Food For Thought

Close up of a woman's hands holding a salad

“I Used to Be Vegan, But...”

Coach Caroline, 03/29/2016

I’ve heard it, or something similar, far too many times over the years—in the gym between sets, at the coffee shop while on a first date, over the phone as I rsvp’d an old friend’s wedding invitation (filet mignon or roast chicken?)—he, a middle-aged man whose energy had begun to flag after years of vejunktarianism.  

Of late, I’ve seen it on youtube confessionals as v-bloggers attempt to redeem themselves by convincing the e-world that they have to go back to eating meat for their health.

Really, they do!

But while those words plague me and land heavy on my ear, they also define my purpose in life—to convince vegans to go nutritarian.

To be perfectly honest, though, my real purpose lies in alleviating animal suffering. You see, I’m vegan primarily for the animals. I’m an animal rights advocate through and through and wouldn’t eat animals or their byproducts even if they were deemed health-promoting.  

During my early years transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism, health was not a concern. In fact, my main interest was finding a melty, non-rubbery vegan cheese substitute—a nonexistent entity two and a half decades ago. The oil and salt from which said food items are derived was of no consequence—just let me have my cruelty-free cheddar!

But as the years began piling on and sugar addiction threatened to do me in, I became more concerned about the health effects of all the processed vegan food I was eating. Despite natural foods purveyors’ claims to the contrary, I knew the organic pure cane sugar, agave, the Tofutti cream cheese, and the fakin’ bakin that formed the base of my food pyramid were antithetical to the increasing body of nutritional research.

But I didn’t know what else to eat—and I was addicted to refined sugar, salt, and fat.

Luckily, I found Joel Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live, in which he delineates the science behind a nutrient-dense diet (supported by page after page of research citations). My transition to nutritarianism was not smooth, but eventually I arrived and have made it my business ever since to convince other vegans to do the same.

Being Vegan is Not Enough

There is a common belief in the vegan and vegetarian community that the elimination of animal products from one’s diet is all that is necessary to optimize health. I hear it from my clients (who are very educated in high-nutrient eating and should know better) all the time as they attempt to explain away some gustatory indiscretion.

“At least it was vegan,” they insist.

Then I ask, “Which is healthier? A double spinach salad with a few crumbles of feta and dressing on the side or a plateful of vegan nachos made with fried tortillas and a salty, oily, yeasty cheez sauce?”

“Well, that’s true,” they sheepishly admit.

The unfortunate truth is that vegan menu offerings and vegan restaurants are often not the best choice if your goal is to maximize your health potential. And, returning to my original argument, if you love animals, maintaining your health at the highest possible standard is in their best interest.

You may have noticed that when you tell someone you’re vegan, a solicitous countenance overcomes them as they inquire about your protein, calcium, and B12 needs. Never mind that most people they know will eventually die of ailments strongly linked to their penchant for animal foods.

Because our society is addicted to animal products and harbors a belief that veganism is an unhealthy extreme, folks will remember those occasional insalubrious vegans while visions of all the trim, young-for-their age plant eaters quickly fade from recollection. When you fall ill, your SAD (standard American diet) acquaintances will associate that sickness with your lack of meat consumption every time.

So please, for the animals, don’t be another one of those, “I used to be vegan but...,” people.

Being vegan or “plant-based” is not good enough to support long-term health. Make sure your diet is based on a variety of fruits, vegetables (especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables), beans, and seeds. Choose starchy veggies over grains. Pick unsalted beans over tofurky and other fake meat products. Use nutrient-dense seeds, nuts, and avocado as healthy fat sources instead of empty-calorie, “unrefined” oils.

Every day, aim for a pound of raw veggies, a pound of cooked low-starch veggies, three to five servings of fruit, a cup of beans, and a heaping tablespoon of ground flax seed. If you still have room after that, add in starchy veggies, nuts/seeds, and avocado.

Oh, and the next time a well-wishing meat eater asks you where you get your protein, tell ‘em, “Beans and greens. By the way, where do you get your vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, all the stuff that maximizes immune function and protects against cancer?”



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