Plant-based Diet 101

I just finished reading a book by Luke Jones. You might recognize that name: I featured Luke in my vegan profile segment recently. Luke runs the site Hero Health Room, a blog about plant-based living, sustainability, mindfulness and exercise.

Plant-based Diet 101

Luke recently published a book called Plant-based Diet 101: The Ultimate Guide to Healthy, Sustainable Eating Habits. I just finished reading it, and I highly recommend it–especially if you’re new to (or considering) a plant-based diet or if you’re a vegan who isn’t eating as healthy as you think you should (after all, cola and cookies can be vegan, but they’re certainly not healthy).

The book is very digestible (pun intended) and covers health basics like what to eat, what to avoid, and whether supplements are necessary. Luke covers costs, health concerns, and even topics like how to eat in restaurants and deal with skeptical friends and family members.

Luke has a great, conversational writing style, which made reading the book feel like a trusted friend was helping me. It’s not preachy nor is it judgmental. Of course I’m a proponent of a plant-based lifestyle and I sometimes want to bash people over the head with my ideas. Luke doesn’t do that. It’s clear that he’s researched the topic well (and has loads of references and resources to support his findings), but he allows readers to make their own decisions. I like how Luke shares a plan for easing into a plant-based diet and sets readers up for success.

The main focus of the book is health and wellness but Luke also addresses the environmental and ethical angles of eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. It’s an excellent primer.

You can download the book from Luke’s site. It’s only $5, making this the most affordable investment in your health that I can think of.

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Vegan profile #2: Luke Jones

Name: Luke Jones
Age: 22
Occupation: I’m a blogger at my site Health Room, where I explore and share ideas in plant-based nutrition, moving freely, living mindfully, and existing sustainably. I write a little for Mind Body Green and Natural News too. I have also just published my first eBook about plant-based nutrition, so I guess you could say I’m an author now as well, which sounds a bit surreal to me…

Handstand Luke

How long have you been vegan?

I first tried the vegan diet a few years ago in 2012. I initially did it for 6 months, then switched to a more of a paleo type diet for a couple months, just to see how that made me feel. I definitely preferred the vegan diet for a number of reasons, so changed back to that, and I haven’t looked back since!

Why did you choose to be vegan?

I’ve had a few health problems since my late teens, and they worsened whilst at university. I would get run down a lot of the time, with mouth ulcers and stomach issues. It wasn’t too fun!

So I initially turned towards the plant-based diet to help with these health problems, after reading about it on the web and listening to Rich Roll on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. And I can definitely say that the change in diet has helped significantly.

I also noticed that it improved my athletic performance. I’ve always been really active, and love martial arts, bodyweight strength training, climbing, football, yoga… All sorts of things. I feel that this diet lets me perform better for longer, and helps me recover quicker.

And aside from the benefits to me personally, there are also those wider impacts on the planet and the other species we share our home with. It’s staggering how much energy, land and water is needed to sustain the standard western diet. Being vegan significantly reduces the impact we’re having on the planet, and I think that’s great.

Then there’s also the ethical benefits, which are becoming increasingly important to me. I’m thriving on a plant-based diet, and I can’t justify taking a life when I don’t need to. I think everyone is naturally compassionate, and no one wants to cause unnecessary suffering, but there’s such a disconnect between what goes on in the slaughter houses and what arrives on people’s plate. Most people have such strong ingrained habits that they will turn a blind eye to what’s going on. But I don’t want to be a part of that if I can help it.

Best reward:

Aside from the benefits I mentioned above, I love the fact that I can share this message with others, and help them realise their health potential. It’s always great to hear stories from readers who have taken charge of their life, maybe losing unwanted weight or curing a lifelong illness. It’s amazing the power of a few changes in diet and lifestyle.

And it’s not people just online I get to interact with. I love that I get the chance to share this experience with those closest to me – my friends, family and my beautiful girlfriend (who is also vegan). Making meals with her and sharing similar views is so awesome, I’m very lucky.

Biggest challenge:

I actually didn’t really struggle with the change to a vegan diet. I had been interested in nutrition for a few years prior, so had already cut out dairy, reduced the amount of processed foods, and upped my fruit and veggie intake. So the transition was pretty smooth. I also knew that it would benefit my health massively, and the thought of that was much stronger than any cravings for chicken.

The only challenge now I think is seeing so many people who are basically poisoning themselves and their children with unhealthy foods, often because no one has told them otherwise. It’s quite difficult to watch that happen all around you, every day. But I do still feel optimistic for the future!

Favourite vegan food:

You can’t beat some ripe bananas and juicy medjool dates. In terms of cooked meals though, it’s a tie between homemade Mexican burritos and homemade Indian food. I’m getting hungry now…

Are you involved in animal rights, vegan outreach, or other types of activism or education?

I’m not involved in any activism as such, but I try my best to share the positive message and educate others via my site, Health Room.

I try my best to present the information in an accessible way and avoid preaching. I wanna help people, but I think there’s a fine line between educating and forcing our views on others. Sometimes it can be hard to find that balance.

I don’t ever want to tell people what they have to do. So I try to share what has worked for me, and then let the readers make their own decisions. Take what resonates with them and throw away the rest.

Advice for new vegans:

Firstly, thanks for making the decision to try a vegan diet! It could be the best thing you ever do for your health, and for the planet.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to make the transition slowly. Go at your own pace, maybe cut out dairy first, then cut out meat when you feel comfortable. Do what you need to do to make your changes sustainable.

Finally, try your best to eat mainly whole foods. Fruits, veggies, legumes, whole-grains, nuts and seeds. Being vegan is great, but being a healthy vegan is even better. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of people out there willing to give a hand, me included 🙂

Parting words:

Eat more plants. Move your body. Laugh, smile and help others. Go after your dreams. Don’t leave a trace. And create more than you consume.

Thanks Jean for the opportunity, and keep up the great work!

~

Thank you, Luke! Your profile is inspiring!

Interested in having your profile featured? Check out the profile intro page and contact me!

The cult of protein

In the early 19th century in America, women couldn’t vote, slavery was legal, and blood-letting was a legitimate medical procedure. Around that time, scientists decided protein was the most important nutrient. We changed our thinking about the first three issues, but protein myths are still being perpetuated–and the meat, egg, and dairy industries want to keep the myths alive.holy protein batman

If you read nothing else:

  • Protein is essential.
  • We get all we need from plants.
  • In developed nations, it’s hard to get too little protein.
  • Too much protein is bad for our health.

History

Protein comes from a Greek term meaning of prime importance–talk about high regard! It was first described by Dutch scientist Gerardus Johannes Mulder in the early 19th century. His German contemporary, Justus von Liebig, called it “the stuff of life itself.”

Carl Voit, a 19th century German physicist, was enthusiastic about protein too. Even after discovering that 52g per day is all an adult man needs, he recommended 120g a day. Protein was regarded as the king of nutrients.

Not everyone was on board, though. in the early 20th century, Russell Henry Chittenden, an American biochemist and professor at Yale, disagreed with the idea that more was better. He tested his theory on himself by cutting his protein intake to 40g a day. He lost weight and felt better!

Chittenden then tested his ideas on his colleagues and school athletes and everyone in the study thrived. He upped the ante and gave ROTC recruits and world-class athletes low protein diets and tested their athletic performance. They all improved!

His colleagues chastised him in spite of his findings and the cult of protein continued.

What is protein?

Protein is a polypeptide (a long chain–or polymer–of about 15 to 20 amino acids). Of those amino acids, 8 or 9 are essential for consumption, meaning our bodies can’t make them. We have hundreds of thousands of different proteins in our bodies, many of which are enzymes. Proteins become enzymes (the catalyst for chemical reactions), hormones, and part of the structure of cells.

That makes protein an essential nutrient. We do need it. Our bodies constantly use new protein molecules, and get rid of old ones.

Myths

Want to be strong as an ox? Eat one! That was the thinking. And that’s why animal-sourced foods were (and still are) seen as higher-quality sources of protein.

Plant protein is referred to as “incomplete” because it doesn’t match our human amino acid profile. However, plant protein isn’t incomplete when it comes to fulfilling our dietary needs.

An early myth encouraged protein mixing. The thinking was that in order to compensate for an inadequate vegetarian diet, people needed to eat the proper combination of foods.

Frances Moore Lappé wrote about it in Diet for a Small Planet. However, she’s since changed her stance: “In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein…was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought.”

The American Dietetic Association agrees: “Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of the essential and nonessential amino acids. Conscious combining of these foods within a given meal…is unnecessary.”

Reality

Plants have protein too! Without protein, they wouldn’t grow. Protein from a whole food, plant-based diet is all we need, both in amount and kinds of nutrients. In fact, animal-based foods displaces complex carbs and antioxidants while adding unnecessary protein and fat of the wrong kind.

Yes, we need protein! And we should get protein from the places that big, strong, fast animals get them from: plants.

When protein has ratios of amino acids similar to ours, we synthesize it effectively. Animal protein is more likely to have these ratios  because we are similar to animals. While that might be efficient, it’s not necessarily ideal. Farmers want animals to grow big quickly so they can slaughter them sooner. But this fast rate of gain isn’t good for humans. We shouldn’t grow as fast as a farmed animal!

Risks

Higher protein efficiency means faster growth rates, but it also means faster cancer growth rates and earlier menarch (which is linked to increased rates of breast cancer).

Animal protein creates an acidic environment in our blood (metabolic acidosis). Our bodies pull calcium from our bones to neutralize our blood, which can lead to osteoporosis. Then, excess protein is excreted in our waste, and that taxes the kidneys.

Animal protein elevates blood cholesterol levels, promotes heart disease, can initiate type 1 diabetes, is associated with Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, kidney stones, an increase in the production of growth hormones and rate at which cells divide.

Plant protein has the opposite effect.

How much do I need?

A whole food, plant-based diet with variety will naturally contain enough protein. We don’t need to worry about not getting enough and we don’t need to be concerned just with protein; we need a balanced diet.

If you want numbers, no more that 8-10% of our calories need to be protein–even less as we age. The estimated average requirement (EAR) states that 0.5-0.6g of protein/kg of body weight is needed to replace what our bodies get rid of (4-5%). The recommended daily allowance (RDA) recommends 10% daily protein consumption, right in line with what a whole foods, plant-based diet provides! Broken down, that’s 0.8g/kg or about 48g/day for an average 60kg/132lb woman or 56g/day for an average 70kg/154lb man.

Now, if anyone asks you where you get your protein, you can confidently say, “from plants!”

vegan sources of protein

References

Much of this information comes from notes I took during the Plant-Based Nutrition program I completed this past summer. I have to thank Dr. T. Colin Campbell for his stellar lectures and Dr. John McDougall for his guest lecture. I am not a medical professional, but I care about my health and I take care to research carefully. I hope to spread the word and help people take control of their health. Where applicable, I’ve linked to sources.

Why Paleo diets belong in the Stone Age

The Paleolithic, or Caveman, diet has gotten a lot of press lately. It sounds similar to the Atkins diet of a few years ago (remember that?) with a few more fruits and veggies added in. Many proponents claim eating like early man is how we’re designed: Lots of lean meats (especially wild game) and no grains is what the doctor ordered. Or is it?

First the positives: The Paleo diet encourages people to avoid dairy and processed foods. Sounds healthy enough. But with about half its calories coming from animal protein, it’s not a wise option.

Making assumptions

Paleo assumes early humans were mostly hunter, partly gatherer. Women (the gatherers) get little credit and macho hunting men become responsible for catapulting cavemen into civilization. Hunting without modern weapons is difficult and gathering was likely a big part of their diet.cavemen

If early humans were opportunistic hunter-gatherers, doing what they could to survive, they’d surely eat all parts of the animal. No one I know salivates over boar’s eyeballs or deer hearts (but maybe I just don’t know the right people).

The diet also assumes that eating this way was the best choice; it might have been the only choice. And was it healthy? They probably wouldn’t didn’t live long enough to develop heart disease anyway. Back then, life was brutal–and short.

Ignoring what we know

Research about our ancestors is revealing that they were mostly plant-eater, with a bit of opportunistic meat-eating (including cannibalism) thrown in. Leaves, fruit, wood and bark likely made up the biggest portion of their diets.

We also know that diets high in animal protein are unhealthy. And when we cut out carbs, we tend to add in fat. On the contrary, a whole-foods, plant-based diet can give us the most nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, while avoiding cholesterol and saturated fat.

Using diet as an excuse

CavemanAdopting a Paleo diet is a great way to say “I need bacon” and “this burger is the best thing for my body.” It gives people the green light to continue bad habits. I know a few people who eat Paleo, and none of them remember that coffee and alcohol is off-limits too. When it’s convenient, Paleo suits them fine, but the rules get broken.

Funny how people embrace the Paleo diet but also accept modern medicine, technology, and other luxuries. To be Paleo, shouldn’t we eschew antibiotics, anesthetics, dentistry, cars, computers, and central heating? Why is only the food of early humans valued, and not the rest of their simple lifestyles?

Flipping off the environment

I like that the Paleo diet steers people away from factory-farmed meats, but free-range, grass-fed meat is a luxury afforded to the affluent. Plus, we’d need an whole other planet for livestock if we wanted to raise all farmed animals in grassy plains.

Regardless of where animals are sourced, raising them requires vast amounts of water and fossil fuels. Not to mention the enormous piles of feces they produce. The meat industry is a bigger polluter than all transportation combined. Paleo, by encouraging people to increase their meat consumption, is contributing to the destruction of our planet.

Alternatives

From The China Study to PCRM, evidence points to whole-food, plant-based diets as superior to diets that include animal products. Animal-free diets are better for us (reducing risks of heart disease, stroke type 2 diabetes, many cancers, as well as obesity), they’re better for the environment, and they’re much better for animals.

Maybe it’s time to evolve.

Resources