Can you get healthy by following a vegan diet by day but not by night? Mark Bittman did

Posted on May 22, 2013 

Recently, I saw New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman on "Real Time with Bill Maher" and was intrigued by his idea of eating a vegan diet by day but not at night. Vegan diets exclude all meat, dairy and animal products (such as eggs).

Bittman's newest book "VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health... for Good" outlines the concept and offers 60 recipes for vegan dishes plus after-6 p.m. dishes that aren't vegan.

Bittman began experimenting with his diet plan when his doctor suggested Bittman become a vegan to get healthier. In the book Bittman writes that he was overweight, had unhealthy blood-sugar and cholesterol levels and was suffering from sleep apnea. While he didn't like the idea of a lifelong commitment to Lipitor, a common cholesterol-lowering drug, he was also hesitant to fully commit to a vegan diet.

He compromised by becoming a "vegan before six." After 6 p.m., he'd eat and drink whatever he wanted. Sometimes dinner was healthy; sometimes it wasn't. Before 6 p.m. he also avoided junk food and hyper-processed foods (white pasta, white rice and white bread). He explains his reasoning here. It worked. He lost weight, his blood-sugar and cholesterol levels returned to the normal range and he started sleeping better at night.

Bittman's concept is intriguing to me because it seems doable. On the diet, I could still share a pizza with my co-workers after work, eat a burger at my friend's backyard barbecue on Saturday night and have a piece a cake after a birthday dinner. Of course, common sense must prevail for the diet to work. If I consumed pizza, cake and burgers every night, I'd quickly become unhealthy.

The eating plan also allows people to continue eating their very favorite thing. I wish my favorite food was broccoli but it's not. It's bacon. The thought of never -- as in never-ever, not for the rest of my life -- eating another another piece of bacon has kept me from ever seriously considering a vegetarian diet.

I'm not vowing to follow Bittman's strategy, nor am I preaching at you, dear readers, to adhere to the diet. I will advocate thinking about it, though. Bittman's plan contains the most important ingredient to any successful eating plan: awareness.

If we were to follow this diet, we'd have to skip those free office doughnuts and that mid-afternoon trip to the vending machine. We'd have to say goodbye to grabbing a burger for lunch and an egg/sausage/cheese biscuit for breakfast. We'd have to think about what we were eating instead of consuming whatever was convenient. I'm a fan of that idea!

No matter what eating plan we follow (or don't follow) I believe we need to think more about the food we're eating, where it's coming from and what impact it has on our weight, our long-term health and our world.

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