Here are a lot of the frequently asked questions I’ve been asked over the years.
Note: All of this is based on my own opinion and research. I have tried to keep myself as well-informed as possible. I don’t declare myself as an expert on anything, except my own experience. I encourage you to do your own research, and take my words as only one woman’s opinion.
Q & A
Why are you plant-based?
I don’t have a short answer for this one. I guess it could be summed up by saying that a whole foods plant based diet is one that allows me to feel my best while knowing I’m not knowingly causing any unnecessary cruelty or suffering. Initially I changed my diet for health reasons. I was pregnant with my second child and wanted to avoid getting high-blood pressure, like I had with my first pregnancy. I read The China Study, Sugar Blues, and Mad Cowboy. These books persuaded me that a vegan diet was ideal for preventing a number of unwanted health problems.
As time has passed I have become more aware of the environmental and ethical reasons for changing my diet. For example, it takes over 5,000 gallons of water to produce 1 lb. of beef, whereas it takes somewhere between 20-70 gallons of water to produce the 1 lb. of fruits or vegetables, depending on the fruit or vegetable. Considering the current drought conditions that exist in many states in the U.S. and other parts of the world, it seems only logical to figure out ways in which to become better stewards over precious limited resources, water being only one of these resources.
Further, animals raised for our consumption, regardless if they are organic, free-range, ect. are often put under horrific conditions: confined in cramped living quarters, pumped with hormones, & antibiotics, separated from their young (particularly dairy cows), subject to inhumane slaughter (although humane slaughter is an oxymoron, in my opinion), among other things. And if they are raised on a small farm, this still doesn’t negate their inevitable death, so we can have something tasty for dinner. In short they are born, they live, and they die for the purpose of our palate. I think this cruelty is unnecessary. I’d rather not support it.
Does your family eat the way you do? My husband is not, although supportive. My three young children are mostly vegan (they eat vegetarian when at family gatherings, traveling).
So do you go around judging people who eat meat and consume dairy products? No, absolutely not. I am saddened by the misinformation and all of the preventable diseases and sickness that surround me and often feel a little powerless. I understand that we all are at different places in terms of knowledge and understanding. Some people may just be completely unaware (usually the case) that their high animal protein diet is not only damaging to their health, but also to the environment and contributes to unnecessary cruelty through factory farming. Others simply may know and not care or not care to know at all. In any case, it really is none of my business.
I pass no judgement upon anyone who thinks or acts differently from me. My job isn’t to go around changing people’s mind, only to live what I know to be true. Others who are open to it, will respond positively and be curious and/or polite about it, and those who couldn’t care less will move on with their lives.
Is being vegan a religion? No. One aspect of it deals with a social cause, and like all social causes, can become consuming if you so choose. Just because you are vegan does not mean you must become an animal rights activist. Being vegan simply means you do not consume or use any animal flesh/parts of an animal or its secretions (milk). That said, many people find that once they become vegan for health reasons, it becomes a lifestyle, a more compassionate way of life and they become interested in the ethical/environmental aspects of being vegan.
What is your religion? Does your faith teach you to be vegetarian? I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Day Saints, also known as the Mormons, or LDS.
No, my church does not state that I must be a vegetarian. In fact, most LDS people are not vegetarian. However, we believe in modern day revelation, and as part of that, we have a portion of scripture called The Word of Wisdom. This is a code of health which initially was strong counsel, but portions of it are now considered commandments, or required behavior of the people of our faith. The Word of Wisdom, we believe, was given by God for our benefit and declares that we must avoid strong drink (coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive substances), eat herbs and grains (plant foods) and eat meat sparingly, or in times in winter or famine. While the refraining from coffee, drugs, alcohol and other addictive substances is pretty clear cut and is now commandment (rather than counsel, as when it was first given), how we choose to eat is up to the individual.
I do not suggest that the Word of Wisdom says that you must be vegan, or even vegetarian. I just want to make it clear that being vegan or vegetarian, does not conflict in any way with what is taught in the Word of Wisdom. You do not need to eat animals to be righteous. In fact the scriptures are very clear about when the appropriate times are to do this. Situations that would warrant me eating meat? Starvation, famine, basically any other time I would need it to survive. Under those circumstance, I wouldn’t have an ethical/moral dilemma. Those times are very rare, and personally, I have never been in such a scenario.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” (Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:54.) President Boyd K. Packer, one of the leaders in my faith has also said, “We should not, according to the scriptures, need to be commanded in all things.” (See D&C 58:26.)
As Latter-day Saints we have been given plenty of counsel and direction in regards to how we ought to care for our bodies and it is up to us to decide for ourselves how we will apply those principles. Just as we have liberty to decide what political parties we will affiliate with, or how we will manage our time and resources, the individual decides how they will apply any particular piece of doctrine or counsel, the Word of Wisdom being no different. It’s a very personal decision, one that must be between God and the individual.
I posted previously on this subject, look here as I go more in-depth on this particular subject if you care to know.
So what do you think our relationship with animals should be? I have to be honest. I was not born an animal lover. Aside from a short period of time having a dog and brief stint with guinea pigs, animals weren’t a huge part of my life. I did grow up in dairy/cattle country and my experience with that was seeing how sad their lives were (thousands of cows living on mountains of manure). Aside from being very stinky though, I didn’t give it much thought.
Now that I’ve adopted a plant-based lifestyle, I see factory farming as a perversion of what we humans think is our responsibility to use and enjoy God’s creatures. True, we have dominion over them, but to use a religious term, I believe it’s “unrighteous” dominion. Enslaving animals (ie. factory farming), subjecting them to deplorable, violent conditions, and then slaughtering them is not my idea of honoring the animals, God’s creations.
I think the only justifiable reason for me to kill an animal is to save my life. Call that extreme, or whatever you will, but that’s just how I feel about it. How many of us Americans find ourselves in a position where we will die unless we kill and eat an animal? Two pieces of scripture that belong to my faith include: “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” (Doctrine & Covenants 49:21) and “And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives, and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands” (JST Genesis 9:11).
So are you an animal rights activist? I suppose so. In the sense I do not support contributing to the inhumane treatment of animals. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think animals are here primarily for us to use and abuse. I don’t think that animals will take over the world if we do not eat them. Of the 10 billion+ land animals that are killed each year for our consumption, most are domesticated factory farm animals that only exist because we mass produce them. Meaning, if we did not eat them, there would not be the demand to produce them.
I don’t support any animal rights activist who uses terror, violence, or threats to get their message across. I think anyone who uses violent means, especially towards humans to further their message has it completely all wrong. These activists do not represent compassion or love; they are extreme, radical, and it’s unfortunate that they give vegans a bad rap. I think Ghandi had it right: teach by example, use non-violence, and the truth and love will win in the end.
But don’t you think it’s the circle of life? I mean, don’t you think it’s a little naive to think that nobody will ever die and that all the animals should just romp around happy and free? We have no nutritional dependency on animals. Meaning, we do not rely on animals for our nutritional needs. Unlike lions (a true carnivore), who rely on animal flesh, like antelope, to survive, we do not need to consume flesh to thrive. Therefore, when we kill them to eat them, it is for our pleasure.
As far as the circle of life goes, the animal kingdom would get along just fine without our intervention. There’s a balance in our ecosystem, with some animals being carnivorous, omnivorous, and herbivores. Our primary meat sources are domesticated animals, animals that do not naturally exist in the wild. Our intervention, in fact disrupts ecosystems and the natural “circle of life.” Much of the deforestation in South America, for example, is due to making way for cattle ranches that supply much of our beef for hamburgers. Over 50% of the rain forests in South America have been wiped out in the last 50 years alone because of this. Grazing cattle in western states have also contributed to desertification of our lands, further contributing to drought conditions that plague so much of the land in the west.
Yes, animals die. I’m not arguing that point. But using this argument is weak because while animals live and die, we do not need to kid ourselves by saying we’re doing them a favor by mass producing them, subjecting them to the most heinous circumstances, only to consume their flesh.
Aren’t we meant to eat meat? Look at our teeth. I suppose you’re talking about our canine teeth. We can eat meat, yes, but that doesn’t mean we should or should on a daily, with-each-meal basis as most of us do. Just because I can kill doesn’t mean I should. Clearly, we can eat and process meat which does have some nutritional value to us, but given the huge amount of research that points to the fact that animal protein in amounts of more than 5% of caloric intake contribute to adverse health affects such as heart disease, prostate, and breast cancer, suggests that meat should play a very marginal role in our diets. There has always been periods in the history of the world where meat eating, to some extent, has been warranted due to survival. Our meat consumption has been marginal, and for most cultures and populations, acted as a condiment, rather than a staple simply because meat was a luxury, a scarcity in many places, and required that someone go hunting to do obtain it. Now with the advent of factory farming, our world’s population is able to consume meat at levels never before seen.
Not only are we able to mass produce and mass slaughter these animals, allowing us to eat more meat than ever before, but these methods allow consumers of meat to disassociate themselves from the entire breading/slaughtering process. It is also interesting to note that with this meat consumption we are also experiencing higher levels of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases like never before. Before, diseases of excess meat intake were reserved for those who could afford it (royalty, the rich). Now, thanks to factory farming and government subsidies, the average American can enjoy gout, heart disease, and other sicknesses that only the wealthy used to enjoy. If we had to go out and hunt our own meat, we’d all be eating a lot less meat, and figure out that maybe growing and eating plants would be a better use of our time.
Humans have been eating animals forever. This is a broad, sweeping statement. I don’t think your reason for doing something should be grounded in a loosely based assumption about what humans have or have not done throughout time. Slavery, murder, and other atrocious acts have been practiced throughout human history, but I don’t think it makes it right, nor do I think that justifies our individual actions. I’m not going to deny that eating animals has served some purposes in sustaining populations nutritionally, but I also realize that my world offers enough plant-food & more for me to sustain my family.
How much do you weigh? Let me be clear that I’m not vegan so I can stay thin. It’s simply a by-product, a nice benefit. That said, I had tried all sorts of diets before that never worked and I didn’t lose a pound. At my heaviest point (without being pregnant) I was in the 170′s. I’m 5’9″ and currently range somewhere between 135-150 lbs. Here are some before and after pictures.
What about milk? Doesn’t it promote weight loss? There have been a few studies done (mostly funded by the Dairy Association) that have been said to prove that milk encourages weight loss. Without going into great detail about why these studies are flawed, I will give you the essence of why milk actually can promote weight gain.
First, milk is naturally a high calorie food. After all, it’s intended to help a baby calf double it’s birth weight of about 100 lbs. in 47 days (for humans it’s 180 days) and grow to be somewhere between 700-1500 lbs.! As a high calorie food, it’s easy to over consume. Excess calories, especially when coming from animal products, leads to excess weight.
Milk has no fiber which promotes constipation in many people. Further, it is high in calcium, vitamin D (which has been artificially added to the milk) and protein, but is deficient in vitamin C, vitamin E, B-vitamins, as well as many other vitamins that are present in other plant foods. Calorie for calorie, you’re not getting as many nutrients as you would from whole plant foods.
If you do drink milk, go for fat free. This still doesn’t take out the icky things that you probably don’t want to be consuming, but it’s certainly a better option than whole milk, over 1 or 2%. And consider that there are a lot of plant-based options out there in terms of what to put in your cereal, smoothies, sauces, ect.
When did you make the change? I began my transition my diet in March 2006. I have been plant-based since October 2006.
What do you eat? I eat a starch-based diet, meaning the primary source of my daily caloric intake comes from whole grains (such as brown rice, oats, millet, quinoa) and tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes). Legumes (such as lentils, pinto beans, peas, kidney beans), vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables (kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, green/red leaf lettuce, chard) and squash, and fruits act as condiments. Nuts, seeds, sprouted foods, such as alfalfa, sunflower, and lentil sprouts also a part of my diet. I try to minimize use of added oils. For oil & egg replacers look here. I have an intolerance to gluten, which makes me sad, because boy do I love Fieldroast or Gardein grain meats (which contain gluten) & homemade wheat bread, but virtually eliminating it has increased my energy, eliminated acid-reflux & intestinal cramping. Overall, I feel better without it in my diet.
Don’t you miss any foods from your previous dietary life? No, I honestly don’t. I used to be an ice cream-aholic, but I can make better tasting, non-dairy ice cream, & it doesn’t make me sick. Thinking about meat actually leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do wish it was easier to find a non-dairy soft serve ice cream. I used to love McDonald’s vanilla ice cream cones.
What are your favorite foods? Currently: kale, garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, figs, blueberry smoothies, pancakes (any kind), lemon blueberry waffles, banana ice cream (frozen bananas put through a champion juicer with the blank plate), salad with a ton of fresh veggies and sprouts, veggie fajitas or burritos or tostadas (basically anything with Mexican flavor), cilantro and lime flavored anything, watermelon, raspberries….geez, I’d better stop right here.
What about fish? Isn’t fish really good for you, especially since it’s rich in DHA (omega-3 fatty acids)?
The best source of omega-3′s comes from plants. Fish get it from algae (plants). We can get it from plants too. One tablespoon of flax seed is equal to 2.5 pounds of salmon, in terms of omega three fatty acids, except without the cholesterol, saturated fat, lack of fiber (zero in salmon), and potential pollutants, like mercury.
Flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seed, walnuts, whole soy products (like soy milk and tofu), green leafy plants, legumes and spirulina/chlorella (algea products) are all excellent sources of omega-3′s. Add one tablespoon of ground flax seed a day to your diet and you will have more than enough omega-3′s to meet your daily requirement (it’s suggested that you get 2 g. omega-3′s a day for most adults). Even most grains contain some level of omega-3 fatty acids.
Why don’t you use oil in your diet? Don’t you find you get dry skin without any oil?
When I originally wrote this post over 3 years ago, I followed a more strict low-fat vegan (ie. Esselstlyn or McDougall) diet. I’ve since softened my approach. I still don’t use oils on a regular basis, but I have no problem using a little olive oil to grill veggies on the grill, or eating a peanut butter & jelly sandwich (on gluten-free) bread. It’s easy to replace oil in many recipes, especially in baked goods (look here, for some tips).
What are some of the health benefits of a plant-based diet?
Personally speaking, although many of these benefits are documented, here’s some the benefits I’ve experienced: Increased energy. Regular bowel movements. Clear, brighter, firmer skin. Stronger, shinier nails and hair. Weight loss and easy weight maintenance without calorie counting. Lower BMI (body mass index). No more indigestion, upset stomachs, heartburn/acid reflux. Increased clarity of mind and immunity (get sick less frequently than before). Increased confidence, because it feels good to be alive! Prevention of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and certain types of cancer (such as breast and prostate cancer).
Some of the benefits of a plant-based diet can be found in greater detail in The China Study as well as other books and scientific literature.
Sounds like you think a vegan diet is the ultimate panacea. Diet is one component of wellness. Sleep, moderate daily exercise, positive relationships, stress/energy manangement and a strong spiritual life are some other important components. While dietary excellence is not the end all, be all, it can act as a powerful tool in obtaining the health you desire.
Diet is not the only aspect of a healthy life, true, but it warrants our attention, and if we are willing to put in the time and effort, our returns on this dietary investment will be far greater than what we put in.
You make eating vegan look very easy, but in reality it’s not. You don’t know how hard it is to give up cheese, fish, meat, ice cream, milk, which are in nearly all foods. First, eating a vegan diet, or primarily a vegan diet maybe something forced upon us when we can no longer sustain our current meat/dairy production practices which waste millions upon millions of usuable resources (most of the grain grown in the U.S., for example, is used to feed cattle or dairy cows, instead of to feed us) such as water and grain.
I was once in a place where I thought really thought a vegetarian, particularly a vegan diet, was impossible. I couldn’t imagine what someone on a vegan diet would eat: nuts? fruit? It was mind-boggling to me. So I have been in this place. It’s true that animal products make their way into a lot of foods, but these are processed foods. Once you become open to a different way of eating, you will find there are foods out there you have never seen before, not because they didn’t exist but because you were too consumed eating your basic four animal foods (cheese, milk, eggs, and meat) to pay any attention. All plant foods, in their whole state and unprocessed, are free from animal products. And if you’re willing to pay extra, there are a ton of vegan options for ready-made meals, or quick meals, found at many grocery stores, and nearly all natural foods grocery stores. It wasn’t always easy for me during my transition period, and it didn’t happen over night (about 6 months). Since then, I never am “tempted” by animal foods. I don’t know if this is common, but that has been my experience. I was never big on steak or hamburger, but loved, loved, loved to eat cheese, ice cream, eggs, and salmon. Initially, I thought I was “giving up” these foods, but have realized that I was only replacing them with something better, not only in terms of for my health, but also in terms of flavor and variety.
What about being vegetarian? I think being vegetarian can be a great choice for many. However simply stop eating meat does not a healthy diet make. One thing that a lot of vegetarians tend to do is rely heavily on dairy products such as eggs, milk, butter, and cheese, essentially replacing the meat on their plate with these high fat, high cholesterol foods, which is often much worse than eating a small piece of lean meat. Not all vegetarians eat this way, but something to be aware of. I think the first thing to go from your diet should be dairy, then meat.
In terms of ethical/environmental reasons, cheese is a by-product of the veal industry (part of the processing of the cheese uses a portion of the enzymes found in the stomachs of baby cows), dairy cows are some of the most used and abused farm animals being put in a constant cycle of pregnancy and lactation, never having the chance to care for their young, and chickens are no better off, confined to a very small space for their entire existence, fed growth hormones so that they get so big their legs break….You get the picture, even though you are not directly eating the corpse of animal, you are supporting an industry that clearly uses, abuses and kills animals.
I’m an athlete/body builder. I need a lot of protein. Can I be vegan AND a bodybuilder or athlete? Athlete’s/body builders do need more protein as they are breaking down and rebuilding much more protein (muscles) than the average person on a daily basis. This can be achieved by meeting their calorie needs and consuming higher protein foods (in the case of vegans, more legumes, tofu, soy/hemp/rice protein powder, spirulina, leafy greens). No one, even body builders needs to exceed 20% of calories from protein a day. This means if a body builder needed 120 grams of protein a day at 20% total calories from protein, they would need to consume at least 2400 calories, 20% of those calories coming from protein (480 calories), about 120 grams of protein. If the foods you ate were lower in calories from protein (say 8-10%, like many starches), you would need to consume more calories.
Do you take any supplements? I take a vitamin B-12 supplement daily (500 mcg). On occasion I have taken some herbs from Dr. Christopher (Vitalerbs). I give my kids a B-12 supplement.
Do you not eat bread or chocolate or sugar? I stay away from wheat products (we have wheat allergies in my family) as it gives me heart burn, & since January 2012, I eat a mostly gluten-free diet. I love chocolate (what woman doesn’t?) , my favorite brand is Green & Black’s dark chocolate, but I’m always open to trying new brands (so if you know of any, let me know). Chocolate is inherently vegan as it’s made from the cocoa bean but milk is often added to the cocoa when making chocolate. I rarely consume refined sugar anymore, but use sweeteners like agave, dates, sucanant, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup as a less refined alternative. I’ve found my cravings for chocolate and sugar have greatly diminished since switching to a whole foods diet. I still love to make desserts, but it’s more about enjoying the whole process of making it than it is for the end result.
What do you eat on a typical day? Check out this post. Every day is different (really, I love variety!) depending on my energy needs (whether or not I’ve done a hard workout or not). Usually, but not always, I have one big meal consisting of starches, veggies, and/or legumes and two lighter meals–one usually a smoothie (usually for breakfast) and fruit and the other a big salad with a lots of toppings (like sprouts, beans, ect.). On other days, I might eat something like cooked cereal + fruit for breakfast, starch + veggies for lunch, and starch + veggies and/or legumes, with a green smoothie for a snack. I basically just try to listen to my body, and feed it what it needs at a particular time.
Wait, didn’t you say you eat a “starch-based” diet?
This just means that the majority of my calories on any given day come from starches–not vegetables (which are only 100 calories per pound, I’d have to eat A LOT of these to get the calories I needed if my diet was based on vegetables), not beans/legumes, not fruit. While these three things play a role in what I eat, I derive most of the calories I eat from starches (complex carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, rice, quinoa, millet, ect.). Starches include the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, leave me satisfied and full of energy. It’s important to note that tubers (sweet potatoes, potatoes) and squash contain vitamins C & A, iron, and calcium while grains are deficient in one or more of these and should be eaten with vegetables and/or fruits if possible.
How many calories do you consume a day? When I taught 2-3 fitness classes a day & was breastfeeding, upwards of 3,000 calories. Currently, I average about 1700 calories a day, but I do not count calories.
Should I count calories or grams of fat? If you want to lose weight it may be helpful to do for a time, just so you have an idea of where you typically are. Tracking your caloric instake really can shed some light on your eating habits (good and bad!) as well as help you shed unwanted pounds. One of the great things about eating whole plant foods is that the fiber & water fill you up, acting as a natural protection to overeating (& over-calories).
Your diet sounds really restrictive and complicated to me. A vegan diet can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. As with anything in life, it’s really about your attitude and perspective. You don’t have to eat beans and rice for every meal to eat simply. It can be as simple as rotating 10 different meals that use quick recipes. Using the crock pot, rice cooker, and blender (for making smoothies, used as meals/snacks) significantly cut back on the time spent in the kitchen. Every meal doesn’t have to be a culinary piece of art. Save special, more time consuming meals for weekends or special occasions. Pasta and veggies, chili and cornbread, baked potatoes w/ toppings, a big salad w/ beans, rice and tofu/veggie stir fries, and sandwiches w/ hummus are some of the quick meals we have at our house.
When eating out you may be surprised to find how accommodating most restaurants are. I’ve never had an experience where they weren’t completely determined to give me exactly what I asked for. I always ask my waiter to cook my veggies in water, not oil, for example. I’ve been known to create my own dishes and often my creations are some of my favorite dishes. When going over to a friends house for dinner or to a party, offer to bring a dish. Take veggie burgers, veggie hotdogs, gardenburgers, or other vegan options to a barbaque. If necessary, explain your dietary choices. Most people are pretty supportive, if nothing else, polite about it.
You really sound like you think you know it all. I certainly don’t want to lead anyone to believe that I have all of the answers because I don’t. However, I have made it a point to learn all I can, as much as possible, about the subject of what is true about what our bodies need in terms of diet and other factors. This information is basically what I have found that works & there’s science to support it. It also does not conflict with my values, in fact I believe helps me to better live my values, specifically, those of compassion and love, & being a good steward over our resources. I think people don’t need to be confused about diet and nutrition & in most cases, they can take back their health if they are determined to do so.
I’m interested in eating better but I don’t think I could ever be vegan. Start with replacing most of the animal flesh on your plate with plant foods. It would be ideal to cut back to eating meat no more than once or twice a week, or less than 5% of your total calories for any given day (see The China Study for where I get the 5% figure). Beans are not the only source of protein–protein is found in all whole plant foods, so as long as you’re meeting your caloric needs & eating a wide variety of foods, you’re most likely getting the protein you need. Aim for whole grains/starches (complex carbohydrates) and eat a big, colorful salad at least once a day. Snack on fresh fruit or fruit smoothies. Even though you think you could never be vegan, who knows? I thought the same thing. It wasn’t only until a few months of transitioning towards a vegan diet (about 6 months to be exact) that I realized I couldn’t go back to the way I used to eat. Most vegans at one point have said that they could never be vegan. The most important thing is that you’re getting most of your calories for fresh whole plant foods, not animal products.
What about the Zone Diet? Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig? Atkins? South Beach? Eat Right 4 Your Type? Any diet in which you restrict calories so that you are burning more calories than you consume will cause you to lose weight. So if you want simply want to lose weight, any diet will work as long as you stick to it.
My problem with these diets is that most of these are not realistic or healthy. The Zone diet, South Beach, and especially Atkins rely heavily on animal products, which research has clearly shown is NOT good for your health. I’m not very familiar with Jenny Craig but I assume it’s similar to Weight Watchers which focuses on portion control and calorie counting. Weight Watchers is probably the best option, because it’s the most neutral–you could eat very healthfully on this diet or you could eat a lot of processed, refined foods on this diet, the choice is really up to you. I know there are vegan/vegetarian options for Weight Watchers and overall, it’s the most sensible, realistic for most people. I did WW for a short time after my fourth baby, & I did find it helped me get back on track to where I wanted to be.
If you’re not feeding your body what it truly needs (primarily carbohydrates, and other important nutrients such as fiber) you are going to be left hungry and dissatisfied and you won’t stick with your diet. That’s where the beauty of eating a whole foods plant-based diet lies. After the intial adjustment, allowing your tastebuds and bowels to adjust to a lower-fat, higher fiber diet, it requires very little willpower simply because you are full and satisfied after you eat. If you are hungry, you eat some more and don’t feel guilty.
As far as the blood type diet goes, Dr. Furhman goes into great detail about why this diet is mostly based on opinion, not science in Eat to Live, and has no crediability whatsoever. Dr. Campbell also discusses it in The China Study. I’ve read the book and it’s confusing and complicated to me. I don’t think that some people are meant to be big meat eaters while some are meant to be vegetarians based on their blood type. The science simply does not support it.
How much do you spend on groceries a month? For our family of 6, about $850. It can be done on much lower than that, but I like to spend my money on quality, fresh produce and other quality foods. You can make a plant-based diet work on any budget. Meat and dairy products are only artificially cheap because they are heavily subsized by the government.
What do you think about the raw foods movement? Note: I have tried the raw foods diet, needed to lose weight and was unable to do so (I relied to heavily on nuts and oils, yet couldn’t manage to eat the amount of fruit required to sustain me, calorically speaking). As soon as I added cooked food into my diet and cut out the oils and nuts, I lost weight and felt better eating this way. I have done a raw foods diet for a short period, from time to time, as a way to “cleanse.”
I think raw foods are excellent, in terms of nutrition, increasing your health, preventing disease. Eat lots of raw foods. Daily. Do I think you should only eat raw foods? That’s up to you. For some people it works. For most people however, I think the lifestyle is very difficult to keep up with. Not to mention I believe that there’s a place for cooked foods in our diet. My big issue with the raw foods movement is that it’s loosely based on science at best, can be a little dogmatic, rigid and guilt inducing (teaching that cooked food is the reason for all disease and sickness and you shouldn’t touch it), is not sustainable for most people and populations, and can really be unhealthful if not done right.
Since vegetables are low calorie foods, you have to rely heavily on fruits, nuts, and oils for your caloric intake. As I’ve mentioned before, I think there’s a place for cooked food in our diets. That said, eat as much raw unprocessed food as you can!
But I eat organic, grass-fed beef. Isn’t that much more healthy than the other stuff?
If you are eating meat, this is the meat I would recommend eating because it’s not loaded with growth hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics, like the other stuff is. But I wouldn’t kid yourself into thinking you can eat large amounts of it, or that it suddenly becomes great health food because it’s organic. You still have the same amounts of animal protein, similar levels of cholesterol and saturated fat, no dietary fiber, all of which can contribute to a potential health problems, if consumed frequently and especially in large amounts. If you eat meat, eat organic, if you drink milk/dairy products, go organic, but I’m in no way saying go out and do it, just if you do, you should do organic because it is better on some levels.
What do you think about the slow-foods/return to the small farm/Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions) movement?
I would like to become eat more healthfully &/or become plant-based but my family, especially my kids/spouse are especially resistant. Any tips?
Yes, read this post. And remember, the best sort of teaching is through example. Try to find delicious recipes that everyone will love (if it is good, they will eat it, regardless if it isn’t necessarily what they are used to). Change takes time for most people, but remember, with love and patience, continue to stay strong and upbeat and unnattached to outcomes and you will be pleasantly surprised. Taste buds do change and a healthy lifestyle does rub off.
It would take too much time to read all the books I would need to, to learn how to cook and buy foods. In essence, I don’t have time. I’d rather have a shorter life & enjoy it, than have a longer, restricted life.
First, can I say, this is a really lame excuse. If your life depended on you learning something, would you learn it? Yes, most people would. Changing habits does require learning new things, but after the intial learning curve, it really does become life as usual. The only book you really have to read is The China Study. All other books rest on this book and are supplementory information. Get a few cookbooks, do some research, get a vegan nutritional counselor if you’re really needing help transitioning, and the rest will follow. It’s about quality of life as well as quantity. Eating healthfully is not restritive, it actually is liberating, allowing you a greater quality of life and freedom only found in have a sense of health and wellness. You don’t have to become an expert on cooking, nutrition, or scientific research to become vegan.
I would like to become vegan/plant-based/vegetarian. Where should I begin? Start by reading The China Study, by T.C. Campbell. After you’ve done that read anything by John Robbins, Dr. Esslestyn, or Dr. McDougall. Check out Becoming Vegan is also a great book to start out with. Listen to the Vegetarian Food for Thought podcast.
Is it okay to transition to a vegan diet during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?I transitioned to a vegan diet during my 2nd pregnancy. It’s really up to you. As long as you’re making sure you are giving your body the nutrition it needs through whole plant foods and are committed to it, you and are baby will benefit. Some say not to do it because you may experience harsh cleansing reactions (like headaches), but if it’s a slow transition, like mine was (over a 6 month period), you should be fine.
I hate cooking! Can I still be vegan and/or eat healthfully? It is possible to eat a whole foods diet and not prepare any of the food yourself. This is only likely if you have a spouse who is willing to do all of the cooking, you have your own personal chef, or you eat out/eat processed foods all of the time. In any case, I suggest learning at least a few basic recipes, not only for your health, it’s fun (!).
Most people find that when they switch over to eating whole foods they spend more time in the kitchen. You don’t have to spend hours slaving in the kitchen. There are so many healthy convienience foods. Fruit is one example. just wash, peel and eat, or just wash and it eat. Buying in bulk and cooking in bulk helps save time & money. And many people begin to love cooking again, or love cooking for the first time. Buy bagged salad, cut up veggies, cut up fruit, canned beans, soups, pasta only takes 10 minutes to make, garden burgers, you get the idea…it doesn’t have to be a complex affair.
How much time do you spend in the kitchen a day? Depends on the day. Anywhere from 1-2 hours. I prepare 3 meals a day for my family, though that does not always involve cooking.
Where do you shop? A local natural foods grocery store; Costco & Sam’s Club; Wal-mart (I do price match their produce); and for bulk and specialty items, Azure Standard. We also have a garden during the summer months.
Who are some people that inspire you? People who live their truth, meaning people who have integrity and live their values as best they can. In particular as it relates to veganism: Dr. John McDougall for standing up to the medical establishment and going against the grain; Coleen Patrick-Goudreau (compassionate cooks), Dreena Burton, for her amazing vegan recipes; John Robbins; Dr. Esselstyn, and & Dr. T.C. Campbell for their work in furthering plant-based education.
I want to lose weight. What suggestions do you have for me? Cut out the empty calories (oil, refined sugar/flour, high fat foods) and replace with nutrient dense (high fiber, high nutrient) plant foods. More suggestions on how to lose weight, here.
Is a vegetarian or vegan diet safe for babies and children? Yes, it most certainly can be. Babies should be breast fed ideally, until 12 months-2 years of age. Beyond that, grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies should be the staples of their diet. I don’t restrict fat with my kids, I give them lots of options & let them eat freely of good food. I also have no problem occasionally giving them vegetarian options of traditional “kid food” (ie. chicken nuggest, hot dogs, etc.).
I would love to eat more plants, but I think it would be too hard because I go to a lot of parties and gatherings where there a very few non-meat, non-dairy options. Take a salad or yummy dish to share, that way you always have something to eat. Believe me, people really don’t care all that much about what you are, or are not eating. I know it seems like a big deal at first, but after awhile, it becomes normal. And who knows, maybe people will notice what you are eating or not eating and want to know more about healthful eating.
I live in a part of the world where there a very few vegan options. No matter where you live, aside from perhaps Siberia, or northern Alaska, or any other very remote part of the world, you should have access to grains and legumes and other plant foods. Even if your veggies/fruit supply is limited you can grow your own sprouts and take advantage of what local plant fare there is to offer. There is a misconception that you need to have fancy vegan foods like agave nectar, or agar flakes, or rare spices, but the truth is, these are all condiment foods which you can live without.
Saying everyone should be vegan is not realistic. Not everyone can or will eat a vegan diet. There is no dearth of plant foods, especially if you live in the U.S. Considering that it requires much more land and resources to eat an animal-based diet than it does a plant-based diet, I think there’s a much stronger argument for a everyone eating a vegan diet. I agree that not everyone is going to choose a vegan diet. But that’s no reason for you not to choose to. Especially since it’s so easy in the U.S. with such a wide variety of plant foods available all year-round. I don’t expect everyone to go vegan. But everyone can replace more of the meat on their plate with plants.
Is it possible to still be healthy and eat meat and dairy products? Yes. If you do eat these products, eat only very small amounts occasionally and eat a diet rich in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. It is much better to eat very small amounts of animal products on occasion than to eat a diet that consists primarily of refined, processed foods with little or no fresh fruits or vegetables. A vegan diet in and of itself is not health promoting. You could eat soda pop, potato chips and vegan cookies daily (don’t recommend!). Conversely, you could be an ominovore, but eating primarily unprocessed whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables and eating very little meat and dairy and be in a much better place than the first scenario.
So why do you think it’s best to completely cut out meat and dairy? Don’t you think it’s best to take the moderate approach and just eat it occasionally?
The problem with this, if we are just speaking in terms of health, is that most people aren’t moderate. Most people will commit to eating meat only “occasionally” but this is vague enough for most people that “occassionally” will start out as once a week, then twice a week, then daily, then every meal, and before you know it, you’re back to square one. We have far too many parties, get togethers, celebrations, ect. where meat and dairy products are served, it’s just too tempting to have some “just this once.” Basically, the moderate approach doesn’t work for most. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, it just isn’t very realistic for the majority of people. Beyond that, once you completely get away from these foods you realize how unnecessary they are, not just nutritionally, but in terms of what your palate/tastebuds want. Tastebuds do change, and our craving for animal flesh and secretions can and will diminish for most people, after a period of time. If you can give up animal products 95% of the time, why not 100%? If you cut out these foods from your diet you make room for better, more nutritious, compassionate options.
I was vegetarian/vegan for awhile but it didn’t work. I was hungry all the time!
It’s funny when I hear this because I always feel very full after I eat, and used to crave something, I usually didn’t know what exactly, after I ate a large meal of meat and dairy foods. I think the problem is is that most people aren’t used to eating the amount that you can and often need to eat on a plant-based diet, especially if you are eating lower calorie foods. Since whole foods contain a lot of water and fiber, it’s important make sure you’re eating, probably more than you’re used to.
My advice, eat, and eat often if you need to. If you are hungry, eat. If you are having trouble with losing too much weight, add higher calorie/fat foods to your diet. It’s as simple as that. Eating a plant-based whole foods diet works with, not against our genetic disposition to eat, to eat often and a lot. This is why many diets, like the eat-whatever-you-want-but-only-two-bites diet does not typically work because you are left wanting to eat–to chew, to experience the act of nourishing and feeding your body and you can’t because you’ve already consumed too many calories (empty calories) and have met your alloted quota.
It doesn’t matter what I eat. As long as I maintain a good weight and exercise, I’m fine. This logic goes completely against the grain of the thousands studies done, found in credible scientific literature regarding diet and preventable disease. Look into some of my recommended reading for more info. Not only that, do you really believe yourself when you say that?
I cannot tolerate beans, they make me too gassy. I cannot become vegan for this reason. There is adequate protein in all whole foods so you don’t have to necessarily eat beans to get protein. Eating a starch based diet with the addition of fruits and vegetables can provide you with adequate protein as long as your caloric needs are being met. Legumes, tofu, and nuts/seeds are especially high in protein but are certainly not the only sources of it. Also consider soaking and rinsing your beans, trying rinsed canned beans, and/or taking something like Beano to help with the gas. After awhile, your body can adjust and digest the beans more easily if you slowly increase your intake.
My bowels cannot tolerate the amount of fiber that exists on a vegan diet. Work yourself up to it. Increase your fiber intake gradually and your body should adjust. If not, there may be something else going on that you may want to consult your doctor about.
I deal with chronic constipation and/or infrequent bowel movements. What can I do to resolve this? Strive for 45-60 grams of fiber from whole foods a day (not supplements), which can easily be done on this diet. Animal products, sugars and oil contain absolutely no fiber, so eliminate or severely limit them in your diet. Dairy products typically only contribute to the problem. Add 1 TBS. of ground flax seed a day to your diet, which has been shown to increase bowel movement up to 40%. Stay away from laxatives, as regular use creates a dependence and can contribute to “lazy bowel.” If you are doing all of this and still have problems, you may need to try a cleanse, or see a doctor about a more serious underlying problem.
I’ve been vegan for a few months now but I have not lost any weight, in fact I’ve gained weight! Aside from a very real thyroid problem which may disrupt metabolism, or your body’s ability to burn calories effectively, chances are you are simply consuming more calories than you burn. Often people switch to a vegan diet and feel they have free reign to eat all they want, often overeating, thus overconsuming calories. Also, nuts, seeds, oils, sugars and higher fat plant foods such as olives, coconut, tofu, and avacados become the go-to foods of choice. All of these foods are concentrated in calories, which can easily lead to weight gain if you overconsume. Focus on nutrient dense, lower calorie foods such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, green leafy veggies, berries, mushrooms, onions, legumes of any kind, and eliminate or extremely limit any empty calories, including those that come from natural sugars like agave, dates, ect. Remember, to lose weight you must burn 3500 calories for every pound….
Since transitioning to a vegan diet I’ve had terrible headaches. What’s going on, do I have a protein deficiency? Most likely your body is cleansing toxins from the body. This is not unnormal. Most people experience some sort of reaction ( consider it withdrawals) when they eliminate foods that are not good for them. It will pass. I had severe headaches for a while after becoming completely vegan (this was when I was losing a lot of weight as well), which lasted for about a month, but since then the headaches have not returned. If you had a protein deficiency, it would not manifest itself through headaches. A protein deficiency would only be likely if you were getting too few calories, or eating a diet primarily made up of oils and sugars.
I have diabetes, high blood pressure, am obese, have heart disease, high cholesterol, bowel problems, arthritis, prostate/breast cancer, depression, osteoperosis, MS, and/or kidney disease. Can a plant-based diet help me?
Certainly! Check out Dr. McDougall’s website for more information on specific illnesses/diseases.
Are you against medical doctors, registered dieticians, and other westernized medicine medical/nutrition authorities? Not in the least. I believe our medical system has much to be desired, but I believe medical professionals have a place in this world and do much good. In cases other than emergent care/crisis situations, I believe nutritional therapy should be the first line of defense, followed by appropriate drug treatment, if needed. Drugs and surgery are often the first two things doctors go to, when in reality they are doing very little (often making things worse) to solve the real issue at hand. Registered dietitians should play a greater role in medical field. While I don’t agree with most R.D’s who emphasize drinking 3 cups of milk a day to get your calcium (although there are many vegetarian and vegan R.D’s out there), their position on vegetarian diets is clearly positive and makes the case that vegetarian/vegan diets can be healthy diets for babies, children, and adults.
Some in the alternative medicine movement have shunned the medical field and in doing so have burned some bridges. I really think we will go nowhere doing this and that we really need to work together. Otherwise there is no crediability, no strength in spreading the message of how important dietary/lifestyle choices are in health and wellness. As I said before, there’s a place for modern medicine. If I had brain cancer, for example, I wouldn’t only treat it with diet, but would be open to the drug therapies/surgery that currently exist.
Ultimately, our health rests in our own hands. We must take responsability for it, because even our best doctors and other physicians cannot prevent, they can only treat.
What do you think about going on a cleanse or fast? I don’t have a lot of experience with cleansing or fasting since becoming vegan because I’ve either been pregnant or nursing, but believe there are many health benefits if done correctly. Dr. Christopher has some good information on cleansing. Short-term water fasting and supervised long-term water fasting also has many health benefits if done correctly.
What do you think about soy? I love soy! I don’t think it’s a superfood/cure all or “evil” as some have proclaimed. It’s a bean. And if you’re not allergic to it, it can be a great addition to a well rounded diet in the form of many whole-soy products such a soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and soy yogurt. If you have a soy intolerance, you can still be plant-based without this fun little bean.
I’ve been on a vegan diet for a month now and my cholesterol levels haven’t improved a bit. What sort of vegan diet have you been on? Refined flours, sugars, and oils can keep trigyecerides high. Go on a the vegan diet as prescribed by Dr. Esselstyn (low-fat whole foods vegan diet, no nuts, seeds, oils, or refined flours/sugars). Give it a month. If nothing changes you may want to see a doctor about trying cholesterol lowering drugs. About 5% of the population or less has familial high cholesterol, or naturally high cholesterol regardless of diet or lifestyle factors.
What’s one your biggest pet peeves? When I talk to people and they come up with every excuse in the book for not trying vegetarian–I can’t handle that much fiber, beans make me gassy, I don’t like tofu, I’m addicted to meat, ect. I really don’t care if they are vegan or not (although I think it would be great if they were!) but, what bothers me is that most times they aren’t being honest. Most people use these excuses because they don’t want to say the truth: “I don’t want to change or I don’t want to learn how to change.” or “I don’t want to stop eating meat because I like it.” or “Because of peer/societal pressure I will never choose to change my diet.” or “I’m unwilling to be different and stand up for what I know is good for my body, animals, and the environment.”
What gives you hope and what do you know to be true? That people can and do change for the better. That we are much more in control of our happiness than we give ourselves credit for. That our happiness is often so much intertwined with our health.
I’m overwhelmed with all of this information. Take it one step, one change at a time. If you are committed to making positive changes, you will see progress. Give it time and patience. And disregard misinformation (such as you need to drink milk or your bones will rot, or you can’t give up meat or else you’ll be iron deficient) from well-meaning friends and family with a kind smile and direct them to some good sources of information as needed.
Links that may be helpful: