Review: Bittman’s Vegan Before Six

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good
Mark Bittman
I’ve written separately about my own efforts to follow the “Vegan Before Six” diet, so I’ll limit this to a review of the book. While you don’t need to read this to follow the VB6 guidelines, it helps. No surprise, Bittman is clear, concise, and cuts through the dieting bullshit to get to the crux of the matter – you should be eating more plants, less meat, and no crap. He backs up this basic (but often hard to follow) advice with solid science and helpful recipes.

I genuinely think the world would be a better place if more of us ate like Bittman recommends. You should check it out.


Review: Gifford’s Spring Chicken

Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying)
Bill Gifford

This will come as no surprise, but the older I get, the more obsessed I become with aging and how to stay physically and mentally healthy as the number pile up. Gifford does a good job here of reviewing the latest science and behavioral studies to pull out trends (some wacky, some worth pursuing) and breaking it down for us simple folk. Think of it as Gladwell for the age obsessed.

I read a fair amount of this kind of stuff, and it can go either way sometimes too light hearted, sometimes too wonky. Gifford is a top notch journalist and he gets the sauce just right – plenty of clear explanations of the latest in exercise science and nutrition but peppered with a healthy helping of fascinating anecdotes on the scientists and “life hackers” working on the idea of extending our healthy years. If health / aging/ nutrition is you thing, then this will be your thing.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

964 Must Read Words On My Incredibly Fascinating Diet

Bad News.

Three months ago I went to the doctor for the first time in years. I got some bad, but not surprising, news. I had high cholesterol.* I wasn’t surprised. High cholesterol runs in my family and I have, for years, let the fact that I’m a pretty active person cover up for the fact that I am also a pretty bad eater. Running as much as I do means you can have chips and Italian hero for lunch and not really gain weight. And I did that, many, many times. For years.

Now those bad eating decisions have coming home to roost. My numbers weren’t high enough for my doctor to panic, but she did suggest I make some lifestyle changes. Meaning, eat a bit healthier. Swap out buttered toast for a whole grain cereal. Give up the chips for lunch. Try to eat more veggies and less dairy. Nothing crazy, just common sense changes. I did these things, but it didn’t feel like enough, nor structured enough for my personality. So, about six weeks ago, I started following the “Vegan Before Six” eating guidelines developed by Mark Bittman.

Vegan Before Six doesn’t get the kind of attention other diets like paleo or vegan largely, I think, because it is so sensible, it isn’t even really a diet. The guidelines couldn’t be easier. Indeed, the rules are right there in the name – eat healthy vegan foods** before six pm, then eat a reasonable dinner that may or may contain non-vegan ingredients. There’s a book (of course) and it contains some additional guidelines, but really its so simple you can just start doing it.

I did. And this week I went back to the doctor for a lipid scan. My ldl went down ten points in three months while my hdl stayed relatively high***. The doctor was happy with the progress, and so was I. The diet seemed to be working.

Long time readers of this blog know I’ve dabbled in various diets over the years, none of which have stuck. That’s why I didn’t write about this VB6 thing when I started. It seemed to me that no one would be interested This time, I’m not thinking of it as a diet. Rather, I’m simply changing the way I make food choices. So far, it seems to be working. Its (relatively) easy, I feel better, and the test results are positive. I’m going to stick with it. If the test results plateau, perhaps I’ll reexamine.

So What Exactly Are You Eating?

Ideally, mostly this.

Sometimes this.

OK, here’s the deal. Six days a week, I eat a vegan diet until 6 pm (really its till whenever E and I actually sit down to eat dinner, which can be 8:30 or later). Often, this means homemade cereal for breakfast, a salad or vegan sandwich for lunch, and apples and nuts for snacks. Then, we eat a sensible dinner. Usually meat with veggies and whole grains, but not always. Last night we ate Xi’an Famous and it was delicious.

I take Saturday’s off from the diet because, well, I like challah french toast with the little dude.

I think a key to this is not to try to make up for lost meat and dairy at dinner. It will do no good if you eat a salad for lunch and then have nachos for dinner every night. I also think its important to not be too rigid with the rules. If we’re going to someone’s house for brunch on a Sunday, I’m not going to demand vegan fare, but I will attempt to be reasonable with what I eat for dinner that evening.

As a side note, I’m finding that my taste buds are changing somewhat. I’m craving more fresh fruits and veggies, even at night, and am somewhat less interested in meat. I think there’s some science behind this, which I might explore in another blog post.

Why Didn’t You Just Go Vegan?

Because I’m not that guy anymore. I spent six years of my life as a vegan (plus another four as a vegetarian) and I’m still sad about the delicious meals I missed during those years. I doubt I’ll ever follow such a strict diet again.

What I like about the VB6 guide to eating is that it allows me to make meaningful changes to my diet without forcing me to give up the delicious, joyous, meat and dairy filled meals I enjoy with my friends and family.

For me, for now, this isn’t about an ethical decisions regarding animal rights (though the more I think and read, the more concerned I am with the environmental concerns of mass meat consumption). Rather, it is about being healthier in a way that I find sustainable. And to be sustainable for me, it needs to involve the occasional steak dinner with friends.

I’m seven hundred words into this and I don’t know why you wrote it.

Here’s why I wrote it – I am more and more convinced that the key to health isn’t exercise, its diet. I’ve exercised regularly for years and my cholesterol numbers are still unacceptably high. Why is that? Because I haven’t been paying attention to what I eat. Now that I’m paying attention to it, I’m seeing results. And those results make me want to learn, and do, more. I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it takes to eat healthy, I know I have them, and I plan to write about them here.

I hope you’ll follow along.

* Nerds will ask so the numbers were total cholesterol: 248, LDL: 150 HDL: 80, triglycerides: 92

**e. g. salads, fruits and veggies, true whole grains, not french fries.

*** Again, for the nerds, total cholesterol: 222, LDL: 149, HDL: 64, triglycerides: 88

Review: Clark’s Food Guide for Marathoners

Nancy Clark’ s Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions
Nancy Clark

For a while at least, this was the definitive book on nutrition for endurance athletes. We’ve come a long way from the days of eat a ton of pasta the night before the race. Here, Clark discusses the timing of carbo-loading, the importance of protein (a much debated subject today) and the effects of periodizing your diet to match your training while focusing on getting enough sleep.  While this book is no longer cutting edge, it certainly gives one a good grounding in the nutrition of endurance events.

Recommended for the enthusiast.