"Vegetarians in Paradise Diet" Appears
After 25 Years of Extensive Research
January is the month we often hear the troubling mantra, "Darn, I've gained weight over the holidays. Maybe, I need to go on a diet!"
Tons of diet books make their debut at the beginning of the year because publishers know the inevitable---so many people have added pounds during the year-end festivities. Most diet books promise a new, slimmed-down you that will be the envy of all your friends.
The number of people staying on these diet plans for any length of time is amazingly low, yet not surprising. Most of these diets fail because people feel deprived by the limited calories and smaller portions that leave them hungry and unsatisfied.
So, we at Vegetarians in Paradise have decided to enter the diet battle with our own "Vegetarians in Paradise Diet." Actually, it's not really a diet at all--it's our plant-based lifestyle and our everyday relationship with food. Don't look for the book. There ain't none. Just keep reading.
Twenty-five years ago we went vegan. We did it for our health, although we soon found multiple reasons to choose this path: sparing the lives of many animals and leaving a smaller, less damaging footprint on the planet and enjoying a healthier, more vibrant life with increased energy.
But, let's back up and give you a bit of history. Twenty-five years ago we were both overweight. Zel's five-foot-tall body had amassed a weight of 130 pounds. Her bulging bottom was clothed in size 14 jeans. Her cholesterol was in the 225 range. Her body mass index (BMI) was 25.4, putting her into the overweight category.
She was not feeling well because she was suffering with an undetected lactose intolerance. Her doctor was planning an endoscopy to discover what was causing her stomach distress when a friend suggested she might be lactose intolerant.
After giving up dairy products for one week, she began feeling complete relief from the stomach distress that bothered her after eating. Although she was so much better, her excess weight and plump appearance troubled her.
Since her regular physician knew very little about nutrition, she turned to an alternative health practitioner who suggested she might improve her health and lose a few pounds by going vegetarian.
While this was happening, Reuben's weight had climbed to the high 160s on his 5-foot-7-inch frame. His cholesterol was also in the 220s. His size 34-inch pants were getting tight. His 167 pounds threw him into a BMI of 26.2, also in the overweight column, but not in the obese category that starts at 30.
We did not go vegan all at once but took a gradual approach, learning about healthier, plant-based alternatives every step of the way. Of course, the dairy was eliminated first. Reuben did not stop the dairy immediately, but began by shunning milk. He soon noticed he had less of the annoying, chronic mucous and congestion he had lived with for many years.
Since Zel did the cooking, Reuben found it easy to go along with her food choices. Giving up red meat was not difficult because Zel began experimenting with tempeh, tofu, beans, and grains as main dishes on the dinner plate. We had plenty to eat and didn't feel the least bit deprived by eliminating meat.
Poultry disappeared from the table next. Reading articles in national magazines about salmonella and feces in chicken made it easy to avoid poultry.
Since an egg has over 200 milligrams of cholesterol, we both decided it would be wise to avoid that fried omelet in the morning. With eggs and dairy gone from our usual regimen, we recognized we were shedding pounds. We were also not gorging on desserts like cakes, cookies, and ice cream, foods that contained eggs and dairy products, so those unhealthy calories went by the wayside, too.
The last category to go was fish. This final step meant that thankfully, we were no longer ingesting mercury, PCBs, DDT, dioxins and other toxic contaminants found in these sea creatures.
While all of these animal-based categories had disappeared from our daily routine, we kept adding new foods to our diet to replace the ones we left behind. Our diet now consisted of delicious, whole, plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. Though this dietary plan seemed extremely limited to our relatives and acquaintances, we were actually enjoying a much wider variety of flavorful whole foods than our meat and potatoes friends and feeling so much more energetic on these lighter foods.
Some relatives could only imagine we were eating cardboard and wood fiber with a few leaves of lettuce for color. We chuckled and assured them we were using the same herbs. spices, and condiments to liven up our veggie dishes as we did for seasoning meat, so the flavors were just as vibrant and tantalizing.
We began to notice that without counting calories or feeling hungry between meals we were losing pounds. Zel's weight dropped to slightly under 100 pounds. She donated her size 14 jeans to a charitable organization and was now buying size 4. Her cholesterol was in the mid-150 range. In her recent Kaiser Permanente health assessment her body mass index was 19.1, near the bottom of the normal range.
At the same time Reuben's weight began dropping to the low 140s. Just recently his waist size was 30 or 31. His last cholesterol reading was 125, and his BMI was 22.7 in the normal range.
We each take one daily medication and one vitamin B12 supplement twice a week. There are no pills for diabetes, blood pressure, acid reflux, or other chronic conditions in our medicine cabinet.
So what's the "Vegetarians in Paradise Diet"?
When people ask where paradise is, we usually respond, "Paradise is anywhere you can enjoy the fruits of the earth."
The "Vegetarians in Paradise Diet" is very simple and has four features:
We encourage people to hydrate by drinking plenty of liquid daily. In our case we drink mostly water and herbal tea (hot or iced). We also consume sparkling water and a daily cup of green tea. We rarely drink juices, because they're just liquid calories that raise blood sugar. For example, a cup of apple juice has 113 calories, while a cup of orange juice measures 110.
We consider it important to have three meals every day; well, actually we have four because of our nighttime snack that might be a piece of fruit or a baked sweet potato. There's no need for between-meal snacks, becuse our nutrient-rich, high-fiber meals are so satisfying and carry us through to the next meal.
We don't need to add anything like Metamucil to our diet because our daily choices are loaded with foods naturally high in fiber. We don't need Tums or Prilosec to relieve an acid stomach because our diet is naturally on the alkaline side.
While some people fear the carbs and starches, we love them--the wholesome, nutrient-dense, high-fiber kind, that is. That includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains, pasta, and starchy vegetables like winter squashes, peas, carrots, parsips, beets, and corn.
Our most frequent choice is good old-fashioned oatmeal, not those instant sweetened packages that are highly processed and lacking sufficient fiber. Our oatmeal is accompanied by soy milk or almond milk, a hearty mixture of chopped seasonal fruits, and ground flaxseed meal or hemp seeds. Some mornings we will have a different cooked grain like teff, quinoa, or Bob's Red Mill Muesli eaten hot or cold.
There are no Kellogg's, General Mills, Posts, or other dry cereals in our cupboard. Remember, when you read those labels to find out whether the item is vegan, notice the grams of sugar. Every 4 grams equals one teaspoon of sugar.
Kellogg's Fruit Loops and Kellogg's Honey Smacks are not your friends. A serving size of Kellogg's Honey Smacks (3/4 cup) contains 15 grams of sugar, almost four teaspoons of sugar. Many breakfast eaters will likely have at least a cup that will bring the sugar total up to about 5 teaspoons. Popular cereal makers will often place a small serving size on the Nutrition Facts label to reduce the size of the sugar, salt, and fat numbers. One cup of Kellogg's Fruit Loops clocks in at 12 grams of sugar, or 3 teaspoons. Those ingested sugar grams come with calories, too.
The Food Politics website has a report on 84 popular cereals that was undertaken by the Environmental Working Group.
The front of the Fruit Loops package reads, "Great Source of FIBER & Made with WHOLE GRAIN." Yet the cereal contains 41.4% sugar by weight. Honey Smacks wins the AWFUL PRIZE for being the sweetest cereal with 55.6% sugar by weight.
What else do we have for breakfast? Occasionally, we'll have a tofu scramble with sautéed peppers, onions, and other veggies. Sometimes we we'll dine on a "cheese" melt with Daiya or Follow Your Heart cheese on a piece of whole-grain bread layered with tomato and hummus. Since this melt has many more calories than our other breakfasts, we don't indulge that way too often.
Lunch often features a soup or salad. The soup usually incorporates leftovers from the previous night's dinner and features whole grains or beans along with vegetables, herbs and spices. It's easy to pack this same combo into a container to warm in the microwave at work.
Sometimes, when we're in hurry, we'll dine on a Dr. McDougall's or other vegan instant soup. We'll accompany the soup or salad with a hummus or tofu spread on a tortilla, a slice of whole-grain bread, or some rice crackers that just happen to be gluten-free. We don't follow a gluten-free program because we are not celiacs and don't have a gluten intolerance.
A lunch salad is not just a bowl of lettuce. Often the salad becomes a great way to incorporate leftover grains and cooked veggies from the previous night's dinner, along with a wide variety fresh, crisp veggies. This same array of leftovers can be packed ito a container for lunch at work. Pour an oil-free dressing into a separate container.
A piece of fresh fruit becomes our dessert for lunch, while a cup of herbal tea or water usually rounds out the meal.
We look forward to dinner that almost always begins with a giant salad loaded with raw and cooked vegetables and laced with one of Zel's homemade oil-free dressings. We've cut back on oil because it's a great way to eliminate excess fat and calories. Most people don't realize that each tablespoon of oil has 14 grams of fat and 120 calories.
Even olive oil, touted as if it were a miracle drug, is 100% fat with the same number of calories as all the other oils. Its health benefits are greatly overstated since the only nutrients it contains are 0.08 mg of iron, 1.9 mg of vitamin E, and 8.1 mcg of vitamin K. The propaganda surrounding oil's benefits is truly amazing. In speaking about oils, Dr. John McDougall says, "The fat you eat is the fat you wear."
Dinner may feature one of Zel's entrées found in her cookbooks and articles: The Nut Gourmet, Vegan for the Holidays, Vegetarian Journal, Vegan Health and Fitness, or Vegetarians in Paradise.
There might be one of Zel's delicious chilis (Barn Burner, Sicilian, or Old-Fashioned) found in the Vegetarians in Paradise Chili Bash that includes a banquet of chili recipes from guest contributors. Lentil Stuffed Potatoes, Zesty Black Bean Patties, Almond Nutloaf, or Spanish Sloppy Joes are other tasty dishes we enjoy and are all found in the Recipe Index on our website. The Recipe Index also includes recipes for Vegetables, Bean Dishes, Grain Dishes, etc.
We don't have dessert with dinner. We're simply too full. Our only snack of the day comes a few hours after dinner when we're watching TV or a movie on DVD. We don't snack between meals during the day because our high-fiber meals are so satisfying.
Our late night treat might be a fresh young coconut. After cracking the coconut open, we drink the sweet juice, and thoroughly enjoy scooping out the delicious flesh. Frequently we'll quarter seasonal fruits like apples, pears, or kiwi for nibbling.
Sometimes we munch on a bowl of air-popped popcorn. We've come to enjoy the natural flavor of the popcorn without adding the calories of butter, margarine, or oil and the sodium from added salt.
We often bake a few sweet potatoes and relish their sweetness without the added maple syrup, brown sugar, or vegan margarine. Occasionally, we'll bake a kabocha or butternut squash for our nighttime snacking.
Our major dessert sinning comes when we've invited friends or family for dinner or when Zel is creating dessert recipes for one of her books or articles. At that time neighbors and friends have an opportunity to sample the experimental goodies, too, but we don't pig out on desserts.
Eating out can be a challenge for keeping fat and calories in check. Restaurants are notorious for hooking their patrons on foods loaded with fat, salt, and sugar. Fortunately for our bodies, we only eat out about once a week. In those meals we try to avoid fried foods and sweet desserts. We realize those meals are an indulgence we should not do too often. However, we do love the occasional vegan sweet treat and find it does not cause weight gain.
Fortunately, Zel likes to cook, and we thoroughly enjoy eating at home. Our bodies enjoy it, too, by not being assaulted with rich, calorie-laden foods.
That's the "Vegetarians in Paradise Diet." It's worked for us for almost 26 years. Over the years, we've effortlessly maintained our trim figures and managed to keep off those 25 to 30 pounds we started with. We don't have a shelf filled with bottles of pills to help us battle chronic conditions. Our doctors tell us to keep doing what we're doing when we see them for our annual checkups.
The diet is very easy:
You may want to give it a try. Let us know how you're doing. If you have any questions, we'll be happy to help.