A 'proper' vegan breakfast

I just ran into my friend Rip Esselstyn, who had a major impact on me at Bazaarvoice. Seeing him today made me want to share my story and also the breakfast I have every morning (my recipe below) for the past two years. After all, it is the first week of the new year and if you are like most people, you are thinking about carrying out your new year's resolutions and health is probably near the top of your list.

Rip is the author of the The Engine 2 Diet, which is his derivation of a raw, vegan diet. It is heavily researched and actually proven to reverse heart disease. It is also a vasodilator, increasing the blood flow to your muscles, which helps you with any form of exercise and provides energy overall. Famous people like Bill Clinton have adopted his diet after having major heart problems and have had much success with it. The best way to describe Rip's derivation of the vegan diet is that it excludes heavy use of oils (you could, after all, eat vegan by eating only potato chips) and uses wheat-based bread products instead of simple carbohydrates like white breads. In any case, it was good catching up with Rip. Two years ago when he presented at Bazaarvoice as part of our monthly speakers series, he convinced me that "real mean eat plants" because they want to live a long time to be with their family. He also convinced many others at Bazaarvoice - I believe around 40 of us overall. Together, we went on the Engine 2 diet. Many Bazaarvoice team members had great results, including me. I dropped 15 pounds of fat and my blood tested at world-class triathlete levels for cholesterol after only 30 days on the diet. I never felt better - with extraordinary energy and feeling "clean" after every meal with no indigestion. After 45 days on the diet, some of my friends started to say I looked too skinny (I had lost no strength in the gym though), and I was missing meat and I guess looking for an excuse to not eat this way 100% of the time forever so I started to introduce meat again. I must say that I felt better when I ate 100% vegan, so I decided to eat meat only for dinner, and mostly seafood. That way I was around a 2/3rd or more vegan diet - eating vegan for breakfast and lunch is much easier than at dinner, where it is a more social experience at sometimes a nice restaurant, like Sway (my review). And you don't have to define yourself by just eating one way - that level of extremism is hard to keep up with forever and usually doesn't last and is also very limiting. But you also have to have good self-control to not slip back into old habits and start eating bad again for most meals. The reason I went on Rip's diet in the first place was not because I was fat but to increase my overall health and energy level. Being the CEO of a growing, global company - and one that I was almost positive would go public, even two years ago - is not an easy job. It is very demanding. And being busy like most people working long hours, I had fallen into the habit of just eating food for the sake of taste (first) and calories (second). Not necessarily very bad food, but also not very cognizant of how high quality the calories were - just decently tasty food, or "fuel" to get the job done. For example, if there was Rudy's BBQ or California Pizza in the office, I would just eat it because it was convenient and somewhat tasty - in all of about 15 minutes - and then get right back to work.


I went this way for over a year and then I watched Gary Yourofsky's video, which a friend told me about. This video not only raises the health reasons for being vegan but also the ethical dilemma of animals being murdered to eat their meat. Food has gotten so abstracted, and I believe that almost all of us just eat our meals and move on, not wanting to really think about where it came from. Recently our daughter ate a piece of venison sausage. Debra told her she was eating deer and asked how she liked it. Our daughter said - shocked - "no I'm not!, am I?!". I gently nudged Debra's leg under the table and she said, "oh yeah, you aren't". Yes, we lied to our daughter - I didn't want to ruin our whole evening, but the point of me telling you this is that if we really thought about what we were eating, we probably wouldn't want to eat it in the first place. Children have natural wisdom. The ethical dilemma of eating an animal that raises it's babies much like we do, by nourishing them with their milk, having feelings for them, etc. really gets you thinking. I think most of us have this thought in the back of our head - whether we will admit it or not - but we ignore our conscious in this area in favor of convenience. Like in the movie An Inconvenient Truth, it truly is better, I guess, to just be ignorant about animal slaughterhouses and what really goes on in them. Just enjoy the social aspect of the meal, especially the taste, and move on. This is where Gary Yourofsky comes in. He has a great voice, especially for the Millennial generation. If you want to see his standard college lecture, and this video is not for the squeamish, then watch his video below and it will be like one of those Matrix (movie) moments where you just took the red pill. Personally, I've never been comfortable with being willfully ignorant and I instead choose to at least be educated and then make my decision based on that. That makes my decisions harder and I guess that is where the saying "ignorance is bliss" comes from.

After seeing Gary's video, I stopped eating animals that nourished their young like and instead turned to eating seafood during my one meal per day where I do not eat vegan. I told Rip this today and we are going to have lunch soon to discuss this as well as Gary's video. I'm sure he will have many reasons why me eating seafood is not a good idea, and I know that Gary would say it is unethical because I'm still eating a murdered animal - and he's right. But I guess I'm also a rationalizing species bigot in that fish are so different from us as humans. A longtime friend, Bryan, who has done much research on this topic and has been a vegetarian for many years, also influenced me. Now he is a vegetarian most of the time with seafood occasionally. According to Bryan after conducting a lot of his own research as well as attending classes on the subject, this is the best type of diet because the animal protein has some additional health qualities versus eating pure vegan. It is also more like how humans evolved, eating meat very infrequently (because it was hard to get) and mostly plants and vegetables (which were much easy to get). There is no doubt that the easy access to very unhealthy - but engineered for taste - fast-food in this nation is killing us. We didn't evolve to eat meat - and simple, processed carbohydrates - constantly.

By the way, on both the health and ethical points, I brought up to Rip how we will think when in-vitro meat sources can be biologically engineered to both be a) far better for you, potentially even as good for you as eating vegan, and b) avoid murdering an animal for our source of convenience, taste, and calories. For more on that, you should read my review posted yesterday on the book Abundance. So many aspects of that book - man fusing with machine, robots and machine intelligence as good as humans, etc. - will raise future ethical questions as the technologies become available and jolt our evolutionary adoption of ethics in the first place. I'm going to be thinking about that book over the next few decades as all of this, including engineered food, unfolds in our lifetimes.

In any case, ever since Rip's influence, I searched for a great vegan breakfast to make my life easy. Something that I could consistently start the day out that was delicious, convenient, and nutrition dense. After about two weeks of trying various things, my Bazaarvoice co-founder, Brant Barton, gave me his smoothie recipe and I derived my breakfast smoothie from that. Brant's version of this recipe is not vegan, but it is chock full of many of the same superfoods as he is a maven on the subject of health. When Brant researches anything he does the right amount of work, and I love that about him!

To start 2013 off right: if you would like to start eating vegan for at least one meal per day, I promise that the below recipe is delicious, filling, and extraordinarily good for you. It will give you a lasting boost of energy and a lot of nutrition that is almost certainly missing from your diet today.

Brett's vegan breakfast smoothie recipe

Put all ingredients in a blender in this order. I highly recommend investing in an industrial-strength blender like the ones made by Vitamix or Blendtec as it will make your smoothie completely smooth - with no chunks. It will even liquefy the chai seeds in this recipe.

  1. 1 cup Sambazon Energy Acai Berry + Yerba Mate + Guarana juice - I like this version of Sambazon's Acai Berry juice because it has some natural sources of caffeine and this is a breakfast drink, but if you don't want the caffeine just get the regular Sambazon Acai Berry juice, or any acai berry juice brand. Either way, this smoothie will give you a lot of energy. There are a ton of antioxidants in acai berries.
  2. 1 cup hemp milk - Living Harvest Unsweetened Vanilla or Pacific Natural Foods Chocolate work fine but the unsweetened saves you 23 grams of sugars (although this is from brown rice syrup) and 34 grams of carbohydrates overall for a total savings of 110 calories, and you are already getting 28 grams of sugars from the Sambazon, which is partially from cane sugar. Hemp protein is a complete protein source and even better than soy. If you drink it by itself for long enough, you will forget about how different it tastes from cow's milk and you will not notice the difference in this smoothie.
  3. For fruits, I use half a frozen banana, three frozen strawberries, and 10-15 frozen wild blueberries. Frozen is important because you don't want to have to use ice, which will dilute the smoothie with water.
  4. 1.5-2 scoops of Vegan chocolate protein. Recently I've been using Vega Sport's Performance Protein blend but more common brands like Spiru-tein, which you can get at almost any grocery store, also work. Two scoops of Vega Sport provide 52 grams of protein and 240 calories.
  5. 1 scoop of Vibrant Health Green Vibrance, which is a terrific superfood. By the way, make sure to store Green Vibrance in your freezer after opening the container (it is a "living" food and I want to get all of the benefits from eating it).
  6. 1-2 tsp of raw cacao powder. I use the Navitas Naturals brand organic raw cacao powder but any brand would be fine.
  7. 1-2 tsp of matcha green tea powder. I use the Vita Life brand but any brand would be fine.
  8. 1 tsp of chia seeds. Any brand is good enough.

You can get all of these ingredients at Whole Foods and probably many other places of your choice. To make preparation easy for busy mornings, I prepackage the frozen fruit and ingredients #4-8 in individual Ziploc freezer bags and store them in the freezer, ready to go.

Enjoy! It is the most dense, nutrition-rich smoothie you'll have - there is nothing like this at Smoothie King or Jamba Juice. If you have suggestions for me to improve this smoothie, please let me know!