Let's Eat More Plants!
It has been about 5 months now since I switched from an eat-whatever-I-want-but-try-to-eat-healthy-most-of-the-time-diet to a plant-based diet (way less hyphenates). It was definitely not something I planned, and in fact, a few months prior I remember being at a triathlon and seeing a shirt on one of the athletes that said "Vegan Athlete". I also remember laughing about it. I am super ashamed of my quickness to judge this person when I knew ZERO about what being vegan actually meant. How did I go from scoffing to plant munching, fruit noshing, legume loving, and nomeatathlete hashtagging? Well, I will tell you that it all started with one Podcast...
The very first thing that got me genuinely curious about being a vegan was Rich Roll’s podcast with Dr. Garth Davis, Our Misplaced Obsession with Protein. I highly recommend this podcast to anyone interested in nutrition. If you are not particularly interested in nutrition, time to pick up this great hobby! Why?
- You eat 3+ times a day (I am definitely more of a plus kinda gal)
- What you eat is the LARGEST contributor to your overall health
- It contributes to your physical appearance (think good skin, healthy hair, slammin bod, just to name a few :P)
- It also affects your mental state and your emotions
Let me first disclose that nutrition is hard. This is a subject that has so many different teams and silos it's no wonder that there is confusion. What nutrition practices really are best? Garth looks to shed some light on these uncertainties. There is SO much good information in this podcast, but I will present to you what I believe is the most compelling. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
Why do both people who are trying to lose weight and gain weight go on high protein diets?
Dat makes no sense, right? But it's true. We all have girlfriends who are trying to stay slim and what do they believe the answer is? More protein. We all probably have bro-friends who are trying to get arms and chests disproportionately larger than their legs, and what is the way to this body of the gods? Protein.
Let’s just set the record straight. Protein, over the long term, will cause weight gain. Why?
Ketosis is an emergency state your body goes into (think during a famine) when it is not being fed its primary source of energy, glucose. In ketosis you deplete your muscles of glycogen (where carbohydrate energy sources are stored) and your body resorts to running on ketones (burning fat. YAY! Hold on...). Glycogen is bound to 3-4 molecules of water so when you lose glycogen, you also urinate more often and lose water weight. So initially, throwing your body into ketosis (again, an EMERGENCY state) can result in losing water weight. But the moment that you have a cheat meal with any carbohydrates, the body ravenously grabs onto those glucose molecules and guess what comes with it? More water. So the weight goes back on.
Protein is NOT only found in meat
For some reason, we have shifted to using the word “protein” as a synonym for “meat”. There is actually protein in everything we eat because it is a structural component that holds food together. Protein is found in all fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, grains, etc. Check out this list for protein content in fruits and veggies or search the USDA Database for the list of nutrients in different foods.
We do not need NEARLY as much protein as we are consuming
The USDA recommends that men consume 56g of protein and women consume 46g. Shockingly, the World Health Organization estimates that on average, Americans consume between 70-130g per day. WOWZA. Consider this:
- The recommended daily values are optimal values that ensure every member of the population gets adequate protein (they are not minimums, which is how we often treat them)
- 4-ounce hamburger: 20 grams of protein
- 6-ounce steak: 70 grams of protein (that is already over the daily recommended limit!)
Protein deficiency is not possible unless you are getting inadequate calories
A lot of people fear that they will not get enough protein and something bad will happen... Duhn duhn duhhhhnnn... But nobody knows what that is. I know I used to think that. Gotta get my protein. Why? Because that is what I have been told all of my life. What would happen if you didn't? Duhh... I dunno.
While only 3% of America is protein deficient, close to 97% are fiber deficient. Good weight loss has been shown when people eat at least 35g of fiber in their diets (try shifting that focus from getting lots of protein to getting lots of fiber, I dare you :P ).
Fun fact: When it comes to weight loss, calories are really what matters, not focusing on certain nutrients like protein, carbs, fat, etc. Just ask Mark Haub, a professor at Kansas State University who went on an 1,800 calorie/day diet consisting of Twinkies, Hostess HoHos, Little Debbies, Oreos, Dorito chips... He was able to lose 27 lbs in 2 months and was even able to lower his LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise his HDL (good cholesterol). Let me just say he does not recommend this diet and the reason his cholesterol levels were lowered was a result of not eating as much saturated fat from meat.
A sugar is not a sugar
Equal grams of sugar in an Oreo cookie is not the same as sugar in an apple. What sets it apart? Fiber. Fiber is like "a slow release pill" and allows the sugar in that apple to be absorbed steadily into the blood stream rather than all at once. Simple sugars will make us hungrier because the levels of sugar in our body will rise and fall so we crave more sugars.
It is almost impossible for sugars or carbs from fruits and veggies to be turned to fat. LIES! No, this is the truth. Your body will not turn carbs or sugars into fat until you have completely saturated the glycogen stores in your body (roughly 135g). It is rather difficult to introduce that amount of sugar into your blood stream at once when you have fiber on your side. We are perfectly created to eat fruit. Fruit will not make you fat. Period.
Eating meat results in lots of weird stuff happening in the body
Our bodies become more acidic. You may be thinking, yay, all of those amino acids! Gotta get those 9 essentials (PS: we can get all of the essential amino acids from a variety of fruits and vegetables). True, but when we ingest acid our body needs to buffer it somehow and it does that with calcium. Our body stores 99% of calcium in our bones and teeth. So our bodies will leech calcium from our bones and teeth to neutralize that acid.
Ingesting carcinogens. When you cook meat, that burned muscle is comprised of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are both carcinogens.
Leads to premature aging. Meat contains high amounts of IGF1 (growth hormone) and Leucine (stimulate muscle protein synthesis). This is great for body builders because it allows them to grow that muscle, but this stimulus also leads to premature aging because cells die more quickly and can promote bad cell formation (cancer). There are currently no long-term scientific studies that I am aware of to prove this, but it has been debated whether acquiring muscle this way is healthy in the longterm.
Our RDAs (recommended daily allowances) are provided by organizations supported by the very industry they are recommending
No way. WAY! Can you imagine an organization that states in its bylaws that its job is to look out for both the safety of the consumer and the safety of the productivity of the company? Well don't try too hard because that is the USDA. And I bet you can't guess who wins! Right again, not us. The same people who are recommending the amount of nutrients that we need are also looking out for the welfare of soy, dairy, meat, and other industries.
Furthermore, the FDA is required to test any new GMO (genetically modified organism) that comes out to make sure it is safe. When alfalfa came out, the FDA decided not to do any tests and just use it. The Committee of Concerned Scientists raised concerns (hehe) that testing had to be done on this new GMO. It went all the way to the Supreme Court who decided that the FDA could do whatever it wanted. The head of the FDA pushing this new GMO used to work for Monsanto.
Meat is related to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and life expectancy
Cold-cuts, bacon, and red meat are associated with all of these diseases. Certain animal products have shown strong relations with certain types of cancers:
- Chicken: lymphoma and leukemia
- Meat (red): colon cancer and reproductive cancers
- Dairy, eggs, meat: prostate cancer
Disclaimer: Neither myself or the researchers are saying that anyone who has cancer got it as a direct result of eating animal products. But what this research is saying is to take a step back and let’s look at some facts.
- We are the sickest nation in the world
- We spend the most on health care
- We seem to care the most about dieting
- We are all told that we need lots of protein to thrive and be healthy… And yet we are not.
This is truly just skimming the surface of all of the information that is just beginning to surface regarding the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle and the negative impacts on our nation’s health (physically, economically, environmentally, yeah, there’s more).
I am not asking that you toss meat or dairy out of your diet completely , but that you keep an open mind to new information like this, be a discerning consumer, and maybe shift the focus of your meals that you feed to yourself and your family from focusing on the meat portion and instead focus on the veggies.
“We live in a food system that doesn't care about health and a health system that doesn't care about food.” For more of Garth's work, read Proteinaholic with me. I am loving it so far and highlighting left and right. He goes into much more detail on all of this stuff and more.
If this post got you thinking, made you want to learn more, or totally put you off let me know. Always love getting feedback.