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Ven Vee Vent Vegan

What happened between June and September you ask? Well, I started a new job, hosted part of my family traveling from Florida, then I hosted my best friend from Florida, then I went to Florida for a week to help with my mom’s birthday. So… Florida happened to me. You guys can’t stay mad at me because if you’re reading this, then most likely you love me… if you don’t know me and you’re reading this, then you just have a lot of time on your hands…joking! 😉


I want to preface this post by stating that I, Letal Garber, registered dietitian nutritionist do NOT believe in restriction in the context of a mostly healthy lifestyle. I avoid fast food and candy because I like to consume good quality food that fuels my body, but I also don’t deny myself the occasional ice cream from Jeni’s. So, the decision to trial a vegan month was a big step for me. The same person who loves ALL cheese, farm fresh eggs from local GA farms, Kefir, and mouth watering burgers from Yeah Burger decided to go Vegan for one month. Why do it?

  1. Most of us can do just about anything slightly uncomfortable for 30 days if we really try. Unless its staying standing on one leg, that’s pretty hard to do for 30 days.

  2. Vegans only represent 2% of the US population. If anyone knows me, you know I do not like following the status quo.

  3. According to studies conducted by the National Institute of Health, vegan diets may decrease the risk of developing obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

So I set forth to omit all animal products including my beloved cheese and eggs for 30 days and this is what I discovered…

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The first few days where rough in that I constantly felt bloated and uncomfortable. Replacing all my sources of protein with legumes such as lentil, black beans and garbanzos for lunch and dinner shot my intake of fiber WAY up. Now, don’t get it twisted, fiber is great for your body. It helps aid with GI symptoms such as diverticulosis, inflammation, and chronic constipation. It also lowers LDL cholesterol by soaking it up like a sponge and dumping it where the sun don’t shine!

The recommended daily allowance of fiber is 25-30 grams, while the average American only consumes about 10 grams of fiber daily. But why? Well, because convenient food is often stripped from its fiber and plumped up with additives and preservatives. I eat my fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes regardless of a vegan diet, so I was perplexed when the bloating occurred. If I were to start this vegan thing again I would ease into it by slowly cutting out animal protein. An increase in fiber that wouldn’t give me indigestion would be an added 2-3 grams per day (and probably way less than what I was adding daily).

After the third day I felt an ease in my symptoms and actually lighter on my feet! My energy never waned throughout the day; I had enough fuel to get me through a busy workday followed by gym/yoga and house chores without skipping a beat.

In the morning I would wake up and fill up my French press with coffee to pair with my soy or almond milk later. Then, I’d take two brown rice cakes and smear them with almond butter + soy yogurt + blackberries/banana/or strawberries and sprinkle them with chia seeds. Lately I’ve been enjoying the view off of my balcony; I’ve been trying my hand at growing cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, and aloe- it’s been nice seeing their growth in the mornings while eating breakfast!

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Mikhail’s sister let me borrow a book with exclusively vegan recipes called “Thug Kitchen.” Who knew cooking could be so funny? When you’re told to “cut the goddamn onion,” it makes it more entertaining to cook. We threw her a little soiree for her birthday and had to make a few vegan dishes for us to not be sucking our thumbs while everyone munched on lamb sliders 😛 …I made chickpea and lentil burgers that we placed on grilled eggplant and they turned out pretty delicious! We also had lettuce wraps with Asian style split pea filling.

The book shared some insight on cooking with tofu and tempeh. A serving of protein is about 3 oz (think the size of your palm or deck of cards). For tofu, 3 oz has about 70 calories, 20 mg sodium, 3 g fat, 2 g carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein. Tempeh is more caloric at 173 calories per 3 oz portion. However, it has double the protein and less natural sodium (16 g protein, 8 mg sodium). Not only that, but it also has 9 grams of fiber! For something to be considered “high fiber” it should be at or above 5 grams per serving. The tofu turned out great after I patiently wrapped and unwrapped it with towels to strain it out, soaked it in sweet and sour garlic sauce overnight and baked it the following day. The tempeh got less tender love and care and I sautéed it with scallions, shredded carrots, and everything but the bagel seasoning but I was still happy with the result…

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Sunday mornings normally consist of staying in bed far too long and either strolling into Rising Sons for our usual: frittata and flatbread with sunny eggs, or fix our own brunch at home. Mikhail is in charge of making waffles (like Donkey in Shrek) and I whip up fluffy eggs with Manchego and any veggies we have on hand. No eggs on Sunday morning now?! What to do? How to live? Dramatics aside, I had a plan. I figured I would put together some vegan pancakes with 1/2 c. almond flour + 1/2 c. buckwheat flour + 1 tbsp. coconut oil + 1 tsp. maple extract + 1/2 tsp. vanilla powder + 1 c. almond milk. They were scrumptious!

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Our meal prep for the week was actual more simple now. We both love salads for lunch so that didn’t need to change. After calculating our macros, I figured out that with the addition of nuts/seeds, whole grains, and protein-packed tofu, tempeh, and soy foods, we could easily meet our protein requirements (typically only 0.8-1 g/kg for an average person). Pairing our salads with lentil, black beans, rice, or quinoa ensured we wouldn’t miss out on whole proteins as well as flavor and fiber.

We almost always topped our heaping bowls of greens with chia seeds, nutritional yeast, and hemp seeds. These became regular additions to my meals for one simple reason: they’re SUPER healthy and add a nutty, cheesy flavor to any dish.

Chia seeds are packed with 11 grams of fiber in just 2 tablespoons! That amount also has 4 grams of protein and is a good source of calcium, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and even zinc (important for metabolism). These tiny seeds are also filled with B vitamins. B Vitamins help with energy production in the body, hence why a deficiency could deplete our energy, mood, and memory.

Nutritional Yeast takes on a sharp cheesy taste, which packed so much flavor to otherwise mild dishes (such as cooked lentil). Guess what else? This magical powder is also quite healthy. It is considered a complete protein; it contains all 9 essential amino acids our body can’t synthesize. While unfortified varieties have moderate amounts of B vitamins, some products are fortified with more of these vitamins. It also contains trace minerals such as zinc, manganese and selenium, which are involved in growth, immunity, and gene regulation.

Hemp seeds contain a mildly nutty flavor and slight crunch. These versatile seeds can be salad, yogurt, or oatmeal toppers, to name a few. They are derived from the cannabis plant and used industrially but also as powerful sources of nutrition. Much like nutritional yeast, hemp seeds are a complete protein. Two tablespoons provide 11 grams of protein (vegans rejoice)! They also contain healthy fats (omega 3 & 6), which support our heart and brain health.


So, with these nutrient dense foods that contain complete protein, B vitamins, and healthy fats, I was able to navigate the thirty days sans animal products with ease. My body adjusted to the added fiber and I grew even more fond of lentil, garbanzo, black beans, nuts and nut butter.

I will admit, while the 30 days were not as difficult as I imagined, temptation still tugged at my sleeve a few times. When I replicated Ina Garten’s ricotta bruschetta on a crispy baguette for the birthday party, it took a lot of discipline to not sample one. Later in the month we were invited to his cousin’s house for dinner…it was rough. The spread featured kebobs, meat filled pastries, salad with feta… you get the idea. Mikhail and I figured this would be the case before we came over and had a bit to eat beforehand. For anyone out there who is trying to go vegan, this is a good strategy to avoid temptation driven by hunger. Even though the food looked tempting I was able to hold my own because I wasn’t starving. I have a huge sweet tooth so when his cousin’s mom (a talented baker) brought out some dessert made with dairy, I had to suppress my desire to have a slice. However, at the end of the night I wasn’t hungry or even thinking about the food I couldn’t eat. The truth is, the main thing I enjoy when I get together with others is their company… the food is just an added bonus.

August 1st arrived and I went back to buying ALL the cheese, farm fresh eggs from local GA farms, Kefir, and mouth watering burgers. I went home to Orlando for my mom’s birthday and happily stuffed my face with Russian staples such as pelmeni (meat dumplings), stuffed cabbage rolls, and plof (rice and meat dish).

I was proud of myself for sticking to my guns and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Now, I keep certain vegan-friendly foods in rotation such as nutritional yeast, tempeh, lentil, and hemp seeds. I no longer fear that I’ll be missing out on certain nutrients and I have a bigger appreciation for all the vegans out there. I CAN allow myself Jeni’s ice cream or the occasional burger. I CAN also have a vegan meal from time to time. This is what is sustainable to me, what makes me feel the best. I won’t ever impose MY specific diet on any of my clients or friends because I think your diet is just as personal as your religious beliefs. One thing I’ll never do is judge someone for what they choose to eat or eliminate from their diet.

Do what makes you happy.

Until next time…

Love,

Letal

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