How I Am Surviving a Nearly-Vegan Diet

My life has been a bit crazy for a while. I had some health problems and went to a doctor who told me that my bad cholesterol and triglycerides were too high, and that if I didn’t lower them I might have to go on medication. This isn’t really a surprise, considering that there isn’t much cheap, healthy food available in Vienna, and I’ve been eating complete junk.

New Way of Eating

So, I went back to something simliar to my older memory diet that I wrote about here and here, except that now I am basically vegan, with the exception of fish. I’ll continue with this for three months in total, and then get another blood test to see if there is improvement.

The challenge is that it’s difficult to eat like this in Vienna. The good thing is that this diet is healthy, and I’m feeling the benefits. I thought I would share a little bit about how I manage to eat healthily with limited time. I’ve pretty much eliminated all food that is bad for my brain in this process as well. I usually eat like this whenever I’m focusing on eating well.

The Concept

What I am eating now is based on these ideas:

• whole grains — no refined grains at all
• fruits
• vegetables
• no meat (except fish)
• no dairy
• no heavily processed food, including canned food
• no sugar
• no coffee — only tea
• no added oils other than olive oil
• no soda or juice — only water and tea
• no alcohol
• no eggs — though I may end up having one or two per month
• no dietary supplements — I’m not into them, because they are available in food

Breakfast

Oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts, and berries

Breakfast is always oatmeal. I take about 1/2 cup of rolled oats (but not instant oats) and put them in a pot. I add some water, and cook for about five minutes, until done.

Meanwhile, I chop up dried fruit, fresh fruit, and nuts. An ideal oatmeal dish will have:

• dried apricots
• prunes
• raisins
• blueberries
• strawberries
• a few chopped Brazil nuts
• a few chopped almonds

If other fruits and nuts are available, I sometimes add them. It often varies.

I put all the dried fruit in a bowl and pour the cooked oatmeal on top to cool down and let the dried fruit absorb some water. Then I add the fruit and nuts, and eat it. There are no ingredients other than oats, fruit, and nuts.

Lunch

This is difficult in Vienna, since the only cheap, prepared food that I’ve seen is junk food. I usually go to the supermarket on my lunch break and buy some fruit just to fend off hunger enough to avoid breaking down and having a käsekrainer.

Dinner

For dinner, I cook brown rice and vegetables. For making rice quickly, I bought a rice cooker for about 25 euros. I put some rice and water in it and it cooks in about 30 or 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, I cook the vegetables. The easiest way is to chop up vegetables in sets according to their cooking times.

Set #1:

• onions
• garlic (not too small, otherwise it goes in set #2)
• bitter melon
• tempeh
• daikon

Set #2:

• kohlrabi
• firm, chopped tofu
• mushrooms
• zucchini
• bell pepper
• eggplant (a.k.a., aubergine)
• green or red cabbage
• napa cabbage stems

Set #3:

• greens, like the ends of the napa cabbage leaves or scallions
• snap peas
• anything else that cooks quickly

Not all of the items above will go into one dish — the lists just illustrate general cooking times for different types of vegetables.

I put about two spoonfuls of olive oil in a pan and add set #1. I cook for a while and add set #2. After that, I add set #3. I don’t actually have three exact sets, and I usually don’t know what I’m going to cook until I’m halfway finished, but if I had to explain it in a way that could be replicated, I would say that all the vegetables are chopped to the right size and added in groups so that they are finished cooking at the same time. If I were in California, the list would be much longer, but there isn’t much variety of produce in Viennese supermarkets. I can’t find many dark green leafy vegetables here.

I don’t have a lot of seasonings at the apartment, so I usually add a little fermented anchovy sauce about the time that I add the last ingredients.

If I had better cooking utensils, I would make a larger variety of dishes, like baked root vegetables and bean soups.

A quick salad involves chopping cucumbers and tomatoes, then covering with a little olive oil and some salt. Sometimes vinegar or lemon juice is mixed with the oil. You can see it in a couple of the photos below.

The Seasoning

I put some brown rice on the plate and the vegetables and salad next to it. The only seasoning is salt, and/or the fish sauce, or Sriracha hot sauce. I sometimes add kimchi or a little fish on the side.

The Results

I’m hoping that this way of eating improves my next blood test results. I think it is a healthy way to eat, and the discipline helps me focus in general.

I sometimes take photos of what I cook, and a few of the photos are below (via Instagram).

• Fructose in larger quantities is bad for you. The UCLA study pointed that in just six weeks a diet that contains a lot of fructose lowers your brain’s ability to learn and remember. You can somewhat protect yourself from this with omega-3 fatty acids and luckily fruits also contain a lot of fiber, but just don’t get too over the top with fruits if you really want to keep fine-tuning your diet.

Like Robert Lustig once put it, fructose is alcohol without the buzz.

Come to think of it, HFCS (combined with Jersey Shore) might explain why I sometimes feel like being surrounded by absolute morons.

• Thanks… I just looked up the UCLA study and found it here:
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/this-is-your-brain-on-sugar-ucla-233992.aspx

Sources of fructose in the Western diet include cane sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener…

“We’re less concerned about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” explained Gomez-Pinilla, who is also a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center. “We’re more concerned about the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”

It also says that the rats were fed, “fructose solution as drinking water”. From what I’ve heard, I was under the impression that fruit doesn’t have the same problem, because of the fiber and other ingredients. The sweeter a fruit is, the more fiber it tends to have. That’s why I avoid all juice.

In any case, I don’t think I eat a huge amount of fruit. I also get omega-3 from the smoked salmon and pickled herring, though maybe I should find some walnuts or flax seed for days when I don’t eat fish.

It’s an interesting study that I hadn’t heard about. I will post a link to the study in the forum this evening.

• You should check out this site http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/ . It has different ideas for vegan recipes, so it wouldn’t be such a difficult thing for you to make some food.

• Keep up the great work, Josh. I’m getting tons of help from your site and community.

Nominated you for the Liebster Blog award, too:
http://lifeupfront.com/2012/07/31/life-upfront-liebster-blog-award/

• Thanks for the nomination… 🙂
I’ll write something this weekend.

• Anthony C

Good for you man, keep it up! Eating healthy was a big life style change for me. I also eat a near vegan diet. I found it challenging at first, but it has made food an adventure! I bet you’ll find that you can really enjoy it. Good luck with the health objectives. I’m betting you’ll be pleased in a few months.

Best,
-a

• It has only been three weeks so far this time, but I already notice a lot more energy. It is difficult to eat like this in Vienna, but it will be easier when I move back to California in a couple of weeks.

• Renee

I love N=1 experiments. It’s better to eat vegan where you can get actual fruits and vegetables. California seems to be heaven for that. Please don’t eat soy. Soy unless it’s fermented will give you manboobs. Plus too much GMO crap in America. Vegetarian and pescetarian is actually pretty sustainable and you can thrive on those. Whatever works for you. I find that less wheat, less dairy (food sensitive) and more red meat esp. venison does my body well. I cycle my intake and also eat pinto beans in chili. I get fresh vegetables at the farmer’s market and from my garden. Wintertime, I do a lot of soups. I always take fish oil for my brain. Keep us posted on your diet.

• The only soy that I eat is tempeh and tofu. Those are the only legumes that I eat at the moment, since it is difficult to cook in this kitchen. When get to the US I’ll add lentils and reduce the soy.

I have wheat a couple of times per week. I might get a bread machine soon though. California is perfect for this way of eating…

• You want to avoid added sugars (even such as raisins) because it will elevate your triglycerides. Most patients with high-tryglycerides also have low HDL. Try the low-glycemic index diet and some aerobic exercise. Diet high in carbs will raise your triglycerides, diet high in saturated fat will raise your LDL cholesterol.

• I heard that the fructose in whole fruits isn’t bad, since it is balanced by the fiber. The more sugar a fruit has, the more fiber it tends to have. Fiber slows down the absorption of the sugar. Do you know of any studies that suggest that eating fruit is risky for people with high triglycerides?

I’m not getting much aerobic exercise here, but will when I get back to San Francisco Bay in a couple of weeks. At the moment, I walk two miles per day on weekdays and 10 to 15 miles on weekends. I’m definitely losing weight and feeling much healthier.

• Hey Josh, this is one extreme diet! How is it affecting your memory performance?

To V: Triglycerides come from fats (lipids) and not carbs or sugar. 😉

• I wish I knew how it affected memory. I’ve only had one good night’s sleep since I got back to Vienna a month ago (long story), and exhaustion is detrimental to memory. I’ll be back in San Francisco for the long term next week, getting sleep again then.

The diet doesn’t seem that extreme to me, except that I can never eat out or go that far from my food supply–which is actually good, because it also cuts down my expenses. 🙂

The diet isn’t difficult to follow: I just ask myself what I want more–health or gluttony? It’s an easy answer. The food tastes good too. I don’t need refined bread or ice cream or meat–they are just luxuries and are less enjoyable for me than being in good shape.

If the next blood test is back to normal, I’ll add a little bit of meat once or twice per week, but I hope to continue like this for the long term.

• Simon L.

Congratulation on your new diet, Josh! Any body who reduces animal product consumption does a favor to the planet (reduced green house gas, reduced deforestation, reduced loss of biodiversity, etc) not to mention how horrible modern factory farming is to animals. So, I take what you are doing as a favor to me as well.

Albert Einstein was a vegetarian. Think about it.

Simon L.

• Hi Folks, Really interesting to see the Wonderful Comments and Suggestion, Really Thank You all. I am a 37 year Male, from India . I am a Pure Veg Guy. I want to increase my memory as I think that I am a slow learner, but I learn it. How can I improve my learning and send me any brain improvement program. Thanks

• Josh, I enjoyed your post and your mouth-watering photos of your vegan creations. I totally agree. Here is an idea for your problem cooking lentils in Vienna. Instead you can make lentil sprouts! It’s fun and easy. Just soak a handful of brown or red lentils for a day or overnight. Rinse on the second day and let sit in a moist and warm place. Enjoy the juicy, nutritious crunch of them on the third day. Great with salads but even better when folded into my favorite filling breakfast, Oatmeal Flax Seed Porridge. Try this recipe: a handful each of oatmeal, raisins, flax seeds, lentil sprouts and chopped onions. Boil for a few minutes until the flax seeds get slippery. Add rich flavorings such as fresh garlic, Bragg Liquid Aminos, apple cider vinegar and Sriracha hot sauce. BTW thanks for keeping your link to my Jwleaf PAO Mnemonic System.

• @PV:
Here are some free resources for learning memory techniques:
https://blog.artofmemory.com/wiki/Main_Page

@Jonathan:
Thanks for the tip. I should have tried that. I moved back to California and now have a way to cook legumes. I’m not as strict about the diet at the moment, but I’m conscious about avoiding foods that are not good for cholesterol.

That’s an interesting breakfast idea. At the moment, I eat oatmeal with ground flax seeds and fruit every day. I will try your recipe.

• Josh!! YES!!

I’ve been a vegan for years — mostly a raw food vegan (without fruit/sugar) actually. I’ve done a lot of work with Gabriel Cousens where i”ve personally seen him transform many serious illnesses through plant based live food nutrition.

Some things I can recommend are:
1) drink A LOT of water… Its vital on so many levels and it also helps you feel full, which is a plus.
2) Sprout your nuts and seeds and INDULGE! If you have a dehydrator, dehydrating them makes them taste A LOT better (IMO), also keeps them better longer.
3) If you want protein, check out Chlorella, Spirulina, E3 Live (kind of gnarly though), and the Sunwarrior Vanilla Protein Powders… The sunwarrior stuff is AMAZING!

Quinoa is really easy to make and delicious to eat. I’ve cut it out of my diet for the time being to avoid the grain… but if you’re not a superfreak like me it’s great.

Also Chia seeds are pretty amazing — just sprout them instead of oatmeal: raw, live and filled with fatty acids — throw them into the blender too to “predigest them” (sometimes its hard to chew those things).

There’s a lot more I could connect with you about — but I HIGHLY approve of this life-style choice… and I would HIGHLY encourage you to get off fish, especially considering how polluted our oceans are. If you care about your brain, you probably don’t want any mercury or other heavy metals in there…. stay away from fish — and ESPECIALLY farmed fish. It really is a serious environmental and health hazard.

Much Love Brother,
Ben

• It’s good to hear that so many people are vegan. Since people keep mentioning sprouts, maybe I’ll start that project later today. 🙂

Quinoa is great. I recently planted some seeds in the garden, but I’m not sure if they’ve sprouted.

I’ll look into chia seeds. I saw them at the store last weekend, but they were about $13/pound. Maybe I’ll get just a little bit and try them. I wonder if they can be grown in the Bay Area. I have mixed feelings about fish. I don’t eat farmed fish, but I’m not sure how else to get DHA. I’m not sure if humans were meant to eat a lot of algae, but I don’t know. Flax has omega-3s, but apparently not DHA. I need to read more about it. Now that I’m getting settled, I’m checking out more fermented foods like sourdough. I have four jars of starter at the moment. I will get a bread machine soon. At the moment, I’m sticking to the diet with about 70% of what I eat. My life is still a bit chaotic, so I’m trying to balance my diet with avoiding any stress that is caused by adhering to it. 🙂 • zyzzyva57 One of the reasons many may find a vegan diet hard is s/he thinks it will be expensive, because when a vegan diet is presented often esoteric items are presented…I, however, am vegan based on my super local Walmart nearby…I first am a label reading hound, next frozen foods are a core for a non-cook/chef, e.g., Bird’s Eye Normandy Blend is a bag of frozen, raw “jet fuel” for the body and mind for under$6..Bananas are so, so portable…
I would suggest you Google/Bing two basic metric terms: what is a gram and milligram and their weight, as well as liter and milliter
Finally, remember, packaged food’s content runs from most to least, and note what amounts to a serving size, a real ouch here

• I think that vegan eating is relatively inexpensive in general. You can get most bulk grains and legumes from any natural grocery for a dollar or two per pound. 🙂

Even if you don’t cook much, it’s pretty easy to replicate that bag of frozen vegetables. Just get a pot that has a steamer insert. Put a little water in the bottom of the pot. The bring the water to a boil with the vegetables in the steamer. Steam them for 10 minutes or until soft enough. See the picture of spinach here for an example:
https://blog.artofmemory.com/foods-for-improving-memory-665.html

Another way I do it is to put a lot of vegetables in a deep baking pan, add a little water to the bottom, and cover with aluminum foil. Then bake for 30-45 minutes or however long it takes. I usually do that with things like: potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, etc.

Because it’s cooked without oil, I add a little olive oil on top before I eat it.

Freshly-cooked vegetables are going to have much more nutrition than frozen vegetables. You can put them in a glass container in the refrigerator and it lasts for a few days.

I avoid Walmart for a variety of reasons. Check this out:
http://grist.org/food/2011-12-30-eaters-beware-walmart-is-taking-over-our-food-system/