Vegan for Health: Author Attila Hildmann Weighs in on Vegan Living
You probably haven't heard of Attila Hildmann, but Attila is hoping to change that. Born and raised in Berlin, Germany, Attila didn't pay much attention to his health. Like most kids and young adults, he ate what his family and friends did, and ignored the pounds he started packing.
Then in 2000, that all changed. A heart attack took Attila's father from him. Believing his father's high meat consumption was ultimately responsible, Attila began to turn his own health around and eventually adopted a vegan diet, based on plant foods and with no animal products.
Today Attila is becoming a sensation in his home country and abroad, inspiring others to pay more attention to the foods they eat, to change their meat-centric way of thinking, and to get active.
So it was with great pleasure that I accepted Attila's offer to review his latest cookbooks, Vegan for Fit and Vegan for Fun. Here he answers a few questions for us.
First, Attila, I have to say these cookbooks are GORGEOUS! Like coffee table gorgeous. Like display-on-your-countertops gorgeous. Really. If anyone is in need of a little photo inspiration to start making magic in the kitchen again, these are the books to do that. I like also that your Vegan for Fit challenge offers a number of tips about how to get started and what tools to have in the kitchen. I made your quinoa croquettes (to the right) with a client and we both loved them!
That's so nice. Thank you.
Like my own father, yours died unexpectedly of a heart attack. My father's diet was not so healthy and he wasn't very active. You say your father did eat fairly well and worked out, but he included a lot of animal products. Can you describe how that painful event inspired you to follow a whole new path?
The death of my father really shocked me as a 19 year old high school student. He was such a great father and person. He did eat a lot of animal products and was a little overweight. High cholesterol was always a struggle, and he suffered a heart attack twice. He even underwent open-heart surgery where they opened his rib cage.
Some people say veganism is extreme but can you imagine something more extreme than having doctors open your rib cage when there is another solution to high cholesterol?
After my father died I was also worried about my own health. Severely overweight at 230 pounds and with high cholesterol myself, my doctor told me that if I did not change my diet I would meet the same fate.
I learned that cholesterol is only found in animal products so I started a vegan diet, cutting out all animal products. I had to change something and it all played out for me. My cholesterol dropped to the ideal level within two weeks. I am now in the best shape I've ever been and compete in Ironman triathlon events.
Your former lifestyle habits were much like my own growing up. My cooking skills only required a can opener. How did you start getting comfortable and creative in the kitchen? At first I didn't know what to eat or to cook so I spent a lot of time in my small kitchen, creating and experimenting. After two weeks I was losing weight and eating delicious foods. I invited friends because I wanted to show them it's pretty tasty to eat this way. They started to ask for recipes. Nine years later, I published my first cookbook. I also began a vegan cooking show on German YouTube that became the most subscribed to program. Then I was approached by an agency to publish more.
I've since sold over 750,000 vegan cookbooks, including the popular Vegan For Fit and Vegan For Fun and I make weekly TV appearances hoping to inspire others to try my Vegan for Fit challenge. I have a passion for what I do and I think that's the key to success in whatever you do. But all my success began with the death of my father and I will never forget that.
While I eat mostly vegan, there was a time when I was a box-etarian. I didn't consume animal products, but I still ate lots of processed foods with high sodium and chemical flavoring. Now I strive to eat mostly real foods and I feel such a difference. Has it been the same journey for you? Box-etarian, that's a funny name. I guess I was a box-etarian at first, too. I tried all the meat substitues and vegan sweets. They might be vegan but I doubt it's healthy if you eat them all the time. In the end, it's junk food too.
Over the years, I've developed a love for foods that are healthy and unprocessed. Back then I couldn't have imagined loving a fresh salad or broccoli. Now I love vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils, and super foods like Matcha, Goji berries and other foods rich in antioxidants. People know me as someone who avoids processed foods in his recipes. I focus on easy, tasty recipes and short ingredient lists.
I like that your approach is not from a pedestal. You encourage readers to live a plant-based lifestyle, but you understand that even reducing meat and dairy can make a difference in a person's health, for the welfare of so many animals, and for the health of our planet. What are good first steps for somebody looking to make these kind of changes?
Honestly, they should try the 30 day VEGAN FOR FIT challenge. After 30 days, they will feel tremendous like thousands of others. It's an effective lifestyle program and people won't feel hungry. If you want to lose pounds easily, feel more active and awake and eat delicious meals, try it out for yourself. I promise you won't regret it!
That said, if you just eat vegan once a week or one vegan dish a day that's awesome. I don't like the all-or-nothing-approach of so many vegans who preach to people and make them feel bad. After all, food is a personal matter. Everyone should eat what he wants.
Many people never tried vegan dishes, so all it takes is to make it delicious and people might consider changing their diets or at least let some of my kitchen enter theirs.
I bet all your recipes are favorites, but if you had to live on just one of your recipe creations for a whole week, what would you choose?
I would eat Spaghetti Bolognese every day. I've tuned it up for years. At first is was just a bland tomato sauce with crumbled tofu. But you have to pan-fry tofu to make it delicious; you need to add tomato puree, red wine, and fresh herbs.
I won a competition against a star chef on German TV. He was making his bolognese with veal but lost against my tofu!
Attila's Tofu Bolognese
9 oz firm tofu 1 onion 2 garlic cloves 3 1/2 tbsp. high-heat oil 4 tbsp. tomato paste 2/3 c dry red wine 9 oz durum spaghetti sea salt 5.5 oz tomato puree (about 3/4 c) 1-2 tsp agave or maple syrup 1 tsp dried oregano freshly ground black pepper 1 bunch basil 1/3 c pine nuts 1/4 c nutritional yeast flakes
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Mash tofu with fork. Peel and finely chop onion and cloves. Heat oil in saucepan and pan-fry tofu about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute for additional 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Deglaze with red wine and cook for 4 minutes, allowing sauce to thicken.
Cook spaghetti according to package until al dente. While spaghetti is cooking, add tomato puree, syrup, and oregano to the spaghetti sauce. Allow to simmer for 3 minutes, and season with salt and pepper.
Drain spaghetti. Place on plates and top with Bolognese. Toast pine nuts for 3 minutes in a dry skillet and then grind 2/3 of the nuts in a blender with the nutritional yeast flakes and a little sea salt. Sprinkle over sauce and garnish with remaining pine nuts.
Note: It's important to follow each step as Attila indicates to achieve the desired color and texture.
Attila's Crunchy Chocolate Cranberry Drops
7 oz dark chocolate 1 vanilla bean pod or 1 tsp vanilla 1 1/3 c cornflakes 1/2 c dried cranberries
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Coarsely chop dark chocolate with a knife and melt over a water bath. To do this, bring some water to a boil in a saucepan. Turn heat down to medium, put a metal bowl containing the chocolate on top of the saucepan, and allow chocolate to melt. The metal bowl should not come into contact with the water.
Cut vanilla bean pod open lengthwise and scrape out seeds with a knife. Fold seeds (or vanilla) and cornflakes into melted chocolate. Stir in cranberries. Use 2 tsps. to make drops that are almost 1 inch in diameter. Let cool on parchment paper.
These were a HUGE hit with the neighborhood kids!