the ovo-lacto-vegetarian’s dilemma


As promised, here is Nancy’s tips for beginners to a plant-based food routine. And lest I forget, you can follow her yourself over at her blog, the jam-packed Chapel Hill Recorder. In her own words now:


My Guide to Eating a Plant-Based Diet

Here is what I usually send to people who are vegan-curious. It’s a short summary about how I maintain my vegan-ness on a daily basis. And also, I’ve included my recipe for Green Smoothies, which you can adapt however you want, and a really great protein-rich breakfast bar.

Since I am vegan mainly for health reasons, (helping animals and the environment are definite perks, though), I spent several years studying vegan nutrition in order to do it healthily. I always say that vegan doesn’t always mean healthy, since Pepsi and French fries are vegan, but you aren’t going to get healthy that way.

I stick mostly to just whole foods and cook them from scratch. My rule of thumb is not to buy anything my great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, and limit the amount of cans and bar codes in my pantry. (Try to get as many pantry staples in glass instead of cans. If you do buy food in cans, try to use Eden Organic, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods brand — they don’t contain the BPA lining that most cans do.)

Think about this — do you want your food coming to you straight from a farm to the shelf, or produced with machines in a factory, and then preserved with lots of salt and chemicals, and packaged, and shipped from far away, and then sitting on a shelf for who knows how long?

Keep in mind, if you go for it, and “go vegan” your system takes about 6 weeks to adjust and normalize. You are essentially going to be de-toxing all the crap out (literally), and adding in all that extra fiber will essentially clean you out, which is a good thing – but you might not be used to it.

Stick with it and you will start to feel great after about 2 weeks, if you are pretty strict with it, and even better after 6 weeks. Don’t think about it as if you will never be able to have a piece of cheddar cheese again… because of course you can if you want to. I just believe the closer you get to vegan as often as you can, the better.

Once you start to feel better, you won’t want that piece of cheese anyway, or at least, that’s what keeps me dairy-free. And don’t beat yourself up if you stray or have an extra-unhealthy day – that stress will tear you up more than the burger and fries you just ate!

Here is my overview about what I learned about being vegan the right way, and what works for me:

B12: Take a multi-vitamin or B-12 vitamin every day to cover your B-12 vitamin needs, or buy some Red Star nutritional yeast and sprinkle it on stuff like salads, spaghetti and veggies.

Proteins come from whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread/tortillas/pitas), beans & legumes (pinto, black, garbanzo, etc. — lentils are great), nuts, soy/tempeh/seitan, and green, leafy veggies (spinach, kale, collards, etc.)


You have to get over having your meal revolve around the “meat” on your plate. When you think about it, if meat is the staple of your meal, there are only like 5 options: chicken, beef, pork, lamb and fish. My diet actually became much more diverse and varied the second I took the meat off my plate.

What are typically “side dishes” become your whole meal, and it’s easy to make those feel complete. (See awesome cookbook authors below). But there are PLENTY of “fake” meat options if you need them: Tofu Pups are great soy hot dogs. Boca Burger and Amy’s make great vegan veggie burgers (most others have dairy/eggs, so read the ingredients.)

There are soy sausages, chicken patties, tempeh bacon, seitan chicken stir-fry strips, etc. if you are craving something meaty. They are usually in the fridge/freezer section. I tend to stay away from most of these things, because they are highly processed, and I don’t crave meat anymore.

Calcium comes from those awesome green, leafy veggies, too, as well as nuts, fortified cereals, fortified tofu and “milks” like almond, rice, soy, oat and hemp. Silk brand is the best soy milk for flavor and texture, though I don’t use it anymore because it contains carrageenan, which is a stomach irritant, and possibly linked with stomach cancer. I can’t find any hemp milk without carrageenan, though I love it.

For mayonnaise, get some Veganaise. It’s even better that the real thing! For sour cream and cream cheese, Tofutti makes them and they are delicious! You can also make your own vegan sour cream, cheeses and mayonnaise, if you want to. There are also vegan parmesan cheeses for shaking on top of pastas, etc. but I just use nutritional yeast.

Rice Dream is the best rice milk, which I don’t use any more because of possible inorganic arsenic contamination. I use Whole Foods 365 almond milk for everything because it is the only one I can find without carrageenan and it has a great texture and cooks well. Replacing the dairy is much easier these days. Use the “milks” above, and get some Daiya “cheese” from Whole Foods or get it online here or here.

It’s yummy, melts, and it’s dairy and soy-free! (Perfect for quesadillas, pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches!) For butter, use Earth Balance Margarine or simply sautee in olive oil, or even better, veggie broth/bullion when cooking. I love Amande almond milk yogurt especially because it is fruit sweetened. (Check the label because some soy yogurts are not vegan.)

Most breads are OK, except muffins (unless specified vegan like from Whole Foods), egg bagels and croissants. Though some bakery breads are coated with egg, to give them shine, so check. Gluten-free breads almost always have egg.

Sugars: Yes, I know, sugar seems like it would be vegan, but a lot of granulated cane sugar is refined with “bone char”… ick. And it’s not healthy at all, so when I need sweetener, I use maple sugar Grade B (Grade A is often processed with formaldehyde… ick, again!), date sugar, or coconut nectar. Don’t be fooled into thinking Agave Nectar is healthy even though it is low-glycemic index and found in health food stores. Studies show it is actually worse for you than high-fructose corn syrup!

Eggs: There are many egg substitutes if you want to bake something like cookies or cakes. You can use Ener-g Egg Replacer, which is a powder from a box, ground flax seeds, applesauce, mashed banana, silken tofu, mashed pumpkin, or yogurt. Here is a helpful link, though if you find a vegan baking recipe will already say what works best. Try this. You can even make vegan quiche, frittatas, and French toast that are delicious!

Great vegan cookbook authors:

Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Joanne Stepaniak

Sarah Kramer

Terry Hope Romero

Christina Pirello

Toni Fiore

…and new on the scene is Durham resident Kathy Hester for slow-cooking options. Usually in the intro of any vegan cookbook, they give you the low-down on what ingredients are, how to stock your vegan pantry, eat a balanced meal, etc. and lots more useful tips. My current favorite is Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It’s wonderful!

Great vegan web sites include: 

The Post-Punk Kitchen

Vegan Coach

The Vegan Dad

Green Smoothie Girl





Great vegan books, if you want more info on the benefits, etc.:

Diet for a New America and/or Food Revolution by John Robbins

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell

The Vegan Diet as Chronic Disease Prevention by Kerrie Saunders.

There are also a ton of “how-to” books out there now, because it’s becoming trendy, but I haven’t read any of them. Skinny Bitch is popular because of the title, but I hear it’s pretty harsh and preachy, and I’m not that type of vegan.


Going out to eat: Chinese, Indian and Mediterranean are your best bets. With Indian, just make sure there is no yogurt (raita), paneer (cheese) or ghee (butter), and nan bread is usually buttered, but paratha or roti is usually OK is you ask them not to butter it. And with Med food, no taziki sauce, but tahini and hummus are fine. With Italian, often even the marinara sauce has cheese or is flavored with veal, and sometimes the noodles contain egg, so ask.

For Mexican, just get a veggie entree with no cheese and no sour cream, but extra guacamole. It’s actually yummy that way if you slather it in guacamole instead. Refried beans are sometimes made with lard, so ask first. Thai is usually OK, but some tend to use Fish Sauce in curries, sauces and Pad Thai, etc. so be sure to ask first. Vietnamese food often uses beef broth for flavoring in Pho, so be sure to ask about that, too, but Thai and Vietnamese are usually vegan-friendly.

If I find myself in a really vegan-un-friendly restaurant like a steak house, I just look at all the sides that come with the entrees and ask the waiter to make me a huge veggie plate just of sides, making sure they are not sautéed in butter or other dairy like cheese, of course, and sometimes get a salad with vinaigrette to start, but without croutons because they are usually buttered. I have never gone hungry in a restaurant, except while traveling in Cyprus — seriously, everything there is a pork kebob! I basically survived on cashews.

Other non-vegan ingredients to avoid:

• Gelatin (including marshmallows, gummies, jello)

• Casein (calcium caseinate, Found in many soy cheeses)

• Rennet (Also found even in soy cheese sometimes)

• Whey (a dairy product found in lots of things… breads, non-vegan nutritional yeast, margarine)

• Mayonnaise (most contain egg)

• Pasta (Some contain egg)

• Fries (Some are cooked in animal oils or contain beef tallow)

• Breaded Fried Foods (Most are dipped in egg to bind the breading)

Green Smoothie Recipe:
 I highly recommend buying a high-powered blender, like Blendtec or Vitamix. Seems extravagant, but I use my Blendtec every day. Blend together a few leaves of raw kale, raw collards, spinach and about 30 oz. of water, depending on the size of your blender.

Then add a package of frozen mixed berries, an apple (no seeds), and a banana. I usually add 1/4 cup ground golden flax seeds, 1/4 cup flax oil (or Udo’s Choice) and 1/4 cup hemp powder or pea protein powder, but these are optional. This recipe is really flexible, so add whatever you feel like to the raw greens base — it’s all good!

Yummy Breakfast Bars:

1/2 C quinoa, prepared to yield about 2 C
; 1 1/4 C water
; 2 C oatmeal; 
1/2 C dried fruit (craisins, dried apricots diced, dried cherries diced, figs, etc. Whatever you feel like.); 
1 1/2 T ground flax seeds (for health, slightly nutty flavor, no prob to omit)

(the following are to taste, roughly tablespoon each, less on the ginger) 
cocoa powder/
powdered ginger
; 1/2 C natural peanut butter
; 1/3 C sweetener (I do grade B maple syrup); 
1/2 C milk (I use almond milk)

Combine quinoa and water in small saucepan, bring to a boil then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 mins.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine next six dry ingredients. Stir to distribute powders and fruit evenly. Add peanut butter. When quinoa is done, add it to the bowl, covering the peanut butter. (The hot quinoa helps melt the peanut butter, which makes it easier to stir.) Add sweetener and milk. Stir all ingredients until well mixed.

Put the batter into a small casserole dish and bake at 350° for 15 mins. When cool, cut into bars and refrigerate.

Hope that is all helpful! I know it is a lot to process. There is definitely a learning curve to it all, and I am learning new things all the time, but I was happily surprised to find it was easier than I thought it would be, and instead of feeling limited in my diet or deprived, I have in fact been eating a greater variety of foods and cooking a lot more, and I feel great!


11 thoughts on “the ovo-lacto-vegetarian’s dilemma

  1. Anon

    I have read this and the previous entry with incredible interest. Nancy, what a journey! I would like to hear how families who have a busy schedule handle this lifestyle. Is it just a matter of planning? Does anyone have tips on how to navigate grabbing two quick dinners a week with kids who are in between activities? I like how Nancy kept mentioning cheese…I don’t know that I can live without it either. Nice affirmation that you can!

  2. karin

    Thanks for these two blog entries. I’ve been vegetarian (for animal reasons) for 22 years and have toyed with going vegan so many times. It’s the cheese that pulls me back. But I’m finding myself with more digestive issues than I used to have as I near 40 and thinking that at least a good solid test of no dairy/eggs might be a good thing to do.
    Question: how many servings does your smoothie recipe make? It sounds like way more than one ;)

  3. jje

    Giving up meat was easy. Eggs and cheese are gonna be hard. But watching the doc Vegucated the other day and reading Nancy’s story/how-to has me baby-stepping that way.

  4. Joanna

    Thank you! This is will be a such useful resource. Cheese lovers, a friend recently told me that before Daiya there was not a substitute that came close. It might be worth trying that brand if you have only tried other cheese substitutes.

  5. jje

    Bravo! Do you keep a blog, because I’d love to keep up with your insights on a plant-based lifestyle.
    I think I am going to attempt a six week dairy/egg free challenge.
    Do you avoid soy? I try to as much as possible because I tend to think there’s something to that stuff being bad for you as it relates to estrogen/breast cancer. Is it possible to be vegan (and enjoy it) and not do the soy alternatives?
    Thanks again!

  6. killian

    Thanks, Nancy, for all of this. Been vegetarian for 37 years, and I wonder about going vegan periodically as I begin to notice the arthritis in these dancing joints. Thanks for GENEROUSLY sharing your knowledge, and I look forward to diving into to the readings and recipes you have offered!

  7. Gina

    I find that Daiya and other “fake” cheeses taste better the longer you’ve been away from “real” cheese. (Which could really be saying different things, I suppose). We’ve been dairy-free for a while now, and when I melt Daiya on tortillas for my kids, they go crazy for CHEESE!

  8. Kaarin

    I don’t want to be a vegan, though I try to eat whole foods when possible, mostly my own cooking. Really I just want to wish you a happy birthday and I figured you’d prefer to hear it over here than on Facebook! So happy birthday!

  9. Anne

    I can’t imagine how a diabetic would follow a vegan diet… especially if soy were off the option list. (thyroid issues) Yes, that would be me! I don’t have the time in my weekdays to cook a well rounded, from-scratch vegan meal for myself every single night and still meet my protein requirements. Chicken and fish are my go-tos, along with fat-free yogurt and cottage cheese.
    Anyway, it’s all very interesting but… early man put the hunter in the “hunter-gatherer,” no? When I become a ruminant in my next life, I’ll happily be a vegan. :-) Please know this is meant in good fun.

  10. heike

    Ian, please please get better soon, so that we can discuss vegan recipes.
    i just can’t shake the dairy products. i have tried a gazillion alternatives and tried them from different brands in different looking packaging. and i HATE THEM ALL…… haHAAAA
    i must go into dairy lockdown. withdrawal. maybe some controlled beatings or neuron-removal. i see no other way: i just can’t lose milk, yoghurt and cheese.
    when you get better and when we see each other next, we’ll make david’s awesome vegan burgers and yummy vegan fruit smoothies. all good!


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