I have tried many different so-called diets over the years. I am a biohacker at heart and am continually experimenting with my body in search of what feels the healthiest, as in less weight and more energy. I am in the healthcare field and have been trained that the food pyramid is what we should be structuring our diets around. I always felt as though eating like our ancestors is what made the most sense, so I was attracted to the Paleo diet. Considering the Blue Zones, which are where there are a higher percentage of people who live to be 100+ years old, and what they have in common, the very similar Mediterranean diet was also something I took into consideration. What these diets have in common is that the majority of their diet is vegetables, they have cut out processed foods and sugar, and they seldom eat meat. I have dabbled in elimination diets and always seemed to find that I felt my best when I had whittled out all these same foods, consuming only the plant based, whole foods.
WHAT DID OUR ANCESTORS ACTUALLY EAT?
We have these visions of our hunter gatherer predecessors carrying spears and taking down wooly mammoths. This has been shown to not be the case. It was rare for these hunters to successfully catch their prey with their rudimentary tools. Their diet actually consisted mostly of plants, nuts, and seeds. In gathering this information, I now had to rid my societal beliefs that we needed to eat animal products to stay healthy. As Eric Edmeades, the developer of the Wild Fit Diet, states, Cows’ milk is created for baby cows with the purpose of allowing that baby to gain 1000 lbs. in a few months’ time. That doesn’t sound like anything we humans have any business consuming! There was always a little part of me that struggled with the ethics of eating animals, especially with the mass-producing farms of today, and now that I have learned that we don’t need to eat animals for our health and in fact have much better health eliminating this practice, I have found a sense of peace.
BUT WHERE WILL YOU GET YOUR PROTEIN?
Americans are obsessed with protein; everywhere you turn you see protein bars, protein shakes, and protein powders. Protein is needed for the building and repair of all our tissues. Protein is important for your immune system and is a source of energy. The National Institute of Health suggests that you consume .36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. This means a 150 lb person needs 54 grams of protein per day. Most American adults eat 100 grams of protein per day. When you consume more protein than your body needs, it isn’t stored as protein, instead it is converted to fat or eliminated through your kidneys which contributes to osteoporosis and kidney stones. The International Scholarly Research Network published a meta-analysis of 31 studies and concluded that over consumption of protein was associated with higher rates of cancer, osteoporosis, renal disease, disorders of liver function, and coronary artery disease.
It is a myth that protein from animal sources is better than from plant-based sources, although the meat and dairy industries like to market that they are superior. In 2018 a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology stated that there was an increased risk of cardiovascular death with higher consumption of meat protein, but this risk fell steadily with increased consumption of plant-based proteins.
Protein deficiency is extremely rare. If you are eating enough calories and are eating a diet with a variety of whole foods, it is almost impossible to eat too little protein. The great thing about having an abundance of plants in your diet is that protein is found in many plant foods, especially seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. When you combine these, you will never need to ask,
“am I getting enough protein?”
HOW WILL I EVER FEEL SATISFIED?
I have talked to many of my patients and the men, especially, have the concern that they will never feel like they have eaten enough if they don’t eat meat. My husband, Doug, was no exception to this. Luckily Doug is always up for a good “experiment” (he is such a good sport). I said to him, “let’s try an experiment and see how eating plant-based for three months makes us feel”. Putting an end on it for him made it seem reasonable and doable, but he did have his concerns. One of the beautiful things about eating plant-based, whole foods is that you don’t need to count calories. You can literally eat as much as you want. And because of the high fiber content, that is not as much as you would think. And that is another important benefit to eating this way. According to UCSF Health, a high fiber diet reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation, and colon cancer. The American Heart Association Eating Plan recommends a dietary fiber intake of 25-30 grams a day from food (not supplements) Currently the average American consumes about 15 grams per day. Guess what, people- THERE IS NO FIBER IN MEAT, DAIRY, or EGGS! Both Doug and I leave the table feeling fully satiated all while losing weight after gaining a few pounds back from my last deprivation diet. We also both had our annual physicals after just 2 months of eating this way and my cholesterol dropped 30 points and Doug’s dropped even more! Our three-month experiment has now become our way of life for the last 6 months and we have never felt better.
HOW WILL I EVER FIND THE TIME TO MEAL PREP AND COOK THIS CRAZY STUFF?
Having done other diets that call for specific foods and weighing and measuring and calorie counting, eating has never been easier! You can meal plan before heading to the grocery store, which is something I have always done, but if you don’t have time, don’t sweat it. When at the store just buy an assortment of your favorite fruits and vegetables and cooking delicious meals is a breeze. You can definitely get more elaborate; we have learned to make delicious plant-based sauces to top our meals. We also use a variety of herbs and spices to add flavor. One of our favorite meals is simply sauteing corn, tomatoes, spinach and black beans and placing it on top of a sweet potato- very yummy and much faster than cooking a meal containing meat.
What makes me happy is knowing that I will never have to be on another “diet” again! I am sure the biohacker in me will tweak and change things up here and there, but I am looking forward to continuing this life with lots of energy, no aches and pains, and if I can help it (which is my goal) with no medications. Thinking of making these changes may stress some people out. I would encourage anyone to try a “3-month experiment” and see how you feel. If that seems too overwhelming, then using a health coach would be a great way to start!