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Vegan Before 6: the new 5:2 diet?

November 25th 2013 / Anna Hunter

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Is living as a vegan until 6pm the new 5:2 diet? Anna Hunter finds out about the tried and tested diet plan that promises weight loss and a clearer conscience

Some trends cause a stir, are done to death and promptly become passé (cronuts, onesies and twerkers guilty as charged), whilst other movements attract a loyal following and by proxy have more longevity. Printed trousers, gel manicures and coconut water, take a bow. Another in-thing that’s really gathered pace is the 5:2 diet, and its popularity is due in part to its scientifically proven principles and generally achievable format. Eat as normal for five days per week, cut back food intake in a sensible manner for the remaining two days and see results soon-ish. It’s worked for everyone from documenter of the diet Dr Michael Mosley to model Miranda Kerr, and if you don’t know someone who’s on it you probably need to come out from under that rock.

Given the global success of the 5:2, it’s no surprise that other similarly structured, deprivation-lite diet plans are making the headlines. One such regimen is ‘Vegan Before 6:00’ (VB6), an eating plan devised by New York Times’ lead food writer, Mark Bittman.

The story behind Bittman’s eating plan and accompanying book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health, … for Good, will be a familiar tale for many. In his late fifties and overweight, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, Mark’s doctor suggested taking the matter in hand with the help of drugs and surgery. Mark had different ideas, and after a frank chat with a less conventional doctor, struck upon the essence of ‘Vegan Before 6:00’.

He knew he needed to cut the crap and adopt a more plant-based diet, however being a food writer without the freedom or inclination to completely overhaul his lifestyle, he decided to impose dietary discipline most of time, leaving evenings free to eat what he liked in moderation. ‘Vegan Before 6:00’ was born; Mark eats only vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains during the day; after six he allows himself to eat whatever he pleases, although he makes a point of not ‘pigging out on processed foods’. The bottom line being that he adopted a healthier diet for the most part, and managed to sustain it as he felt satisfied, not hard done by, at the end of the day.

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What’s more, for Bittman at least, it works. He lost a significant amount of weight, reduced his cholesterol and blood sugar levels and has kept up both the eating plan and clean bill of health. In Bittman’s own words, his initial experiment has found wings:

“It was a game at first, and maybe that was a good thing – 'can I do this?' Well, yes, I could and now that it's been six years, it's obviously sustainable."

In the same vein as the 5:2, Bittman proposes a dietary ‘way of life’, rather than a quick-fix craze. As he himself admits, ‘there is no science to the “before 6” part, so whether you’re out for lunch or indulging in a fry up, the overarching principle is to adjust the proportion of nourishing, wholesome foods in your diet, so that you alter your eating habits for the good for a significant part of the day. If you fall off the wagon it doesn’t matter; the important factor is that you’re making enough positive changes to make a difference to your health, weight and wellbeing.

MORE GLOSS: Newby Hands tries out the 5:2 diet

It wasn’t just a spare tyre and medical concerns that convinced Bittman to embrace a ‘flexitarian’ diet; not only did he identify financial benefits but he also felt compelled to eat more consciously and reduce his consumption of processed foods and cheap animal products that compromised both his morals and the environment. In an interview with Body & Soul magazine he outlined the various factors that contributed to his decision to veer towards veganism:

“I noticed that the quality of the food most people were eating was getting worse, animals were being treated worse, the environment was suffering, and people -- myself included -- were getting fatter and less healthy.”

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Sourcing protein and sustenance from plants for the majority of the time provides an alternative to detrimental, untenable production methods while also remaining realistic and apparently advantageous from a health point of view; so what’s not to like? I asked health and nutrition expert Karen Cummings-Palmer for her expert estimation of Bittman’s eating plan:

“I encourage my clients to eat consciously whether they are meat eaters or not. It is certainly true that the current level of meat consumption is not sustainable - we should all be thinking quality not quantity and most of us need more plant food. But I'm not a big fan of diet rules - they are difficult to stick to and failure often produces more unhealthy habits. From a health and beauty perspective I would rather clients had protein early in the day; I often have a vegetable omelette, rich in Biotin and B vitamins to get a nutrient and energy boost that's going to feed my hair, skin and nails and also keep me feeling fuller for longer. The evening is the perfect time for fish, vegetable stews or vegetarian sources of protein like Aduki beans and Quinoa - meat can be tough on the digestion, compromising that essential beauty sleep!”

MORE GLOSS: A week in the life of a Fast Diet follower

Food futurologist Dr Morgaine Gaye also has reservations concerning Mark’s approach:

“Helping the welfare of animals is a very different goal to embarking on a weight loss plan. As far as weight loss plans go, this like almost every diet is questionable because it's based on cutting food groups out and therefore generally limiting and reducing calories. However, diets in general are a fad, and this one is not based on any science or functional medicine. Sugar, grains and carbs are considerably more damaging than butter and bee pollen (both non-vegan foods), and exactly what people would eat between 6-8pm is problematic, because that should be the lightest meal of the day and not particularly dense in animal proteins.”

While ‘Vegan Before 6:00’ may not be a foolproof, evidence-backed dietary approach, and it’s worth highlighting that it’s certainly not for everyone, the basic notion of knowing where our meals come from and rejecting processed foods and cheap animal products is one supported by nutritionists, environmentalists and animal rights campaigners worldwide. From ‘Meat-Free Monday’ to the increasing popularity of farmer’s markets, it seems we’re finally coming round to the fact that Turkey Twizzlers, McNuggets and their ilk are damaging more than our waistlines.

For post-sunset sustenance that isn’t heavy on meat yet is packed with proteins, check out Karen’s delicious Asian broth recipe below. It’ll warm the cockles, fill your belly and you can use whichever vegetables, herbs and spices you have to hand. It’s a steaming bowl of cheer that proves that eating healthily doesn’t have to be hard or restrictive.

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Karen’s Aduki Bean and poached egg Asian Broth

A nourishing, protein broth in 10 minutes – serves 1 hungry person

Feed your brain with a fast protein rich, nutrient dense, good fat, low calorie supper. My meals are designed to serve as inspiration - feel free to use any fresh or frozen vegetables you have and canned beans. Make your flavours mild or intense - you can also use dried spices to save time.

Ingredients

1/2 can Organic coconut milk health boosting, good fat

Sprouted Aduki beans rich in protein, fibre and magnesium rich in protein and Vit B

1 Egg rich in protein and Vit B

Shallots or onions anti-bacterial, anti-viral

Garlic anti-bacterial, anti-viral

Fresh ginger anti-viral

Juice of one lime and another half lime to garnish rich in Vit C

Bok Choi calcium rich

Peas phyto-nutrient

Fennels Seeds cleansing

1 Thai (Bird’s Eye) Chilli rich in Vit A

Lime leaves to taste (remove before serving)

Soya Sauce

Method

  • Sauté onions on low heat add chopped garlic, chilli, fennel seeds and ginger – be as generous as you like, with what you love
  • Add coconut, lime & lime leaves with 2 teaspoons of soya sauce
  • Add Aduki beans, bok choy and peas, stir then crack an egg to poach in the mixture
  • Simmer mixture on medium heat for a further 5 mins
  • Add another splash of soya and squeeze of fresh lime juice if desired. Enjoy!

Are you planning on trying ‘Vegan Before 6’? What do you think of the Bittman’s diet? Leave your comments below or tweet us @GetTheGloss.

To find out more about Mark and his ‘Vegan Before 6” eating plan, visit markbittman.com



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