Friday, June 20, 2008

The Decadent Vegetarian Diet

Pink-and-White Cookies from, one of the best professional baking sites on the Internet

Nope, the title isn’t an oxymoron. Vegetarian food can be decadent, even downright fattening. I should know - I was a vegetarian for years at some time in the distant past. Lately I’ve been a carnivore, but right now I’m starting a new vegetarian diet for health reasons. So I’m writing this post to remind myself of the ways in which even vegetarian diets can go woefully wrong.

First, to succeed at losing weight or becoming healthier on a vegetarian diet, I would advice that you eat or drink strictly limited amounts of the following: beer, baked desserts, frozen desserts, and cheese. My problem with each of these foods is about the same. Eating some leads to eating a lot.

Notice that beer is the only non-fat food in this list, and also the only food containing no animal by-products. Yet beer-drinking has other consequences, and the phrase “beer belly” speaks for itself. I find it particularly difficult to limit beer because the more I drink the less I care about calories and other such mundane considerations.

Among the many baked desserts that threaten my diet, cookies are a particular problem for me (see photo above, which has haunted me for a couple of days now), especially since I like to bake. Speaking of baking, I always like to warn non-bakers that it’s futile to eat commercial muffins and scones in an attempt to escape fat and calories. I promise you that one of those gigantic muffins contains as much fat as a piece of cake or a donut, and if you don’t believe me you should go read some recipes. But with baked goods, at least, I practice what I preach. Why only today I ate a donut to avoid eating a cherry-almond scone instead. Okay, I confess that this particular donut was not a good example. With chocolate icing and cream filling, it had to be more fattening than a muffin. But before you judge me consider that it also had a vanilla happy-face iced onto its top, and that put me over the edge – I can only resist so much.

Moving onto our next food group, it’s important to remember that frozen desserts are tricky. I’m always tempted to think I can simply replace ice cream with frozen yogurt, buy smaller containers, and therefore escape harm. Right. That’s a very good idea for people who have never found themselves accidentally eating a whole pint straight from the box while watching TV, but not such a good idea for me. Many commercial frozen yogurts are still high enough in fat, even if they don’t quite compete with ice cream for the most lard per ounce, and contain ample calories besides. As for substitutes like sorbet, they’re good, but they don’t satisfy the same craving.

Finally we come to cheese, the other inspiration behind my return to vegetarianism. You see, as I was researching how to change my diet to lose weight and lower my cholesterol, I came across copious advice telling me to moderate my intake of foods such as meat, nuts, and oils, and to eliminate certain problem foods like fatty desserts and cheese. Eliminate CHEESE? Who do these people think they’re kidding? I am more open to abandoning my home to go live in the brush, subsisting only on berries and cactus. So something had to be done, and by that I mean something other than giving up cheese. Besides, the brutish barbarians who would recommend such solutions need to be taught a lesson (and should also be given some free high-quality cheese, I think, since they’ve clearly never tried it or they wouldn’t run around talking like that). So I remembered how skinny and healthy I used to be as a cheese-eating vegetarian, and there you have it. Sure, I’ll moderate my cheese intake as best I’m able, but each of us must draw some kind of line between eating well and preserving the pleasure of excellent food, and this is mine.

But there is still one more looming threat to the vegetarian diet. It’s not a specific food but a process, and an insidious process at that. If you work to control your intake of beer, frozen and baked desserts, and cheese, and you eat lots of healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans instead, you will soon discover one of the wonders of the vegetarian diet. Suddenly, you’re not so hungry at meal time anymore. You feel content with smaller portions. You feel healthier. But beware. If you get too overzealous about limiting your meals, the consequences creep up on you. One night you’ll suddenly realize that you absolutely must have a glass of stout beer and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia with a chocolate donut on the side, followed by a cheese course, a box of crackers, and several nice Lambics. You will wake up bloated and hung over the next day, missing the good old days when it was just a pint of frozen yogurt you had to worry about (and by “you” I continue to mean “me”). Ironically this happens because you’ve not been eating enough. Of course, that’s the goal of most diets, or at least for diets that don’t work. By contrast, the goal of a vegetarian diet is to eat and get full so that you’re not blind-sided by sudden cravings.

You know, this is all pretty good advice if I do say so myself, and I hope I take it. I’ll keep you posted.


Abbie said...

I am a vegetarian also, and my biggest problem is cheese! Once I start I cannot stop!

MiddleKingdomSerf said...

Those cookies look pretty darn good. I understand the problem. From a pure physiology standpoint, however, aren't humans supposed to be omnivores? If so, being a vegetarian could be considered an unnatural act.

What about fish? Other than the mercury, eating them is supposed to be healthy, but they would be proscribed on a vegetarian diet.

Nikki & David Goldbeck said...

For some reason your question just came up in google news alerts. In case you are still interested:

Forty years ago I gave up a likely successful legal career to advocate for complete food labeling, whole, organic and vegetarian cuisine, environmental issues and the like. This was one of the best decisions I ever made.

If you want good reasons to go veg check out “21 Reasons to Eat Like A Vegetarian” on and our popular veg cookbook, (the "joy of Cooking for vegs") - American Wholefoods Cuisine. Good luck.