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The Promise

Could you go vegan part time? You will if you go on the VB6 plan.

If you follow TheNew York Times food section, you probably know Mark Bittman’s column, and you may have heard of his approach to eating: VB6, which stands for Vegan Before 6. That is, you eat like a vegan (no meat, dairy, or other animal products) until 6 p.m.

Bittman isn’t a doctor, nutritionist, or health professional, but he has been cooking and writing about food and food policy for more than 25 years.

He also has firsthand experience. At age 57, Bittman's doctor told him that he was 40 pounds overweight, prediabetic, and had high cholesterol. He says his doctor recommended that he go on a vegan diet. Bittman decided to radically change his diet but not totally give up all animal products, to see if that would help improve his health without medication.

Bittman writes about his diet in his book, VB6.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

On this plan, you’ll become a part-time vegan, eating mostly fruit, vegetables, grains, and beans until dinner, when you can eat whatever you like, in moderation. Bittman also gave up processed foods, like white bread, junk food, and pasta -- until 6 p.m.

The VB6 28-day plan includes much more fruit, vegetables, and other plant foods than you’re most likely used to eating. You can eat some of them in almost unlimited quantities. However, legumes (beans, lentils), nuts, seeds, whole grains, starchy or fatty veggies or fruits, and oils you should eat in moderation.

Bittman encourages snacking when the urge strikes, as long as you don’t eat when you’re not really hungry and don’t choose processed foods. He recommends reaching for fruit when you crave something sweet, even if that means eating two or three pieces.

He cautions against eating too many white potatoes, chips, and fries. He suggests treating fatty avocados and olives as snacks or alternatives to cheese but says eating an “avocado instead of a cheeseburger is always a fair swap.”

VB6 does not allow animal products, sugar, white flour, white rice, pastas, or processed foods before 6 p.m., or dinnertime. After 6 p.m. or at dinner, you may eat whatever and however much you want, including meat, cheese, alcohol, and sweets. But if you’re trying to lose weight, Bittman suggests that you eat and drink them in limited quantities, or use as garnish rather than centerpiece of a meal.

Bittman also gives you some margin. If going vegan apart from dinner doesn't work for you, could you do it for another part of the day? The time is arbitrary, Bittman writes.

Level of Effort: Medium

Limitations: From the time you wake up in the morning until dinner or 6 p.m., you may eat only a vegan diet, featuring fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. For dinner, nothing is off-limits -- you may eat whatever you like.

Cooking and shopping: You’ll prepare and eat far more fruit, vegetables, and grains than you ever have before. Bittman provides very easy recipes and cooking techniques for a wide range of foods. Plus, the book gives you the tools you need to make the diet work, even if you eat out frequently and don’t like to cook.

Packaged foods or meals: No.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Encouraged. Bittman suggests you get moving because exercise helps bolster your physical and mental health. He doesn’t give specific recommendations.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarian or vegan: This diet is a great fit for you. The VB6 diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and requires you to eat vegan at least part time. It wouldn’t be difficult to continue the vegan plan or make it simply vegetarian for dinner.

The plan is not necessarily low-fat, but you’ll eat mostly heart-healthy fats from avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, and as much or as little salt as you like. Bittman stresses that the plan is flexible, and you should do the best you can, rather than strive for perfection.

Gluten-free diet: This diet doesn't focus on gluten, but you could opt for whole grains that don't include gluten.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: You’ll spend roughly the same amount on groceries.

Support: There’s no structured online community or group meetings, but you can browse Bittman's web site for articles, recipes, and blog posts that include tips and recipes.

What Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, Says:

Does It Work?

The VB6 Diet focuses on being a vegan about 75% of the time. Research shows a well-planned vegan diet can be good for health and weight, so it's likely that being vegan most of the time has the same benefits.

But how successful you are on this plan depends on what you eat after 6 p.m.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

Eating more planted-based foods is good for most health conditions, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

Although the recipes aren't necessarily low fat, they include healthy fat sources, and salt can be easily controlled during cooking. If you have diabetes, you can continue to count carbs to control blood sugar.

If you have a health condition, talk to your doctor before making major changes to your diet.

The Final Word

This plan can help you add more plant-based foods to your diet and reap the health benefits that come with cutting back on meat. The downside is that how you eat in the evening can have a big and potentially negative impact on your overall diet.

This diet may not be right for you if you eat a lot of food at night, rely on convenience foods, or don't like to cook.

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