One of the most common questions I’m ask in reference to going SANE is “Can I be SANE and be a vegetarian?” The answer is yes. Eating SANEly is as applicable to vegetarians as it is to non-vegetarians. Going SANE isn’t about “you must eat this” and more about: “Here are the foods which have been proven to help burn fat and boost health for the long term. Adjust and modify as much or as little of this as you like depending on your goals.” For example, here’s how vegetarian-reader Cristina Hanganu-Bresch transformed her health and body composition in just a few months by going SANE. – Jonathan Bailor
I Went SANE, Reversed My Diabetes, & Lost 45 Lbs. in ~3 Months (PS I’m a Vegetarian)
by Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, http://www.lipomachia.wordpress.com
When I decided to become a vegetarian 3 ½ years ago (forgoing meat, but keeping dairy and eggs in my diet, and for about 1 ½ years, seafood as well) my mother panicked. “But, what will you eat? Whatever shall I cook for you when you come home?” she lamented. I laughed, but understood. I come from Romania, an Eastern European culture heavily reliant on meat—pork in particular. I gently pointed out that I was not going to starve—and even if I did, a little, would that be such a horrible thing considering how fat I was already? I was big and have been all my life, and I had gotten particularly bigger in the year previous to my vegetarian resolution, due to a rapid weight gain prompted by work-related stress. At 238 lbs. and a BMI of 34, I had long crossed from “pleasantly plump” into “obese” territory.
But moms will be moms and so she fretted. When I visited home for the holidays or during the summer, she fussed over my diet and ended up making these heavy, lasagna-type dishes stuffed with cheese and butter and some spinach for the illusion of “health” and offered numerous pastries and breads for consumption. I can’t fault her—I had relied on the same starch-heavy diet as well, and while I wasn’t really gaining weight, I wasn’t losing anything either, despite my earnest attempts at exercise. It was probably this starch- and sugar-heavy diet that ultimately accelerated my diagnosis of Type II diabetes on February 1st, 2012. I knew right then that I couldn’t eat the way I used to anymore – but what to do? This is when I read Jonathan Bailor’s The Smarter Science of Slim and realized that there was another lifestyle that could work for me—it had to work for me, as I HAD to get my blood sugars and my HbA1C down, period. End of discussion.
It was probably this starch- and sugar-heavy diet that ultimately accelerated my diagnosis of Type II diabetes on February 1st, 2012.
You can imagine my mother’s renewed panic when I started going SANE in addition to being a vegetarian. “So you were not eating meat—not even seafood, and now you’re not eating bread either?” “Nope.” “Pasta?” “Nope.” “Oatmeal? Cereal? Rice?” “Nope. No potatoes or corn, either. And I’m off milk and most dairy as well.” “OMG, you’ll starve to death!” I laughedg but was a little uneasy. Could I pull it off?
So, how do you maintain a SANE lifestyle when you’re a vegetarian?
The answer is easier than you think. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to going SANE is that at the top of the list of recommended foods were vegetables (non-starchy, but still vegetables), followed by lean protein, certain fruit, nuts and seeds (and in moderation, beans and similar legumes). If you look at the list closely, you’ll see that most of those recommendations fit beautifully with a vegetarian lifestyle—even a vegan one, if you also decided to give up eggs and dairy. In fact, the only place where non-vegetarian items creep into the list is the “lean protein” category—but then, again, vegetarians have learned only too well how to get their protein elsewhere, and these days, the variety and taste of meat substitutes have improved so dramatically that you won’t skip a beat going SANE. And you won’t miss the starches and sugars.
You won’t skip a beat going SANE. And you won’t miss the starches and sugars.
I was just a little doubtful at first. I thought for sure I can’t give up ALL starches! The first few weeks I even had a little oatmeal in the morning, and used quinoa and farro, which I envisioned to be healthier than your usual rice and potatoes. But as I was reading the labels, I realized the excessive amounts of carbs these products contained; even if I had a little, it threw my diet out of balance (after all, veggies and fruits are also mostly carbs, right?). I wanted results fast, so without regrets, I cut all those products out. Even popcorn had to go. I rounded up all the inSANE carbs I had stored in my kitchen – and the results were scary:
- wheat flour (2 lbs.)
- sugar (granulated–5 lb.-bag, confectioner’s, brown–I had all kinds!!!! yes, that’s quadruple exclamation point!)
- rice (1 lb.)
- pasta (shells, lasagna sheets)
- bread crumbs (2 boxes!)
- buckwheat (soba) noodles (3 packages!)
- honey (2 lb. container)
- raisins (1 big box)
- cream of wheat (3/4 of a box)
- baking powder and yeast
- cornmeal (2 3/4 bags)
- popcorn (whole box)
- chestnut flour (I kid you not) (1/2 bag)
- 2 potatoes
- 2 sweet potatoes
And from the freezer, the following items:
- pastry sheets (2 packs)
- phyllo dough sheets (1 1/2 packs)
- pizza dough (1 bag)
- pita (1 bag)
- pumpernickel bread (1 loaf)
- actual (Italian) bread (1 loaf)
- vegetarian “chicken” fingers –they were breaded, which is a no-no.
Yes, approximately 50 million calories of inSANE carbs were lurking in the pantry and freezer 2 weeks into my sojourn into SANEity! I realized they had to go, immediately—and so they did! (Also, the mystery of my overweight and diabetes? Not such a mystery, after all.)
Approximately 50 million calories of carbs were lurking in the pantry and freezer.
Experimenting with Meat Substitutes
The second thing I did was experiment with meat substitutes. Tofu is not the be-and-end-all of vegetarian protein; there is TVP (textured vegetable protein – very versatile, use it as a substitute for ground meat), seitan (wheat protein, high in protein, low in carbs), and a variety of soy and wheat-based vegetarian meats that come in all sorts of shapes of flavors. I am particular to most Gardein products (except for the breaded ones and the ones with sweet sauces—in which case I simply discard the sauce), Boca and Quorn (look for a high protein to carb ratio—not all their products will have it, but most will), and Morning Star (their “chicken strips” meal starters are delicious). There are lots of other vegetarian burgers out there that I wouldn’t touch, because they are mostly inSANE carbs. Once I started paying attention to the nutritional information and not just the overall calorie count, I had to give up some brands I used to like, like Dr. Praeger’s spinach patties—they are potato-based, so that’s a no-no. I also tend to avoid tempeh for the same reason—a little too high in carbs for its protein content.
Tofu is not the be-and-end-all of vegetarian protein; there is textured vegetable protein, seitan, and a variety of soy and wheat-based vegetarian meats.
So what do you eat if you are a SANE vegetarian?
For breakfast, I usually have egg white scrambles with veggies and tofu or some other meat substitutes (ground Boca veggie meat works beautifully), to which I add some milled flaxseed. If you’re vegan, you can concoct a scramble using tofu (and possibly some egg substitute powder) instead of egg whites. Sometimes I bake vegetarian “mini-quiches” in my muffin molds. I spray the molds with Pam, fill them up with the veggies/protein of my choice (broccoli, mushrooms, scallions, and sliced smoked tofu work wonderfully, but feel free to get creative here), then top everything with egg whites flavored with salt/pepper/herbs, and bake for 25 minutes. The resulting “quiches” keep fairly well in the fridge for a couple of days, and I can have them whenever. If I’m in a hurry, I have a protein shake for breakfast—I use whey protein, but there is also vegan protein available, if you don’t want any dairy products. I add berries, Splenda, and some flaxseed or almond milk, perhaps a tbsp. of almond butter if I feel adventurous.
For lunch and dinner, I alternate between eating leftovers and making new things. Here are some suggestions:
Soups are awesome, and are chockfull of good veggies. Just forgo the starches (e.g., potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, beets, parsnips, and, of course, pasta) and you’ll be fine. There are tons of good vegetarian recipes out there that do not use starches, so grab some. And now is the season for gazpachos, which are, by definition, as SANE as can be!
The sky’s the limit. Steamed or sautéed, they’re delicious, provided you’re using the right seasonings. Green veggies are king: kale, spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, bok choy, watercress, broccoli, etc. are EXCELLENT and you can learn how to cook them properly. Green beans, snow peas, snap peas, and cauliflower are also excellent choices. I like to top my green veggies with some sort of nuts, such as slivered or sliced almonds or sesame seeds. You basically can’t go wrong with any green veggies – choose some you really like, find ways to prepare them, and go for it! I also love mushrooms of any type, which I sauté, bake, stuff with TVP and seasonings, add to recipes—etc. Green and red cabbage are also excellent and you can have them raw as salads or cooked—your choice.
Eggplant and zucchinis or other types of squashes combined with tomatoes (yes, canned, why not!) make excellent vegetarian stews, when properly seasoned (add leeks and onions to solidify the taste—as an aside, there’s no dish that leeks won’t improve, in my humble opinion); you can add chickpeas or make some really yummy lentil dishes as well—don’t overindulge and you’ll be fine.
Need I say more? For a little boost, keep a container of cooked black (beluga) lentils in your fridge, and sprinkle some on your salads. Beluga lentils keep their shape and texture when they’re cooked, unlike most lentils, and give a little texture and extra protein. Tofu croutons are another option (they’re good in soups as well) – cube, season, drizzle with olive oil or spray with Pam, and bake for a good 45 minutes. Make sure you add some protein to your salads – egg whites, veggie “chicken strips,” etc. And be careful with commercially bought dressings. Make your own vinaigrette—this way you’re certain there’s no mystery sugar in it. I for one simply use olive oil and vinegar or lemon oil.
These “miracle noodles” or “no-calorie noodles” are based on the root of a plant and can be found commercially under different brands. Some are really low in calories (20 cals/serving) and some have zero calories. I use them with abandon—I rinse and dry them in a pan and then use them like pasta. I made pasta all’oglio with them, used them instead of rice for stir frys, added them to soups—whatever I can think of. They will work. They don’t taste great on their own, so make sure you add the proper flavoring. Spaghetti squash, btw, makes a wonderful pasta substitute as well.
If they’re not already flavored out of the bag, you can still bake, grill, or fry tofu and seitan in a variety of creative ways. It’s easier to do than you think—crack open a vegetarian cookbook or Google it. You’ll find lots of great recipes.
Fruits! Fruits! Fruits! For me, it’s mostly berries. They have the lowest amount of sugar among fruits. If you’re not diabetic, feel free to branch out. I would avoid mangoes, grapes, and bananas, though—they’re really high in sugar. You can also prepare shakes, of course, with some protein powder. You can even make them into a mousse-consistency by adding soft tofu. Add berries, Splenda, vanilla, chocolate powder, perhaps cocoa nibs for a touch of decadence, and you’re in business! Or, whip up some almond butter truffles. Mix almond butter with chocolate powder, Splenda, and some vanilla and almond extract (it’s a little hard, but worth it!), then roll the resulting “dough” into little balls, which you can finish off by rolling them into a mix of cocoa powder and Splenda. They are delicious, trust me!
Worry Free. Diabetes Free. 45 lbs. Lighter.
I guess this is my long answer to my mom’s panic. No, mom, I am fine, and have PLENTY to eat. I am not starving. On the contrary, I am well-nourished and satisfied and feel great all the time. And yes, the weight has been coming off, while those pesky blood sugars have been coming down. Three months of eating like this has gotten me off a diabetes medication (glipizide) and reduced my HbA1C from 8.3 to 5.9, basically rendering me diabetes-free. I also was on Lipitor, but when it went from 220 to 103–, my cholesterol dropped way more than what the medication could have done on its own—I was taken off that med as well. My husband, who is not a vegetarian but humors me and eats what I eat inside the house and orders lean meats when we go out, has lost 32 lbs., resolved his sleep apnea, which was a huge stress factor in his life, and stopped having migraines. We both stopped having heartburn, which for me was a daily and painful occurrence—no doubt, carb-related. And to top it off, I have lost 45 lbs. since February 1st, 2012, the fated day of my diagnosis, and need to lose 20 more. I have no doubt I will succeed.
So will you, if you follow the SANE dietary principles. And if you’re a vegetarian, nothing could be simpler—or SANEr.
I’ll be back soon to share 13 simple tips for SANE vegetarian eating.
– Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, http://www.lipomachia.wordpress.com