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Vegans push new diet for heathier lifestyle

By Rodolfo Roman
Special to the Miami Herald

Juan Francisco Cabrera was used to eating the typical Hispanic dish: rice, beans and steak.

But, he couldn’t stand the stomach pain and heartburn that followed.

Some 15 years ago, he ended the discomfort caused by his eating habits.

Cabrera became a vegetarian.

“I think a lot of people suffer from this when they eat outside but we don’t pay attention because we assume it’s just heartburn,” said Cabrera, 41, who was born in the Dominican Republic and now lives in Doral.

After becoming a vegetarian, it was difficult for him to find a restaurant with his food choices. In 2001, he decided to open his own eatery.

“I never had the possibility to eat my proper nutrition,” he said. “So, I told myself why not do something that I love and I could benefit from.”

He opened Vegan Natural Juice in the Holiday Shopping Plaza Sweetwater, 115B SW 107th Ave. The 900-square-foot restaurant has caters to locals and visitors looking for a complete vegetarian experience.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Marisabel Guzman drove from Kendall for a bite. Becoming a vegan has helped her with her dialysis, she said as she ate a natural fruit ice cream.

“I had enough of eating too much flour,” said Guzman, who credits Cabrera for helping her make the transition. “I have so much energy and I feel so great.”

Becoming a vegan also has introduced her to other foods that she never imagine she would like.

“I now eat foods I didn’t eat before,” she said.

Hispanic themed restaurants are common in Sweetwater, which has become an enclave over the years for Central Americans, especially Nicaraguan immigrants.

A vegan restaurant in an area heavy on traditional foods – especially meat-based dishes – may have been a little out of place initially. It took the community a little while to get used to it in the beginning, Cabrera said.

Now, the area has welcomed the restaurant with open arms. And converting has changed his life, Cabrera said.

“We are what we eat. We should feed ourselves off live products, not dead products that don’t have any nutrition.”

Inside the restaurant, there’s a kitchen area and a food bar, along with tables and chairs. Dishes are always fresh, either steamed or cooked daily in an oven. Customers can choose smoothies made from natural fruit, like pineapple, stored in freezers.

Customers also can purchase vitamins, books and other supplies. Yoga classes are taught on site on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Cabrera, who cooks, has four employees who are family members.

Everyday there is a new menu. Breakfast and lunch is always served Monday through Saturday.

Breakfast choices consist of everything from wheat toasts to veggie wraps to whole grain pancakes

For lunch, patrons may find eggplant, yucca, sweet potato, tofu, garbanzo, green beans or lasagna stuffed with vegetables.

For $8.50, customers may choose four portions.

Julio Jimenez stopped by to get dinner.

“I love to eat healthy,” said Jimenez, who bought white beans, spinach and eggplant. “I have several family members who are vegan.”

Cabrera said vegetarianism changed his life. His wife Jennifer Ramirez also joined him on becoming a vegan.

“Before I became a vegan, I would sleep about 12 to 13 hours,’’ he said. “Now, I sleep about 5 hours and I am full of energy.’’

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