Nearly every bit of health advice out there has to do with focusing on the macronutrients known as protein, fat and carbs. Avoid carbs! No fat! More protein! Some go so far as to give you ratios…40/30/30 and even 80/10/10. But here’s why vegans shouldn’t care about protein, fat or carbs.
Eating real food is the most important thing you can do if you’re concerned about your health.
In general, any nutrient-based advice becomes another distraction from the really really important project of focusing on food.
Though he’s not a vegan, Michael Pollan does offer up some sage advice for anyone concerned about their health. How refreshing it would be to drop the focus on nutrients or even calories and just focus on eating real food? Could it be that simple?
The fact is,eating fresh, whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables means you don’t have to focus on any nutrient-based advice. No need to measure macros, calorie count, supplement with protein or live in abject fear of taking in too many carbs. As long as you’re taking in an adequate amount of calories, you’re taking in enough nutrients. Mother nature has a wonderful way of making sure of it.
But what about protein? Of course, always the protein question. Our obsession with protein is the result of relentless marketing on the part of the meat and dairy industries, not a nutrient that you will ever have a hard time getting. Fruits and vegetables have protein, in numbers that guarantee you’ll get enough without even thinking about it or measuring it. Supplements? Nope, you don’t need them either on a whole foods, unprocessed diet. Superfoods? Good news! You don’t need overpriced, overhyped and sometimes obscure foods to get all the nutrients you need. In fact, you need remarkably little variety in your diet to still end up with all you need at the end of the day.
Isn’t that too much carbs? Nope and no. Don’t fear the carbs! You need carbohydrates for energy. You should be eating mostly carbs, and you will when you eat fruit and vegetables. Can you get too many carbs? Yes, you can. If you’re eating too much and taking in excess calories, then you’re taking in too many carbs. Good luck though, as overeating on fruits and vegetables isn’t exactly easy. You’re taking in less calorically-dense food, so you’ll have to eat a much larger quantity. In order to consume excess calories of fruits and vegetables you’ll need to eat A LOT of lettuce and apples. Like you may have to quit your job just so you can eat full time.
Should I watch my fat percentage? You won’t need to. Fat in fruits and vegetables is present, but only in small amounts. Sure, you may not want to eat 4 avocados in one day, but few would be able to do that anyway. Some fruit has more fat than others (i.e. Durian, coconut and avocado), but most fruit has a small percentage of fat relative to the calories. Also, high fat fruits tend to naturally satiate you quicker than low fat fruits, so if you take your time eating or limit yourself to reasonable quantities (i.e. 1/2 an avocado per day), you won’t need to think about fats as something to avoid at all. Unlike highly processed foods like french fries and donuts, unprocessed foods will trigger your natural satiety signals. All you need to do is listen to your body.
But wait, can it really be that simple? I know what you’re thinking…if you’re used to tracking calories, nutrients, percentages of macronutrients, etc., then it will seem really strange to suddenly not need to. Whatever will you talk about? Keep in mind though, that eating and food isn’t supposed to be complicated. We’ve created the complications around foods and nutrients and what and how much of everything we need to eat. We’ve done this for different reasons but the bottom line is this – simple is best. Focusing on eating whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables is really quite simple, normal and natural. The constant preoccupation with the nutrients in food and getting “enough” of everything comes from a food culture that sees the trees and misses the forest entirely.
We know intuitively what food is best for our body and we also know how much to eat. Do you really think your body needs a Chipotle burrito the size of your arm? Or an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s? If you don’t know prior to eating it you’ll certainly know almost immediately afterwards. Your body, when it’s in a clean and efficient state from getting the right foods, will tell you everything you need to know as far as what and how much to eat.
So forget about protein, carbohydrates or fat. Forget about calories too, while you’re at it.
Instead, work on eating the least processed, natural foods in their natural state. Don’t drink apple juice, eat an apple. Choose a banana instead of a banana-flavored PowerBar. Don’t supplement with protein powder, eat natural plant protein like spinach. Enjoy an avocado on salad rather than high fat and highly processed dressings.
Transitioning to eating unprocessed food takes time and, deepening on your current diet, will certainly not be easy. You have some habits that will make change seem difficult or even impossible at times. You’ll need to just continue substituting more and more natural foods for packaged or processed items and you’ll eventually change those tastebuds of yours.