WHEN MOTHER NATURE IS YOUR DOCTOR, THEN FOOD IS YOUR MEDICINE
Below are some of the frequently-asked, health-related questions I get. The way I like to approach "diet" is as an experiment, and you can't expect different results if you keep doing the same thing. Don't be afraid to jump in and switch things up! I'm not a doctor, nor am I giving any medical advice, simply sharing where I currently stand, as far as lifestyle, habits, knowledge, and beliefs. I'm open-minded to opposing viewpoints, and if anyone can offer me any beneficial advice, I'm willing to listen and learn! I hope that you can find some nuggets of wisdom here!
* If you have any additional questions you'd like me to address, submit them on my Contact page! *
WHAT DO YOU EAT?
I eat a 100% whole foods, plant-based (or vegan) diet, consisting of an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains as close to their natural state as possible. I eat a high volume of raw foods throughout the day, primarily in the form of sweet fruits and soft greens, with small amounts of fat-based fruits, nuts, and seeds, either whole, blended, juiced, or chopped into a salad. I am not dogmatic about eating only raw foods, nor am I concerned with counting calories, weighing my food, or documenting what I eat on a regular basis. I do consume a combination of some raw and cooked foods at dinnertime, especially in the colder months of the year.
More important than eating raw vs. cooked are:
- eating more whole foods and eliminating processed foods (including added salt, sugar, and oil)
- eating seasonally, for maximum freshness, nutrient content, availability, and reduced cost
I follow a high-carb, low-fat vegan diet, or 80/10/10 caloric nutrient ratio. At least 80% of my daily calories come from carbohydrates, 10% or less from protein, and 10% or less from fat. The beauty is that there is no need to measure macronutrient quantities, as this is generally the naturally-occurring ratio in most fruits and vegetables (with the exception of overt fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds).
My Diet, In A Nutshell
As humans, we are designed to eat all kinds of foods, but just because we can, doesn't mean that we should.
A 100% whole foods, plant-based (or vegan) diet, is one consisting of an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. It is completely void of meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and any other animal products. Many come to this lifestyle for ethical reasons and others for health reasons; my initial decision to adopt a plant-based diet was for better health. I began to notice dramatic improvement in the quality of my hair, skin, and nails, athletic performance, digestion, elimination, sleep, mood, and energy level, and I am now at a point where I have no cravings or desire to go back to the SAD (Standard American Diet).
A plant-based diet is optimal for:
- your health
- the animals
- and the environment
Bottom line: We All Win!
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. --Genesis 1:29-30
Abundance vs. Scarcity
A plant-based or vegan diet, is not actually a diet! Other diets revolve around caloric restriction, deprivation, starvation, and scarcity, whereas, a plant-based lifestyle is centered around abundance, compassion, variety, and eating until satiated, making it sustainable for a lifetime. Many think that this lifestyle is too limited, but I can safely say that I eat tenfold the amount of variety that I used to. There is an unlimited amount of different types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that can be chopped, blended, juiced, baked, steamed, roasted, and boiled to keep you (and your tastebuds) entertained! It's whole, pure, and simple.
T. Colin Campbell, PhD, was born and raised on a dairy farm, eating the SAD (Standard American Diet). In grad school, he set out to research the mortality rates from cancer and other chronic diseases in 65 countries in China over the course of 20 years. This undertaking is the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever, to-date. Campbell's evidence, data, and results would later be compiled into a book (that I highly recommend), called The China Study.
- As the consumption of animal products goes up, so does the prevalence of cancer and other chronic diseases.
- In multiple peer-reviewed animal studies, researchers were able to turn off or turn on the growth of cancer cells by raising or lowering doses of casein (the primary protein found in cow's milk).
- Heart disease can be prevented and reversed on a plant-based diet. The research and trials conducted by physicians like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish show that coronary artery disease can be controlled through a whole foods, plant-based diet.
- Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol, obesity, and autoimmune disorders can be prevented and reversed, as well, through a plant-based diet.
- There are virtually no nutrients in animal products that are not better provided by plants.
Vote With Your Dollar
Whatever added expense a plant-based lifestyle may incur you, you will undoubtedly save on your medical bills! What would you rather spend your money on?
HOW DID YOU START?
All Roads Lead To Rome
Sometimes it takes a health scare, sometimes it takes an eye-opening look at what's going on in farms and factories, sometimes it takes seeing how dramatically animal agriculture is impacting our environment; for Dusty and I, we definitely didn't make the switch overnight, nor did we ever imagine ourselves becoming vegan, or plant-based! We began by going vegetarian for 40 days during Lent one year, for no reason other than to feel better, mentally and physically. After that, we bounced back to our old ways for a short time before we realized that we:
- didn't really crave meat and preferred plant foods.
- were getting plenty of protein and all other necessary nutrients from plant sources.
- felt better without meat!
Next was dairy--milk was easy, because we simply switched to plant-based milk. Cheese, on the other hand, was tricky--I remember cutting everything but the parmesan for the longest time. I began to ask myself the same question before each bite of food that went into my mouth, Is this serving me and my body? and when the answer was no, I simply began to go with my gut (pun intended) and acted accordingly. The final step with cutting processed junk, (because yes, you can very easily be a "junk food" vegan); the only way for that to happen was to eat out less, eliminate the frozen, microwave dinners, and start getting messy, learning how to cook in the kitchen! It honestly took us about 2 years to really feel like we had hit our stride. Now, when Dusty and I travel or go out to eat at a restaurant, we know how to successfully navigate any menu and it's a breeze!
The best part about being plant-based is that I feel good about what I am eating, mentally, and my body feels good, physically!
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR PROTEIN?
The Simple Answer: I get protein from everything I eat!
Protein helps our bodies to build, maintain, and repair muscles and other tissues in the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, some of which are synthesized in the body, while others must be obtained through diet. There are a total of 20 amino acids, of which 9 are considered "essential," because they cannot be made by the cells in the body and must be consumed. Plants provide all essential amino acids, and thanks to research, we now know that we do not need to "combine" certain foods to create a "complete protein" at each meal.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight, which means that only 8-10% of your daily calories need to come from protein. Therefore, we must consume other macronutrients to obtain an adequate amount of calories. Our bodies function optimally when we get a high amount of carbohydrates (from unrefined, whole food sources), low amount of fat, and adequate amount of protein.
In order to compute the amount you need, simply take your weight (in lbs) x 0.36 to get the recommended protein in grams. More protein is required for highly active individuals, as well as those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, but consuming more calories in general, will fulfill their needs.
Most people think that the RDA is a minimum requirement, when in fact this value actually includes a large margin of safety. The majority of Americans (including vegans and vegetarians) are consuming more than double the required amount.
More is not always better. We should strive, therefore, to obtain an adequate amount of protein, and not an excess.
No one who is consuming enough calories in general, need worry about suffering from a protein deficiency. The truth is that most Americans are actually suffering from a fiber deficiency!
97% of Americans are getting enough protein, while only 3% are getting enough fiber. -NutritionFacts.org
The Standard American Diet is wrought with processed, packaged, chemically enhanced foods that contain little to no fiber and are lacking in nutritional value. Meat itself contains no fiber. A deficiency in fiber has been linked to an increase in the very same diseases that a diet high in animal products promotes--double whammy!
Bottom line: More fiber, less animal protein!
More ≠ Better
Some will say that meat is a better quality protein because it is closer to our body's makeup, but faster synthesis is not necessarily better. It can also mean faster cancer cell growth, earlier menarche, and a laundry list of other diseases. Meat, eggs, dairy, and animal products also contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, which are major contributors to heart disease.
Intake of animal products and high amounts of animal protein (casein in-specific) has been linked to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, calcium bone loss, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, and Alzheimer's.
- Some of the largest species on planet Earth thrive on an entirely herbivorous diet--elephants, rhinoceros, gorillas, and hippopotamus--even the very animals that we eat, cows, consume a completely plant-based diet. Why not cut out the middle-man (or middle-moo) and go straight to the source?!
- We are the only species that finds it necessary to drink another species' milk. There is nothing better that you can do for your infant than to breastfeed and provide them with all essential nutrients needed to thrive. However, cow's milk is designed to do the same for a calf, which requires an astronomically high amount of hormones and other nutrients in order to grow at a much faster rate than a human infant. Why risk giving your child too much of what he/she doesn't need?!
Plant-Powered Protein Sources:
- Whole Grains: brown rice, quinoa, amaranth
- Beans + Legumes: navy, kidney, cannellini, aduki, chickpeas, lentils, peas, edamame
- Nuts + Seeds: almonds, walnuts, cashews, flax, chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower
- Leafy Greens + Veggies: kale, spinach, chard, collards, broccoli, brussels sprouts
- Soy (always buy organic/non-GMO): tofu, tempeh, natto
- Supplements: plant-based protein powder, spirulina
Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein? -Dr. Greger, NutritionFacts.org
Slaying The Protein Myth -Rich Roll (the first article that piqued my interest in a plant-based diet)
- David Carter, 300 Pound Vegan
- Rich Roll, ultra-endurance athlete
- Torre Washington, bodybuilder
- Dominick Thompson, multi-sport athlete
- John Lewis, Bad Ass Vegan
- Patrik Baboumian, strongest man
- Brendan Brazier, ultra-endurance athlete
HOW MANY CALORIES DO YOU EAT A DAY?
While I no longer feel the need or urge to count calories, I roughly consume anywhere from 2,400 to 2,800 calories per day depending on activity level. I consider myself highly active, as I am a fitness instructor, distance runner, cyclist, lifter, and I'm always on-the-go!
Some people eat to live, and others live to eat--I consider myself somewhere right in between. It's important to realize that at the end of the day, food is fuel, but on the same token, who am I kidding?--I love good food! Food is highly cultural and social, and brings people together! My best advice is to be calorie-conscious, not calorie-obsessed.
Especially when transitioning to a plant-based, vegan, or raw vegan lifestyle, or striving to lose or gain weight, it can be helpful to monitor your intake, initially. I recommend using the Cronometer website and app. It's a fantastic way to see if you're getting enough or too much of what your body needs!
Note: On a high-carb, low-fat, or 80/10/10 diet/lifestyle, it is not necessary to measure macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats), as most fruits and vegetables (with the exception of overt/fat-based fruits like avocado and olives, and nuts and seeds), fall right around the 80% carbohydrate: 10% protein: 10% fat ratio. Nature took the guess-work out of it--who woulda thought?!
DO YOU TAKE ANY SUPPLEMENTS?
I've gone through many many, phases with different products, pills, and potions over the years. I've learned to be extremely discerning of "snake oil" salesmen and a skeptic of joining clubs and programs that just want my money. While I'm not opposed to supplementation, I do believe that a whole foods, plant-based diet provides all of the nutrients that a human needs to not only survive, but to thrive!
Two things to keep in mind:
- More isn't always better. Supplements and pills may lead to nutritional imbalances (even toxicity), and create a heavier workload for the organs to expel excess buildup.
- It is far better to correct the diet, than to supplement it. Especially in the beginning phases of transitioning to a healthier diet and lifestyle, it may be necessary to supplement to restore health, but we should not use supplements as a crutch to poor eating habits.
In a perfect world, we would all be living low-stress lives in the tropics, eating our own freshly cultivated, organic fruits and vegetables in abundance from richly composted soil. Think: Garden of Eden! However, I have to remind myself to be realistic, not idealistic. I currently keep on hand a B12 sublingual lozenge, which I rarely take, as well as Nutritional Yeast, which is Vitamin B12 fortified. I also have a vegan Vitamin D dropper that I will take, especially during the cold, dark winter months, or if I am feeling a cold bug coming on. I will also go for a nice 10-minute rest in a tanning bed from time-to-time in the winter, but, that is not an excuse not to get outside for at least 15 minutes once a day, year round!
A couple of other supplements I used to get hung up on were: probiotics (for healthy gut/digestion), COQ10 (for brain health), and Omega-3's (for heart, brain, hair, and skin health), which whole, raw foods provide us plenty of.
At the end of the day, we are probably all deficient in something no matter which diet we're on, or what type of lifestyle we're living, but I like my odds best, (and have received the best blood work, dental exams, eye exams, and physicals) while living on a whole foods, plant-based diet!
WHAT ARE YOUR MUST-HAVE KITCHEN ESSENTIALS?
Price tags on high-end kitchen appliances can make us cringe, but I have learned from experience that quality counts! If you're ready to invest in your health, then it's definitely worth going for the products that will last you a lifetime! Below are some of my must-haves in the kitchen:
- SHOP: Re-usable shopping bags and produce bags are better for the environment, and grocery stores will sometimes offer incentives for using them! I like cloth re-usable bags because I can wash them to keep them clean and fresh between uses. Ideal for your weekly grocery haul.
- CHOP: I highly recommend investing in a quality chef's knife and cutting board. Nothing is more important than being able to chop and prep your own fresh, fruits and veggies! Look for a knife with a heavier handle, as it will be easier to maneuver. A solid wood cutting board is going to be better than a plastic or synthetic one, and is more sanitary, as well. Ideal for chopping fresh salads.
- BLEND: One of my favorite and most-used kitchen appliances is my high-speed blender. I love my Vitamix, because it has variable speeds, as well as smoothie, frozen, and soup settings. After going through several cheap-o blenders over the years, I finally decided to spend the money on one that will last me a lifetime. Doing the math, I've spent just as much, if not more, on all of the previous blenders as the Vitamix! On top of that, it saves me time and effort in the kitchen, and makes a far superior smoothie! Ideal for making smoothies, nice cream, sauces, and soups.
- JUICE: I typically use juicing for medicinal purposes only. It can get pricey and borderline wasteful trying to juice all of the fresh produce you just bought, but it definitely has it's time and place. I love my Omega juicer, because, like the Vitamix, it just delivers a superior drink/meal when all is said and done. A quality juicer will also do less damage to your fruits and vegetables, making them more nutritious for you. Ideal for making fresh juices.
- PULSE: A food processor is another handy appliance that can add different textures and consistencies to your meals. I love my Cuisinart, because it's the perfect size for almost any type of recipe. Ideal for salsas and granolas.
- COOK: A quality set of pots and pans can help you to make multiple components to a meal simultaneously. I use Calphalon stainless steel, because it cooks food evenly, looks nice and decorative, and is easy to clean.
- To read more about picking the right blender and juicer for you, read my blog post series: Take Your Health To The Next Level: Smoothie + Juices
WHERE DO I START?
As a certified health coach (and health nut), my passion is helping others navigate their way to a more well-rounded and sustainable lifestyle. Visit my EatMoveRest Coaching Services page and send me a message on the Contact page to get in touch! Consultations are free!
If you're wanting to do some exploring on your own, I always recommend starting with resources that provide sound, evidence-based information from physicians and researchers. Dusty and I began with the documentary, Forks Over Knives. From there, we found NutritionFacts.org, which is a website where we still find the majority of the answers to our health and nutrition-related questions in Dr. Greger's short, 5-minute videos!
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to Grow As You Go! Don't wait until Monday, don't wait until you've read all of the books, don't wait until you have a health scare, don't wait until you're forced to change--start now! Clean out your refrigerator, go to the store, stock up on 90%+ fruits and veggies, take them home, and eat them! Have fun with food, and eat what you enjoy--your tastes will expand as you go!
Eliminating processed, packaged, and refined foods can feel like a daunting task, and leave your food tasting bland and boring. Most of these foods contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and oil, not to mention other harmful additives, chemicals, and dyes. There is nothing plant can't provide--including flavor! Buy fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, and rosemary, and stock your cabinet with a variety of dried herbs and spices--I promise, you'll never run out of options to keep your meals new, exciting, and bursting with flavor! Experiment and have fun!
- Watch our Vegan Food Haul on the EatMoveRest YouTube channel to see what we get on our weekly grocery shopping trip and how we like to use it!
RECOMMENDED READING + RESOURCES
Plant-based Starter Guide: In A Nutshell
- Books: The 80/10/10 Diet by Dr. Douglas Graham
- Recipes: Forks Over Knives
- Documentaries: Forks Over Knives
- Reference: NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Michael Greger
- YouTube: Humans vs Carnivores, Dr. Douglas Graham
- Podcast: The Rich Roll Podcast
- Kitchen Tools:
Where Did You Learn All of This?
- Most of what I have learned has been from personal experience, experimentation, and trial and error.
- I have also taken a number of courses, both online and in-person, hands-on, and lecture-based. I've attended several wellness conferences, and even became trained as a raw food chef!
- Because health & wellness is my passion, I spend most of my free time educating myself with resources like the ones listed above and engaging with others in this field!
- Visit my Education & Experience page to see my formal training.