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Mark Bittman on eating 'Vegan Before 6' for better health

Cover of Mark Bittman's book
Cover of Mark Bittman's book "VB6."
Clarkson Potter

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Summer is coming up quick and many people are looking for a way to shed some of those extra pounds. How does this sound for a way to lose weight: eat whatever you want. Meat? Sure. Cheese? Go for it. Heck, even throw in a slice of cake now and again. Just be sure to do so after 6 pm.

That's the premise of a new book called "VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good" by New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman. He joins the show to tell us why he decided to go vegan part-time and he offers some tips on how to eat vegan on a budget. 

Interview Highlights:

On what caused him to take up a vegan diet:
"About the time I turned 57, I went to my doctor and he said that I was 40 pounds overweight, my cholesterol was 50 points higher than he'd like to see it, my blood sugar was high, I had sleep apnea and so on. He started rattling off different drugs and surgeries that could take care of these things, but I went to see an older guy who I liked very much. He happened to be my first daughter's pediatrician. He took one look at all of this stuff and said that I should just become a vegan. I thought about this, and from everything that I'd known, and that we know now is that humanity is moving as a race towards a more plant-based diet. We need to move away from processed food and animal products; science is pretty much unanimous on that fact.

"So I took his advice and did what I could with it and I created this pretty simple diet, which is basically eating unprocessed plants, fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds until 6 o'clock at night. Then, I go do whatever I want to do. I eat a normal dinner, and start again the next day. It worked. Within 12 weeks, I had lost 35 pounds, my cholesterol was down 50 points, my sleep apnea went away and I felt better. But it wasn't until three or four years later that realized that I had been doing this a long time, and it was sustainable. That's when I decided to write 'VB6'."

On why he decided on 6pm:
"Well, it could be five, it could be seven, it doesn't matter. The point is that you eat this highly principled, pretty strict diet until dinner. And then you eat a normal dinner. I mean, a blowout dinner is fine, too, but not every night. There's an implication that you eat dinner and if you want dessert, that's fine too. But then, you don't go eat a bag of chips and a pint of ice cream at 9 o'clock. You're not going to lose weight that way."

On studies that show eating more in the evening causes weight gain:
"There are studies that show that, although they're not conclusive. In the world of diet and nutrition, what's conclusive is what I said before: we need to move towards more plants. What I wanted to do was create a diet, not in the sense of 'lose 21 pounds in 21 days,' but in the sense of 'this is the way I eat now.' Period. There's no time limit, there's no date, this is the way I eat. And if I said, 'Ok, there are some studies that show it's best not to have our biggest meal at night,' then what do you do at night? The fact is that we are social. We go out with friends at night, we cook for friends at night, we eat with our family at night, many of us have a couple of drinks at night. All these things, I think, outweigh the possible downsides of eating your biggest meal late in the day. I think the ability to maintain this diet is the most important thing."

On the cost of doing VB6 on a restricted budget:
"I take some issue with that, saying fruits and vegetables aren't cheap. I missed breakfast this morning, so I stopped at the fruit stand outside of my work, which is far from the cheapest fruit stand around, and I bought three bananas and about a pound of grapes and three apricots for three bucks. That's my breakfast and my afternoon snack; that's not a lot of money. I recognize that, to some people, that does sound like a lot of money, but if you're going to buy a sausage biscuit and a coffee it's going to cost you three bucks also.

On something vegan you can make for breakfast:
"I like oatmeal with chopped vegetables and cilantro and scallions and soy sauce. I realize that's not to everyone's taste, but many people like savory breakfast. Smoothies, which I make with frozen fruit and silken tofu or soy milk or almond milk or oat milk or whatever. And fruit, I just eat it through the morning and it seems to do fine."

On his favorite places to eat while on the VB6 plan:
"I love your farmers' markets. Only a crazy person wouldn't. And since you're on the east side, I used to love to go up to this place called "Sunland Produce" which is like a crazy Central Valley dropping-off point for incredibly cheap fruits and vegetables. Industrially produced for sure, but an amazing cornucopia."

Excerpt from VB6 by Mark Bittman by TheRecipeClub