What's Up With The Vegan Thing?


Last week on social media, one of my valued readers asked me to do a post about my health and fitness regimes; something I have been asked to do a few times in the past but have kind of avoided. Nutrition in particular is an area that is fraught with very strong belief systems, and often it is difficult for people to see outside of something that they feel strongly about, evidence notwithstanding. However, I am finally capitulating. It is after all, an important part of my life, and you've asked. So here it is.   The fitness regime is a whole post in and of itself, so I will tackle that one separately.

The short answer is yes, I am a vegan. Although technically, I'm not. Not really. I really prefer to say that I follow a plant-based diet. A true vegan extends their dietary philosophy to what they wear (for example, no leather..I still wear leather), and really how they approach every aspect of their lives. Yes, I do feel strongly about animal rights, but I suppose I cannot call myself 100% vegan if I still have leather jackets and bags hanging in my wardrobe. I call myself vegan more for the ease of giving people a description that is readily understood in a pinch.

My decision to go plant-based happened about 6 years ago. There was no giant epiphany (sadly, because that would make this a much more interesting read), no tale of woe culminating in a huge weight gain, no journey of self-discovery resulting in dramatic bodily transformation, and no stern warning from medical professionals warning me of my imminent demise. It's kind of a boring story, really. I simply read a review of T. Colin Campbell's The China Study in Vogue magazine while on a holiday in Florida, and knew I needed to read the book. Campbell is a well-known and respected professor and researcher at Cornell, which is just down the road from the University of Rochester, NY, where I went to graduate school. His son, Thomas Campbell, MD (and author of The Campbell Plan), also happens to be on faculty at University of Rochester, so I was somewhat familiar with the research, I had just been too busy working on my Masters to really dig-in at the time.

My "real job" is as an acute care hospital nurse practitioner - my background is in critical care. As a result, I am all too aware of the direction of the collective health of the general population, and it is a scary picture indeed. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity is as prevalent as the air we breathe, and in fact is quickly becoming the new normal. So normal in fact, that we in the healthcare business (yes, it is a business) often find ourselves wielding the prescriptive pen without even taking the proper time to address the real underlying issues.

But I digress. I am not going to take up time here trying to sell you on why a plant based diet is the way forward - that you need to read for yourself. The thing about evidence is, there's evidence, and then there's evidence. As a science person, knowing how to look at and evaluate said evidence is key, because there's a lot of crazy, misguided, and intentionally misleading stuff floating around out there, and sadly, a lot of it comes from the very people who we are paying to feed us and write our nutritional guidelines. Instead, I am simply going to point you in the direction, and encourage you to have a look at what's out there by including some pretty powerful resources, all of which have the evidence on their side.

But before I go, I will take a moment to answer some of the most frequently asked questions that I get asked about being a pure plantivore. Hee. Plantivore. I just made that term up - just now.

How do you get enough protein? 
The human body does not need as much protein as you are being led to believe, and in fact excesses of protein can be harmful and promote cancer growth. If you eat a plant-based diet that is varied and representative of a wide variety of greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds, you will get enough protein. Things like protein powders are mostly useless for your average layperson, and certain ones can be downright harmful. I tend to work out very hard 6 days a week when I am at home, and will occasionally supplement with some hemp seed protein to speed muscle recovery, but this is usually only on days I might double-up on workouts by playing tennis in the morning and then having my "normal" workout later in the day. By and large I tend not to bother unless I'm training hard.

What about Vitamin deficiency? 
I take a multivitamin (when I remember…I'm surprisingly terrible at remembering for someone who is a nurse). This vitamin includes B12 (important for plant-based eaters) and vitamin D.

How do you get enough calcium if you don't drink milk? 
Despite some rather aggressive and comprehensive campaigns on the part of the dairy industry over the years, milk is simply not the best source of bio available calcium out there. In fact, the casein protein in milk has been proven to be a very potent carcinogen in murine (mouse) studies. We humans are the only species that as adults, feel the need to drink the weaning product of another species. When you think of it that way, you realise that it is societal conditioning that has put milk on our grocery shopping lists for so long, and not a true biological need. You can find this research in The China Study, and when I finished that chapter, I literally stopped drinking milk that minute.

How do you feel full if there is no meat on the plate? Isn't it boring?
Again, a broad representation of vegetables will insure that you are getting enough micronutrients to not feel hungry or deprived. And boring? No. The opposite is true. Not having a piece of meat on the plate, you rely more on your spice cabinet, and a whole world of possibilities open up to you that you would have never even thought of before. It's fun, and you get to try many new things.

A Few Key Resources
The Science is Out There - Go Get It!

Web

NutritionFacts.Org
A not for profit site run by Dr. Michael Greger, MD that takes all of the latest evidence and synthesises it into easy to digest short videos and articles. Great for the short modern attention span, and Dr. Greger narrates these himself. Additional bonus: he's funny.  I could spend hours on here. Don't miss the videos of his Year-In-Review presentations.

Books

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health
by T. Colin Campbell, PhD

The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using The China Study's Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet
by Thomas Campbell MD
The research from The China Study put into practice. Goes into the why of a plant based diet and gives tips on making the transition to a plant-based lifestyle.

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss
by Joel Fuhrman, MD
The first in a series of books by Dr. Fuhrman, this book echoes a lot of the science that is in The China Study, but puts it into an easy to digest format. Check out his other books: Super ImmunityThe End of DietingThe End of DiabetesDisease-Proof Your Child, and Fasting and Eating for Health

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure
by Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., MD
If you have high blood pressure, are already on a statin, or have a strong family history of heart disease, this book could save your life. Dr Esselstyn has clinically reversed heart disease in patients who were given virtual death sentences by their cardiologists. For that matter, even if you don't have heart disease, you should read this book. Dr. Esselstyn is also one of the most prolific and decorated human beings on the planet: Olympic athlete, surgeon, author….makes the rest of us look like a bunch of amateurs. 

The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan That Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds
by Rip Esselstyn
Yep, those Esselstyns again. Clearly, it runs in the family. This book contains some easy and great recipes. If you're trying to convince the man in your life to take a step towards health, this book has a lot of very accessible, low-fuss strategies, and your guy can't claim that you're trying to turn him into an airy-fairy vegan because the control group here is a bunch of seasoned firefighters led by a triathlete. Tough enough for ya?

Video

Forks Over Knives
available here on iTunes
This is simply a must-see, and you will come away from this film a changed person. Here's the description from their website:
Forks over knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. The major storyline in the film traces the personal journeys of a pair of pioneering yet under-appreciated researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead 
available here on iTunes
You'll recognize some of the key players in this film, and you will see a transformation right before your eyes that is possible for anyone to achieve. From their website:
100 pounds overweight, loaded up on steroids and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe Cross is at the end of his rope and the end of his hope. In the mirror he saw a 310lb man whose gut was bigger than a beach ball and a path laid out before him that wouldn't end well— with one foot already in the grave, the other wasn't far behind. FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD is an inspiring film that chronicles Joe's personal mission to regain his health.
Vedgucated
available here on iTunes
You will never eat another commercially farmed chicken again after watching this. This is essential viewing for anyone who thinks that buying "free range" anything means you're not contributing to the problem.
Part sociological experiment and part adventure comedy, Vegucated follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. Lured by tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover the hidden sides of animal agriculture that make them wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. This entertaining documentary showcases the rapid and at times comedic evolution of three people who discover they can change the world one bite at a time.


Comments

  1. Hi Kristin, I am a regular reader of your blog.....love your wit & style! This is a fantastic post and came at the perfect time for me. I have "skimmed" several of the books you mention and have watched (very recently) the film Fat Sick and Nearly Dead. I' re been attempting to eat an entirely plant based diet for about a year but have failed at it over and over with the mantra of "it's to difficult". This post was so inspirational that I pulled out my copy of The China Study and will read cover to cover. I have had 4 HA's (the last 9/2014) all attributed to extremely high cholesterol numbers. Statins give me severe muscle pain so they are not an option. I was a vegetarian for 10 yrs. but in 2010 went back to eating meat - blamed it on a craving! Not being a stupid person I just cannot conceive of why I keep sabotaging myself and treating my health so carelessly. Sorry for all this background when what I really wanted to do was to thank you for posting this. It has certainly inspired me and I appreciate that.

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    1. Brenda, go out and buy Dr. Esselstyn's book TODAY. It was written exactly for people like yourselves. It is never too late to hop on the bandwagon. Change is difficult, but you can do it! Just don't beat yourself up if you slip, and instead just step back on the path and keep going. And get cozy with your spice cabinet. It is really your best friend. Dr. Esselstyn's approach is a bit more structured than your average plant based diet, because he really restricts oils, nuts, etc. HOWEVER, if you stick to it, you can REVERSE your cardiovascular disease. Go out there and get it! http://www.dresselstyn.com/site/

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    2. Also, an addendum…if you are around or near upstate New York, you should look into "Plant Stock". Its a big conference that the Esselstyns have on their farm and I think you would get a lot out of it.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your plantivore philosophy. Although not vegan, I am a plant based foodie eating vegan several times a week. You've touched on two of the most misunderstood aspects of nutrition, protein and calcium...hooray!

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  3. Thank you for this post! I've been a "plantivore" for 6 years. While I had dabbled in vegetarianism for years, the decision to immediately go vegan was made as soon as I picked up Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Diet." Best decision I ever made. My 2 year old is also vegan and the healthiest little guy. Even his paediatrician is impressed!

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  4. I could give up everything except the cheese. And sushi. :-) I have to limit carbs to keep my blood sugar stable and weight in check (trust me, I've experimented a lot with different regimes over the years including vegetarian), but have been cutting WAY back on meats. I do find garbanzo beans are a very filling and satisfying addition to salads in place of chicken or meats.I often eat salads as a main course.

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  5. A fascinating post, Kristin and one well worth reading by all. I'm a semi-vegetarian (!). I rarely eat meat, perhaps chicken every weeks but mostly we live on a vegetable-based diet and we love it. I'm also lactose intolerant so I tend to only consume almond milk. I hate the way everybody thinks we need cow's milk to survive. So wrong!
    Suzy x
    www.suzyturner.com

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  6. Thanks so much for your reply! I am looking forward to starting the diet and since my husband is on board (his numbers just came back high) I think I will be less apt to fall off. I ordered the book and visited the Esseltyn's site. I live in Connecticut so not near upstate NY but would love to attend one of their conferences some day.

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  7. Hi Kristin !
    Thank you for your coming out for your vegan diet. The more people like you talk about it, the more we will change wrong habits and beleifs.
    Yes, animal products (milk, dairy products and meat) are harmful for our health. And yes, we can live happy and healthy with a vegan diet.
    Looking forward your next post on that subject,
    Pascale

    PS : this is my first comment, but I have been enjoying your posts for a year or so now :D

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  8. I've been following a plant-based diet for 3.5 years now. I've never felt better or more satisfied. Both my husband and I are 46, and we've lost a lot of weight and are in great shape despite not exercising to extremes. We go for walks most days, and I do yoga a few times a week. That's all it takes to feel great if you give up the unhealthy food.

    1. I find it crazy that people say 'I couldn't give up (insert food item here). Is a particular food item worth being ill over? Yet, those were my words too for a long time. I thought I couldn't give up cheese. Although it doesn't seem possible, cheese will lose its appeal after a few weeks of not eating it.
    2. Spices are so much more spicy since I've stopped eating eggs and cheese and using oil. I was a vegetarian before going plant-based, and still the dairy and oil would always overpower the meal. Now vegetables, fruits, legumes, and other foods taste so much better to me. Thus, it's also crazy when people ask if I'm 'bored' over my diet. Everything tastes so much more delicious.

    I would add to your list of resources: fatfreevegan.com and drmcdougall.com -- both have great recipes and Dr. McDougall's site has a lot of free information about the science behind the diet.

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  9. I have to let you know after reading this post in August, I watched FOK and read The China Study and have joined the whole foods, plant based movement! Although weight loss was not my motivation I lost 5 pounds the first month! I've got lots more energy, I'm never hungry (because I can eat all the veggies my tummy can handle!) and I'm sleeping and dreaming more every night! I try not to convert my friends and family but I'm willing to share my results with whoever is interested. And I love knowing that not only am I eating better for me, but also better for the planet! Add the documentary Cowspiracy and Food Matters to your Netflix queue.
    Thanks, again! You first motivated me to let my hair go grey (Pinterest) and new regain my health through plant based foods! All the best!

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    1. Lynn that's fantastic! So happy for you, and I'm so honoured that you drew inspiration from the blog!

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