The Root of the Matter: Challenge Complete

We made it through a full thirty days of plant-based eating! So what were the results?

Physically...

  • My energy increased and was steady throughout the day;
  • My body seems to be better at fighting off illness;
  • My weight stayed the same (I was trying to maintain);
  • I’ve become more active;
  • I’ve become more regular (sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s true).

Mentally...

  • I’ve had a lot more patience;
  • My mood had been much more stable;
  • I have felt more motivated to do things I would normally put off for weeks.


After looking at all of my results, I think I would like to continue eating this way… for the most part. I felt so great from days 10-30 that I don’t want to go back to eating all of the things that were making my body drag beforehand. I also feel I want to permanently cut out dairy (unless there’s pizza involved), and cut out the majority of meats.

I have never been a steak person and always loved veggie burgers more than a real burger, so it’s easy for me to avoid beef. Before this challenge, I had always tried as much as possible to substitute lean turkey or chicken in its place anyway— I don’t really miss those much either. On occasion, I had cravings for something like chicken and waffles or a fried chicken po’ boy, but those never lasted long.

 
 "Heavenly Earth burger" Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

"Heavenly Earth burger"
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

 

Fish, however? I’ve found myself thinking about fish a lot. There were a couple times when I didn’t feel like cooking that I found myself thinking about ordering sushi (I knew this would be a challenge for me going into this). I held strong throughout my 30 days and didn’t give in, although now that I’m done, I think I will allow myself the occasional sushi or poké bowl. Personally, I don’t see the problem with allowing yourself to have these things in moderation.

Not eating eggs was a struggle for me too, not because I love them so much but because a lot of the things I make require eggs. I’ve worked my way around them for the 30 days, but I don’t think I’m going to be as careful about eating things that include eggs in the ingredients. I did learn about an egg substitute in my month-long journey, though. Apparently, you can mix ground flax seed with water (or chia seeds and water, like in this recipe) to create a clear jelly-like substance that is similar to an egg and can be used in baking. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve heard some promising things.

Several times throughout the month, my husband and I discussed what our end results from this experiment would be. Each time, my reaction or plan was a little different. At first, we both thought that we could not live with this many restrictions. At the halfway point, I was all-in. I wanted to feel this energetic and motivated all the time. By the time we finished, we were a bit more realistic.

I would love to continue this lifestyle, but there are many times when we’re not going to be able to follow the plan. We both agreed that it wasn’t nearly as hard to eat vegan as we thought it would be, and were both surprised by how good the recipes we found tasted. We might not follow the plan as strictly as we did these past 30 days, although I would like to continue to be 100% dairy-free moving forward. Now, at least we have some healthy plant-based meals that we love to work into our routine, and have a better understanding of how to eat this way.

 
 Photo credits: Alyssa DelSoldato

Photo credits: Alyssa DelSoldato

 

During the past 30 days, I had one “cheat” day. I wouldn’t even call it a full cheat day because I ate mostly vegan things, but I had a few “tastings” of things that were not vegan. All of these things contained dairy. They were just small little bites, like a spoonful of banana pudding or a bite of a spaghetti donut (yes, that’s a real thing). When I got home, though, I felt so nauseous. My stomach was doing somersaults, and I’m 99% sure it was the dairy. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t had dairy in so long that my body wasn’t used to it, or if I have actually been lactose intolerant my whole life and had no idea that dairy products were what was making me feel terrible. Either way, I don’t want to feel that way again. I have found dairy replacements that I’m happy with and will continue to use. 

Personally, this is something that I’d be excited for everyone to try for 30 days (after consulting with your doctor, of course*). When I thought of “vegan” before this challenge, some stigmas about it made me want to roll my eyes. Now, I get it. I feel great, I have energy all day, I sleep better, I am more motivated to move, and I’m experimenting more with my cooking. If I knew that I would feel this good, I would have changed my diet a long time ago. I also used to think that I would be hungry all the time without having meat. Well, guess what? I stay full for a longer period of time now than I did when I was eating meat. My snacking habits have changed and I rarely feel like I need them. Overall, my whole body is running more smoothly. 

My original intention with this experiment was to improve my immune system. I think 30 days may be too soon to tell, but I will say that the last week of the challenge, I did get sick. However, it wasn’t the usual “Alyssa Sick” that I tend to get (usually I’m bound to my bed for several days crying into my pillows about how terrible I feel). It usually takes me at least a week to feel functional again, and then another week or two to feel 100%.

This time, I had one day of feeling not-so-great, but after that, I was “Functional Sick.” I was waking up congested and coughing, but I still maintained my same level of energy and my mind was clear. I didn’t feel like I was in a fog like I usually do. On these days that I was sick, I even managed to come home and reorganize my kitchen cabinets and clean instead of crawling straight into bed. Although I can’t be sure it was the diet, I’m going to say that this eating lifestyle has helped my immune system.

Something else that really satisfied me was the fact that I really didn’t have to spend a lot of money on food if I planned everything out right. I made a meal the other night that consisted of millet, cannellini beans, parsley, garlic, lemon, and vegetable stock. Most of these items I already had on-hand from previous recipes. I ended up having to buy the millet, which was about $4 for a big bag that I can use many more times, the beans, and the parsley. Most beans go for about 99 cents a can, and the parsley was about $1.50.

With all of this being said, my meal made three servings and only cost $6.50 to make— $6.50, with an entire bag of leftover millet for future recipes. Most of my meals ended up being really affordable like this one. The hardest part for me was just stocking up on these strange grains that I’ve never heard of, or some international spices. Once you have them, meals can actually become less than a dollar per serving. Of course, your costs may vary somewhat depending on where you live and shop.

We have discovered quite a few exciting new dishes that we absolutely loved while testing this plant-based eating plan out. I thought it would be impossible to enjoy Mexican food without cheese, but some of our favorite dishes have had a Mexican inspiration and were fine without it! The Mexican Quinoa Bowls from my last post is by far both of our favorites.

Twice during this challenge, I made Meatless Bulgogi Meatball Bao Buns with kimchi (recipe at the bottom of this post). I found these little frozen buns at my local Asian grocery store. They look like fluffy little taco shells. I was inspired by these and decided to make some sort of an Asian taco. I looked through my fridge and found some homemade kimchi from my neighbor, Trader Joe’s meatless meatballs, bulgogi marinade, cilantro, and cucumbers. This was all I needed!

 
 Meatless Bulgogi Bao Buns Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Meatless Bulgogi Bao Buns
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

 

For those of you that are not familiar with kimchi or bulgogi, they are both Korean. Kimchi is like a spicy slaw made with fermented vegetables. It’s found in a variety of dishes, but is also eaten as a side dish. Bulgogi is like a sweet barbecue-flavored marinade. It’s used in many Korean meat dishes. I used it as a sauce for the meatless meatballs instead. These Bao Buns came out so good that three didn’t seem like enough for me, I wanted ten more. I couldn’t wait to make them for my husband. He agreed that they were pretty delicious and full of flavor. These will definitely be making it into my regular rotation!

 
 Maple Berry Grits Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Maple Berry Grits
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

 

We also had homemade veggie burgers, Maple Berry Grits from my Thug Kitchen cookbook, accidentally made 5 containers of hummus (surprise, those beans expand a LOT when you cook them!), and got really into steamed buns. I made a Chili Polenta Pie that both of us loved and even made a spicy “sour cream” using tofu to go on top. I have had corn bread in chili before, but never tried polenta. It was the ultimate comfort food and I was missing out until now. Here are those two recipes below:

Chili Polenta Pie (Serves 5)

Ingredients

Your favorite meat-free chili
3/4 cup corn grits/polenta
1 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 poblano pepper or jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 1/2 tbsp dried cilantro
1/4 cup bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tbsp I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light 30% Vegetable Oil
Plant-based milk (add a little bit at a time to create desired consistency)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp chipotle black pepper (or you can mix black pepper with chili powder)
Cilantro, chopped
Scallions, chopped

Directions

 Chili Polenta Pie (mug) Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Chili Polenta Pie (mug)
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Spray a pan or baking dish with a little oil, especially on the sides. You can use individual dishes or a large one to serve a family. I preferred the individual since I didn’t have to scoop it out.

3. Spray a pot with oil and set the stove to medium-high.

4. Sauté the diced poblano pepper with the diced bell pepper. After a few minutes, the peppers should begin to soften. Remove them from the pan and put aside for later.

5. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in the same pot you were just using.

6. Whisk in the corn grits/polenta. Keep stirring to avoid clumps.

7. As the grits/polenta start to thicken up, add the dried cilantro, salt, pepper, and butter. If the mixture gets too thick, add a little bit of the milk. The polenta should have a spreadable texture that’s not too firm.

8. Stir the peppers back into the polenta, then remove from heat.

9. Fill your baking dish with a layer of your meat-free chili, then top it with the polenta mixture, spreading evenly on top using a spatula.

10. Bake the polenta pie for 15 minutes, uncovered. When 15 minutes is up, set your oven to broil and broil for another 5 minutes, or until the top of the polenta looks nice and toasty.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and scallions.

Spicy “Sour Cream”

 Spicy "Sour Cream" Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Spicy "Sour Cream"
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Ingredients

1 brick of firm tofu
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chili powder
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

1. Drain the tofu.

2. Add all of the ingredients into the food processor and blend until smooth. Add more spices if necessary.

Meatless Bulgogi "Meatball" Bao Buns with Kimchi (Serves 1)

Ingredients

6 Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs
1/4 cup Bulgogi marinade
3 frozen bao buns/Asian sandwich buns
1/2 cup kimchi (homemade or store-bought)
6-10 cucumber slices
cilantro, chopped

Directions

1. Check the package for the bao buns to see what your best method is for making them. You can make them in the microwave, but I prefer to steam them in my instant pot. This will determine whether you are going to start by making them, or wait until your meatballs are cooking.

2. Throw the meatballs into a sprayed pan over medium-high heat.

3. Add 1/4 cup of water. Every few minutes, move the meatballs around to ensure all sides are getting even heat.

4. Add the bulgogi marinade to the pan with a splash of water. You may need to add more water as they continue to cook to prevent the sauce from getting stuck to the pan and burning. 

4. When the meatballs are done, remove them from the heat.

5. Open your steamed bao bun and put a layer of kimchi, 2-3 slices of cucumber, and two meatballs coated in the bulgogi sauce. Top with fresh cilantro.


Overall, I would say that I had a lot of success and a lot of “wins” during these past 30 days. I plan to implement a plant-based diet as much as possible moving forward, and will definitely continue to avoid dairy at all costs. I think the main thing that I really got out of this is that it’s important to eat whole foods; no more processed foods that tend to be loaded with sodium and sugar. We’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with our cooking and I have actually made a goal for 2018 to cook my way through my three vegan cookbooks. So hopefully by doing so, I will be able to stick with this plan!

How about you?

How did you do with Chef Orky's plant-based eating challenge?
Share your results with us in the comment space below!

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*Disclaimer: It is recommended that you consult a doctor or health care professional before making changes to your diet.