Thursday, February 28, 2013

Common Questions

We are frequently asked several questions related to our change in diet, and how we get certain nutrients, etc. Though there may be a need to post a future Q&A with different questions, here is my best attempt at answering the most common questions we're asked using the knowledge I have learned from other experts. If you have any questions that I have not answered, feel free to leave a comment, and I'll answer it in a future post. Thanks for reading!

Q: You're supposed to eat meat because it's high in protein, so how do you get your protein?
A: Protein needs in the human body are much, much lower than you might think. The World Health Organization recommends protein intake to include 5% of your daily caloric intake. The standard American diet far exceeds that amount (federal dietary recommendations are between 10% and 35% of calories), meaning that most people are consuming an excess amount of protein, which can lead to other health problems. Also, protein is not solely found in animal foods, but is found in legumes, grains, and vegetables. The diet we follow will result in you consuming all the protein your body needs, without consuming an excessive amount.

Q: What about calcium? Don't you need to drink milk in order to get calcium? Will you have a higher risk of osteoporosis or bone fractures because you eliminate dairy from your diet?
A: Yes, your body needs calcium. But dairy is not the best source to intake calcium for several different reasons.
1) Dairy is high in fat, cholesterol, and sugar, and contains no fiber. Furthermore, it contains a very high concentration of animal protein, because it is meant to nourish a baby cow and help it grow rapidly (to a size much larger than a human being). As stated in the previous answer, an over consumption of protein can be harmful to your body. Over consuming animal protein increases the acid load on your body. Your body reacts by trying to neutralize the acid content, and accomplishes this by drawing from the calcium storage in, guess what, your bones.
2) Consumption of dairy has been shown to increase the bone fracture rate, not decrease it as is commonly believed. It makes sense right? If consuming an abundance of cow's milk builds strong bones, then why are bone-related diseases on the rise in our country, let alone even in existence? A plant-based diet will give you all the calcium your body needs, without increasing the acid load in your body. Numerous studies have concluded that there is no relationship between dairy consumption and bone health. The best way to build strong bones is to be physically active and do weight-bearing exercise.
3) Dairy also causes many other chronic health conditions. I personally find this to be alarming: there has been scientific evidence to show a link between dairy consumption and juvenile diabetes. The amino acid chains in milk proteins look very similar to the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. When a child consumes dairy, the milk proteins can find their way into the child's bloodstream, and are then attacked by antibodies fighting it as a foreign body. Sometimes those antibodies attack the pancreatic cells, leading to the onset of type I diabetes. A research study from the New England Journal of Medicine involved checking blood samples of 142 diabetic children and 79 non-diabetic children for the level of antibodies against cow's milk protein. Of the 142 diabetic children tested, 100% had elevated levels of the antibody, whereas none of the 79 non-diabetic children had elevated levels. Yes, a child may have the genetic predisposition to develop type I diabetes, but the consumption of dairy as a child could either bring about that condition sooner or make symptoms worse, whereas eliminating dairy could prevent its onset. Dairy has also been linked to causing asthma (which I personally had as a child, but thankfully grew out of it), constipation, chronic infections (i.e. ear infections), obesity, eczema, and acne.

Q: But fish is high in Omega-3 fatty acids...why is fish not recommended in this diet?
A: A person who consumes a varied plant-based diet (like us) will consume a proper amount of foods that contain linolenic acid, which the body then converts to Omega-3 fatty acids, eliminating the need to consume Omega-3 from sources like fish and eggs. A person eating a poor diet (eating trans-fat, excess saturated fat, excess Omega-6 fats from land animals, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils)  does not efficiently convert linolenic acid to Omega-3. But eating said poor diet while taking fish oil supplements or eating a lot of fish will not help make you healthy. There are health risks associated with over consuming fish, or any animal meat, which far outweighs any slight benefit a person might receive by eating fish. Furthermore, there is a proper ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid consumption. According to the Wellness Forum, a few decades ago the ratio was between 1:1 and 1:4, but is presently between 1:25 and 1:30, indicating that the average person consumes way too much animal meat (Omega-6). So if a doctor tells you that you're low in Omega-3, perhaps it's because you have an excess of Omega-6, throwing that ratio off. The best solution is to reduce Omega-6 consumption, not supplement Omega-3 and bring that side of the ratio up to the high level of Omega-6. It's a myth that fish and/or fish oils are health foods.

Q: I thought olive oil was a healthy kind of oil, so why can you not eat it?
A: Another myth. All oils are pure fat and have no nutritional value. One tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories and 14 grams of fat. It is very easy to consume even more than one tablespoon everyday because of how commonly it is used in salad dressings, hummus, and sauteed foods. If you are striving for optimal health, it is best to eliminate all oils from your diet, as best you can. To do so, be sure to read all ingredient lists, because you would be surprised how many different products contain at least one type of oil (check your cereal boxes, for example). You needn't worry about consuming enough fat if you eat this type of plant-based diet because you'll get all the fat you need (which isn't much) from vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. So what are you supposed to cook with?? Try sauteing with water instead. Add 1-2 Tbsp of water at a time to keep food from sticking. You'll need less water if using a nonstick pan. Where did this myth originate? In the 1950s, Ancel Keys studied the population of Crete in the Mediterranean, who consumed olive oil and red wine, and observed that the people lived longer and had low incidences of heart disease and cancer. People reading that study came to the conclusion that to be healthy, one should consume olive oil and drink a glass of red wine everyday. But they failed to focus on the other aspects of the Cretian population that included their large consumption of plant foods and whole grains and vast amounts of exercise. In essence, they were healthy in spite of their choice to eat unhealthy foods like olive oil and red wine. Fast forward through time, as the Cretian population increased their meat and oil intake, their health has suffered. It is common for people to want to find an excuse to justify their poor eating habits, our former selves were no exception (for example, the Beer Diet). But at some point, you have to be honest with yourself about what is really good/bad for your health.

Q: Can you still eat peanut butter? Avocados?
A: Absolutely! Our diet includes higher-fat plant foods and nuts, but we do not consume them as much as other plant foods. What that means is that peanut butter and avocados (and other higher-fat plant foods) should not be consumed as much as whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. Depending on your weight-loss goals, a little or a little bit more can be incorporated into your diet. We are currently maintaining our weight, so we eat a very small amount of peanut butter or avocado every day or every other day. I also want to point out that you should carefully check out the type of peanut or other nut butters that you buy. You should strive to consume 100% peanut butter, not Jif-like brands that contain a bunch of other additives. If buying a jar of plain peanut butter, the ingredients should say: peanuts, period. :)

Q: Aren't you supposed to eat yogurt because it has probiotics?
A: Two points to make here.
1) Because yogurt is often made with cow's milk, you encounter the same set of problems described in the calcium question above. The dairy used to make the yogurt is hormone-injected, high in sugar, and a concentrated form of animal protein. There are soy-based yogurts that are a great and delicious substitution.
2) Yes, yogurt contains probiotics that are good for you. But the health detriments associated with consuming cow's milk far outweigh any benefit of consuming beneficial bacteria. Furthermore, if you have a compromised GI-tract and need to replenish your beneficial bacteria colonies, you physically cannot consume enough yogurt to restore your system. Strong probiotic supplements are likely required. We both personally take a probiotic supplement, after receiving that advice from Dr. Pam Popper and the phone consultation we each had with her. We each had a history of GI-tract issues that resulted in the need for us to restore our beneficial bacteria colonies. But once our colonies are restored, we will have no need to take the probiotic supplement anymore, unless we need to take antibiotics for some reason in the future. Anytime you take antibiotics, you should simultaneously take probiotics to prevent all the beneficial bacteria from being destroyed along with the bacteria you're trying to kill. If you're interested in a good and reliable brand, you can order from this company: Genestra Brands TM.

Q: Do you just eat vegetables and fruit?
A: Heck no! We don't just sit around all day munching on raw broccoli and carrots like a couple of rabbits. We eat a varied (variety), whole foods (prefer whole rather than blended, juiced, or powdered), plant-based (non-animal foods) diet. We prioritize different food groups so that we primarily eat naturally low-fat plant-foods with high nutrient and sufficient calorie content. Here are the food groups listed in order of most consumed (1) to least consumed (7):
  1. at least 64 oz water
  2. legumes, whole grains, starches
  3. vegetables, sprouts
  4. fruit
  5. breads, cereals, minimally processed grains
  6. higher-fat plant foods: nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, nut butters
  7. occasional treats
*Eliminate all dairy, meat, fish/seafood, eggs, and oils

Always keep group 1 as the top priority. For ultimate weight loss, avoid groups 5-7 and eat about equal amounts of groups 2-4 because vegetables and fruit are naturally lower in calories than group #2, with vegetables having even fewer calories per pound than fruit. Once ideal weight is achieved, return to the original priority list above.

Q: So are you only eating this diet to lose weight?
A: No, but if that is your main goal, you will absolutely accomplish that by strictly following this diet (assuming that you are not presently at your optimal weight). We made the personal choice to try this diet for one month, for personal health reasons and to hopefully allow us to conceive a child, but we ended up feeling so much more energy and mental clarity after only two weeks that we made the decision to stick with this lifestyle for the rest of our lives. Although we each experienced significant weight loss until our optimal weights were achieved, that was not the main reason we chose to eat this way. If you strictly follow this diet and are above your optimal weight, then on average you should lose about 2.5 pounds a week. Adding exercise will likely speed that up a bit because exercise boosts your metabolism.

Q: If your goal is weight-loss on this diet, do you have to restrict portions or count calories?
A: No! And that was the most pleasant discovery for me personally. In the past, I would get so irritated at my forever skinny husband who had to eat a ton to keep weight on, while I was having to restrict portion sizes and count calories to lose or maintain my weight. Grrr! But that is a thing of the past, and is, in my opinion, no way to live life. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and when you eat the proper kind of food, your body was built to tell you when it's time to eat and when it's time to stop. Following this diet, you will consume a lot of high-fiber foods (groups 2-4 above), which are both filling and good for your digestive system. Pam from The Wellness Forum likes to say it's "a moving experience"...if you catch my drift. Because the foods are high in fiber, you simply eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel satisfied. It's also a great idea to follow the ELMO tip: Eat Less More Often. If you follow this diet, you naturally find yourself getting hungry every couple of hours, so always have healthy snacks or meals on hand. Enjoy the great food, and watch the weight fall off.

Q: This sounds like a lot of work. Was it really hard to change diets?
A: It's not as hard as you might think, but I think a lot of it has to do with your attitude. If you go into this change dreading it and thinking it's going to be impossible, then you are only setting yourself up for disappointment. But if you go into this change motivated by your desire to improve your health and quality of life, then you are likely to thrive.

If you have an interest in trying this diet, then first you should make a decision about how you will begin: cold turkey (ha, no pun intended) or transition over time. We personally made the decision to start cold turkey. If you choose to transition, try to transition over a period of no more than one month. If we had transitioned, I would have first eliminated dairy. Then meat. Then eliminated oils. As you eliminate each item, you should try incorporating the priority list of food groups above. But if you are interested in giving this a try, I strongly encourage you to stick with it for at least 30 days and then re-evaluate how you feel.

If you're a picky-eater and aren't too keen on veggies, make a pact with yourself to try one new vegetable each week. Don't give up on a veggie if you eat it one way and don't like it. Try and try again. Your taste buds will eventually change. Soups and stir-frys are a great way to introduce new veggies without feeling like that's all you're eating.

Start off as simple and convenient as possible so you don't feel overwhelmed by the change. Instead of planning your meals around a meat item and two side dishes, plan your meals around an item from group #2. For example, a very simple meal would be a plain baked potato topped with oil-free salsa and some nutritional yeast (if you want a cheese-like flavor) and some steamed veggies on the side. Or do a simple stir-fry with whole grain brown rice, veggies, some low-sodium soy sauce, and ground ginger and garlic powder. Once you get used to making some of these simpler meals, you can expand on new foods and dishes to try. And don't forget you can always include a big salad with oil-, dairy-, and egg-free dressing.

When we began our change in diet, we bought the Forks Over Knives cookbook and the Ultimate Uncheese cookbook to help eliminate the need for us to be creative. We also bought the Engine 2 Diet, The Starch Solution, and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. These three books not only have valuable information about a plant-based diet, but also include many recipes to try. Eventually, we reached a point where we felt comfortable enough modifying some of our old recipes to make them conform to our new dietary standards, or just invented new ones entirely!

Also, because we both work full-time and don't mind eating leftovers, we choose to cook all our meals for the week on Saturday and Sunday. For example, we'll cook the lunch and dinner meal items on the weekend, and then eat them throughout the week. If you can't or don't like to do that, you could try to plan ahead and make meals each day that incorporate some of the same ingredients, so you can help prep food ahead of time.

Another thing that really helped us was purchasing the proper kitchen appliances and tools. If your budget is limited, there are cheaper options than what we bought, but I would say you should prioritize like this:
1) Blender (we heavily use a blender everyday, and decided to treat ourselves to a Vitamix, but be warned they are very expensive, and a regular blender works well enough),
2) Food processor (we have this one),
3) Rice cooker (we spent a bit more and chose the Instant Pot that can pressure cook unsoaked beans, rice, and more in a short time),
4) Food chopper (we're fans of Pampered Chef, but any will do; we also love their garlic press).

Because you will be consuming much more fresh food than processed food, you will spend more time prepping meals than you likely did before, but the above tools can help reduce the hassle. But frozen fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are great options too for convenience, just be sure to read all ingredient lists carefully to screen for added oils, preservatives, and animal products.

Also be sure to avoid the common pitfall of replacing animal foods with high-fat "vegan junk foods." These vegan junk foods, such as gimme lean, tofurkey, vegan cheese, etc. can be okay if you need help transitioning, but you do not want to keep these foods in your diet for long because they are highly processed and very high in fat. Pursue whole, plant-based foods rather than replacing your old favorites.

Planning ahead is a must, but once you get into a groove, it becomes second nature. Basically, your goal should be to set yourself up to eat healthy by only having healthy options nearby.

The last thing I'll say is that if you are married and you both work full-time, it can be stressful if only one partner is doing all the prepping and cooking. I have been so thankful that Michael helps me in the kitchen to speed things along, and we enjoy that quality time together. But if you don't have a choice, planning ahead will be your best friend.

It can also be tough if only one spouse wants to change and the other does not. It's important not to judge one another, but it's also not unreasonable to ask for some courtesy and support if you're the one seeking to improve your health.

We are now at a point, so used to eating this way, that when we see food that's not within our dietary standards, it does not look appealing anymore. I never thought I'd look at a doughnut and think, "Eww, gross, that would make me feel terrible," but it's true.

Q: What do you do when you go out to eat or are invited to a friend's house for dinner? What about holidays or family gatherings?
A: In short, the most important point I want to make is that you need to make a decision about what you will and will not compromise on. This is your decision, and only your decision, and therefore should not be influenced by pressure from other people. Don't be afraid to decline politely if it makes the difference between compromising your dietary standards or not. But even when eating out or dining socially, you can often find something to eat.

Eating out is not as hard as you might think. Again, planning ahead is your best friend. Most restaurants have vegetarian menu items, so you don't have to work quite as hard to find options within your dietary standards. You just have to take it a step further and request vegan items (no dairy) and try to request oil-free items as well. The hardest part for us has been that well-meaning people are simply unknowledgeable about what we mean. You just have to be very proactive in asking questions about what's in the food, such as:
1) Don't assume the waiter/waitress knows everything that's dairy. We have found that we'll specify no dairy, and then the food will arrive dressed in butter, sour cream, and/or cheese. You may have to list several items besides just saying "No dairy."
2) When something is vegetarian, it is not necessarily free of all animal products. Vegetarian simply means no meat. But we have commonly found that vegetarian menu items still contain cheese, eggs, lard, sour cream, butter, milk, chicken/beef stock, etc. Vegan menu items should be free of all animal products, but may or may not contain oils, margarine, spray butters, etc.

A common thing we'll do is call ahead to the establishment and make a special request for our meal. For example, we have eaten at Chipotle and called ahead to ask them to saute the fajita veggies in water instead of oil, which they have always accommodated. Their cilantro-lime brown rice is cooked with oil, so be aware of that. Since we don't ask them to change their rice, we only eat at Chipotle on special occasions because we seek to avoid all oils.

You can also order side dishes on restaurant menus (that are oil-, meat-, and dairy-free) and turn them into a meal. Many chefs like the challenge of cooking something different, so with a little guidance, you can easily order a delicious meal within your standards when eating out. If all else fails, order a plain baked potato, oil-free salsa, and steamed veggies. Simple, yes, but for us, it's much more satisfying to feel great after eating a meal than feel bloated and cruddy.

With friends or family, if the person hosting does not know about your dietary standards, it's important to communicate that before the event. Sometimes, the host may want to cook something to accommodate your diet. If not, you can always offer to bring a dish with you, that way you know that you'll be able to eat at least one dish. If neither of those things are an option, be sure to eat before you go, and then steer clear of the food table to avoid temptation.

The biggest thing I'll stress is to not let anyone else pressure you into compromising on your standards. It hasn't happened to us, thankfully, but I could see how it's not too much of a stretch for someone to give you a hard time, tease, or put pressure on you ("Come on, take the day off...a little dairy won't kill you.") Make up your mind about the dietary standards you'll hold for yourself, and stick with them. You can simply and kindly say "No, thank you" if something is offered to you that is not within your standards. Do not let feelings of guilt make you feel bad for that decision.

Some people may feel really uncomfortable around you because your very presence might convict them of their poor eating habits, and people tend to express that in different ways. You'll definitely need to pack your patience when you dine with family or friends who do not share your dietary standards, because the last thing you want to do is make someone else feel judged for their dietary choices. It's their body, they have the right to eat how they choose, just like you do. Try to show mutual respect for one another.

Q: So what do you eat in a typical day?
A: We eat a lot every day. (For pictures of some meals we've prepared recently, visit this post label or our other blog's posts here and here.)

Breakfast: Old-fashioned oatmeal, with a little honey, lots of cinnamon, and fresh banana slices

Mid-morning: An apple.

Lunch: We typically like to make a veggie-based soup for lunch and then pour it over rice. Or we'll incorporate a potato as the main focus, like a simple baked potato with salsa and nutritional yeast on top. Or cut up a potato, shake some Italian seasoning on it, and bake it.

Mid-afternoon: A banana. Or a homemade granola bar.

Dinner: Lots of options...always incorporate some veggies or a big salad if you can. Chickpea tacos, lentil-rice-veggie mixture, veggie fajitas with rice and black beans, Asian stir-fry (oil-free), millet sloppy joes, veggie pizza, and much more!

After-dinner snack: Optional, it depends on how hungry we feel. Usually we have some fruit because it's sweet enough to feel like dessert for us.

Q: Do you still have to exercise while on this diet, or is the diet enough to maintain your weight?
A: I know you're secretly wishing for me to say you no longer have to exercise, but alas, that is not the case. Nutrition plays a very large role in your overall health and the prevention/reversal of many health conditions (heart disease, cancer, diabetes), but exercise also plays a role. Exercise is necessary for building strong bones and maintaining mobility as you age. If you want to be optimally healthy, and not have to use a walker in your old age, you have to be physically active. Exercise also has the following benefits to your body (based on The Wellness Forum material):
  • Increases your metabolism
  • Improves digestion
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Increases flexibility
  • Improves balance
  • Increases energy levels
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Promotes a positive attitude
  • Improves muscle strength
  • Builds stronger bones
  • Improves coordination
  • Reduces depression
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves mental alertness
  • Increases your endurance and stamina
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves your immune system
Start slow if you have to, setting small goals for yourself that you increase over time. And start out with activities you enjoy, then incorporate other forms like cardio, strength-training, and stretching. For more tips, read this post about exercise.

Q: What's your favorite thing about being on this diet?
A: My favorite thing is how much better I feel overall. I formerly thought I was pretty healthy, but it became apparent after a couple weeks of switching to this diet that I was not. I had no idea how many minor ailments I was settling for, thinking they were normal.

This diet has helped me reach a level of health that I didn't know existed. I feel energetic, mentally focused, and have a positive outlook on life, where I previously struggled with depression. I love the food I choose to eat, instead of longing for the foods I no longer choose to eat. The food we have the pleasure of eating is delicious and very satisfying, we consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to enjoy them and improve our health at the same time. It does not feel like a sacrifice for us because we only feel rewarded by our choices.

I've said this several times to friends and family, but my favorite thing about this diet is how I feel like a whole new woman, and I just love this life we're blessed to be living.