“It’s vegan!”

Some people just don’t get it. Listen, if you don’t like the way I have chosen to eat, then keep your mouth shut unless you have something constructive to add. Don’t stand there and tell me what I am doing is wrong or I am not getting enough of some nutrient. Why? Because chances are high you have no idea the details as to what I am doing. When I try to detail what and why, I am quickly labeled “vegan” and they walk away.

There continues to be a sticking point with oil. Why, I am not quite sure. One tablespoon of oil is 14 gram or 140 calories. From Jeff Novick, “It has no protein or essential amino acids (which we need), it has no carbohydrates, or sugars (which we need), it has no fiber (which we need), it has no minerals (which we need) and has virtually no vitamins (which we need) except for a small amount of Vit E and some phytosterols” (source). So why would I want to keep this junk food in my diet?

Recently I was at a gathering of friends and was offered some food. It didn’t look all that healthy and my first assumption was it contained oil. After eating it, I know it did as I could taste it. I asked the person serving me, for the contents of this dish and they replied, “It’s vegan.” Okay, so I pushed the oil question on them. “I said it was vegan.” Great it’s a vegan dish, I am glad to hear, but if it has oil, then I must decline.

A few minutes passed and that same individual confronted me and said, “You know you need fat in your diet, about 30% a day. Oil is good, as it has nutrients for brain development.” Okay, to a degree I can accept that some, like Omega 3 DHA fatty acid is needed for brain and eye tissue development, but stand there and chastise me because I passed on a dish I knew contained oil.

Again, it comes down to labeling me or those who follow this way of eating. It’s not for everyone and maybe look at me different because of what I don’t eat. That is fine with me, I look better than I have in months, I feel good and I am now in control of my health. So please, don’t try to bullshit me with what you THINK you know about how I eat or nutrition, especially as it relates to olive oil. Respect my decision to eat what I want.

Sorry Rachel, no EVOO for me

“The fat you eat, is the fat you wear.”

-Dr. John McDougall

This is just one of Dr. McDougall’s comments from his article, The Fat Vegan in the December 2008 Newsletter as it relates to fat in the American diet. “Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products” (source). Some individuals who eat this way do it for ethical, dietary or environmental reasons. Although some vegans are “ovo-lacto” and while not eating animal flesh of any kind will consume dairy and eggs. Veganism seems to have a negative connotation in my limited experience. This is how I am labeled by many individuals when it comes to how I eat. Yet I prefer a more positive approach calling, “plant-strong” lifestyle or “plant-based, whole food” lifestyle.

The difference, as Dr. McDougall discussed is the plant-based lifestyle also removes oil from the diet. “Oil is a highly refined processed and extracted food “product”. It has no protein or essential amino acids (which we need), it has no carbohydrates, or sugars (which we need), it has no fiber (which we need), it has no minerals (which we need) and has virtually no vitamins (which we need),” (source) writes Jeff Novick, MS, RD.

Prior to learning about Dr. McDougall through the documentary, Forks Over Knives I was guilty as the next person when it comes to the amount of olive oil I would use in my cooking. The misconception I grew up with is olive oil is heart healthy. There is a shade of truth to this as “olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). MUFAs are actually considered a healthy dietary fat. If your diet emphasizes unsaturated fats, such as MUFAs and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), instead of saturated fats and trans fats, you may gain certain health benefits” (source). Still the fact remains, the fat you eat, is the fat you wear.

Jeff Novick, “Here is something to think about… right now the typical American diet is 10-12% saturated fat. Olive oil is around 14% saturated fat. The AHA is now recommending that Americans reduce the percentage of saturated fat in their diet to below 10%, if not below 7% (for those at risk, which is just about everyone is America). I think below 5% is optimal” (source).

Of all the foods I decided to stop eating, oil was the easiest. I used oil in nearly every recipe. It wasn’t until I stopped using it that I realized every recipe I have seems to include oil in some amount. I subscribed to Cooking Light last year before making this lifestyle change. Now I thumb through the magazine and look at the amount fat in many of their recipes and it’s quite appalling! It doesn’t get better if you start research vegan or vegetarian recipes either.

While I haven’t shared any of the vegan web sites I have found to date, of the 14 I have linked many of the recipes include olive oil. Usually the amount of olive oil varies, but many chefs use it to saute. Can’t blame them that is usually how I used oil in my cooking. After October, 2011 that changed and olive oil is not part of my lifestyle. Using water is not only better to saute with, but gives up a better flavor. If you are baking, oil can be substituted with apple sauce or a prune puree.

Jeff Novick sums it nicely when it comes to oil.

1) The need for essential fats can be meet through whole natural foods without adding any concentrated sources.

2) Unsaturated fats are less harmful than saturated fats.

3) Hydrogenated Fats and Trans fats are probably the worst fats.

4) Substituting saturated fat with unsaturated fats, without adding additional calories, may lower cholesterol levels and the risk for CVD and some cancers and possible DB. This is an “improvement”, not an ideal recommendation and is a result of the “substitution” and not the “addition”.

5) Substituting refined carbohydrates and/or sugar with unsaturated fats without adding additional calories may lower risk for CVD, DB and some
cancers. This is an “improvement”, not an ideal recommendation and a result of the “substitution” and not the “addition”.

6) there is absolutely no evidence than adding either saturated fats, or unsaturated fats to an otherwise optimal diet will improve the diet.

7) the Med diet was healthy not because of the olive oil, but in spite of the olive oil. If the olive oil added any benefit, it was because of some phytonutrients in the olive oil, and not any specific fat or fatty acid.

8 ) Oils rich in PUFAs are more unstable than oils rich in MUFA and have been shown to increase growth rate (but not initiate) of some cancers in animals and possibly in humans, especially those which are high in Omega 6s.

9) I have never seen any conclusive evidence putting sat fat in a “healthy” light. Maybe my light needs new bulbs.

10) Focus your diet on and consume a variety of healthy unrefined unprocessed fresh fruit, veggies, starchy veggies, whole grains and legumes.

Don’t be fooled into believing olive oil is good for you. It does have heart healthy properties in MUFAs, but isn’t needed for every day cooking. Make a change for the better, start cooking without oil. You will see and taste a difference.

Healthy Oil is a Myth

I am sure if you were a friend on my Facebook account you would think I was pushing the plant-base, whole food lifestyle. Some mistakenly term it “vegan” but I consider my more than “just vegan.” I have come across way too many recipes from vegan web sites that end up using a considerable amount of oil. Dr. McDougall and other well known physicians have said time and time again that OIL is not beneficial and adds little to the healthiness of your food.

Unfortunately the way foods and oils are marketed, you would think olive oil is there as a “heart healthy” alternative. It’s not (in my opinion), but I am not a doctor, nor am I going to argue or belabor the point. I don’t cook with it and the program that Dr. McDougall has laid out has no recipes that include it. After further researching his point (and that of Jeff Novick, RD). As Jeff notes, “14% of the calories in olive oil come from saturated fat. The current recommendation from the American Heart Association is to limit our intake of saturated fat to no more than 7% of calories” (source).

If that example isn’t clear enough, here is another common use, see if you can relate. “If we add 2 tsp. of oil to a 1/2 cup serving of steamed vegetables, we would raise the total calories from 25 to 105, and the majority of the calories (76%) would now be coming from oil. This side dish is also now 11% saturated fat.” Again this is coming from a registered dietician and is based on what “healthy” qualities oil brings to a diet. None and that is why I stay away from it now.

Now that I have sidetracked myself, I am trying to figure out how to present this to my parents. No matter what I say or how I say it, they won’t change their ways when it comes to cooking and eating. I tell my mom the success I have had the past 3 months, the weight I lost and the improvement in my blood work and I don’t make any headway.

I know, I said I won’t push this lifestyle on anyone and I won’t. But to have my mom, who is an outstanding cook sit there and tell me olive oil has redeeming qualities I don’t accept it and I know that her opinion is based on myth (which Dr. McDougall dis-spells) and not fact.

The past 3 weeks I have monitored what I eat closely. Using a program called Fit Day, along with a recipe builder call Spark Recipes I can input all my ingredients to a recipe and get a nice breakdown on the nutritional data and enter it in my food log so I can see if I am adhering to the way I want to eat. So far, outside of my 6-pack of beer a week I am doing very well. In fact I wrote about this in Tracking My Food earlier this month. While this is probably going to the extreme I find it very interesting as to what I cooking and eat. The number don’t lie, from calories eaten vs calories burned to my overall weight, which continues to go down to how my nutritional data breaks down.

I just wish I could get my parents to recognize there are healthier ways to eat. When we vacation with them in March, I hope to introduce them to a few of the recipes we frequent, like potato enchiladas. While I don’t expect them to make wholesale changes in their lives, I would like to see them make some changes to improve how they eat. We will see just how they take to what I cook.

Baked Ziti & Summer Vegetables

4 ounces uncooked ziti (I used Rigitoni)
1 tablespoon olive oil (omitted)
2 cups chopped yellow squash
1 cup chopped zucchini
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped tomato
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup (2 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Boil pasta according to package directions.

In a large skillet, over medium heat add diced onion, yellow squash and zucchini and sauté for 5 minutes (or longer if desired). Add the garlic and diced tomatoes  and sauté for 3 more minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the pasta, mozzarella cheese, herbs and pepper.

In a separate bowl combine the ricotta cheese and egg. Stir this mixture into the noodles and vegetables. Lightly coat a 9″ x 13″ Pyrex pan with cooking spray. Spoon into the Pyrex dish and sprinkle mozzarella on top. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

I got this recipe off Cooking Light online and pretty much stuck to the recipe. I made more than 4 ounces of pasta, using Rigatoni noodles. In hindsight I might have used a bit more Ricotta cheese, as the original recipe called for only half a cup, and I bought a store brand, low fat Ricotta. Seemed to work just fine and tasted okay. The basil was homegrown from our herb plants as well.

Blue Cheese Slaw

1 egg
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (or cider vinegar)
2 Cups peanut oil (substitute vegetable or olive)
1 ounce Maytag blue cheese
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
3 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 Maytag blue cheese, crumbled

In a food processor combine the egg, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and vinegar. Puree for about 30 second and then slow add the peanut oil. Season with salt and pepper and add the Maytag blue cheese, process for another 10-15 more seconds. Push the mayonnaise through a fine mesh strainer (optional).

Toss the cabbage with enough mayonnaise to coat. Add half of the green onions and a 1/4 cup of the crumbled blue cheese. Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Serve with your favorite entree.

The original recipe came from the Food Network and was served with BBQ Shrimp. Never have I actually strained my mayonnaise mixture through mesh, I would add it to the cabbage (pre-shredded package), toss well and add the blue cheese and green onions.