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Have Your Cake and Eat It Too – Review of VB6 by Mark Bittman

June 23, 2013

CakeWe all want to have our cake and eat it too especially when it comes to, well, cake. For years I’ve been struggling with the dilemma of how to eat more responsibly to both improve my health and the health of the planet. About 12 years ago, I eliminated all processed foods from my diet. I did this in a roundabout way by deciding to forego anything that contained corn. Corn is a staple for anyone who grows up in the Midwest as I did. I can remember eating a dozen ears at a sitting. It was heavenly. That was before corn syrup made it’s way into most manufactured foods, and before GMOs. Now nearly 88% of U.S. corn is genetically modified. Research links GMOs to allergies, organ toxicity, and many other health issues. Who really wants to eat “Roundup Ready” food?

When I made this decision, I was suffering from severe allergies, asthma, had been diagnosed with early-stage cancer, and was about 10 pounds overweight. I took antihistamines, puffed on inhalers, and was always a little under the weather.

CornFast forward to today and I’ve lost those 10 pounds, need antihistamines only about four days a year, haven’t used an inhaler in ages, and have had no cancer recurrences. You may think I’m crazy to say this, but I think I owe it all to getting rid of corn. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to eat processed/junk foods if you don’t eat corn. I was forced to eat fresh foods. I always liked my vegetables, but instead of putting them on the back burner, they became center stage. Also, I became a label reader. If a food product had more than three ingredients, I put it back on the shelf. Did you know that most ketchup has corn syrup? About six years ago, I went completely organic. After that I started making sure the beef I ate was range-fed, the chickens were hormone and antibiotic free, and the fish was wild caught and never farmed. The change was gradual and it didn’t hurt a bit.

Let’s put in a caveat here lest you get the idea that I’m a zealot. When I have dinner at someone’s house, I eat whatever they put in front of me except corn syrup, which it turns out I am allergic to. No one is going to die from eating a hamburger once in awhile, or having a few potato chips with dip. I enjoy a good steak every couple of months. Pork loin is a favorite, but only once a month or so. I try and drink organic or biodynamic wine, but I won’t refuse a glass if it’s not. I’m all about moderation.

VB6-cover_0That’s why Mark Bittman’s new book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00, holds so much appeal for me. Bittman, a food writer at the NYT, shares how he lowered his cholesterol, lost weight, and evened out his blood sugar levels by going vegan before 6. (It doesn’t have to be exactly 6. Whenever you eat dinner is when you can indulge.) There’s no calorie counting, no food diaries, or any rules at all, except one. Eat a strict vegan diet before 6, and then anything goes. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It worked for Bittman. He lost 30 pounds, and his cholesterol and blood sugar levels are normal now. He says, “…I’ve increased the amount of plants that I eat and reduced the amount of animal products and processed foods. During the day, I eat only plants—vegetables and fruits mostly, but beans and whole grains, too. At night, I revert to a more indulgent pattern and let myself eat the food I love most…”

The first half of VB6 explains why most diets don’t work. Basically, you need to commit to a permanent lifestyle change and quit looking for a quick fix. Then he delves into the whys and wherefores of the reasoning behind VB6. He makes easy science of how your body uses food as fuel, the fallacy of counting calories, metabolism pitfalls–high fructose corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup–protein myths, and much more. The second half is filled with more than 60 recipes and suggested menus to get you started on your way to better health.

I’ve decided to give it a go. One of the first things I did was purchase a Vitamix so I could make green smoothies. (A blender will work.) If you have a hard time finishing your kale or spinach, this is the way to do it. You won’t even know you’re eating green if you mix it with a few bananas, mangos, and apples. I’m easing into this new regime. I’ve started with 2 to 3 vegan-before-6-days a week. Once I’m acclimated, then I’ll increase to 4 and 5 and so on. I have high hopes.

The icing on that cake we can still eat is that one of the byproducts of eating vegan before 6 is that it’s good for the planet. Bittman cites a U.N. study showing that 18 percent of greenhouse gases come from industrialized livestock production. He says, “If you eat like a vegan until dinnertime, you can protect your health and help save the planet; how we eat—and certainly what we eat—has a real impact on both our bodies and the Earth.”

If you want to feel better, lose weight, and slow global warming, check out Bittman’s VB6.

Clarkson Potter/Crown/Random House, 2013

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11 Comments
  1. I am soooo re-motivated. I loved VB6. And your review’s the icing on the — well, cake. No more corn. No more processed food. No more of that icky dyed salmon. That fattened cow. I’m plugging in the Vitamix now.

  2. booksnyc permalink

    Great review! After going to Canyon Ranch a few years ago, I started cleaning up my diet and trying to eat more organic – they really opened my eyes to how much damage some foods can cause. I have been in treatment for a an eating disorder so I still struggle with embedding these good habits without them becoming obsessive but I am convinced it is a better way to eat. VB6 sounds like a moderate approach.

    • Kudos to you for facing down your food issues. We all have them. Please keep in touch with your efforts, and I will do the same.

  3. This was thought-provoking information. I appreciate learning of your experiences. You willingness to re-think your health and diet further is commendable. I am sharing this with others in my home even as I write. I believer in fresh vegies and fruits, and generally eat well except for carbs…We will investigate Mr. Bittman’s book.Thanks!

  4. i’ve always liked Bittman’s recipes and this new approach sounds quite reasonable. Thanks for the review.

    • Robin, it’s the first approach that has struck me as reasonable. I can’t make radical changes. Who can? This is the answer.

  5. Nice to get some healthy living pointers without the self righteous lecture about eating meat and other fun food. Diane, I like the way you stress the moderation common sense and dinner party etiquette. No one likes a food snob, especially one pecking the dinner plate making the host feel bad for serving stuff that really wouldn’t kill them to put down their throat. Admit it, everyone graves a hotdog from time to time, and we’ve all heard the mystery meat horror stories behind their production.

    I’ll take healthy living information from a cancer fighting championship winner any day… vs. The “Know it All” two cents of an academic nutrition expert.

    The asthma experience strikes a chord. At 38, I have allergy provoked asthma. I learned a lost from your blog tonight.

    Thanks for sharing your cancer story. You just took the “take healthy eating Seriously” message to a whole new level.

    • Food snobs are a bore. If you put a Chicago hot dog in front of me, I have to eat it. Now I just have to wait until after 6. I knew you would relate to the asthma issue. For me, it really has been a miracle. I hope you’ll give this a try, Mr. Pye. Another item that I gave up because of the corn issue was bourbon. It’s corn based. It was my drink of choice years ago. In fact, on the advice of an allergist, I drink only clear alcohol. Whiskey is bad, vodka is good. Red wine is bad (for me) and white wine is good. That is, if you drink. If you don’t drink, I commend you. 🙂

  6. I’ll take the wait-and-see approach on this one. So please keep me posted. My eating habits are decent but could use improvement. This was the worst-ever year for bad allergies, and I was miserable for three months when spring sprung. I’m just starting to feel better. Thrilled to hear white wine is good because that’s what I drink.

    So glad you are cancer free, healthy, and sharing your story. Cheers to better health. : )

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