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Published July 02, 2012, 11:30 PM

Veggie tales: Saying 'adieu' to animal products

FARGO - Before becoming vegan, Christine Forbes of Fargo struggled with iron-deficiency anemia for more than two years. She had no energy and was gaining weight.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO - Before becoming vegan, Christine Forbes of Fargo struggled with iron-deficiency anemia for more than two years. She had no energy and was gaining weight.

It was also becoming harder for her to exercise; she had developed beginning stage endometrial cancer, and her cholesterol and blood pressure were elevated, she said.

Nothing her doctors suggested helped her feel any better, she said, so she spent seven months reading every book on nutrition she could get her hands on.

Then in August 2011, she gave up soda and heavily processed and pre-packaged foods, and she switched to a whole-foods and plant-based diet.

Forbes dropped 40 pounds in her first 60 days of becoming vegan and has maintained the weight loss since.

Blood tests just a month after starting her vegan lifestyle showed her problems with anemia were resolved, she said.

“Lentils and black beans are high in iron and easier to assimilate without the interference of animal products,” Forbes said.

She has more energy, is able to exercise on a regular basis, and hasn’t gotten a cold or flu since adopting a vegan diet, she said.

Her cholesterol and blood pressure are well within the normal range, she said.

“After 30 days of eating a vegan diet, I felt so good, that I knew I would never go back,” Forbes said. “The difference in my health has been so dramatic that I have no desire for how I ate before.”

But making the change wasn’t easy.

In addition to her research, Forbes had to completely relearn how to cook, she said.

She gave up animal products in short stages over a month. First she stopped eating red meat, then chicken, and last to go were dairy and animal byproducts.

“I think dairy was the most difficult to give up, but it is also the one that has the most dramatic effect on your health,” Forbes said. “There are no vegan products which perfectly imitate the creaminess found in real dairy, but I can live with that. I’ve come up with some pretty good substitutes. Try giving up dairy for one week, and you will be amazed at how flat your tummy feels.”

In addition to the health improvements, her food budget has also improved, Forbes said.

She used to eat chicken and yogurt every day and she poured skim milk on her cereal almost every morning, she said.

Altoids, which contain gelatin (made from the skin, bones and connective tissue of animals), were also a regular part of her diet.

“I was eating animal products for almost every meal, every day,” she said.

Now, she typically eats oatmeal with cinnamon, chia seeds and blueberries for breakfast and raw nuts and fruit for snacks. For lunch, Forbes generally eats a salad of kale, carrots, and broccoli slaw with a whole-wheat vegetable and hummus wrap.

Dinner might be something like yam enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce, fettucini with tofu Alfredo sauce, Szechuan stir-fried veggies over brown rice, bean burritos with fresh pico de gallo, or chipotle black bean burgers on a whole grain bun with avocado and tomatoes, she said.

“The options never seem to end, and I try to cook one new recipe each week,” Forbes said. “Vegan doesn’t have to be complicated though. It is so easy to bake some yams, cook up some rice and beans, and throw together a salad on the weekend that you can use for quick meals all week long.”

She still orders pizza, but she gets double marinara sauce, loaded vegetables and no cheese.

She can also find something to eat at almost any restaurant in town, she said.

Despite the health benefits, people still think she’s strange for eating a vegan diet, Forbes said.

“A lot of people don’t know what vegan means,” she said. “We sound like an alien species. Most of my friends think I’m crazy and somehow missing out on something. I remind them that all I’m missing is heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”

Animal ethics

Krista Thom of Fargo became a vegetarian a year ago. She hasn’t really noticed any health changes – she said she ate very healthy before giving up meat.

The reason Thom became vegetarian was for ethical reasons, she said.

“It can be hard to talk about my reasoning without sounding a little self-righteous, especially since I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons,” she wrote on her Area Voices blog, Red River Vegetarian. “It’s awkward trying to explain to someone that factory farming is often inhumane, that the oceans are dangerously overfished, and that livestock production is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases when the other person is chowing down on a hamburger. It can come off as a little judgmental.”

Before becoming vegetarian, Thom also did a lot of research on food and nutrition. She had been eating less meat for a few months and had already built up a repertoire of meat-free recipes, so making the change wasn’t as difficult as she’d expected, she wrote on her blog.

Still, it was a drastic change. Thom grew up in rural North Dakota, where her parents raised cattle, she said.

“We had meat two or three meals a day, and I was a meat eater,” Thom said. “I loved chicken and pot roast, and I put bacon on absolutely everything.”

Thom gradually phased meat out of her diet, she said.

“That made it a little bit easier,” she said.

She eats a lot of beans, tofu and chickpeas as protein sources, she said.

Going out to restaurants can be a bit of a challenge, but many ethnic restaurants have good meatless options, Thom said.

Her family was supportive once they got used to the idea, she said.

“When I first told my mom I was becoming a vegetarian, her reaction was, ‘Well, I guess it’s better than doing drugs,’ ” Thom said with a laugh, adding that her mom has cooked her some vegetarian meals.

For people considering eating a vegetable-based diet, Forbes recommends consulting your doctor first and then researching it and buying a good cookbook. “Happy Herbivore” by Lindsay S. Nixon is her favorite.

“Some people might recommend trying to eat vegan for only a day or two per week, but I think going cold turkey gives the most dramatic health benefit and the motivation to continue on,” she said.

She also recommends finding a support group like the Fargo-Moorhead Vegetarian Meet-Up group and reading online blogs for recipe ideas.

“Learn to re-create some of your favorite dishes,” she said. “I was never so excited in my life as when I finally figured out how to make my grandmother’s gingersnaps without eggs.”