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New 'flexible' vegan/vegetarian diet is good for the body, inside and out

Jan. 31, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

This past December, my husband, John, was talking to a former student of his at our local gym. During the course of his conversation, John asked the now young adult about how his dad, a former coworker, was doing. The former student began to describe to John in great detail the transformation that had taken place in both of his parents' lives.

"They are vegan. My dad even has six-pack abs. He's no longer taking medication for his blood pressure, cholesterol or sugar. It's amazing."

John continued to query this young man for several more minutes about exactly what it meant to be "vegan." The man enthusiastically described his parents' diets, the books they had read, a documentary they had watched, his workout and more.

John later told me all about the conversation, and I was as intrigued as he was. That night, John began to read and research online the authors of the books mentioned as well as try to come to an understanding of what it meant to be "vegan." We both had a vague idea that it included not eating meat and eating more vegetables. What we did not realize was that to be "vegan" also means not consuming dairy products, eggs and meats, eliminate processed foods and keep oils to a minimum. Yet, you are unlimited in the amount of veggies, fruits, whole grains and legumes you can eat. Still, it did seem limiting.

The next day, I emailed this former student's dad, asking a few details regarding how he and his wife were eating. Arriving in my inbox the next day was a list of books, websites, documentaries and other helpful starting points. I immediately went to the Briggs Library website and began an online search of the books and documentary.

All through Christmas break, John and I read, talked, researched and talked some more. We decided that beginning in January, we would begin a vegetarian diet -- one that included dairy and eggs, but no meat. However, we also decided that we would be "flexible" about this -- we might give ourselves a "break" either because of social obligations, such a visiting a friend's house for dinner, or when we were craving our favorite pepperoni and sausage pizza. As my husband pointed out, "Even going without meat four or five nights per week would be beneficial to our health."

The first week of eating vegetarian food was easy. We were shocked at all of the delicious recipes I was able to prepare easily and affordably. It did not feel like the "sacrifice" we thought it would be.

Then, the documentary, "Forks over Knives" arrived at the Chesapeake Branch of the Library. I brought it home on a Friday afternoon. That evening, while eating our Friday night pizza, all three of us, including my 13-year-old daughter, watched "Forks over Knives." We sat on our couch spell-bound by the data and research presented in this movie. The next morning, John and I had a talk.

We decided that the information presented in this movie was both powerful and compelling. Could we do it though? Again, we thought a flexible approach would be best. Shoot for eating vegan four to five nights per week. Again, this would allow for any social situations that might come up as well as offer us time to eat those foods we might be missing.

I dove into more books and websites. Another book was available for me to pick up at the library; this one included numerous recipes. I cooked away. During the first seven days, we only ate meat once.

Following into the second week, we ate vegan six days. Only one meal included meat -- again it was pizza. Afterwards, John remarked, "You know that didn't taste as good as I remembered. I think my taste preference is already changing."

The third week-only one night included meat; and, that was because we were at a friend's house. We agreed from the beginning that part of being "flexible" was not asking or expecting our friends to cook differently for us. We even ate pizza this week. However, this week, I made the pizza out of vegan and near-vegan replacements. For example, the "cheese" we used is a soy-based product, but does contain some whey, an ingredient found in milk.

"I think this pizza is so much better than what we have been buying the past two weeks," John said. Not once during this third week did we feel deprived.

As I write this column, we are entering our fourth week eating mostly "vegan." We jokingly refer to ourselves as "flexitarigan" -- a combination of flexible, vegetarian and vegan. Eating a 90 percent to 95 percent plant-based diet has not been what we cannot eat, but rather what we can eat. From tacos and enchiladas, to stews, chilies and soups, we are eating good food and plenty of it. We can tell our taste preferences are changing, our energy is increasing; and digestive issues are becoming a thing of the past. I can only imagine the changes going on inside our body with regards to lowering inflammation, to a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol. These we won't know for certain, however, until our annual check-up.

Will we eat like this forever? I do not know. I would like to think so, but I also know the realities of life. Right now, focusing more on plant-based foods and less on animal-based foods seems right for us -- with an emphasis on being flexible.

I am attaching my recipe for our "Flexitarigan Pizza" if you would like to try it. There are so many more recipes that are just as delicious I'd be happy to share with you. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, Fellow Reader and Cook!

May we all flexibly focus on healthy foods that nourish our bodies from the inside, out!

"FLEXITARIGAN PIZZA"

2 pizza crust mixes, such as Martha White

1 jar favorite pizza sauce

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Pinch of crumbled-up Italian seasoning

Mushrooms (and any other pizza veggies your family likes)

1 package of "veggie cheese"

1 package meatless pepperoni

Meatless sausage links, cooked and mashed with fork

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Prepare crusts as directed on package.

Spread dough across a pizza pan coated with nonstick cooking spray.

If you like a crispier crust, generously prick crust with fork and prebake for 5 minutes. For a softer crust, simply spread out dough and skip the pricking and prebaking step.

Generously spread entire jar of pizza sauce across dough.

Sprinkle sauce with desired amount of red pepper flakes.

Pinch Italian seasoning between thumb and forefinger. Crumble seasoning as you sprinkle over sauce.

As desired veggies.

Sprinkle with desired amount of "cheese," or skip the cheese altogether. Top with desired amounts of "pepperoni" and "sausage."

Bake 9-12 minutes in oven, then turn oven off and turn on broiler.

Broil top of pizza 1-4 minutes, until browned.

Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Slice and serve with your favorite veggie chips or salad.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.

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