The how-to guide to going vegan

Try almond milk with your cereal, and remember, ‘broccoli is 30 per cent protein!’

The how-to guide to going vegan

iStock/Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Lauren Cattermole

When former U.S. president Bill Clinton gave up eating meat, he explained he’d done a lot of research into low-fat vegan diets, and had discovered that 82 per cent of people like him with heart disease who switch from meat to plant-based foods heal themselves without surgery or drugs. Clinton was facing his third heart operation when he changed his diet. He lost 24 lb. “I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit,” he said. “No dairy. No meat. No chicken, no turkey. I drink almond milk mixed with fruit and a protein powder. It changed my whole metabolism and I got back to what I weighed in high school.”

For those who want to try a Clinton-style vegan diet but feel daunted by the prospect, a new book by Dr. Neal Barnard gives meat eaters step-by-step instructions on how to make the switch from meat and cheese to kale and lentils. Called 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health, it prescribes a vegan diet so low in fat that Barnard eschews cooking even with olive oil, instructing readers to stir-fry vegetables in water, or wine, or vegetable broth, or in just a hot, dry pan.

“Take maybe a week or 10 days and make a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he tells meat eaters. “During that time, you’re not changing your diet. All you’re doing is sorting out foods that you can have.” For example, “Let’s say we’re having cereal with milk in the morning. Well, have I ever tried soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, oat milk? For a week, all you’re doing is trying different products. Then when you find what you like, you’re going to do a three-week test drive.”

His book provides meal suggestions. “If you’re looking for a super-quick breakfast, pick up some frozen breakfast burritos. A few minutes in the microwave and you have a nourishing breakfast.” For lunch, Barnard recommends Manischewitz brand dried soup mix as a base to which to add vegetables—bring it to work in a thermos. For sandwiches, switch from mayonnaise to Vegenaise, and experiment with different brands of meatless deli slices. Or try hummus as a sandwich filling. For dinner, pasta and pizza are the easiest meals for the beginner vegan. “You’ll find frozen pizza with rice crusts and vegan cheese at many supermarkets and health food stores.”

As for protein, Barnard says, “even if you ate nothing but pasta, you’d actually get enough protein. The Dieticians of Canada did a report on nutrition on a vegan diet and they said that as long as you’re getting the beans and grains and vegetables, the protein comes along with it. Broccoli is 30 per cent protein!”

Barnard insists that vegan cooking isn’t any more time-consuming than preparing a meat-based meal. “Cereal with soy milk is just as fast as cereal with cow’s milk,” he says. “Or, if I’m making spaghetti, I can use canned sauce and that’s okay. Frozen vegetables are perfectly fine. So it can be very quick or it can be elaborate if you want.”

“Or you can go out for dinner. One easy way to get to know tofu is at a Chinese restaurant,” he writes. At Italian restaurants, order pasta e fagioli—pasta with beans. For fast-food meals at Taco Bell, “try the bean burrito, hold the cheese, and add lettuce, tomato and hot peppers.” When cooking at home, “don’t throw out your favourite family recipes!” he writes. “Often, all that’s needed is an adjustment here and there. Meat replacements can be extremely varied. You can use mushrooms and hearty vegetables like eggplant.”

What about that “dyed-in-the-wool meat eater”? Barnard asks. He recommends “the Gardein company of Vancouver. It has come up with an ingenious line of products that will have your guests thanking you for the delicious chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans.”

Perhaps someday, Barnard writes, “in the not-too-distant future, a meat eater arriving at a dinner party will have to apologize to other guests, ‘Excuse me, I’m still a carnivore. I hope you don’t mind if I indulge my habit today.’ And of course, you will be magnanimous and let him know that you once had the same habit yourself.”