Tuesday, May 20, 2014

vb6, by mark bittman

The latest "alternative cookbook" that I have checked out recently is VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good by Marl Bittman. Bittman is the well-known New York Times food writer, and author of the very popular How to Cook Everything series. Bittman has spent his life loving and eating food, so it must have come as a blow to him when his doctor suggested that he change his diet to a vegan one, if he wanted to avoid developing diabetes and heart disease:
"He’d laid out the depressing facts for me: “Your blood numbers have always been fine but now they’re not. You weigh 40 pounds more than you should. You’re complaining of sleep apnea. You’re talking about knee surgery, which is a direct result of your being overweight. Your cholesterol, which has always been normal up until now, isn’t. Same with your blood sugar; it’s moved into the danger zone.” 
A more conventional doc would’ve simply put me on a drug like Lipitor, and maybe a low-fat diet. But Lipitor, one of the statin drugs that lowers cholesterol, is a permanent drug: Once you start taking it, you don’t stop. I didn’t like the idea of that. Furthermore, its effectiveness in healthy people has never been established, and it’s also been implicated in memory loss and other cognitive complications; I didn’t like the idea of any of that, either. And at this point, low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets have essentially been discredited: They might help you lose weight, but they’re not effective for maintaining that loss in the long term, and they may even wreak havoc on your system. 
But becoming a vegan? A person who eats no animal products at all? Calling that a radical change to my lifestyle was more than a bit of an understatement. Yet it was clear that something had to be done. I asked Sid, “Is a compromise possible? Any other ideas?” 
“You’re a smart guy,” he said. “Figure something out.”

Bittman did just that. He developed a diet, or more correctly, a way of eating, that would benefit his long-term health but also allow him to continue to enjoy the foods he craved and loved. The basic idea of VB^6, or Vegan Before 6pm, is pretty straightforward. Eat fruits and vegetables in abundance all day and after 6pm you can eat whatever you like. Of course he advises one to indulge sparingly. One should start thinking of meat as a condiment, not a centerpiece of a meal.

There is also a lot of information - about how foods are absorbed and processed in our bodies, if one is interested in the science of food, too. And Bittman is always an engaging and interesting writer. But I have to admit, I want dot just cut to the chase and get some meal ideas. And he did not disappoint. Bittman includes diet and menu plans for different eating styles - the restaurant regular, home cook, grazer, etc. He also includes pantry-stocking ideas and lays out a broad eating plan:

Before 6 p.m.
Eat as many of these foods as one wanted - vegetables, fruit, condiments (spices)
Eat sparingly - beans, whole grains, calorie dense fruits and vegetables (avocado and coconut), nuts and seeds, oils, sweet condiments, nut milks

After 6 p.m.
Eat these "treats" (sparingly) - meat, dairy, fish, seafood, processed grains, white flour, alcohol, dessert, junk food

VB6 also includes many recipes, all with  nutritional information. A few seems like ones I would like to try: easiest vegetable soup (p.160), falafel and tahini (p.180), vegan "creamsicles" (he substitutes yogurt for silken tofu). There was only one recipe, his homemade cereal, that I felt strong enough about to go pick up a few missing ingredients

Homemade Cold Cereal (p.138) 
3.5 cups rolled oats,
.5 cup mixed chopped nuts and seeds
.5 cup raisins or other chopped dried fruit
.25 cup unsweeteneded grated coconut
.5 tsp cinnamon or cardamom to taste
pinch salt
4 cups soy or other nondairy milk

Combine dry ingredients and store in airtight container in fridge for up to 2 months. To serve, put about 1 cup of cereal in bowl with .5 cup of milk. If you have time, let bowl sit for 5-10 minutes to let oats absorb milk and soften.

There was one recipe that completely put me off. I have to draw the line at his "Eggplant un-Parmesan." What is the point of making a Parmesan without cheese? Just wait until after 6 p.m. to have some mozzarella and parmesan.

For the most part I think VB6 is a good guideline for eating healthfully. You may just lose a little weight while you're at it, too.


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