believe I made the right choice. I hope the vegan trend starts to become a way of life for all Houstonians.

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

Say it ain't so, Katharine.  Have you seen the South Park episode when the film festival comes to town, which subsequently brings all the vegans and vegetarians to town, and the disaster that follows?  Tread lightly.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Ha! Yes, I have seen that episode. And I'm not one to foist my personal dining preferences on others; to each their own. I'm just interested in providing information about all the different options out there...

Also, I will always love meat. And butter. And yogurt. And especially cheese. Always cheese.

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