The power of making better choices when everyone around you is not.

menu ordering

The restaurant name should’ve been the first giant red flag: Grandma’s.  Actually, even better, Gramma’s.  But heck, we’re in the middle of nowhere, on our way back from a camping trip north of our home in Boise, ID.  Our vegan breakfast options are limited.  Gramma’s is the best we can do.  I hope Gramma was a vegan. This will be a true test of the power of making better choices when everyone around me is not.

Biscuits and Gravy.  Hash browns and bacon.  Do you want french toast and bacon or pancakes and bacon?  I hear the server ask a little girl diner as she takes her order.  Apparently, bacon comes with everything.  The default breakfast meat.

I ponder the menu, and as I assumed, the vegan landscape is dry and barren.  Tumbleweeds roll past.  I peruse the menu repeatedly, the restaurant equivalent of standing at the open refrigerator door, hoping something new materializes.

The restaurant patrons around me are a slice of Americana.  Mostly overweight, some severely so and others too young to be yet but the genetic lottery  doesn’t look promising.  Multiple generations are represented, each with a fork full of gravy and one foot teetering on the edge of an early grave by way of heart disease, high blood pressure or cancer.  You pick.

As our name is called I get ready to follow the server and notice something in the corner of the restaurant, hidden by a small queue of people waiting patiently to wolf down a short stack of pancakes.  With bacon, of course.

It’s a salad bar!  Okay, calm down.  It’s certainly not a Whole Foods Salad Bar.  I’ll  find no dolmades or organic arugula.  But, since it’s only 11:15, it’s just been set up and everything is fresh and clean.  Ranch dressing hasn’t sullied the pickled beets yet.  Shredded cheddar cheese isn’t strewn across and into every container yet.

Sure, I can’t eat most of what is on there, (I’m talking to you, macaroni salad and cottage cheese), but I’m so excited to see there are still a few items that a raw vegan eats.  Plus, it’s unlimited salad bar trips!  Sorry,  Gramma’s, you might lose money on your salad bar today.

I’m over filling my ubiquitous salad plate.  It’s the glass one, kind of in the shape of a flower that is as 70’s as shag carpet and avocado appliances.  Then I notice everyone in line is watching me as if I escaped from an exotic animal zoo. They seem amused and curious.  I fill up my plate with mounds of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and sunflower seeds under their watchful eye.

I realize that these people probably think it’s a bit strange to see someone eating salad at a time that for most of them, is time to eat greasy fried eggs, bacon and hash browns covered in gravy.  All that food and she’s eating lettuce?  Who eats salad as a meal?  Who eats that much?

I sit enjoying my mound of salad amidst a restaurant full of overweight people inhaling high fat, high calorie foods that will likely make them feel terrible as soon as they take their last bite, and I realize something else.

Making the best choices, even when everyone else in the room is doing the opposite, satisfies me almost as much as the food.   Sure, as I contemplated the menu, I considered going down the same rabbit hole.  I could have ordered what, for me, was unhealthy.  Although I’m always vegan, there were plenty of junk food choices on that menu that passed for vegan.  I could have followed the crowd and made poor choices.

But I didn’t.  I didn’t because watching people make poor choices somehow emboldens me to make better choices.  I don’t want to follow that path.  I want to be an example for people to follow.  I want people to see me eating from the salad bar and consider ordering it themselves.

Maybe one unhealthy, overweight person standing in line will shock their entire family and order a salad bar today.  Maybe the little girl I overheard ordering will choose salad over french toast or pancakes next time.

Admittedly, it’s a long shot.  Most people that eat at Gramma’s on a regular basis may not even know they HAVE a salad bar.  Perhaps they thought it was a condiment bar for the burgers.

But what if my choice motivated one person to make a better choice? Even just a single trip down salad bar lane.  Maybe this would spark a small appreciation for the taste, texture and color of fresh vegetables.  I challenge anyone to eat what I was eating and not thoroughly enjoy it.

Now, of course, eating at the salad bar can often be just as unhealthy as eating bacon.  Load up on blue cheese or ranch dressing and you’re no better off.   But for most of these people, eating pretty much any food from the salad bar would have been a gigantic leap in the right direction compared to what I saw them order and inhale.

I made a total of 3 trips to the salad bar and absolutely loved the iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, olives, sunflower seeds and a few other items I stacked on to that plate.  Did I enjoy it as much as the kid across from me that inhaled 4 biscuits and a gallon of sausage gravy?  Believe it or not, I think so.  I may have enjoyed it more.

Of course I enjoyed if for the taste.  But when I’ve made better choices I also get a lot of satisfaction out of doing just that…making better choices.  So not only do I enjoy the healthy food I’ve selected, but I also enjoy it so much more knowing I’ve chosen well and properly nourished my body.

Here’s the key…

Making better choices when everyone else is not becomes easier every single time I do it.  As they say, it’s just like building muscle.  The more times I make better choices the stronger that decision muscle becomes.  Every good decision I make and the happiness I feel after eating a healthy meal remains in my memory to be called up on next time I sit down at a restaurant and examine the menu.

People ask me all the time how I do it.  How do I stick to a healthy diet?  How do I have the discipline to make better choices?  It starts with one choice and the next choice and the next one.  You just keep accumulating better choice after better choice.

An example

In 2011 I hired a triathlon coach to help me complete the Arizona Ironman.  I needed a training plan.  I needed heart rate zones.  I needed detailed daily workouts to keep me on track.

The most valuable bit of information he bestowed upon me had nothing whatsoever to do with training plans.  Or heart rate zones.  Or daily workout details.

The week prior to the race, he held an informational meeting for all the athletes competing in the Ironman.  He said something during that meeting that stuck with me all during the race and that I still think about often, even 5 years later.

During the run, you’ll see a lot of people stop running and start walking.  A lot.  You’ll want to stop running and start walking.  It looks good to start walking.  Your legs hurt.  Your knees ache.  Your feet are sore.  Walking would be so easy.  You can’t give in.  Don’t do it.  Keep running.

I managed to keep running during the Ironman.  I did indeed see a lot of people stop running and start walking on the marathon route.  It did look good.  I wanted to stop more than I wanted to finish.  My legs hurt.  My knees ached.  My feet were unbelievably sore.  But I didn’t stop to walk.  I kept running.

You’ll always be around people making less than optimal choices.  Whether it’s choosing to walk when they should run or order fried chicken instead of salad.  Rather than join the crowd, choose to raise the bar.  Set an example for everyone.  You’ll be glad you did.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

Nutrition is confusing. Unless it’s not.

decisions

We make decisions about what type of food to eat, where, when and in what quantity multiple times a day.  If you’re like me, you spend half your day just thinking about making food decisions.

In the modern world, our choices are nearly limitless.  From the McDonald’s drive thru six blocks from our house to the hot food bar at the Whole Foods next to work, we have the ability to obtain virtually any variety of food we desire.

Just as the plethora of options for what to put in our mouths has increased, so has the confusion over what we should be eating. When it comes to nutrition, people cling to confusion like it’s a life preserver in a vast and stormy sea of information.  Nutrition is confusing.  Unless it’s not.

Have we turned confusion into a cushy crutch? After all, confusion is comforting.  Confusion means we don’ t have to take responsibility for our choices. Heck, everyone is confused, right?  Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here eating whatever I want until everyone can just figure out what the heck is going on. Gosh, being confused kind of tastes good!

Just tell me what to eat.

In reality, nothing much has changed or ever will change about what we should be eating.  We should be eating plants.  Lots of plants.  Not processed food.  Not food-like substances.  Not heavily salted, sugared and fat-ladened food that comes from a factory.  But, you know, like food that grows on a tree.  Or in the ground.  Or on a vine.  Not food wrapped in paper and cardboard handed to you from a tiny window that you eat while sitting in rush hour traffic.

So you’re going to have to give up that life preserver.  You’re going to have to get over the fact that every time you open up your internet browser  or scroll through your Twitter feed, another news article will assault you with the latest bullshi#  headline :  Drink Butter in Your Coffee!  Eggs and Bacon are Good For You!  Carbs will Make you Fat!

What happened to common sense?

You know better.  Everyone knows better.  Eggs and bacon aren’t good for you, nor will they ever be,  no matter who says it or what “study” backs it up.  Carbs don’t make you fat (p.s. unless you eat too many and then they will).  Butter doesn’t belong in your coffee any more than it belongs in your diet.  (p.s. you should really get rid of the coffee too, while you’re at it).

If you think about it, confusion about nutrition is rather silly.  Intuitively, don’t we all know what we should be eating?  Does drinking a protein shake with 23  ingredients we can’t pronounce make more sense than eating a perfectly ripe apple?  Does a blueberry Pop-Tart created with chemical preservatives and a shelf life of 2 years make more sense than a pint of blueberries?

Eating healthy has everything to do with listening to your body and nothing to do with the latest headlines citing some shady study paid for by whoever stands to benefit from how the data is interpreted.  The latest headlines are designed to get your attention, not report actual news.  You can and should be skeptical of anything that strays a bit too far from our natural diet of fruits and vegetables.  We can’t suspend common sense.  Ever.

Trust how you feel.

How do you feel after eating a meal of heavily processed food with sugar, salt and/or fat added?  Need an antacid just reading about it? Then how do you feel after eating  watermelon?  A banana?  Some grapes?  When was the last time fruits and vegetables made you feel bad?

You see, we’re not nearly as confused as we think we are.  We’re merely waiting to hear that our favorite processed, food-like substances are good for us.  Then we can go on compromising our health and wondering why our clothes keep shrinking in the dryer and we need caffeine and a nap to get through the day.

The key to understanding nutrition and ending confusion is to remember that eating a simple, plant-based diet of whole, fresh fruits and raw vegetables is all you need to know.  No super foods, no juicing, no processing of any kind.  No powdered supplements, no trips through the drive-thru and no microwaved meals.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Work towards replacing entire meals with fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables.  Remember you might not feel amazing at first.  It will take time.  You’ll need to give your body time to adjust.  Every time you pick up fruit instead of that cracker or cookie you’re moving closer to a lifestyle of excellent health and away from confusion and resistance.  Because nutrition is confusing, right?  Unless it’s not.

EatPlantsLiveWell.

 

 

How much protein do I get eating mostly fruit?


shutterstock_93305002

Concern about getting enough protein when eating a low fat raw diet of mostly fruit is nothing new.  Just fruit?  Really?  You will not only starve to death but you’ll die sad and hungry with a severe protein deficiency.  Surely fruit cannot provide all the protein a person needs to thrive.  Or can it?

While it’s true you won’t get as much protein eating fruit as you will on a regular vegan diet that includes cooked foods like beans, tofu and nuts, it is still easy to take in a reasonable amount of protein.  In fact, I sometimes take in less than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein in a day.  Not a lot less, but definitely less.  Not always, but sometimes.

For example, today I logged my food intake into the free online food diary cronometer.  I took in 33.7 grams of protein.

To calculate the RDA for protein, you must multiply your bodyweight x .36.  For me, it would be 121 x .36 =43.56 g protein per day.

I’m around 10 g short of protein for my daily intake.  Yikes!  Now what do I do?

Okay, calm down.  Even though I am typically short of this magical number when eating high carb, low fat, mostly fruit, I tend to believe there is some room in this calculation.

Indeed, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) even says of this arbitrary protein requirement:

However, even this value has a large margin of safety, and the body’s true need may be lower for most people.

The only way to know what your true need may be is to base it on how you feel.  Do I feel protein deficient?  Though I’m not sure exactly what that would look like, I certainly haven’t experienced any negative side effects from taking in less protein.

Whether I take in 37 g or 45 g per day, my body reacts no differently.  As a vegan athlete, I have a higher activity level than most and I still don’t feel any negative effects of taking in less protein.

Keep in mind that 97% of people get too much protein.  Even vegetarians and vegans typically take in too much.  Of course, plant protein is still loads healthier than animal protein, so too much for a vegan has nowhere near the health consequences for meat eaters.

Bottom line is this: Though an all raw, mostly fruit diet could technically be defined as not meeting the RDA requirements for protein, it really comes down to how you feel.

If you’re having performance issues or feel you’re lacking in protein, you might consider increasing your calories, which will naturally increase your protein.

A diet of whole foods sufficient in calories is very unlikely to result in any issues with a lack of protein.  Of course, if you’re starving yourself, you’ll have so many other health consequences to keep you busy rather than just worrying about protein consumption.

While nutrient recommendations are good guidelines, a better indicator, indeed the best, is you.   How much protein to take in on any given day shouldn’t be some magical number that may or may not have been arrived at in the most scientific and logical way.  It should be based on each individual’s unique health situation.

Listen to the signals from your body and adjust your diet accordingly.  Eat clean and follow your intuition!

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

Why I believe eating raw vegan is the healthiest possible lifestyle.

bread

I just returned from a two week trip overseas, visiting Switzerland, Italy and France.  I pretty much ate my bodyweight in bread and pasta.  Typically, I eat a high carb, low fat vegan diet comprised primarily of fresh fruit.  I rarely have cooked foods and I never eat bread or pasta, or anything with added salt, sugar or fat.  So why did I choose to eat this way, and what does this mean for my future?

Traveling in countries where the citizens eat primarily meat, cheese and bread presented a few challenges to my typical raw food lifestyle.  I certainly could have insisted on only eating raw foods but I feared I may actually starve to death if I excluded bread and pasta.  Plus, you know what they say about when in Rome….

After 2 weeks of eating heavily processed cooked foods with more sodium and fat than I probably get in a whole year, I cried Uncle.

It happened near the last days of our trip.  Our group had a giant pasta dinner at a cozy village in Trient.  We just completed day 5 of our run/hike around Mont Blanc.  Starting and ending in Chamonix, France, we were one day away from completing our epic adventure of running 108 miles around this giant mountain in 6 days.  And we were famished.

Out came dinner, which was a giant bowl overflowing with fettucine noodles and sautéed veggies topped with a sweet smelling marinara sauce.  Since I’d already eaten a baguette the size of my forearm and still felt starved, I tucked in to this meal with a good amount of gusto. Carbs, bring me carbs!

On a side note, I did derive a little, or maybe a lot, of satisfaction that our vegan pasta dish looked so much better than the carnivores bland looking meat and sauce combo.  I even heard some of the people in the other hiking groups asking if they could get the vegan’s pasta and pointing over at us.  I love it when that happens!

Being as hungry as I was, I imagine most any vegan dish would’ve tasted delightful, but this one definitely hit the spot.  Though I did recall thinking it was pretty salty…

The next day, I peered at myself in the bathroom mirror through tiny little slits the size of a quarter slot.   My eyes were so swollen it looked as if I had ran smack dab into a hornet’s nest in the middle of the night.  I also had Vienna sausages where I used to have fingers.  I looked like a female version of  Chef Mario Batalli.  I was afraid to look at my feet but I wouldn’t have been surprised to have cankles.   All that sodium in last evening’s dinner and 2 weeks of eating processed food had inflamed my entire body to a nearly unrecognizable state.  Arrghhh!

This is why I don’t eat cooked foods. This is why I prefer fresh fruit, raw vegetables and leafy greens.  This is why I believe a diet of unprocessed raw foods is the healthiest possible diet.  This is why I continually return to eating raw foods even though I thoroughly enjoy the taste of eating cooked foods like pasta and bread.

Even though I enjoy the taste of cooked foods, it doesn’t ever make me feel good.  Sure, it feels good to be eating cooked foods, while I’m eating them.  But afterwards, I struggle with how these foods make me feel.  For that reason, I do believe that eating raw vegan is the healthiest possible lifestyle.

So what do cooked foods have in them that raw foods do not?  What are the culprits that make me feel so bad?

Sodium

Chief culprit amongst cooked and heavily processed foods is sodium content.  When I eat raw foods, I take in less than 200 mg of sodium per say.  Less than 200 mg!  The average person takes in 3400 mg of sodium a day.  It’s no surprise that eating cooked foods doesn’t make me feel good.  After all, increasing my daily sodium 1600% in a day is bound to have an effect on me.  Hence my hangover the next day with my bloated and inflamed body.

Fat

I don’t use, nor endorse the use of olive oil or any oil (coconut, avocado etc.) in the preparation of food. Of course, when eating out and ordering cooked food, I don’t really have a choice as to whether or not oil is used.  Occasionally I can request no oil, or if it is in a salad dressing, I’ll just ask for no dressing.  However, you can pretty much rest assured if it’s prepared in a restaurant, it’s prepared with oil, and plenty of it.

Oil is 100% fat and one of the most calorically dense foods you can possible choose.

Typically, we’re not aware of the amount of oil used in restaurants.  However, I had front row seats when I was in Bend, OR last year and we stopped by a burrito restaurant after a day on the slopes.  I requested a rice and bean burrito with vegetables.

Then I watched as the chef poured what looked like a gallon of olive oil into a sauté pan before adding a few handfuls of raw veggies.  I couldn’t believe he used that much oil!  Yikes!  I very politely asked if I could just have the rice and bean version of the burrito, as if I’d just become strangely allergic to veggies between the time I ordered and my burrito preparation began.  I cannot imagine how much fat would have been in my burrito if I hadn’t changed my order.

Portion size and overeating 

My pasta meal that night in Trient was undoubtedly huge and I ate every bit of it.  I even contemplated asking for another.  Sure, I had burned a fair amount of calories running nearly 20 miles that day, but overeating is a very valid concern when it comes to cooked foods.

Cooked foods have very low water content when compared to raw foods.  Indeed, cooking removes the water from food and concentrates the flavors.  Hence the reason we like it!

Because of the low water content of cooked foods, our natural satiety mechanisms don’t function properly.  In other words, our body can’t be relied upon to give us the signal that hey, we’re full.  You can stop eating now.  I mean NOW!

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables have such high water content that it’s much harder to overeat.  The Pleasure Trap is a fascinating read on the subject of how our body reacts to foods and steps you can take to improve the way you eat.

Back to raw

I couldn’t help but think, as I stood there, staring at myself in the fogged up bathroom mirror, if only you’d declined the pasta and just eaten more salad, you would so be able to see out of your eyes right now.

Though I don’t regret enjoying some of the local flavors on my vacation to Italy, France and Switzerland, it certainly re-affirmed the reasons why I chose to eat raw.  While those foods tasted good at the time, the very real and immediate consequences to my health were certainly not worth it.

So no more bread and pasta, I’m now back to eating loads of watermelon, cantaloupe and papaya.  After a few days the swelling went down and I didn’t cringe every time I saw my bloated self in the mirror.

If you’ve gotten off track in your quest to eat healthy, take the time now to get back to the vegan foods that make you feel your best.  If that’s bread and pasta, good for you! If that’s raw vegetables and fresh fruit, get yourself to your local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or farmer’s market.  Get stocked up!

EatPlantsLiveWell!