Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest Post: Living the Vegan Life

Today, we have a special treat. While I'm on vacation in Southern California visiting my sisters, one of my classmates is taking over to share her thoughts about veganism and the gluten-free lifestyle. I'll be back on Friday, but until then, here's Katy: 

Hello, beautiful readers!  While your host is away, I thought I would entertain you with a different perspective on a gluten-free lifestyle.  And I start with a warning—I just may be everything you fear and/or loathe: a vegan!  And I didn’t become one for health reasons, either.  I will spare you the tree hugging and animal activism and all the crunchy reasons I decided to eliminate all animal products and by-products from my life.  What I really want to say is that the health benefits of being vegan just sort of showed up on my proverbial doorstep, and only then did I adopt health as a ‘reason’ for being vegan (and whole-heartedly so)!

Granted, I was determined not to be a sickly, anemic vegan or an obese junk-food vegan, stereotypes that seemed all too prevalent, at least in Berkeley, where I was living at the time of my conversion.  And I found it no different in San Francisco or Seattle, other places I have called home since becoming a vegan.  There are vegan bake-sales around every corner, selling cupcakes and brownies and pies and muffins that even omnivores buy because they think they are somehow healthier than the rest, and just the variety of sugar-laden, 450-calorie vegan cookies stocking the shelves of convenience stores and coffee shops makes me want to cry a little.  There are whole cookbooks out there dedicated to replicating the omnivore’s baked goods and treats—even whoopee pies! It’s like we, as vegans, want our risk of developing diabetes to surpass the norm or something…

I digress, but just know I did put in a lot of time researching the nutrition aspect of becoming vegan—figuring out just how much protein I needed, and where the hell I would get it, determining which vitamins and minerals I would need to find alternate sources of, and, oh yes, learning to cook, among other things…  In the end, this meant swapping out some of the fun but crappy food I knew and loved and replacing it with the less beloved (at the time) nutrient-dense, whole foods centered around beans, grains, and, of course, veggies!

This change I made—it was no easy task.  And I’m not going to pretend that there were no transitional tofutti cuties involved.  Overall, it was quite a drastic change. But let me tell you—it sorta rocked my world!  By the end of my first year, I found I actually LIKED…no, I LOVED this food, this way of eating, this DIY power I suddenly felt in the kitchen, and I was thinner, my skin looked younger and brighter, my moods were evening out, my energy was soaring, my brain was working, and I hardly ever got sick anymore!  Sound familiar? I’m sure you have discovered similar changes as you cut out gluten and other allergens from your diet. Although the “allergen” may be individual to our own quirky bodies, this is just further confirmation that what we put in our bodies has a tremendous effect on our health, happiness, capability and overall well-being.

I could go on and on, but I figure this audience is expecting some gluten-free insights, and, happy days, I have some of that to share with you, too!  Since this transformation, I became super-nerdy-interested in nutrition, and I even decided to go ahead and get my masters in the subject!  (In fact, I am in the same program at Bastyr as your lovely host).  So here I am, learning about all these chronic diseases of our modern age, and the role that refined grains and sugars play in their etiology, and I decided, what the hell, I’ll cut out refined grains, too!  That means (to me) no bread, no cereal, no baked goods, and definitely no sugar (fortunately, I love me some stevia!)  Sounds a little sadistic, I know.  But… would you guess—I don’t even miss them?  I feel even better since that last change—my weird food cravings (especially for sugar and tortilla chips) and my irritability have decreased dramatically, and my energy is even greater.

So what does this have to do with gluten?  I decided that since many of my future patients will have to give up gluten for various reasons, I better know what that is like.  So I embarked on a gluten-free diet, expecting the worst.  But then – and I’m sure you’re on to me now—I realized that if you cut out refined grains, it’s not really so hard to avoid gluten!  After giving up refined grains, my diet was already 95% gluten-free.  So then testing out the gluten-free lifestyle became about details, like tamari instead of shoyu, certified gluten-free oats, and cross-contamination.  The worst of it for me was giving up the irresistible, chewy delight that is emmer and the earthy goodness of a bowl of barley soup with beans and mushrooms.

Now, I must say I feel even healthier when I’m not eating refined grains.  But whether or not my feeling of improved health has to do with significantly cutting down on my gluten consumption remains up in the air.  I have to say, after experiencing the gluten-free lifestyle for a month or so, I did go back to eating the occasional bowl of barley soup or conventional oatmeal, and I felt just fine.  I guess I just don’t have a gluten intolerance.

So what is my point?  It is this: I eat a 95% gluten-free diet based solely on my own personal preferences, even though I don’t have a gluten intolerance to speak of.  To you, who may be afflicted by the nastly gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, you are already living on the greener side of the fence!  I mean, look at these pictures of the meals and snacks I’ve eaten over the past couple days.  Do you see any gluten?  No!  

Look at this peach—it’s delicious! Do I need to make it into a muffin or cobbler or pie?  No, thank you—I will eat it sloppily over my sink and enjoy its divinity.  

This stir-fry is composed of the sexiest vegetables I could find at the farmer’s market, along with some boiled edamame (for the protein factor).  

And I can eat giant salads like this every day and not feel a bit like a deprived rabbit, because beets and chickpeas are anything but mundane together in a bed of local, seasonal greens,  fresh basil, chopped dates, minced ginger, mineral-rich kelp noodles and some homemade sesame scallion dressing.  Yum.  

Gluten?  I said, “Good Day!”  

Gluten-free & vegan recipes everyone will love: 
Quinoa Porridge 
Roasted Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts
English Muffins
Cheese Filled Onion and Olive Bread
Grain-Free Lemony Almond Pancakes
Red Velvet Chocolate Chip Muffins

Katy is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Nutrition at Bastyr University in Seattle, WA.  Her background includes a BA in Literature and Writing from UCSD, and a long line of meandering careers in between-- Assistant (fill in the blank), Data Modeler, Clinical Research Associate for Big Pharma, etc., none of which filled her with passion the way healing through food does. In her spare time, she loves to explore the natural world from different perspectives--  from a bike, on foot, climbing walls, flying through air, through a lens, by herself, with a stranger, listening to different soundtracks, and/or writing poetry in her head as she goes.  Aside from the craggy mountains and narrow rivers of the greater Seattle area, this crazy exploration includes the farmers market, the blackberry bushes, and the kitchen, too!

1 comment:

laura west kong said...

I've eaten pretty close to vegan for most of my life, so when I had to give up gluten, sugar & other such things earlier this year, it wasn't such a hard thing to do. All your photos look delish!


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