Going vegan – it can sound like a scary choice, even to those who have already chosen to follow a vegetarian diet. However, the short and long-term health benefits can be worth giving up old favorites such as scrambled eggs. Vegan cookbooks, such as the Get Healthy Go Vegan Cookbook written by Dr. Neal Barnard and Robyn Webb, make it easier than ever for those willing to take the plunge to assemble healthy, delicious vegan meals.
Dr. Barnard’s introduction to the Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook boldly begins, “This book holds the culinary secrets to lifelong health.” Dr. Barnard explains that there are undeniable health benefits to following a low-fat vegan diet: artery blockages melt away, reducing the risk of heart attacks, and cholesterol and blood pressure levels plummet.
The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook’s first fifty pages are a quick primer on vegan lifestyle and health benefits of vegan living. The cookbook contains 125 recipes for everything from breakfast foods to appetizers to vegan banquets fit for entertainments. This is a great book for those who aren’t big on tofu or other texturized vegetable protein—Dr. Barnard and Webb focus on vegetables and yummy carbs such as rice or polenta to round out meals. This is a great addition to any cook’s bookshelf, regardless of diet.
Dr. Barnard answered some of my questions for this week’s Meatless Monday post:
Foodista: How would you sum up the one or two most important things for would-be vegans to understand in a few words?
Dr. Barnard: This is a powerful approach, not only for weight loss, but for overall health. People who have really not met their goals with other diets should really try going vegan. It is a real eye-opener.
F: What advice would you give for someone interested in following a vegan diet, but unsure about taking the plunge? Is there a best way to acclimate to a vegan lifestyle?
Dr. B: Break it into two steps. First, take a week or two to try out recipes and convenience foods that happen to be vegan. Then, when you’re ready, give it a three-week test drive. At the end of that time, you’ll be sold.
F: Not only are the recipes in your cookbook vegan, but they are also extremely low-fat. Why do you recommend skipping olive oil (a relatively healthy fat) and replacing it with water or vegetable broth? What are your thoughts on the effects of carb-heavy diets versus diets that balance complex sugars with monounsaturated fat?
Dr. B: Olive oil is healthier than animal fat in that it is lower in saturated fat. That’s a good difference. But, olive oil is not providing much of anything the body actually needs. Like any fat or oil, it is loaded with calories.
Carbohydrate-rich foods—rice, beans, pasta, fruits, vegetables—are naturally lower in calories. Contrary to Atkins-era mythology, carbohydrates are not fattening. It’s the carb-grease mixtures—cookies, donuts, etc.—that are fattening. Fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs have only 4.
F: Calcium, iron, and vitamin B12 are notoriously difficult to get enough of in a vegetarian or vegan diet. How you recommend vegans best replace meat-y sources of these vitamins and minerals?
Dr. B: Calcium and iron are easy. You’ll find plenty of both in green leafy vegetables and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils). For vitamin B12, I recommend taking any common multiple vitamin or B12 supplement, although you will also find it in fortified cereals, fortified soymilk, and similar foods.
F: I found your thoughts on language (using vegan as an adjective instead of a noun: for example, someone follows a “vegan diet” instead of “being a vegan”) in the intro very interesting. Do you think that people who follow vegetarian and vegan diets encounter backlash? From where do you think negative feelings towards vegetarianism stem? What can we do to counter the backlash?
Dr. B: Meat-eaters are defensive, which is understandable considering what they know to be true about how that sort of diet affects animals, the environment, and their coronary arteries. And defensiveness is a natural stage that eventually gives way to healthier attitudes. But vegetarian and vegan diets are now widely viewed as healthful and intelligent choices, both by health professionals and the lay public.
F: Any further thoughts or advice for people aspiring to a vegan diet?
Dr. B: Jump in! You’ll be glad you did.
Readers: what do you think about going vegan? What's stopping you? If you follow a vegan diet, what about it do you love?
--Anneka Gerhardt, Foodista staffer