3 Years Plant Strong

3yearsToday makes it 3 years plant strong after making what some was called “extreme changes” in my life. The decision to take control of my health was unlike any other challenge I had undertaken. At 42 years of age, I was feeling overweight, rundown, sore with aches and pains, constant migraine headaches. Since turning 40 I had undergone two knee surgeries and I wasn’t the same person I was 10 years ago, even 5 years ago before taking that road less traveled on my journey to health.

I have a coworker to thank for getting the ball rolling (read Live to Eat) recommending the documentary, Forks Over Knives. After viewing this documentary I was left stunned. I didn’t know what to think, everything I thought I knew about nutrition (like most Americans) was not what it was. Many of the foods I enjoy under the guise of “health” had been promoted by conglomerates like the beef and dairy industries in order to profit not to maintain health.

FOK moved me, so much so that on the day before Halloween I made the decision to get healthy and stopped consuming foods that were making me sick and fat; meat, dairy and added oils. Many thought I was crazy and didn’t understand the reasons for these changes. In fact, many didn’t really care to listen or show interest in getting healthy. I happened upon Dr. John McDougall and my life changed. It wasn’t easy at first, as I had to learn nutrition all over and forget the inaccuracy I was fed growing up about food groups and what many Americans fail at, moderation.

Removing all meat from this way of eating was an easy decision, but wasn’t done for ethical reasons. This was the first step in a long journey to health. Cooking with added oils was challenging, as the first question I asked myself, “how am I saute my veggies?” Little did I know a small amount of water or vegetable broth works wonders and provides a real food taste instead of oil laden flavor. Dairy was the third part of the equation. As it was I didn’t drink much milk and rarely ate cereal but had never had milk alternatives; soy, almond, hemp or rice. In the end cheese would be the one “food” I missed. I struggled with not eating cheese to the point I would use that fake vegan shit, which was probably more processed and worse for you than dairy cheese.

Through it all I was able to overcome some early challenges. I made a commitment to my health and started recording everything I ate. While I wasn’t counting calories I was tracking food for my benefit, in order to see trends and provide a visual record of where I started and the goal I wanted to achieve. I purchased and read The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health. It was these words that reinforced what I had seen on FOK. The program sounded easy and I saw no reason I couldn’t follow it and be successful.

When I started the program I weighed 219, at times I had tipped the scale above 200 pounds, but at my physical on December 27, 2011 I weighed 216 pounds and had a total cholesterol (TC) of 264 mg/dL, which had continue to rise the previous 3 years. To think it wasn’t my pants and shirts getting smaller, but me getting larger, in part due to the fact of my poor eating habits at work and home. The health problems I faced were being fed by the dairy, meat and oil I continued to include in my diet.

It was a sign of good things to come when I weighed in on the day of my physical over 20 pounds down from where I was when I started less than 30 days ago. At the start of December I weighed in at 190 pounds and my clothes were fitting. The more impressive number I swooned over, the fact I dropped 64 points in my TC! 64 points! I was shocked and amazed that doing nothing but changing the way I ate could make such a powerful statement. It was this real world experience I required that let me know I was doing the “right thing!”

Like man who had just found Jesus, I thought this was my savior. In some regard it was, if I had not made wholesale changes in my life I would continued down that destructive road to deteriorating health. As it was I had turned my health around and I was beginning to reap the rewards and feel the benefits.

Since that day in 2011 I have learned valuable information regarding nutrition. I have connected with many individuals whose health, at one time, was worse off than I was prior to beginning. I have tried many new plant based recipes that I never knew existed, found new and exciting chefs I turn to on a daily basis. People like Julie Marie Christensen who promotes a “protective diet” Chef AJ who cooks “unprocessed” Susan Voisin who’s foods are fat free and vegan and Cathy Fisher “who has straight up good food,” just to name a few. I found I can still sink my teeth into oil free, fat free pizza thanks to Mark Sutton.

Since reaching my target weight of 175 pounds that is where I have remained (+/- 3 pounds). It’s been amazing that it actually gets easier to eat and those foods you thought you would miss, you don’t . I have no problem going to a BBQ without grabbing a slab of meat, burger or dog. No longer do I favor cheese on my pizza. Potatoes have been a godsend and is a cornerstone of this way of eating. Unlike meat, potatoes satiate my hunger. I don’t need to feel guilty eating a few pounds of potatoes a night, unlike choking down that 16 oz. steak I used to desire.

Vegetables and grains now make up my core meals, it’s not all salad, all the time. I would end up being very hungry if it were. My body now thrives on carbohydrates (goes against everything the Paleo crowd promotes) daily. I have learned how to scrutinize labels for ingredients I don’t want to eat. No longer do I (try) eat foods with additives in them. It’s amazing what the FDA approves to be used in food, my body is better for it as I won’t trust the government when it comes to how I eat.

While I would love to say a plant based diet is for everyone, sadly it is not. There are many who will swear how they eat is “healthy” or “clean” and they know how to eat in moderation. That’s great! Enjoy your food and all the best as it relates to your weight and health. While I do promote a plant based lifestyle, it’s not exclusive or better than any other diet, I just know how my body has healed itself and thrived in the past 3 years. The journey has been amazing. I look forward to improving my life as I get older.

Dough. Sauce. Toppings.

veggie-pizzaDough. Sauce. Toppings. These are the key components to making a pizza or pie. In fact there is no wrong way to build your plant based pizza. Move away from “conventional” pizza you can see at any box type restaurant and get creative. Over the last 10 days or so I have made 5 different pizzas, thanks in part to Mark Sutton’s book, Heart Healthy Pizza. I picked this book up in April and made a few pizzas, but after watching Mark on his first “TeeVee” appearance I was motivated to take pizza making to the next level, skipping the store bought pizza dough flours and jars of sauce. You can watch Mark in action below to be “inspired” when comes to your pizza.

After watching the video I pulled out his book and decided to make a veggie pizza for dinner last week. I had finally run across a great tasting, as well as oil free pasta sauce from Trader Joe’s (Trader Giotto’s Fat Free Pizza Sauce). Not typically a store I shop at because of their prices, but the pizza sauce was relatively thick, easy to spread and had a very mild (not overpowered by spices) flavor to it. One jar allows me to make two 13″ pizzas, all for $1.99! It would only be a few days later I would stumble upon a homemade recipes that is cheaper and just as good, if not better. More on that shortly.

I had not had much luck with pizza crust in the past, always deferring to a store bought bag, usually from Bob’s Red Mill. There is a gluten free pizza crust sold, which I thought made pizza making easier, but I could not have been further from the truth. Thankfully I have no intolerance, allergy or sensitivity to gluten, so I opened Mark’s book to a whole wheat pizza crust (find a basic recipe on his site). It was his video that got me thinking, “hey this is easy, I could do it.” I followed the recipe mixed some whole wheat flour with spelt flour, some water, a little agave nectar and a package of yeast and let it rise for 60 minutes. I was somewhat disappointed when it the dough had some resiliency to it. Little did I know this was normal and was the gluten in the dough, something I had not experienced previously with gluten free flour I had used.

Thinking I had done something wrong, I stretched the dough as best I could on a 13″ pizza pan. I popped open the jar of sauce and started to cover the pizza. Maybe I got lazy, but I just opened a bag of frozen veggies and started placing on top of my pie. I also (thanks to Mark) added fresh cut slices of onion and mushrooms. On top of the veggies I added one of Mark’s signature “cheese-like” sauces, as he refers to it. But these toppings only scratch the surface, there are no limitations as to how or what to top your pie with.

On the topic of toppings, I took a page from Vegan Dad, who’s website I seemed to come back to when looking for meat substitutes. I am not talking about that soy crap that grocers pass off a healthy or alternative meat substitutes, none of which are any better for your than meat because these products are highly processed. Vegan Dad had a niche for real meat substitutes, usually using vital wheat gluten as the basis for his meats.

Now for those who don’t favor a plant based diet or plant based pizza, I would not expect you to understand. For me, it’s not about missing meat, I don’t I missing nothing about the taste (or lack of flavor) or preparing animal flesh for cooking. Especially chicken, always hated that slimy feel of dead foul. Meat was actually easier to stop eating than cheese, regardless of how happy cows were. I had favored a few soy/bean based meatless products from MorningStar, but that was prior to learning more about health and nutrition that lead me away from this hideous products.

Vegan Dad’s website would usually be near the top of an interwebs search as it related to vegan meat or meatless meat. This day I decided it was to be pepperoni, but printed up the homemade sausage recipe without realizing it. It was a wonderful mistake in the end, as I will explain. I had all the ingredients except wheat gluten, which I found in bulk at Winco Foods. I knew this was the basis of saitan or wheat meat but I had never ate it or bought it. Little did I know, once the ingredients were mixed it would be similar to a dough recipe with the resiliency.

The recipe looked simple, so I started combining ingredients and heating water in a steamer that would cook the sausages. I wasn’t impressed with how my “meat” looked when it was mixed. I rolled it out on a cutting board and divided it 6 times, with each link being about 5″-6″ long. I rolled each link up in foiled and placed them in the steamer for 40 minutes.

Back to the pizza I was making last week. After swirling the cheese-like sauce on top, it was off to the oven for 15-20 minutes. I checked the the dough at 15 minutes and was shocked when I had a wonderful looking raised, light brown crust. The first thing that ran though my mind, “okay where did I make a mistake and why did this work?” Remember I had only used gluten free dough and until recently I didn’t know that the gluten was required to help the dough raise. Awesome! I was excited to show someone, since no one was home, so I shared the image on Facebook and Instagram.

Since then I have made 4 other pizza crusts, two of them with the whole wheat and spelt mix, but the other 2 with another Bob’s Red Mill product, Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. The two pizzas made with this flour made a nice full crust, but nothing like the whole wheat/spelt combination I was using because of the lack of gluten in the flour. So now I had a foolproof dough recipe that would make a great crust, the basis of any pie you plan to create.

As for the sausage, when the timer went off I lifted each link out of the steamer to cool. I was anxious to unwrap and cut up the first sausage that I only waited 5 minutes. I sliced off the end and then sliced a narrow piece of sausage and took a bite. I was shocked at the flavor and texture of this meatless creation. If I didn’t know better I would have thought it was some sort of sausage. I had another bite and another. This stuff was good and would make an excellent pizza topping. The nutritional information was well within allowable tolerance: 177 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, 17 carbs and 24 grams of protein. The sodium was high at 577 milligrams, but that could be reduced.

The true test would be my son, wife and mother-in-law. My son was a bit hesitant when I asked if he wanted a bite. I broke the piece I was giving him in half and his first comment was, “it’s hot” (as in spicy). He then asked for a bowl of sausage. My wife is not a bit fan of spicy foods, doesn’t agree with stomach and leads to heartburn, but she did try a bit. My mother-in-law was highly impressed with the flavor as well. The next day I brought a link to work and shared it with 4 other co-workers, including a manager who is renown in the art of smoking meat and BBQ. He was impressed with the flavor of the sausage, which led me to believe I had a winning food here. Another co-worker took two home for dinner the following day. Now the final test, will they grill? I have a sneaky suspicion they will, but haven’t confirmed it. Next BBQ I attend I will give it a shot.

Since meat and dairy products are no longer a healthy option for my plant based pizza the options seemed limited at first, but that is not the case. Nearly any food can act as a pizza topping. Look past veggies, I made a Pad Thai Pizza a few weeks back, which featured peppers, rice noodles with a peanut sauce. The crust was made from brown rice and chickpea flour (another recipe from Mark Sutton). Cheese used to be a common denominator for all pizza I ate. Now, it’s not needed for a pizza to be successful. With that said, I have made a few different “cheese-like” sauces to drizzle on the toppings. Many of these sauces are based around nutritional yeast, but much like toppings, expand your horizons and get creative. Many grains can be the base for wonderful sauces for pizza, as highlighted in Heart Healthy Pizza.

You don’t have to be plant based to enjoy a “heart healthy” plant based pizza. Dump the hot box, forget the frozen and spend some time creating a great tasting pie. Look past dairy and meat as your only options for toppings and see what you can create. I’m off to treat myself to cold, leftover pizza.

Point Blank Review: Heart Healthy Pizza

sutton_healthypizzaI have been on a pizza kick recently thanks in part to Mark Sutton’s book, Heart Healthy Pizza. It was a book I had been looking to buy for a few months, but I seemed to get sidetracked and would end up order other cookbooks. Prior to finding Mark’s book I was creating healthy pizza recipes, but they were more of a “traditional” pizza . I had tried to create my own version of a veggie pizza last year. It’s wasn’t anything overly impressive, I used a package of Bob’s Red Mill GF Pizza Crust, substituted my spaghetti sauce as pizza sauce (mistake) and piled on the veggies. I even added Daiya to the top of the pizza for those I were feeding who were not plant-based eaters.

While the pizza came out okay it was still lacking. Pizza as I knew it growing up came from Round Table Pizza. It was usually sausage or pepperoni or cheese, obviously full of fat, highly processed and dripping with oil. Pizza in college was all about what was affordable. “Pizza. Pizza.” was usually the cry and their 2 for $5 deal. Again, not a healthy option, but it was how I knew pizza. Over the years my mom made some pretty good pizza and I have experienced pizza from California and Chicago to New York. Everyone has their own idea as to what makes a good pie.

It was December, 2012 when I first learned about Mark Sutton and his book. It would be April before I finally purchased Heath Healthy Pizza I was thrilled to look at all the different options I had at my fingertips. To be honest I had to ask Mark on Facebook, his recommendation for my first pie. Not only did I have to select the crust, but sauce(s) and toppings I was going to us. It appeared a but more complicated that just unrolling some processed dough, squeezing sauce and tossing cheese and pepperoni on it.

Gone are the days of processed ingredients, everything I make for my pizzas now are all homemade; from the dough to the sauce to some of the toppings. Mark’s got all the bases covered, sometimes not the most conventional of ingredients, but surprisingly enough they come together nicely and taste amazing. For example, the Pad Thai Pizza (pg 23) I made had a simple, yet delicious Sweet & Spicy Chili Corn Sauce on top of a brown rice, chickpea and cilantro crust. As I said, truly unique combinations.

I was not too confident in working with dough and creating my own crusts. Yet last week I had the best success and honestly I thought I made a mistake, but one that worked to advantage. It was no mistake though, it was a basic whole wheat dough recipe from Mark’s book that demonstrated how quick and easy making homemade pizza dough truly was. I was so thrilled with the result I made pizza the next night, just to make sure what I experienced wasn’t a mistake on my part. Lo and behold, the dough worked and came out amazing!

I never really looked outside the box when it came to pizza sauce. If it’s red, then call it pizza sauce. I mistakenly used my spaghetti sauce recipe for my pizza. It wasn’t the right sauce to use, but as Mark demonstrated sauce doesn’t necessarily need to be tomato based. A quick look of the book index shows you wide array of sauces, including non-cheese sauces including ingredients such as tofu, beans, rice, quinoa, oats, barley and millet. Each of these comprise a variety of sauces to top your pizza with. As I said, it gets a bit overwhelming when you start thinking how you are going to combine your sauce and toppings.

Thankfully he does provide you with some “power pizza possibilities” in order to get you started. Prior to making my first Mark Sutton original, the Pizza Margherita (followed by the Nearly Nouveaux Mex), I actually make a BBQ Chicken Pizza from The Effervescent Vegan. A few Facebook comments made mention of Mark’s book and the rest is history. Let your imagination go, forget traditional pizza, give the ‘Really Reubenisque’ or ‘Clever Curry’ a try. There are no limits on pizza combinations. So many choices I am looking forward to expanding my pizza repertoire thanks to Heart Healthy Pizza.

I’ll be honest, while I have gone through the entire book, I haven’t read each recipe in detail. I do believe Mark uses vegan sausage, like MorningStar Farms, Light Life and Gimme Lean in some of this recipes. I tend to skip the highly processed vegan sausage, even the crumbles since these are not any better for your than their meat counterparts. I did however have excellent luck in making my own pepperoni last night.

Yeah, you heard me, pepperoni (it was actually the sausage). While Vegan Dad is no longer active, his blog remains and he ventured into the “mock meat” arena with some very good success. Whenever I have an inkling for a “meatless” meat I always check his site. I mistakenly used the homemade sausage recipe with excellent success last night, but called it pepperoni. Even from the first bite, my brain said, “this is sausage!” It was that good! Yet posting my success on Facebook I continued to refer to it as pepperoni, my mistake but it does give me a chance to make pepperoni tonight.

So far everyone who has tried a slice thought it was tasty. The first test was my 7 year old son. He was a bit hesitant, but I cut him a small piece. His first comment, “can I have a bowl?” followed by “it’s spicy!” I will count that as a success. Next came my mother-in-law and wife. I was thrilled to have them taste test, as my wife is very picky and my MIL is a fantastic cook. My MIL raved about the flavor, alone and one a slice of pizza. My wife, much like my son thought it was a bit spicy, but good. She has never been one for really spicy food. At work I have given pieces to 3 co-workers and all have commented positively on the flavor and texture.

While it wont’ be an every day food it’s great to know I have this meatless recipe as an option. As for Heart Healthy Pizza, well that is all I make these days. Thanks to a Mark Sutton for all his hard work and dedication to pizza. If you miss a slice or a pie now and then but don’t miss the cheese, oil and fat, his Heart Healthy Pizza book is the way to go.