A few months ago, after reading The China Study, my husband and I decided to change to a vegan diet. Dave and I have always eaten very healthy, consuming mostly whole foods and way more than the prescribed USDA recommendation of 2 – 4 servings of fruit and 4 – 6 servings of vegetables per day. Eating plant based foods was not the challenge. The challenge was, pure and simple, the protein.
The move to vegan was easy for Dave, as he has always been a “carbaholic.” For me, not so much. I’ve always been a lean-animal-protein-aholic. And if you were ever one who believed in the gospel of “Eat Right 4 Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution,” having blood type O+ further validated my meat cravings. Although I mostly eat veggies and fruit throughout the day, my diet most certainly included lean meat, fish, eggs and low-fat/non-fat dairy.
Our choice to go vegan, or as I prefer to say “eat a whole food plant-based diet” was purely for health reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, and always will, but that wasn’t the driver. The change to vegan was purely based on the premise that the risk for most western-based diseases (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimers, auto-immune disease, etc.) increases with the more animal protein you consume.
Dave took on veganism full-throttle, going so far as to remove trace amounts of Parmesan cheese from his whole-grain pasta dishes at a restaurant. I came to it a little more moderately: a mostly whole food plant-based diet, with some fish on weekends, and when dining out at restaurants, a bit of leniency in dairy and other animal proteins (one or two times a week).
The bulk of the changes we made included the following:
- Switching from cow’s milk to homemade almond milk for coffee, tea and cereal
- Switching from animal protein to plant-based protein (beans, legumes, soy, nuts, seeds and quinoa)
- Switching from grass-fed beef burgers to bean/veggie based burgers
- Switching from cow’s milk ice cream to coconut milk ice cream
- Switching from fishy sushi to veggie sushi
- Avoiding baked goods due to butter and eggs
- Avoiding pizza due to cheese
In general, most of these changes weren’t too difficult. After all, we were starting from a decent base of a love of vegetables and fruit. Yet, the pizza cravings and the meat cravings, among others, never quite subsided.
One weekend while in NYC, Dave confided, “I might have to have NY Pizza. I might have to cheat for that.” Secretly, I was ecstatic to hear that. I too, had been craving pizza, among other foods. Yet, we remained strong and escaped the weekend without the indulgence.
The next weekend, we were in Newburyport, Massachusetts for a lovely afternoon and stopped at Oregano – a restaurant whose owner is Lebanese, and his wife, Italian. Lebanese food is often a good choice for vegans, as many dishes are made with whole grains, olive oil and vegetables. Oregano’s menu, however, also included pizza, which the owner promoted as “better than we’d ever find in New York.” Once again, Dave mentioned he might “cheat.” That was until he spotted the “Vegan Pizza” on the menu (who really offers Vegan pizza, anyway?). Much to my chagrin, Vegan Pizza was what we ate. If you can believe it, the vegan pizza did NOT satisfy Dave (nor me). And so, we were back to square one with a craving that wasn’t satisfied.
Finally, last week Dave and I came to a decision: “Everything in moderation, even for those things that require you be extreme.” Not eating animal protein, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in strength and energy levels. Although Dave has seen some all-around wonderful benefits of eating healthier, he admits that something “is missing.” So, we agreed to be more moderate in approach, incorporating more fish into our diet, and maybe an occasional egg or grass-fed cut of beef. Maybe this is “Vague-an,” but it suits us better. The 80% / 20% rule always applies, and we are better for it.
I’ve always believed that when it comes to nutrition, we each come with a unique set of needs. Today, more than ever, integrative medical practitioners (doctors and dieticians) are proving this with their ability to test what an individual’s body needs nutrition wise. What you might need, might not be what I need, and vice verse.
Will I indulge every week in beef? Probably not. Will I indulge in a grass-fed cut of beef every few months or so, possibly. Will I go back to consuming dairy on a daily basis? No (dairy can cause a whole host of problems). Will I have a little cheese on my once in a blue moon pizza? Most definitely.
Have you tried vegan or a whole-food plant based diet? How did you feel? What were your favorite foods you had to give up?