I have written this post a million times in my head, but this topic is huge and hugely important to me so I’ve chickened out of writing it for a couple of years.
Nearly three years ago, my husband and I became vegetarian. We initially made the change primarily for religious reasons, but also with an idea that it would improve our health. Since then, we’ve done much more reading on nutrition and made many more changes in our diets.
I really feel like we’ve stumbled on something that improved our quality of life by such a large degree, I want to shout it from the rooftops.
– We feel fantastic. We sleep better, have higher energy during the day, no post-meal stupors, fewer cravings for unhealthy food, we’re sick less often, and enjoy *ahem* excellent digestive health.
– It’s really freeing to know that if you eat the right things, there’s no need to count calories, go hungry, or agonize over food choices in order to maintain a healthy, attractive weight.
– Our food costs have increased by very little, and we see the extra cost as an investment in our health.
– Our diet will:
- Nearly eliminate our risk for heart disease
- Lower our cholesterol without medication
- Completely eliminate our risk for obesity
- Completely eliminate our risk for Type II Diabetes
- Drastically reduce our risk of developing cancer
- Protect our child and future children from developing the above diseases
That blows my mind. But, the science is there and that science is at complete odds with the heavy marketing and lobbying from the dairy and meat industries.
So many Americans are suffering from preventable and reversible diseases. Scott and I are convinced that you really are what you eat and that our bodies are designed to function much better and for much longer if given the right fuel.
It breaks my heart to see so many children growing up overweight and getting high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and type II diabetes before they even learn algebra. Millions and millions of people are on medications made necessary by poor food choices (and lack of correct scientific information and understanding). People who bend over backwards for their kids in every other aspect of raising them often set a terrible example when it comes to what they put in their own bodies.
What We Eat
Cutting to the chase, the following foods compose upwards of 90% of our diet:
– Beans / lentils
– Whole grains
– Nuts & seeds
In picture form:
(image source: celestialhealing.net, a website I’ve never actually visited)
We still eat cheese about once a week and a decadent dessert about once a month. When I bake bread I’ll use some honey to do it. We’ll put maple syrup on our waffles sometimes. But the above list really covers nearly everything we eat every day.
This may seem incredibly limiting, but we’ve found it’s the exact opposite. I eat such a greater variety now than I ever did before.
Sample Diet From 5 Years Ago:
It should be noted I did try to eat “healthily” even then, meaning whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meat, no fast food, few sweets, etc.
Breakfast: Special K with skim milk
Snack: strawberry yogurt
Lunch: banana, PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread
Snack: pretzels and 2 chocolate chip cookies
Dinner: lasagna, garlic bread, apple crisp for dessert
Let’s look at the actual ingredients in that day. I’ve bolded each one the first time I encounter it except for the incomprehensible additives at the end of ingredient lists:
SPECIAL K: rice (refined grain), wheat gluten (Uck, really that much? I guess I’d call that wheat flour?), deffatted wheat germ (um…wheat flour again), salt (twice as many mg salt as there are calories, not a good sign!), high fructose corn syrup (yum, this is corn), dried whey, malt flavoring, calcium caseinate
SKIM MILK: milk
STRAWBERRY YOGURT: milk, sugar, nonfat milk, modified corn starch (also corn, which we’ve already had), inulin (I’m not going to call this a food, though there is more of this than strawberry. Ew), strawberry puree, kosher gelatin, tricalcium phosphate
WHOLE WHEAT BREAD: whole wheat flour, sugar, oats (um, less than sugar but I guess they count), yeast, wheat gluten, salt, soybean oil, vegetable oil phytosterols, milk, grain vinegar, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium propionate (preservative), monoglycerides, ascorbic acid (dough conditioner), soy lecithin
PEANUT BUTTER: roasted peanuts, sugar, molasses (sugar again), fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides, salt
JAM: strawberries, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar (does anyone else suspect they split sugar into three to prevent it from taking over strawberries for the top spot?)
PRETZELS: white flour, corn syrup, salt, yeast, malt extract, sodium bicarbonate, ammonium bicarbonate, and artificial flavor
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES: white flour, sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter (this is chocolate again, but the worst part), dextrose (sugar again), soy lecithin, sugar, soybean oil, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, ammonium phosphate, salt, whey, natural and artificial flavors, carmel color
LASAGNA NOODLES: white flour, salt
RED PASTA SAUCE: tomato puree, diced tomatoes, onions, salt, basil, garlic, olive oil, dehydrated garlic, spice
PARMESAN CHEESE: milk
LEAN GROUND BEEF: Beef (did you know that in 93% lean ground beef, 42% of calories still come from fat?)
MOZZARELLA CHEESE: milk
GARLIC BREAD: white flour, butter (milk), yeast, granulated sugar, canola oil and/or soybean oil, nonfat dry milk, garlic, aged parmesan cheese (milk), salt, vinegar, soy flour, spices, wheat gluten, corn syrup solids, sodium alginate
APPLE CRISP: apple, white flour, oats, butter, sugar, cinnamon
I didn’t include serving sizes above, but it’s clear my calories come from the following:
Milk, white flour, sugar, corn, white rice, and oil. The “variety” consists of whole wheat flour for one meal, strawberries in yogurt and jam (hehe), 1 banana, apple in my apple crisp, tomatoes, onions and garlic in my pasta sauce. That’s it! How are you supposed to fuel a vibrant, fit life and beat cancer and clean out your arteries with that kind of food going in your body?
Sample Diet Today
Don’t laugh. We really eat this way, especially in the summer when the farmer’s markets are in full swing.
BREAKFAST: homemade museli with cut up fruit, unsweetened soymilk, and all the fixings
LUNCH: homemade burritos, grapes
SNACK: carrots and broccoli dunked in hummus and fresh tomatoes from our garden
DINNER: ratatouille over brown rice, kale salad, melon for dessert
Again, here are the ingredients with the first mention being in bold:
MUESLI: rolled red wheat, rolled white wheat, rolled oats, rolled barley, rolled rye, rolled sunflower seeds
FRUIT: peaches, nectarines, blueberries, raspberries
FIXINGS: ground flaxseed, walnuts
UNSWEETENED SOYMILK: soy beans
WHOLE WHEAT TORTILLAS: whole wheat flour, salt
REFRIED BEANS (homemade): pinto beans, bell peppers, onions, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, oregano
GUACAMOLE: avocados, vinegar, jalapeno peppers, garlic, onion, salt.
VEGGIES: broccoli, carrots, tomatoes
HUMMUS: chickpeas, canola oil, sesame tahini, salt, citric acid, spices, natural flavor
RATATOUILLE: eggplant, zucchini, crookneck squash, red bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, garlic, salt
BROWN RICE: brown rice
KALE SALAD: kale, dried cranberries, pine nuts, white balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt
I think it’s obvious that the foods listed here are simpler, but offer a much greater variety. This day consisted of 6 different whole grains, 6 different fruits, 3 different beans, 2 different nuts, 3 different seeds, 11 different vegetables, and much less added oil, sugar, and salt.
I want to be clear that I didn’t try to force variety into this day, but rather that because all the processed, refined foods are off the agenda, it opens a lot more space in your budget and on your plate for a variety of colorful plant foods.
More to come
This post kicks off a series of posts on nutrition, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about our diet. Just leave ’em in the comments.
Some things I plan on addressing:
– What we do about dairy. Why we almost always skip it, what we use instead, and how our two year old daughter thrives without milk.
– Why we wear leather shoes. Or put another way, are we *that* kind of vegan?
– How we shop. How much we spend.