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Helen Bennett Harvey promises that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Vegging Out is a recipe for a new way of life. Or at least a new way of eating. Pull up a chair. Contact me at:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jumping in head first

And hoping not to land on it

Well, I think I am finally going to do it.

I've known for a long time that it would be the right thing to do, but sometimes knowing the right thing and doing it are pretty far apart.

However, rather than committing to a vegan diet for good, I am going to take the advice of Dr. Neal Barnard and try it for three weeks. I got the idea of the three-week trial from the Not-Just-Recipes Web site I previously talked about on this blog.

Seems Rich Heiser can be an inspiration all the way from somewhere in Pennsylvania. I know he's from the northeast part of that state and has been hit by a lot of snow.

But the cold has not kept Rich from keeping up the vegetarian drumbeat and promoting the life choice on Facebook and his Web page here.

Meeting Rich in cyberspace was fun and - just as in most things - there's comfort in numbers and knowing so many people are willing to give up eating animals.

He did an interview with Dr. Barnard and that chat that opened my eyes a little further.

The thing I am not sure I can do forever is to give up every animal product. I love yogurt, for instance.

Oh well.

So, here I go, and I know it won't be easy, but thank you Rich and Dr. Barnard.

And please stay tuned during this adventure, as if I crash and burn, I will admit it.

This is the Not-Just-Recipes interview, which Rich very generously let me reprint here.

Dr. Neal Barnard talks to NJR
We’re talking with nutrition researcher Dr. Neal Barnard M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (, to discuss plant-based diets.

NJR: Dr. Barnard, could you please start out by telling us a little bit about the research on vegetarian and vegan diets?

Dr. Barnard: Our research team and many others have shown that vegetarian diets have remarkable health benefits and can help prevent certain diseases, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The best of these are vegan diets, that is, a vegetarian diet that has no cholesterol and even less fat and saturated fat than ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets, because they exclude dairy and eggs. Scientific research shows that health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources in the diet decreases, making vegan diets the healthiest overall.

NJR: Are vegan diets good for weight-loss?

Dr. Barnard: They’re the best. It’s a very straightforward diet plan with no strict calorie counting or portion control. You can still eat carbs, desserts, and even have a glass of wine now and then. All you have to do is ensure that your meals are built from an array of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. So, a typical day might start out with a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins, and if you were to have bacon or sausage, it would be the veggie varieties that many stores now sell. Of course, a fruit smoothie, a half a cantaloupe, or other fresh fruit is fine. If you’re having lunch at a fast-food spot, go for a veggie burger, a bean burrito, or salad bar. For dinner, think international: spaghetti with tomato sauce, Middle Eastern hummus with pita bread, a Chinese stir-fry, etc.It’s also important to cut down on oils. For example, try a water saute instead of oil in your stir-fry, and replace oil with apple sauce for baking. Vegan diets are naturally low in fat, and they’re also extremely high in fiber, which makes us feel full longer and helps fight cravings. Meat and other animal products contain zero fiber.

NJR: Are there any diseases or health conditions that can actually be treated with a vegan diet?

Dr. Barnard: Yes. When people who have type 2 diabetes adopt a low-fat vegan diet, their condition often improves dramatically. In our research, funded by National Institutes of Health, we found that a vegan diet is more effective than a more traditional diabetes diet. We conducted a long-term clinical trial and found that a plant-based diet helps people with diabetes lose weight and improve their blood sugar and cholesterol. We also found that the vegan diet can be easier to follow than a more conventional diabetes diet, which typically restricts portions and calories. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is the longest and best-controlled study of diet and diabetes management that has ever been published. We now know that vegan diets can aid in the treatment of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and many of the other devastating illnesses Americans are struggling with. But remember, it’s always important to speak with your doctor before deciding to change a treatment regimen or change your diet or medications.

NJR: Is it healthy for children to be on a vegan or vegetarian diet?

Dr. Barnard: Definitely. A well-balanced vegan or vegetarian diet is safe and healthy for any person at any stage of life, including infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Vegetarian diets are packed with all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that growing children need. Childhood obesity is overwhelming the nation, and one in three children are expected to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later in life. But a focus on healthful eating can help. Perhaps the most important consideration for feeding children is this: Lifelong dietary habits are established at a young age. Children who are raised on a vegetarian diet and acquire a taste for healthful foods like veggie burgers, kale, and edamame will have a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, compared with their peers raised on the average American diet. They will also tend to live years longer.

NJR: What about soy? Soy foods are becoming very popular, but many people have grown concerned about whether they’re safe to eat.

Dr. Barnard: Let’s take a look at the research. The overwhelming majority of studies on soy have shown positive health effects. Girls who consume soy products, such as soy milk or tofu, during adolescence have about 30 percent less risk of breast cancer later in life. And a new Journal of the American Medical Association study suggests that women who have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer can cut their risk of recurrence by having soy products daily. Eating soy in moderation is appropriate for a healthy diet. There have been concerns about processed soy products, such as soy hot dogs and other “mock meats”, but moderate intakes of these foods are not likely to cause health problems. Some soy products are high in sodium and contain a higher-than-healthy level of fat, so be sure to check the labels and choose the healthier versions. Nonetheless, these foods are much healthier than animal-derived foods.

NJR: Do you think vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more common?

Dr. Barnard: Slowly but surely. Doctors, writers, and the media are talking about vegan diets, and more and more people are eating vegan full-time or part-time. Big, beautiful health-food stores are replacing the tiny corner shops where people use to have to go just to find tofu. More and more Americans are discovering that vegan diets can drastically improve their health, help reduce the cruelty involved in animal agriculture, and even fight climate change. At the same time, school lunch lines are still flooded with pepperoni pizza and chicken nuggets, and overseas, westernization is ushering in meat and dairy products like never before.

NJR: What about this new term “flexitarian”? Do people who drastically reduce their meat consumption experience the same health effects as those who cut it out completely?

Dr. Barnard: Being a “flexitarian” is a baby step in the right direction. But this diet plan just doesn’t measure up to a plant-based diet. In fact, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that even one meal high in saturated fat can prevent a person’s “good” cholesterol from safeguarding the body against clogged arteries. Saturated fat, found mostly in animal products, is linked to plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans throughout the day will provide all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need—without the fat and cholesterol found in animal products.

NJR: Finally, do you have any advice for someone who is considering trying a plant-based diet?

Dr. Barnard: Try this new diet for three weeks. Fully commit to drop all meat, dairy products, and eggs and fill up on healthful, low-fat vegan foods. Three weeks is the perfect starting point, because it’s less intimidating than committing to a new lifestyle forever, but it allows enough time for you to really experience the wide-ranging health benefits. PCRM has a new online program that guides people through a three week trial of a vegan diet. The 21-Day Vegan Kickstart provides daily tips, recipes, webcasts, a message board moderated by doctors and dietitians, and even guidance from Alicia Silverstone and other celebrities. We had nearly 30,000 participants in our recent Vegan Kickstart, and we welcome more! Anyone who’s interested can sign up for this free program at

For more information about Dr. Barnard’s organization, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, go to

Not-Just-Recipes would like to thank Dr. Barnard for taking the time to do this interview. Thank you as well for all the good work you and the folks at PCRM do every day.


Anonymous Sarah Caron said...

I saw an interview with Alicia Silverstone on Oprah recently, and the way she described the positive changes that she felt in her body after becoming vegan was really alluring. Though even she admitted to occasionally breaking her veganism for a little cheese ... though not often. I hope you will write more about eating vegan for these few weeks -- and if you feel the health impacts that we've heard about from it.

February 15, 2010 8:12 AM 
Blogger Helen Bennett Harvey said...

Thank Sarah - that is good information - I will see if I can find Alicia's bit on Oprah - and yes, I will blog about it - so far, just very hungry!

February 15, 2010 12:20 PM 
Blogger Alena said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


February 16, 2010 4:29 AM 

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