Monthly Archives: January 2013

Girls Gone Vegan!


Before I started veganism, I had come up with a lot of sarcastic, really hilarious comments that would be included in this final post.  Unfortunately, I can’t use any of them because I’ve actually really enjoyed being a vegan. It’s weird for me to even re-read that and believe that it’s me thinking, saying, writing those words.

“Vegan” was always a dirty word to me.  I admit it, I judged vegans.  (It’s always nice to think of ourselves as wholesome, nonjudgmental people who accept everyone for exactly who they are, but that’s a bunch of B.S.  Everyone has anywhere between 1 and 206 judgmental bones in their body.)  I thought of vegans as extremists who drive Subarus, smell like patchouli, wear Birkenstocks, pay annual dues to PETA, maybe spend their weekends breaking into their local university’s animal care facility to “free” all of the experimental research animals, listen to Ravi Shankar, and don’t laugh at Portlandia because they don’t realize that it’s, like, about them.  (By the way, I only embody a few of those characteristics, all of which started before my vegan adventure.  I’ll let you guess which ones.)  It’s weird that I associated all of those characteristics with veganism, because I know a few vegans, and they’re totally normal people.  Let’s blame it on the media.

Anyways, I stand corrected. I admit that I may have been a total a-hole about the whole vegan thing.   So, to all of you vegans who didn’t know I was at least sort of judging you, I’m sorry for sort of judging you.  You are much wiser than I.

Here are some of my observations from the last month:

I feel extremely healthy.  Everything feels good. I don’t really know how to describe it. I don’t feel lethargic. I’m motivated. My skin has never looked better. All good things.

I feel more positive.  I’m sure this has very little to do with the fact that I’m not eating animal products, but rather that I’ve made a big life change that I was initially very negative about, but it ended up being a great change.  I’ve also noticed that the necessity to plan my food intake has resulted in hyper-planning of other parts of my life, and I feel more motivated and proactive about things.

Cooking takes up a lot more of my time than it did before.  This may not be something that would last if I were to take on veganism completely, as I’d be more willing to spread out all of the interesting recipes I’d discover over a greater time span instead of cramming everything into one month.  I didn’t really mind spending more time en la cocina, though, because I’ve learned how to use new foods.  Also, I did it to myself, so I only have myself to blame.


There were a couple of challenges throughout the month.

1)    Weddings: I went to a wedding where everything they served had some kind of animal product associated with it. The salad had feta. The dinner was meat lasagna and chicken manicotti.  I suppose I could have eaten the simple side of sautéed summer squash and zucchini (two vegetables that I only really like when they’ve been manipulated so much that they don’t even really taste like their former selves), but I was super hungry so I just ate it all, unapologetically and without comment.  But, I have to ask myself, what would a real vegan do (WWRVD)?  Would you plan in advance and eat before the wedding? Would you bring nuts and dried fruit in your handbag? Would you make a scene? I did none of the above.  However, my stomach hurt the next day, maybe because it hadn’t had to process meat for awhile, or maybe it’s because I’m very mildly lactose intolerant, which I normally don’t notice because I eat dairy regularly in small quantities, making it a non-issue.

2)    Eating Out: I started to get the hang of this over time, but eating out remained more of a chore than something fun for me.  Most of the time, I was successful at veganism.  One time I went vegetarian and allowed cheese on my black bean burger because it would have been pretty blah without it.  I got bored being condemned to the salad portion of the menu.  Another time, I was at a happy hour with a couple of friends, and I put back a couple of Old Fashions.  Get good bourbon in me, and for some reason I want to eat meat. So I did. I ate a delicious machaca beef taco and then my stomach hurt the next day.  WWRVD? Probably not eat a beef taco.

Here are a couple examples of some excellent vegan options I had here in Tucson:


Lentil Fetoosh Salad (Pita Jungle on Broadway, west of Craycroft).  Pita Jungle is awesome because the food is extremely flavorful and almost every item is healthy. You can eat vegan and not even mean to do it.  My mom also got the Grilled Vegetable Salad (below), which is equally delicious and vegan, even though she is certainly not a vegan.


Betabel Sandwich (Time Market on University, just east of 4th Ave).  Go here for great, gourmet sandwiches and pizza.  This is a red and yellow beet sandwich with sprouts and an orange-pistachio relish.  It’s amazing how all of those flavors go so well together to make something so tasty.


What I have learned from this month is that I could very easily and happily be a vegan about 90-95% of the time, but I would just never call myself a vegan.  There are a couple meals that I love that include meat, and I just don’t see myself ever giving them up because I’m a hedonist.  By not labeling myself a vegan, I would never have the guilt associated with eating animal products.  So, I would eat them occasionally when I wanted to, which isn’t that often, and then eat healthfully, and animal free the rest of the time. Easy as pie (made with vegan butter crust).

If you are interested in veganism, other people’s attempts at veganism, or if you just like documentaries, a great one is Vegucated (available instantly on Netflix).  It’s a short doc that follows 3 meat-eating New Yorkers on a 6-week vegan journey.  It’s interesting, entertaining, and re-opened my eyes about issues with meat production.  Good flick.

The Final Stats




Weight (lbs)




BMI (kg/m2)




Body Fat (%)




WC (in)




HC (in)



W:H Ratio




Blood Pressure (mmHg)




Total kcal




Protein (%)




CHO (%)




Fiber (g)

at least 25



Fat (%)




Sat Fat (%)




Sodium (mg)




Potassium (mg)




Fruits/Veg (svgs)




Cost of Groceries


My hip circumference went down, which I noticed based on how my pants were fitting.  I’d like to get this measurement back up to what it was before (here comes a month of squats!).  I also haven’t really been running or working out a ton this month (other than power yoga), which may explain the drop in my HC due to a reduction in muscle tone.

It looks like my blood pressure significantly decreased, but I’m not sure I buy that.  BP is regulated on a beat-by-beat basis, so a single measurement doesn’t always tell you a whole lot. It’s better to measure 24-hour BP to get a more accurate reading.  This month’s reading is more reflective of my usual BP.  The blood pressure cuff was acting up last month, and I had to take four readings before I even got anything that registered/made sense.

I was totally surprised at how much fat I ate, though when I really think about it, I’m not worried because pretty much the only saturated fats came from peanut butter, and the rest was mono- and polyunsaturated (and high in omega-3 and not omega-6’s) from nuts, avocadoes, and olive oil.  And it wasn’t like this all the time – maybe 30% of the time.  Otherwise, it was down between 30-40%, which is still high, but when it’s healthy fats, the diet isn’t hypercaloric, and the diet is rich in antioxidants, it’s not too worrisome.  I was eating so many vegetables and fruits (8-12 servings a day! what’s up!), which are low in calories, so I guess it’s not completely shocking that I was eating so much fat.  If you are trying to lose weight, though, this is something to watch.

I feel like I should make a comment about the cost of my groceries, but admittedly, I have no idea what a “normal” grocery budget looks like. I don’t skimp on the quality of my groceries, which is possible when you’re cooking for one.  $200 seems like a lot, but maybe it’s not.  I also bought a lot of things that definitely did not get used up in one month (miso, nutritional yeast, nuts, quinoa… pretty much everything other than fresh produce and peanut butter), so that’s something to take into consideration.

Final Thoughts

I have learned that veganism isn’t some kind of crazy witchcraft, and it’s really not that extreme.  Don’t knock it until you try it! I would definitely recommend it to anyone considering making a healthy modification.  Remember that you don’t have to dive 100% in to any health change to reap at least some benefit.  If you’d like to rely less on animal products and increase your fruit/veggie intake, try some vegan recipes and see what you like. Maybe go vegan a few days a week. I can almost guarantee that you will feel healthier, both physically and mentally.  But it is time for me to say farewell to my vegan lifestyle, and start eating like our Paleolithic ancestors (Not that we even know exactly what they ate. More on that later.)!


The Delicious Dish


It’s recipe time! I’ve picked out some of my favorite recipes from the last few weeks of veganism.
You’ll notice that I use almost no “fake meat” products, which is by design.  My diet consisted of mostly unprocessed foods prior to my vegan adventure, so I didn’t want to introduce many of those in to my diet.  I’ve tried a few meatless products before, and for the most part, I don’t like them.  They don’t really mimic the texture of meat very well, and a lot of them are high in sodium.
Check out this article if you’d like some tips from the pros on incorporating more vegan products/recipes into your cooking repertoire.

Disclaimer: There are a few “recipes” that I have developed on my own.  I apologize in advance because I don’t measure anything when I’m not following a recipe (actually I don’t measure much even when I do follow a recipe).  So if you try something that you think you would normally like and find it repulsive, it could be because my estimations of ingredient amounts are off.  Or it could mean that you don’t know what good food tastes like.  Hard to say.


Citrus Poppy Seed Salad – I thought about using a substitute for the coconut oil because I didn’t have any, but decided to bite the bullet and purchase some.  Totally worth it.  The flavor of the coconut oil is so surprising when combined with the citrus, and it’s delicious.  I used ruby red grapefruit, blood oranges, and navel oranges in my salad.

Barbecued Blackeyed Peas– Ok, so these take a lot of time to make, but it’s mostly hands off time, so you can do plenty of other things while these are soaking/boiling/baking.  I also added a little brown sugar at the end, and it resulted in a sweet, spicy side dish.

Fruit Salad w/honey lime dressing– This is one of my favorite ways to add some flavor to a boring fruit salad.
2 cups of chopped fruits (You can really use anything, but I used mango, blueberries, and strawberries)
2 T canola oil
2 T honey
2 T lime juice
1 T roughly chopped basil/mint

Whisk together all of the liquid ingredients in a small bowl and mix in the basil/mint.  Pour over the fruit, and enjoy!


Smokey Spicy Pumpkin Almond Soup– I know this link says butternut squash, but I didn’t feel like roasting and pureeing all that squash, so I used canned pumpkin instead.  I couldn’t find dried chipotle peppers, so I used canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  Oh my spicy! I substituted coconut milk for heavy whipping cream, and because the soup was so spicy, I just poured in a whole 14 oz can (instead of 1 cup) to calm it down some.  I also added a little honey to sweeten it up.  I ate this first with some cranberry walnut bread (from Sprouts) and then ate leftovers with a black bean and quinoa stuffed bell pepper.

Aztec Soup – My friend Jenn gave me this recipe, and I can’t get over how easy it was to make (only took about 30 minutes) and how tasty it was. The toasted nuts, avocado, and tortilla chips add so much flavor and texture. I also added in a can of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed) to get some more protein, and a couple teaspoons each of cumin, coriander, and oregano.
½ c pine nuts
½ c walnuts
2 TBS butter (or oil or vegan butter)
1 small onion-chopped
1 minced garlic clove
6 cups vegetable broth (I use a couple veggie buillon cubes)
2 cups diced butternut squash
1 package of frozen corn (10 oz.) or 1 can
1 avocado, cubed
½ c. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Blue corn tortilla chips

Saute the pine nuts and walnuts in 1 TBS of the butter until golden, then set aside in a bowl

Saute the onion and garlic in the other TBS butter, then add the broth, squash and corn and boil until the squash is soft

Serve in bowl and add in avocado, nuts, pepitas, and crushed tortilla chips



Kale Avocado Wraps w/Spicy Miso Dipped Tempeh – There may be some words in there that you don’t recognize.  Miso is soy fermented with a fungus to make a paste that is common in Japanese cuisine.  It’s tangy and tasty.  Tempeh is similar in that it is the product of fermentation of soybeans, but it isn’t tangy, and it makes a great, all natural meat substitute.  All in all, this dish provides lots of probiotics from the fermented foods, which I’m all about, since I’m not getting my daily dose of probiotics from yogurt.  I ate this yummy wrap with the fruit salad mentioned above and sweet potato fries.

Beany, Avocado, Cilantro Salad Surprise – This is one of my creations, which you could probably guess based on the stupid name I gave it. This salad could be eaten as a side or as a main dish, depending on how hungry you are.  The recipe below yields about 4 cups of protein-packed salad.

½ can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
½ can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 avocado, cubed
½ cucumber, diced in large chunks
½ red bell pepper, diced in large chunks
~1 cup spinach, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
-Mix all that stuff together

½ cup packed cilantro
2 T lime juice
2 T orange juice
3 T olive oil
1 tsp agave nectar
salt and pepper to taste
-Blend all the dressing ingredients together (I used a Magic Bullet). Pour over salad and mix. Eat up!


Indonesian Cabbage Salad (another recipe from Jenn) – Holy crap. I can’t get over how amazing this salad is.  It might be one of the best salads I’ve ever had. I love it. I love it so much.  Plus, it’s very aesthetically pleasing.  However, like the fool that I am, I forgot to buy bok choi, so I just added more carrots and bell pepper.  Jicama might also be a nice addition. As you can see, I also ate this with vegetarian pot stickers (from Sprouts).
Mix together the following:  1/2 head of purple cabbage shredded or cut thin, 4 stalks of bok choi (sliced thin), 1 carrot cut thin, 1 red bell pepper cut in thin strips, ½ c. fine chop cilantro, ½ c. raw sunflower seeds.
Add this curry sauce:
½ c. almond or peanut butter
½ c. water
¼ c. rice vinegar
2 TBS miso
1 TBS cilantro
2 TBS maple syrup or honey
1-2 tsp red or green curry paste
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp ground ginger
-Blend all of the above well and pour over veggies.


Red Quinoa Broccoli Salad w/Almond Honey Vinaigrette This wasn’t a within-the-last-month discovery for me, but it is my favorite tofu dish, so it’s worth sharing. If you don’t have red quinoa, don’t fret! You can use normal quinoa (or rice)- it just won’t be as pretty. I also add dried cranberries/cherries to give it a little more flavor, texture, and color.

Vegan Alfredo – I know what you’re thinking. Alfredo is pretty much the antithesis of veganism. You are correct.  And while this doesn’t taste exactly like alfredo, it is surprisingly close, which was shocking given the ingredients from which it is comprised.  As an aside, the picture in this link has to be a lie.  All of the ingredients are brown (cashews, soy sauce, mustard, nutritional yeast flakes, etc).  I’m no artist, but from what I know, you can’t mix a bunch of brown colored things and get an off-white result.  So no, it doesn’t look like alfredo, but damn it, it tastes good.  I ate mine over whole wheat fusilli pasta with steamed broccoli. Delish.

Alright, you only get one treat because I’m tired of writing this post.

Honey-Almond Popcorn– I made my popcorn using actual popping corn, and not from microwaveable popcorn.  It’s cheap (buy it in the bulk section), and it tastes better and is healthier than microwaveable popcorn. But if you only have the in-the-bag stuff, go ahead and pop it, skip the first portion of the recipe, and join back in for Part 2.

Part 1:
In a heavy bottom pot (I use my pasta pot), heat 3 T of canola oil (or any other oil with a high smoking point, NOT olive oil) over medium-high heat.  If you want your popcorn salted, this is the time to add in the salt, as it will coat all of the popcorn as it pops.
Add in a couple of kernels of popping corn, cover the pot, and wait for the kernels to pop.  This is how you know the oil is hot enough.
Remove the pot from heat and add in 1/3 cup of corn kernels (this will yield ~8 cups of popcorn) and count to 30.  This step ensures that all the kernels and oil are at the same temperature.
Put the pot back on the heat, cover, leaving lid slightly ajar (this allows moisture to escape and keeps your popcorn crunchy instead of soggy). Let the popping commence.  Once you’ve got a popping frenzy going, shake the pot occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom and burns.
When popping is reduced to ~3 seconds between pops, remove from heat.

Part 2:
Heat 1/3 cup of honey over medium heat until it boils. Remove from heat.
Add a heaping spoonful of almond/peanut butter to the honey and stir until well mixed.
Pour over your popcorn, mix thoroughly, and dive in!

Hope this gives you some ideas for vegan-friendly dishes! I also hope that this shows that eating vegan isn’t boring or restrictive.  My diet is incredibly varied, and I’m never ever bored. Please leave a comment if anything isn’t clear or if you have questions!

Weight Loss of the Unintended, Vegan-Induced Variety



Over the last few years of studying obesity and chronic disease development/prevention, I’ve learned so many ways to lose/maintain a healthy weight.  Many of these tools include portion control.  By that, I mean limiting the size of the portions of foods that are calorically dense and high in fats and sugars (but not eliminating them as deprivation is the shortest route to binging).  I also eat larger portions of nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, non/lowfat yogurt and cheese, etc.  It may sound neurotic or obsessive, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even think about it anymore – it’s just how I eat.  Over the last 3.5 years of graduate school, I’ve incorporated all these habits into my life and slowly lost about 10 pounds.

When I started this experiment, I was at my lowest adult body weight, and I was happy with that weight.  But I made the mistake of simply taking the way I was eating and swapping out animal products with more legumes, fruits, and vegetables.  In doing so, I probably reduced my daily intake by at least 300-400 kcals, if not more.

The first few days, I wasn’t able to stay full for long.  I found that I was eating a larger volume of food than I ever have. I was eating so many fruits, veggies, and beans, and I was essentially eating all day.  I got on the scale on Thursday, and I had lost 3 pounds since I weighed myself two weeks prior (I may have lost some weight in those few days between weighing myself and starting veganism, but there’s no way of knowing).  What I do know is that I freaked out because my intention is not to lose weight, and I realized my approach has been off.  I talked to my friend Tracy, a registered dietitian, and she gave me some pointers on how to get in more calories. Some tips from the RD herself:

  • Starch it up.  Eat more pasta, rice (whole grains, of course), potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, fruit juice, dried fruits, etc.  I need to max out my glycogen stores so that I can start depositing fat.
    Physiology lesson: glycogen is your body’s storage form of glucose.  Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles, and when your body needs energy, it will break down glycogen into glucose to use for energy.  Your body can only store a finite amount of glycogen though, and when that volume is reached, it will start converting glucose into fat.
  • Go nuts.  I was eating more nut butters, but I got bored with that pretty quickly since I already eat them about once a day.  I’ve started eating more dried fruit and nut mixes.  I eat about a cup a day (normal serving size is ¼ cup), which gives me lots of calories from fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and also supplies healthy phytonutrients.  This has helped me stay full way longer.
  • A vegan milkshake a day helps keep the skinnies away.  Tracy also recommended that I drink a shake at night to help me sock in calories.  There are some soy ice creams out there.  Some people like them — I think they taste like play-doh. I do like coconut “ice cream,” though, so I’ve been making a shake with chocolate coconut ice cream (I get mine from Trader Joe’s), some almond milk, peanut butter, and banana slices. It is awfully tasty.
    Metabolism Lesson: Nutritional scientists used to think that eating late at night wouldn’t promote weight gain as long as calorie intake matched calorie output over the long term, and anything that said otherwise was a myth.  There is now emerging evidence suggesting that activity of hormones and enzymes involved in metabolism and the deposition of fat changes with circadian rhythms.  So, in fact, eating calorically dense foods late at night may cause your body to store said calories as fat.  The verdict is still out as most of the published studies have only been in animal models, but there are studies currently being conducted in humans, so we’ll have to see what those results say.  Given the information out there now, though, my recommendation would be to cool it on the Ben & Jerry’s late at night if you are trying to lose weight.

If it’s not obvious, I don’t incorporate EVERY one of Tracy’s tips every day, because that could lead to too much weight gain.  I choose a few a day, and that helps to keep my diet varied and interesting.  Hopefully I’ll get my intake figured out in the next few days.  Of course, I could put on weight in really unhealthy ways by eating chips, fries, candy, and soda, but that’s not my approach to life.  There are healthy ways to gain weight, much like there are (un)healthy ways to lose weight.

If you are trying to lose weight and get healthier, try small changes like making all of your snacks vegan.  Eat fresh fruits, veggies and hummus, or ¼ cup serving of mixed nuts. Get creative with your options, and you’ll likely feel healthier for introducing so many nutrient-dense foods into your diet.

So far, being a vegan has been surprisingly fun.  I only really miss animal products with regard to the flavor they provide.  A couple of times I’ve cooked a meal and thought to myself, “A little bit of bacon/feta/parmesan would go really well with this.”  I’m trying to use more unique spices and herbs to enhance the flavor profile of my foods so that animal products are just a distant memory.  I’m also learning about cooking with new (to me) products like tempeh, nutritional yeast, and how to make “cream” sauces out of cashews. I’ll post some good recipes here soon, and you can give veganism a whirl as well!

Being a Vegan is Hard


Some Background

Veganism is a diet style in which absolutely no animal products are consumed.  That means no meat, dairy, eggs, or any products that contain any of those ingredients.  Many people follow vegan diets for moral, cultural, or health reasons, or, if you’re like me, for curiosity’s sake.  When done right, veganism is a very healthy style of eating and results in lots of positive health outcomes.

Those who have talked to me about it know that I’m not a huge fan of veganism.  When I think about it, though, it’s not veganism that I’m really against – it’s vegans who don’t know what they’re doing.  There are a lot of really great nutrients in animal products,  you don’t necessarily need to eat meat to get them, and there are a lot of free range/organic/local products out there if animal cruelty is your concern.  Because of that, I’ve always thought lacto-ovo-vegetarianism was a more sustainable and natural lifestyle choice.  Potential deficiencies in a vegan diet include:

  • Vitamin B12: Required for proper functioning of the brain/nervous system, red blood cell formation, and DNA synthesis.  Deficiencies can result in anemia, confusion, fatigue, and depression.  The main non-animal B12 source is spirulina (an algae), though this form of B12 is overall biologically inactive.
  • Calcium: Calcium is required for vascular contraction/dilation, conduction of nerve impulses, muscular contraction, and intracellular signaling cascades, while the bones act as the body’s reservoir for calcium.  When dietary calcium intake is low, the body will pull calcium from the bones (thus weakening them) in order to maintain normal levels in the blood so that all those other things I mentioned can happen.  Dairy is a great source of calcium, but certainly not the only one.  Green leafy vegetables contain calcium, and lots of foods are fortified with calcium like soy and almond milks, orange juice, tofu, etc.
  • Iron: Iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, the delivery of oxygen to tissue, and for proper function of many enzymes.  Dietary iron comes in the form of heme (think: hemoglobin) and non-heme iron.  Heme iron is much more bioavailable and is present in meat, whereas non-heme iron is not very bioavailable and sources include fortified cereals, beans, and spinach.

Overall, these deficiencies can be avoided by taking a multivitamin or nutrient-specific supplements.  Plus, our food supply is so heavily fortified that you can readily get these nutrients without eating their natural sources.  You just have to be especially cognizant of what you’re eating and what nutrients those foods do and do not provide.

The First Few Days

Technically, I was supposed to start my month-long adventure of veganism on January 1, 2013.  That didn’t happen.  I was in CO for the first few days of 2013, and I spent NYE in Vail seeing Thievery Corporation (awesome live show), drinking a lot of whiskey, and being awake long after I should have gone to sleep.  Needless to say, I wasn’t much in the mood for eating a bunch of vegetables and legumes and no cheese on Jan 1st.  Instead, I had a fried chicken wrap (which later gave me food poisoning) for lunch and chorizo tacos for dinner.  The food poisoning was probably my body’s way of telling me I suck for not following through with my vegan plan and/or I have bad karma.

I spent January 2nd recovering from said food poisoning, so I was sort of a vegan that day, but mostly because I just didn’t eat much.   I have since been successful in pursuits of veganism, though it has not been without challenges, which I expect will continue for the next month.

Challenge 1: Eating out.  There are maybe 2 vegan options on a given menu, and a few more vegetarian options that can be veganized if you hold the cheese.  This makes eating out at an average restaurant fairly monotonous.

Challenge 2: Chocolate.  There is milk in most chocolate products (duh: milk chocolate).  It’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it, and it makes me sad.

Challenge 3: Airports.  There are close to no vegetarian/vegan options in an airport.  What I had for dinner at the airport Friday night was a “garden salad” (iceberg lettuce salad-in-a-bag mix) with balsamic vinaigrette and chips and guacamole.  It sucked.

Now that I’m back home, I think the veganism will take a turn for the better since I can cook for myself.  I will say that making my weekly menu took a lot more planning, and I have started reading more food labels than I ever did before (and I did it a lot).  I’m not really worried about not eating meat since I didn’t eat it much before anyways.  But cheese and yogurt make me happy, and ice cream and frozen yogurt make me even happier, so challenges certainly loom in the not-so-far-off distance.