Vegan and loving it: Virta gives me plenty of support and options
by Bill, a Virta patient
When I first received my diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in 2004, I had an A1C of over 14%. I felt hopeless because I knew how hard diabetes was, and I wasn't sure I had it in me to manage it. I tried the medications they prescribed me, but in a very short time, I fell into a dangerous trap of living in denial. I did not manage it well for many years. Eating was always a challenge, and my blood sugar levels had dramatic fluctuations. I often found myself experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Years after my initial diagnosis, I was prescribed insulin, which horrified me: I had a tremendous fear of needles stemming from childhood immunizations. When learning how to inject insulin for the first time, the nurse had to be very patient. I held the injector pen against my abdomen for over two hours trying to get up the courage to push that button of the automated pen. Later that year, my insurance changed, and it only allowed for manual injections. It was devastating news to me. My girlfriend at the time offered to do it for me for about a month until I took ownership of it.
I started a low-fat, low-glycemic-index vegan diet in the summer of 2010, Being on this diet for several years was not easy, but it did help control my blood sugars and lose close to seventy-five pounds. But I couldn’t get all the way to diabetes reversal on this diet - I still had frequent glucose swings, and I still had to take metformin and glipizide to normalize my blood sugar.
I wanted to get my blood sugar fully back to normal, and get off all the diabetes medications. So I decided to join Virta in January of 2017, after my primary care physician recommended it to me.
When I first started Virta, I chose not to eat a vegan diet. However, after my first year and a half on Virta, I decided I wanted to go back to veganism, while still sticking with Virta’s ketogenic approach. I really enjoyed eating vegan, and felt good about the ethical implications. My Virta coach and provider were so supportive when I brought up doing Virta as a vegan, and had all sorts of helpful resources, recipes, and guides already developed just for vegans! These days, I find that doing Virta as a vegan is totally sustainable.
After just over two years on Virta, my A1c has dropped from 8.1% to 6.2%, putting me below the threshold for diabetes (6.5%), the lowest it has ever been! My A1c has gone down, even though I have reduced my glipizide dosage twice. My life is better now that I am healthier and have more energy. I sleep so well that I wake at 5:00am every morning and can spend 3 hours before work doing things I enjoy. I take advantage of feeling awake and being ready to get on with my day. Since starting Virta, I have spent more hours each day feeling awake, alert, productive, and energetic.
My Favorite Recipes
One of my favorite Virta-friendly, vegan recipes is Celery and Five Spiced Tofu. Tofu is a great source of protein for vegans who are also doing keto! When seasoned, it tastes amazing! When I eat meat alternatives, I do not compare the flavors or textures to meat; instead, I enjoy them for what they are in that moment. One thing I've learned over the years is to press your firm or extra firm tofu with paper towels and place it in a zip up sandwich bag with a little air in it. Then place it in the freezer. After thawing, press again with paper towels, and you now have a nicely textured tofu. Here is a recipe for a nice tofu meal from Virta’s resource center, which is available to app users (I have added the italicized and underlined text to the Virta recipe below as this is my preference):
Celery and Five Spiced Tofu
Prep Time: 10 min; Total Time: 14 min
Makes 4 (1/2 Cup) servings
2 Tbs canola oil
4 ounces five spice marinated tofu, cut into bite-sized rectangles
2 cups Chinese celery, cut ¼ inch thick at a 45 degree angle
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ C water
Salt, to taste
- Heat a large pan to medium high. Add the canola oil and then the tofu and let it brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 min on the other. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon.
- Add the Chinese celery, garlic cloves, and water. Cover this until it is cooked, about 4 minutes. You’ll want the celery to retain some of its crunch and green color.
- Uncover, taste, and add salt if needed. Serve immediately.
Substitutions: This pressed, five spice marinated tofu is readily available at Chinese grocery stores and is a lot firmer than the conventional tofu you can find in grocery stores. If you cannot find this type of tofu, extra firm tofu can be used in place of it. Put the bite sized pieces into a zip up baggie and add 1 Tbsp canola oil to it. Add 1/4 tsp (more or less as you prefer) Five Spice seasoning. Shake well and set in the refrigerator to marinate.In addition, conventional celery can also be used in place of Chinese celery.
Nutrition Information Per Serving: 8g fat, 3g protein, 3g carbohydrate*
*Using your own tofu and five spice seasoning as a substitute will change the nutritional information.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts are my favorite cooked vegetable. I prefer roasting in the oven. Here is another recipe straight from Virta’s resource center:
Air Fryer Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Prep time: 8 min; Total Time: 20 min
Makes 6 (2.5 to 3 oz) servings
1 pkg fresh brussel sprouts, cleaned and sliced in half (~ 1 lb)
2 Tbsp olive oil1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
⅛ tsp salt
⅛ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp lemon juice
- In a bowl mix all ingredients together except brussel sprouts.
- Take out about ¼ of the mixture and mix in the sprouts until coated.
- Place in an Air Fryer basket or in the oven on a baking sheet.
- Fry or bake at 400 degrees F for 7-9 minutes. If still slightly crunchy add an additional 3 minutes at 350 degrees F, if still extra crunchy move to 375 degrees F for 3-4 minutes.
- When they are done, pour the remaining liquid on the sprouts, toss and serve warm.
Nutrition Information Per Serving: 5g fat; 3g protein; 7g carbsI would recommend Virta to anyone who wants to see results. Doing this on your own would be difficult, but with Virta's tremendous resources, you get access to a wide variety of support systems that help you along the way and customize your experience. Having a health coach on hand is the best help a patient could ask for. My coach is always really helpful and timely in responding. The app has so many recipes and resources, including plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians. If you are worried that your dietary restrictions or preferences won’t work with Virta, I am here to tell you not to worry! It has been an awesome experience for me, and I know that Virta can work for anyone now.