ˈvēɡən/ (noun) is defined by Merriam Webster as “a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who often does not use animal products such as leather”.
Back in 2007, I happened upon a book at the Denver Public Library written by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman entitled, “SKINNY BITCH : A NO-NONSENSE, TOUGH-LOVE GUIDE FOR SAVVY GIRLS WHO WANT TO STOP EATING CRAP AND START LOOKING FABULOUS!” Intrigued by the catchy title and having an ardent desire to look fabulous, I picked it up. What was inside really opened my eyes.
I had a vague idea of what the word vegan meant but the details of a vegan lifestyle were sketchy for me at best. Barnouin and Freedman took me on a fast paced tutorial of life in the vegan lane.
They start out by giving all of the reasons you should become a vegan. Many of the reasons center around looking good and getting healthy. Other reasons are ethical. In any case, they inform, amuse and entertain in equal parts with wry observations and salty language (their description of diet soda is hilarious but sadly probably correct). Reading this book opened my eyes to a whole new way of eating. Up to this point I ate what I thought of as a “healthy diet” and avoided junk food as much as is humanly possible. I did, however, eat a lot of what Barnouin and Freedman refer to in their title as crap, that is, dairy products and meat.
To make a long story short, I became a vegan for two years. Although I am no longer a vegan, my eating habits have changed for the better because of this experience. It also gave me the experience of being on a “special diet”. Well-meaning and often misinformed people say the craziest things when you try to explain why you are eating or not eating certain things.
Here are some of the things you need to know about a vegan diet. It is plant based food 24/7, no meat, poultry, fish or dairy products, period. You can shop for a vegan diet in a regular grocery store. There are lots of places in Denver to dine out and still eat a vegan meal. There are some pitfalls. Mainly vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy and you need to make sure you are getting enough protein and all of your vitamins and minerals.
You are not eating meat, poultry or dairy products so what are you going to eat? Here’s the list:
- Vegetables-5 or more servings per day
- Fruits-4 or more servings per day
- Legumes-3 or more servings per day
- Grains-3 or more servings per day
- Nuts or seeds-1 or more servings per day
Eight years ago when I started my vegan quest finding recipes and locating ingredients was challenging. Today, a search of the Denver Public Library titled “vegan” yielded 286 entries. You can shop at King Sooper’s and Sunflower and locate traditionally vegan ingredients like seitan, tempeh, miso, tahini and nutritional yeast. The produce sections of both stores have grown exponentially in the last few years as well. Including 5 or more vegetable servings in your daily menu challenges you to try new things. In an upcoming blog I will talk more about finding recipes and preparing amazing dishes.
Watercourse Foods on 17th Avenue in Denver used to be one of the few places where vegans could dine out. They have been around since 1998 and are still going strong today. You can choose from mouthwatering entrees like Cauliflower Wings, Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Broccoli and Bacon Bits or a Street Taco Platter. The vegan dining out experience has expanded significantly in Denver in the recent past. Westword Magazine listed Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs and Sputnik as two non-vegan restaurants with outstanding vegan dishes. Native Foods, a fast casual vegan restaurant, is springing up all over Denver. They feature traditional (and not so traditional) comfort foods with a vegan twist. Everything is chef prepared daily. Chipotle has added organic, braised, tofu sofritas as a protein option on their menu. Suffice it to say, you have options if you want to eat out and still be a vegan.
You can be a vegan and consume a lot of empty calories. Yes, that’s right, just because it is vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for you. Oreos, potato chips and Twizzlers are all vegan. Vegan cookies and frozen desserts are often loaded with fat, salt and sugar. Ingredients in restaurant dishes can provide nutrients and fiber but they can also be loaded with calories, fat and sodium. For example, the Sofritas burrito bowl with guacamole from Chipotle contains 740 kcal, 40.5 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, and 1735 mg of sodium. You get the idea. In order to be well fed, vegans need to follow the same guidelines as the rest of us. Intake of refined carbs, saturated fat and sodium should be limited. Consuming too many empty calories, vegan or not, causes weight gain. Eating a wide variety of whole foods and limiting the amount of highly processed food consumed is key. All of this sounds familiar, right?
Vegan diets are trendy right now. You could even say vegan diets are a food fad like juicing. Far from being a fad, eating vegan can increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This is a good thing. It can also be a little more difficult to get all of the protein and micronutrients you require to be healthy. Stay tuned for my future blog on vegan cooking. I’ve got some dishes that will knock your socks off!