Mark Bittman's book, VB6, has been around for several months, and it has intrigued me ever since I first read about it. As a mainly meat-free eater, I've often wondered how easy or difficult it would be to follow a vegan diet. I'm intrigued by vegan meals and recipes and love experimenting with them, but to follow a vegan diet (almost) exclusively? I wasn't sure it was for me. After all, cheese is pretty much my best friend! I decided that I would follow along with the VB6 plan, at least for four weeks, to give it a fair shake. The following is my take on the diet, and the information that follows is based on my own opinions.
VB6 is much more than just a tutorial on "how to eat vegan." What Mark promotes in the book is an adaptable way of eating: A commitment to eat more plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans); to eat fewer animal products and processed foods; and to basically eliminate junk food from your diet. In my opinion, it's the flexibility of this diet that makes it easy to follow. Mark recommends that readers eat vegan throughout the day until their last meal of the day, or until about 6 p.m. That's one aspect to the flexibility of the plan. Another is to follow the mindset that you can easily switch things up. For example, for many people at different times, it might not be possible to eat vegan, say, for lunch (think business lunches or having to grab airport food). So don't, Mark says! Simply make your 6 p.m. meal the vegan meal or, maybe, eat vegan all day the following day.
This diet isn't about perfection or being super-strict. According to Mark, "It's about doing your best to nourish yourself with real, wholesome foods most of the time and not beating yourself up when you don't." If you're thinking, "that sounds like something I can stick with," that's the idea!
I decided to go for it (and bring my husband along on my adventure) and embark on the VB6 diet. The first thing we did was go grocery shopping to stock up on fruits and veggies and a bunch of whole grains. While at the store, we read food labels. Don't worry -- you don't have to be a nutrition expert to do this.
In the book, Mark mentions that you should check out the labels on packaged foods. If you find a lengthy ingredients list — including things that you can't pronounce or that sound like they're used in a science project — you should probably leave that item on the shelf. This search-and-read mode turned into a game for my husband and me. We found that things we thought were "healthy," like certain cereals, now became part of our past. Reading labels became the most eye-opening part of this diet for me. That, and the fact that convenience is king, as they say. I consider myself to be a fairly healthy eater, but you'd be surprised how much even "healthy eaters" reach for packaged products.
Yes, you cook a lot on this diet, you'll spend more time preparing meals, and you'll make more trips to the grocery store to stock up on fresh foods, but for me it was worth it. I discovered whole grains that I hadn't eaten before, like wheat berries and farro (both amazing and very versatile), which have now become more regular items in my meal rotations. I searched and found new recipes, and learned to prepare vegetables in ways I hadn't thought about before.
This book is easy to read and follow along (I never felt like I was being lectured). In it you'll find thorough explanations for what constitutes healthy foods versus those with empty calories and junk food. You'll find lists of types of foods you can eat in unlimited amounts, those that should be more limited, and food you should stay away from.
There are tips for people who may have challenges following diets (like athletes, those feeding families, and people who eat at restaurants often), along with ideas for winning strategies. Especially helpful are the lists of essential items for your pantry, an organized 28-day meal plan and tasty recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snacks.
Over the course of the four weeks, I lost four pounds, which made me happy! I don't currently follow the diet to a T, but have incorporated many good-for-you foods into my diet and eliminated others that aren't. I found the book to be a great learning opportunity that led me in the direction of healthier, more informed eating.
Mark Bittman is one of the country's best-known, most widely respected food writers. His How to Cook Everything books, with one million copies in print, are a mainstay of the modern kitchen. Mark writes for the New York Times magazine. His The Minimalist cooking show, based on his popular NYT column, can be seen on the Cooking Channel. He is also the author of Food Matters, Food Matters Cookbook, Fish, and Leafy Greens.
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