I remember walking around Soho with some friends about 10 years ago looking for a place to eat dinner. We checked out the menu at this tiny restaurant, saw that it was a vegan eatery and kept walking. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone ever be vegan and what in the world would you eat?” I couldn’t imagine not eating chicken or cheese, eggs or bacon. Fast forward 8 years and my thought became- “Wow. Being vegan makes so much sense to me. Why isn’t everyone vegan? It’s better for our bodies and better for our environment.” And if you are a family member (and probably some close friends too), I certainly talked a lot you a lot about why you should be vegan. While I still think eating a Plant Based Diet can be a very healthy eating model, I understand that it might not be the best diet for everyone.
Here are some common questions vegans are asked-
Q. Where do you get your calcium? A. I get my calcium from the same place cows get theirs. From Greens. Also from oranges, sesame seeds, nuts, broccoli, and soybeans.
Q. Where do you get your protein? A. From a variety of sources including nuts and seeds, vegetables, grains like quinoa, oats, brown rice, polenta, beans, lentils, tofu and many other sources.
Q. What DO you eat? See above answer!
Q. People have been eating meat for hundreds of years. Isn’t it natural? A. Yes, it was natural for hunters and gatherers during times of feast and famine. We just have feast, over and over again. If you are going to eat meat, then hunting your meat is the most natural meat you can eat it. But a very small percentage of the population is hunting. Most, probably 95% of the population, are getting their meat from the grocery stores which came from factory farms. There is nothing natural about factory farms. The waste and environmental damage produced from factory farms is horrific. The treatment of these animals is unimaginable. And the quality of meat, filled with antibiotics and growth hormones is not very healthy for your body. There is also the issue of our digestive tract and how it is very different from say, that of a lion whose intestines are a lot shorter and designed to eliminate waste rather quickly. Ours twists and turns down 26 feet of intestinal wall, taking up to 3 days to move through, rotting along the way.
I went to school for holistic health and nutrition at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and learned over one hundred dietary theories. And with each one, I became a little more confused. Should I eat all raw? Should I not eat any grains? Is the grass fed butter really better for you than the broccoli? I am blood type O so should I be eating meat? I tried out different diets and tried to listen to my body. How does it feel eating all raw? How do I feel after eating meat? Do I have more energy or am I really tired? Is dairy really that terrible or is raw milk the most nutritious drink option? And why is it illegal to sell raw milk but legal to sell guns? Okay that’s for another post…
What I decided for me is that eating a mostly, about 80%, Plant Based Diet is where I feel best. So maybe once a week I will eat a piece of wild salmon, or I will have a little organic chicken from time to time. I am eating cheese again, although I try not to go overboard because I don’t feel that great afterwards. I am less rigid with my eating habits and if I am invited over to someones house for dinner, I will eat what they have made. For me, being social and less rigid is healthy. But this model might not work best for everyone.
We are all bio-individuals and some people might need more meat that others, some people might not be able to eat any gluten because it causes inflammation, some people might feel amazing eating a raw diet while others feel exhausted. It’s important to find out what works well for you. Most of our health problems stem from our diets. Are you always tired? Maybe it’s because your body is using all it’s energy digesting food? Do you have a skin rash? Maybe it is caused from dairy or wheat. About 70-80% of our immune system is in our digestive tract. Food is our best medicine. We live in a society where we have sickcare, not healthcare. We don’t care for people until they are sick and it is costing us billions of dollars. Our healthcare system should be teaching people how to be healthy and stay healthy so we they can spend their lives feeling great and living longer.
I think there is a significant difference between being Vegan and being Plant Based. When some people go on a vegan diet, usually they (me included) look for everything that they can eat, including vegan junk food. “Oh, this cookie is vegan. I am going to eat it.” Or “wow, corn chips are vegan, Yay!” I remember realizing that pretzels weren’t vegan because they have eggs in them and I was so disappointed. It is easy to be an unhealthy vegan. But when you focus on eating a plant-based diet, you think greens, vegetables, fruit, whole grains. Your mind doesn’t take you to all the vegan junk food on the market. Kathy Preston came out with a new book called The Lean which I haven’t read so maybe I shouldn’t be referencing it but I did hear her speak about the book and I like the concept. It is about making small changes in your eating habits. Adding in healthy choices, leaning into a plant-based diet but not suddenly and drastically changing your diet. I think we can all use a little lean.
After learning about all these dietary theories, I think these three rules apply to all healthy diets whether you are a meat eater, a vegetarian. a vegan, a raw foodist, gluten-free, paleo, etc,
1. Avoid all processed food. As Michael Pollen said, “If it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”
2. Sugar is poison for our bodies and as addictive as cocaine.
3. Move it or lose it. We must move our bodies everyday.
These are things to lean into. Aim for. You aren’t going to suddenly do all these things but if you notice you need a candy bar in the afternoon to carry you through the day, maybe you need to look at your diet and see where you can make changes so you aren’t so tired. Are you getting enough sleep? Eating too many refined foods? Have you exercised lately? I am not near perfect but I strive to eat better everyday and exercise. I am motivated because I want to be skiing when I am 80, traveling and hiking into my golden years and be able to run after my grandchildren and play. I want to live my life with my health in tact and then suddenly die in my sleep. We all have to ability to change our health. We just have to make up our minds to do it.
And with that, here is a recipe for a healthy Fall Salad. Mixed greens are colorful and full of important nutrients. Apples and Beets are in season and are great together. They are also very cleansing and good at flushing out toxins. In this recipe I roasted the beet for one hour but it you don’t have time to do that, simply peel the beet and grate it into the salad. Raw beets are great for you but they don’t taste as sweet as when you roast them.
Mixed Green Salad with Apples and Roasted Beets (1hour to roast beet, 5 minutes to put salad together)
(serves 2 as a main meal, or 4 as a side)
4 oz. Organic Mixed Greens
1 Organic Beet (roasted with skin on, wrapped in tin foil for 45-1 hour at 375 degrees. Then cool, peel and cut into 1/2 inch cubes) OR grate raw beet
1/2 Organic Apple, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 Cup chopped Pistachios
1/4 cup Jarlsberg Cheese, cut in 1/4 inch cubes (optional)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive oil
2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1tsp Red Wine Vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
pinch of salt
Wash greens and put into a medium serving bowl. Add cubed beets, apples and cheese. In a small bowl, mix together the Olive Oil and Vinegars. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Sprinkle pistachios over the mixed salad and serve.