November 7, 2012

Natural Foodie: Making the vegan switch proved to be a win-win-win

Channel 13's Jeff Peterson saw his energy spike, his cholesterol plummet and 31 pounds melt away.

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

WGME-13 news anchor Jeff Peterson used to be a meat eater's meat eater. He ate beef, chicken or pork at every meal. He turned up his nose at tofu. He mocked vegans.

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The Peterson family sits down for a dinner of creamy vegan “chicken” casserole with chopped-pumpkin-seed tossed salad recently at their Portland home. Clockwise from lower left, Bryant Peterson, 13, Madison Legassey 13, Brady Peterson, 4, Gabriela Peterson, 2, Jeff Peterson, Laura Peterson and Carly Peterson, 12.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Peterson before

Additional Photos Below


TO SEE VEGAN RECIPES by Jeff and Laura Peterson, like Jeff on Facebook at Peterson posts recipes on Mondays.


JEFF PETERSON and Pastor Brian Undlin do a comedy show to raise money for needy families during the Christmas holidays. Jeff's performance will include jokes about his work on TV and his vegan diet.

WHEN: 5:30 and 7 p.m. Dec. 1; 8:45 and 10:30 a.m. Dec. 2

WHERE: Life Church, 8 Elkins Road, Gorham

HOW MUCH: Free/donation

INFO: 839-6354

Then Peterson became a vegan himself.

The change to an all plant-based diet literally happened overnight. He and his wife, Laura, watched the 2011 documentary "Forks Over Knives" in February of this year and it opened their eyes to the health consequences of the standard American diet and the healing powers of vegan food.

"I remember looking at my wife and I thought that would make a good story for News 13," Peterson recalled.

His idea was to adopt a vegan diet for 60 days and have the cameras follow any resulting changes. But Laura, who works in human resources for a local company, told him his real motivation for making such a big change shouldn't be his job but his own health and family, which includes five children ages 2 to 13. Jeff agreed, but he knew a good TV idea when he saw one, so he remained committed to documenting his dietary changes for his viewers.

Prior to watching the film, both Jeff and Laura were taking steps to improve their health, so Laura readily agreed to join him in the challenge.

The next day they cleaned out their cupboards of foods that contained meat, dairy or eggs and began centering their meals around plants. They also had their cholesterol levels checked and weighed themselves. Then they began shopping and cooking in a whole new way.

They didn't make elaborate plans. They didn't spend weeks gathering recipes. Instead they just went for it.

"I think it's easier to do it like a Band-Aid -- veeeerip!" Laura said.

"Reading labels has become the standard now when we go to the store," Laura said. She added that the dairy derivatives whey and casein tend to lurk in many foods, "especially pre-processed and packaged foods. They have veggie shredded cheese that has casein in it."

Jeff too is surprised by how many items in the grocery store contain hidden animal products.

"I go in to buy bread and I go down the entire bread aisle," Jeff said. "Only one kind of hamburger buns don't have milk in it."

Recalling his prior life as a meat eater, Jeff said: "I would make fun of people who would read labels. Now I'm one of those people."

Since she does most of the cooking, Laura took several vegan cooking classes at Whole Foods Market and invested in a number of vegan cookbooks. Her favorite cookbooks include "Life in Balance" by Meg Wolff, "Blissful Bites" by Christy Morgan and "The Lean" by Kathy Freston.

Because Jeff and Laura have a blended family, finding meals the children -- particularly the older children -- enjoy has been one of the biggest hurdles.

Laura said while their 2-year-old will eat anything, their 13-year-old daughter is much more picky. The solution they've found is veganizing familiar dishes, such as shepherd's pie, lasagna or tacos.

In contrast, their 13-year-old son is a budding chef and has embraced vegan cooking as an interesting challenge.

Meals the whole family enjoys include sweet potato burritos, black bean burgers and stir fry.

But Jeff and Laura don't force their vegan diet on the kids.

"If they have friends over and they want to have pizza, we buy them a regular pizza," Laura said. "If the grandparents take them to McDonald's for a Happy Meal, we're not going to jump up and down." 


At the end of the 60-day experiment, Jeff had lost 31 pounds. Equally impressive, his overall cholesterol level dropped from 128 to 87, his LDL cholesterol plummeted from 70 to 47 and his triglycerides plunged from 151 to 69.

(Continued on page 2)

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Peterson after


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