Thursday, January 24, 2013

When a vegan girl gets sick ...

I know, vegans are supposed to be weakly wimps about to collapse from lack of protein, or we're supposed to be healthy cancer-proof "I never get colds" wonder women and super men.  Oh, the confusion of expectations!!!

In reality, vegans suffer from physical maladies just like other people ... yes, we get cancer, we get colds, we get food poisoning, we gain unwanted pounds, we get high blood pressure, we get diabetes.  Probably the only thing we don't get is high cholesterol (I'm guessing?) because there is no cholesterol at all in the food we eat. Other than that, a vegan diet doesn't make you IMMUNE to anything.   I do think a whole foods plant-based diet reduces your chances of getting some things (like colon cancer), but it definitely doesn't make you immune to getting sick.

Now that we have that out of the way ... GUESS WHAT!  I'm sick!

I've come down with bronchitis.  So far it's no big deal, it just means I don't feel very well, I want to lie down most of the time, and I've had a terrible cough with lovely bits of phlegm.  It started on January 1 this year.  At first it was just a cold, so I tried fighting it off myself.  Normally when I get cold symptoms, they go away after 1 or 2 days.  So I just kept expecting it to go away.  In fact, sometimes I thought I was basically cured, but then it would COME BACK.  Unfortunately, 3 weeks into it, things got much worse, I even collapsed in a public place (the Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio) having a very scary coughing fit, the likes of which I had never experienced.  Thank goodness my dear friend Alison was there to help me!

So! I rushed back home to San Francisco; the doctor said it was bronchitis and gave me antibiotics.  It had been several years since I'd had antibiotics, and I didn't remember them too fondly!

Now comes for all the advice from people.  Everyone says, drink lots of chicken noodle soup!  Eat lots of probiotic yogurt!!!  Drink hot tea with honey!  Get throat lozenges with honey!   Then they say, "Oh, that's right, you don't eat that stuff.  Sorry."

OOPS!  Well, guess what, there are perfectly good vegan-ish things for when we get sick!

Here are the things I'm using right now.

Bio-K Probiotic Liquid, made with Fermented Organic Rice

Primadophilus Optima ... 14 Probiotic Strains in a Vegetarian Capsule. No bee products!

Ricola "THE ORIGINAL" Natural Herb Cough Drops

Now for food ... hot, nourishing soup!  No, it does not have to be chicken noodle!!!

I made a wonderful soup at my brother's house in Dripping Springs, Texas.  Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures, but I'm hoping to make it again and then post here.  Here is how I made it.

Garlic Potato Butternut Squash Soup


1 head of garlic (about 16 cloves)
3 large potatoes
1 butternut squash
1 carton of vegetable broth
1 onion
Grapeseed oil
Seasonings: black pepper, curry seasoning, red pepper powder, paprika


Wash the outside of the butternut squash, then cut it in half.  Remove the seeds and stringy inner parts.
Pour some water in a rectangular glass pan that is big enough to accommodate both halves of butternut squash side by side.  Place the butternut squash face-down in the water.  Then put it in the oven set for 350 degrees.  You may want to turn it up to 375 or 400 if you get impatient towards the end.  Let it cook for about an hour or until the butternut squash is soft and the shell seems to want to come off.

While the squash is in the oven, peel the garlic cloves and mince them or chop them into very small pieces.  Let the chopped garlic sit for 15 minutes before beginning to cook them.

Scrub the potatoes and cut them up into small-ish pieces.  Pour some vegetable broth into a 2 or 3-quart sauce pan, and drop the potatoes in there to get them cooking.  Let them simmer and cook.

Chop up an onion into small pieces.  Pour a little grapeseed oil into a cast iron skillet and start sauteeing the onions.  Then add the chopped-up garlic to the frying pan and sautee until soft.  Then add the onions and garlic to the simmering pot of potatoes.

When the butternut squash is baked, pull it out of the oven.  Remove the outer skin and chop up the yummy squash, then drop it into the potato-garlic-onion soup and let it cook together.  Pour in more vegetable broth if needed to get your desired soup consistency.   Season lightly with pepper, curry seasoning, red pepper powder, and paprika if desired.

Voila!  Wonderful soup you can make for a sick vegan friend.
Prep time is about 1 hour.

Homemade soup is great, but when I got back to San Francisco, all I wanted to do is stay in bed. So I stocked up on my favorite organic vegan heat-and-go soups from Imagine, at Whole Foods.

Here are the soups for my at-home recovery.

I purchased the creamy butternut squash, the creamy tomato, the creamy portobello, and the creamy broccoli.  Yes, they're "creamy," but they are not made with cow's milk.  I think dairy products are a bad idea generally, but I believe they are an especially bad thing when you're trying to get rid of  a cold.

The Imagine soups are kind of thin ... they don't compare in flavor to homemade soups made from scratch, but at least they're a lot more healthful than something like Campbell's.  They do make a good base; you can use these as a starter and throw some extra veggies in.  I noticed Imagine even makes a creamy red potato with roasted garlic soup, which (assuming it's vegan) would be a good shortcut for starting off with the soup I described above.  

I think garlic is important, so I also bought a couple heads of garlic.  Tuesday I chopped up one half of one of the heads of garlic and put in the butternut squash soup.  Wednesday I chopped up the other half and put in there  Today I guess I'll go for the broccoli soup!  Maybe I will put some potatoes in this time.  I noticed my appetite is picking up a little bit!  Although I sincerely I can keep my 5 pounds of weight loss, which is what I've enjoyed so far on the Bronchitis Diet !!!  :)

Another thing I've been having is tea!  They say that cinnamon and cloves are good for immunity, so here is one I'm enjoying currently.  

Gingerbread Spice Celestial Seasonings Herbal Tea

It doesn't have cloves in the tea, but I have clove powder as a spice! So I make the tea an then sprinkle some clove spice on top.  (Don't overdo it, the cloves are kind of bitter!)  I've also sprinkled some pumpkin seasoning on top, just to make it extra cinnamon-y and nutmeg-y. Hope that gives my immune system a boost!

Hope these vegan get-well ideas are helpful to somebody out there.  

With enough rest and nourishment, I'm hoping to be back to my old self!

Ha ha!  Wishing everyone health and happiness this year!


  1. Hey Rach. Hope you feel 100% soon.

    Vegans get high cholesterol. Eating any saturated fat (such as chocolate) can raise cholesterol levels. Also, most of the cholesterol in our bodies is made by us. Just like the animals some people eat, our bodies also have/make our own cholesterol. Lots of genetics at work here; some people naturally make a lot more cholesterol or less cholesterol than other people. There are other factors at work too.

  2. Thanks Lisa! That's a good reminder. I have genetically high cholesterol, it was over 200 when I was only 20 and in much better shape than I am now ... but now, nearly 20 years later, it's around 170. Which is not bad, but definitely not "low."

    One thing I've also heard is that vigorous exercise helps to promote the good cholesterol (HDL's) so even if your total cholesterol is high, you can change the percentage of good cholesterol vs. bad if you are able to exercise.

    So ... what you have reminded me about is: a vegan who doesn't exercise much ... he or she may have high levels of the bad cholesterol (LDL's), even though he / she doesn't consume any dietary cholesterol. Isn't that right?

  3. HDL definitely goes up when we exercise and so the ratio improves and health risks go down of having high total cholesterol and high LDL and VLDL. But we start with our genes, then what we eat and how much/hard we exercise. Some omnivores who do everything wrong might have better lipid profiles than some vegans who do everything right. But we cam influence our levels.

  4. Rachel,
    I remember when I first met you at a Stern Grove show, years back you'd just come fm Vegan
    tabling event and gave me a brochure. I remember feeling miles away from being able to even
    conceive of eating that way. And then...this year I did a cleanse that was pretty much "eat
    vegan" and it was life changing. Seriously. So thank you for all your posts on fb over the years and genuine excitement about being vegan. love, Eugenia

    1. Eugenia, that is so sweet that you remember that! I remember that day, too, I think it was back in 2007 because it was when Jeff still lived on Vicente St. Wonderful day at Stern Grove, I miss those times. Maybe we can go again this summer.

      I'm glad to hear you recently tried a vegan diet and liked it! Or at least, when you said "life changing," I hope you meant "in a good way," ha ha! (Otherwise I'm in big trouble!!!) Thanks for your kind words about my vegan facebook posts, etc. I'm glad NOT TOO MANY people have de-friended me over them. ;-) Keep me posted about your upcoming happenings, especially art and other fun projects! I was bummed to miss your grad school exhibitions in Berkeley. I hope to get another chance to see your work!