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Food writer credits his doctor with beneficial shift toward veganism

washingtonpost.com | Jennifer LaRue Huget | 04/14/10

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Do you eat enough vegetables? Me neither.

Americans over age 2 should eat at least three servings of vegetables and at least two servings of fruit a day, according to the federal government. But only 27 percent of adults consume that many vegetables, with a third getting their fill of fruit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year.

Don't feel too bad if you don't fall into either of those groups. Fresh produce can be expensive (though frozen and canned varieties are budget-friendly, convenient and nutritious). Too many Americans live in "food deserts" with little or no access to fresh or whole foods, where 7-Elevens outnumber grocery stores.

And some people simply prefer meat, or doughnuts, or cheese and crackers -- or, let's face it, just about anything -- to broccoli, carrots and the like.

So what's a vegetable-starved population to do? We could follow the example of Mark Bittman, one of the strongest advocates for finding your inner vegetable fan. The prolific food writer and columnist for the New York Times is known for the book "How to Cook Everything." But it's Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" (2007) and "Food Matters" (2008) that make his case for shifting our diets away from meat and processed foods to mostly plant-based foods.

Still largely an omnivore as he completed his vegetarian cookbook, Bittman says he didn't make the big change in his diet until he (a) saw statistics about the environmental impact of large-scale livestock production; and (b) recognized, as he turned 57, that he had high cholesterol, high blood sugar, sleep apnea, bad knees and 35 extra pounds. "My doctor said, 'I think you should become a vegan,' " Bittman says, referring to a diet that includes no animal products.

"That's when I decided to try the 'vegan before 6' thing," he says. "It worked for me."

"Vegan before 6" entails eating a vegan diet every day until 6 p.m. After that, Bittman enjoys whatever he wants to eat in whatever portions suit him.

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