On Becoming Vegan

Excerpted from the Kaiser Permanente Vegetarian Lifestyle Clinic in Hawaii
Director: William Harris, M.D.

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Documented benefits of a pure vegetarian (vegan) lifestyle include permanent reduction in weight, blood pressure, serum cholesterol, and blood sugar, as well as risk reduction for cardiovascular disease and half a dozen common forms of cancer. Allergies, arthritis, and asthma also respond to vegan nutrition, which means no meat, fish, chicken, dairy, eggs, or even honey.

I also ask that you discontinue smoking, alcohol consumption, and that you begin, if you're not already on, a graded exercise program. If you need additional help, Kaiser also sponsors alcohol reduction, exercise, and no-smoking classes.

Why Be a Vegan?

Well, why not be? All the essential organic nutrients required in the human diet (essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins) are made by plants and micro-organisms, not by animals.  Animal foods contain those items too, but since most animals have roughly the same nutrient requirements as humans, we get the nutrients second-hand.  The unique ingredients in animal foods are really cholesterol and saturated fat.

How to be a vegetarian?  The food change is easy since it's really quicker to fix veggie foods than the old recipes you're used to.  We'll have seminars and food demonstrations assisted by members of the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii (VSH).  VSH also sells most of the books that I recommend for a more complete explanation of vegetarianism including:

  • Diet for a New America. John Robbins
  • Healthy Heart Handbook. Neal Pinckney, Ph.D.
  • New McDougall Cookbook. John & Mary McDougall
  • Pregnancy, Children and the Vegan Diet. Michael Klaper, M.D.
  • The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss John McDougall, M.D.
  • The Race for Life Cookbook. Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D.
  • The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism. William Harris, M.D.
  • These books can be found at libraries, book stores, and health food stores.

Vegetarian eating is very simple. One could consume only vegetables, grains, starches, and fruit, and still meet all one's Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for essential nutrients, except for vitamin B-12.   But for those who like to cook, there are many, many recipes in a wide variety of books, and thousands of great vegan recipes to be found on the Internet.

Click Here for a sampling of recipes I recommend for getting started. 

After you have reviewed (and printed up, if you wish) the recipes, continue reading for important information about the recipes' nutritional value.

A Few Words on Vegan Nutrition

Most patients are referred to the Vegetarian Lifestyle Clinic either for serum cholesterol reduction or for weight loss.  The reasons are straightforward: a vegan diet contains no measurable amount of cholesterol and very little saturated fat.

As for weight loss, a whole food vegan diet contains no refined sugar and no oil.  The food recommendations are centered on fresh vegetables, particularly leafy greens, preferably raw, in whatever arrangement your tastebuds appreciate the most, with Calorie requirements filled in by starchy foods (potatoes, yams, etc.), grains (brown rice, pasta, etc.), and fresh fruit (to satisfy that ol' sweet tooth.).

No restriction is placed on the amount of this food you eat, and I encourage you to eat as much as you want as long as it's whole food (unrefined) and vegan.  It is not necessary to measure or count out servings or amounts consumed.   Your body has three sensing mechanisms that take care of that automatically.   First, your stomach (capacity - one quart) has stretch receptors that send signals to the brain when the stomach is full.  Second, your body will instruct you to eat until enough food energy is on board to run your metabolism, since Calorie acquisition is arguably the main reason for eating in the first place.  Third, a complicated system of biochemical feedback systems detect the presence or absence of minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids (protein).

In the nutrient analysis table below each recipe is given a satiety index, which is the weight (roughly proportional to volume) of any given amount of the food, divided by its Calorie content.  The higher the satiety index, the less likely is that food to cause weight gain.

Each recipe is also given a "Percent of Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) per Calorie," which is the same as saying "If you ate nothing but multiples of this recipe until your entire day's Calorie needs (about 2200 Calories) were met, this is the percent of the RDA for each of these nutrients that you would get."  For instance, the Bean Dip has a "%RDA/Cal" of 153% for calcium.  The table shows that the RDA for calcium is 800 mg., so if you were to eat nothing but 2200 Calories of Bean Dip you'd get 153% of 800 mg or 1.53 x 800 = 1223 mg calcium.  No one will eat 2200 calories of any single recipe, but they will eat 2200 Calories of something, and if everything eaten in a day meets or exceeds 100% of the RDA/Cal for each of the nutrients, then all RDAs are met automatically.

You can see that 2200 Calories of the fast food meal, (cheeseburger, french fries, and a shake), are short in fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin E, vitamin C, and zinc.  This nutritional disaster will be countered when your body discovers that although Calorie requirements are already met, the satiety index is only .56 so there's plenty of room left in the stomach for more food, in an attempt to make up the nutrient shortfalls.  But this means the excess Calories will be stored as fat.

You can also see that eating 2200 Calories of the 11 vegan recipes would automatically meet or exceed all RDAs except vitamin B-12.  The recipes are not unique, proprietary, nor are patients restricted to their use.  They were provided by Board members of the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii (VSH), and are rather typical vegan recipes.  Nutritionist IV software quickly provided the nutrient values of each recipe.  These recipes have high satiety indices so your stomach is full and all nutrient requirements are met long before Calorie requirements are achieved.   Your body then burns your fat stores to meet its energy needs.

That is why, on a whole food vegan lifestyle with adequate exercise, you can expect to lose about one pound a week, indefinitely, without any nutrient deficiency (save B-12 in those recipes not containing Kal yeast), without depriving yourself of food, and without any effort other than selecting your food carefully.

Click Here to see a chart which illustrates the nutritional composition of the recipes.

Food Guide:

Grains and starches are good foods, but when refined they release sugar rapidly, and raise insulin and triglyceride levels.  These are foods you want to have as secondary.

Base your diet on fresh vegetables, then fill in Calorie requirements with fresh fruit, starches, and grains.

"Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has seed in it. They will be yours for food...l give every green plant for food.' And it was so."
-Genesis 1:29

This biblical quote says nothing about dairy, eggs, fish, grain, meat, oil, poultry, or sugar.  From the evolutionary standpoint the dietary advice comes out the same. Our remote primate ancestors evolved over 56 million years living in trees where the food supply was mostly fruit, leaves, and nuts. Most of our physiology developed on these foods. Three million years ago our hominid ancestors descended to the ground and began adding meat to the diet as a survival strategy, but all the essential amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins in the human diet are still synthesized by plants, not animals.

Milk was never a large part of the adult human diet until the agricultural revolution ~ 12,000 years ago. Oils were never part of the diet until ~ 5500 years ago and that culinary disaster known as "frying" first appeared in the English language ~ 1100 AD . Refined sugar did not enter the diet until ~ 400 years ago. From an evolutionary standpoint, these are short time periods and humans are poorly adapted to animal source food, vegetable oil, and refined sugar. Most of the degenerative diseases of our time are at least partly due to our departure from the diet on which we evolved.

The Almost-Automated Shopping List from "A Race for Life," by Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D.

A great time-saving tip is to have a standardized shopping list. You can then add or delete items according to your individual needs. For example, a standard list consists of grains, vegetables, and fruits:


Brown rice
Buckwheat ramen (soba)
Chapatis or corn tortillas
Corn meal
Grape Nuts

Pita bread, whole wheat
Rice cakes
Rolled oats

Shredded Wheat
Whole grain breads
Whole wheat pasta
Whole grain flour


Beans, all types

Green chilies

Onions, regular and green
Other green leafy veggies
Peas, frozen and split
Potatoes, any type


Apples, whole, juice, and sauce
Berries, of all types
Fruits in season


Blackstrap molasses
Marinara sauce
Mushrooms (fresh and dried) 

Nutritional yeast (Kal)
Soy sauce (low sodium preferred)

Tabasco sauce
Vinegar (cider, balsamic)
Yeast for bread-making


Bell pepper flakes
Chili powder
Cilantro (Chinese parsley,  fresh or dried)

Garlic, fresh or powdered
Mustard, dry and Dijon
Onion flakes  

Parsley, fresh and dried

Setting Up Your Kitchen: Make it Fun, Fast, and Lean

You will not have to make major changes to your kitchen.   In fact, I found that I could get by with a lot fewer kitchen gadgets. My kitchen is now relatively simple. I rely heavily on a few appliances that make meal preparation very fast, easy, and cheap, once you make the front-end investment. I'm referring specifically to a rice cooker, slow cooker, air popcorn popper, and a microwave oven.

The following kitchen tools are essential: baking dishes, bread knife, chopping block, cooking spoons, colander, grater, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls, muffin tins, paring and chopping knives, pizza pans, pots and pans, soup ladies, sprouting jars and lids.