A Nutrition Story
A few days ago, I posted on Instagram that I was very content with my current health diet - paleo. I'm known for always researching food and discovering the most nutrient dense and healthy diet I can find. Which is a bit of a headache for my mother when then holidays come around, and she has no idea what I can and cannot eat. Or the family reunions where people gloat over their best-uber-fattening recipe, and I'm solely hovering over the vegetable tray. Or overnight family reunions? Yes, I did pack my own small cooler of food and made all my meals separately.
Well, after I posted the above picture - along with an announcement I am going to attempt to run as an Ultra in a Ragnar, which means about 33 miles in 36 hours with no sleep - I then received an email from a buddy I danced with in college:
Chantel, saw your insta. Curious why you feel healthier on paleo than vegan. Love to hear your input. Been on and off vegan since the summer. Haven't tried paleo. Miss ya.
So I promised a reply by the end of the weekend, sending it off just before 10 pm. I'm also known for keeping my word ;) I'm posting my response here for any other curious health fans. Though, like all my other "Essays," I leave it open to continual modifications, edits, and updates, so check back if this interests you!
Also, despite my beliefs about nutrition, I believe even more that every body and every human is different so foods affect people differently. This is simply a piece of my health journey, and yours will catered to your own body. I am also known for converting talk into action. I'm not much a fan of puffy people - those that stick out their chests and declare a lot without actually doing anything. So if you want to become healthier, cut the talk and just DO it, even if you have to bounce all over the board like I did. :)
Here we go:
I hope you had an awesome weekend! Here are some of my ideas about food diets. (After I typed this all out, I realized how long it was, and I hope it's more helpful than overwhelming! Also, don't feel obligated to reply. This is simply for your nutritional benefit! )
So the basis for all my food experimentation is health-based, not principle-based. I’m not really a save-the-animals person, as are a lot of vegans.
So let's start there - veganism.
My inspiration to go vegan (or complexly called - "Plant-Based/Whole Foods") happened about a year ago when I started dappling in books like the China Study, and documentaries like Forks Over Knives, which all hold a basis that the vast majority of our meat is chemically altered and pumped with hormones. And because of these chemicals and hormones in conventional meat and other animal by-products, the estrogenic hormones and dioxin and chlorine chemicals can throw our bodies out of whack and cause a lot of serious health problems over time. So I started talking to people who had gone vegan and heard story after story of people being relieved of anxiety, or mood swings, or even respiratory problems. By eliminating these toxins, their bodies were able to go back in balance and their physical and emotional well-being improved. Which all seemed so fascinating, so I thought why not try it!
So I researched some more, trying to figure out how to shift my diet from meat and animal by-products but still receive the right amount of nutrients. Obviously protein was a big issue, so I researched soy, tofu, beans, lentils, quinoa, tempeh, almond milk, and even spirulina. I’ve always been really big on fruits and vegetables so that wasn’t a huge shift, but I went straight up vegan and started eating every meal with an alternate protein source listed above, and lots of fruits and veggies. During the first month of going vegan, my hair fell out in chunks! It was gross, and for someone who is very protective of her hair… not good. So I researched some more. I learned that vegans are prone to Iron and Vitamin B12 deficiencies, so I took supplements for these vitamins and my hair was saved!
However, overtime I noticed that I was getting bloated, even gaining weight, and gassy (TMI?), which has never been a problem for me. And also, I was putting a considerable amount of time into meal preparation because making dishes with quinoa and beans wasn’t as easy as just slapping together a turkey sandwich. In the beginning I felt really great, but overtime, I felt more sluggish, and sometimes, I really just craved a piece of chicken. As far as physical and emotional imbalance, well I’m already a very healthy, happy, and balanced person, so I didn’t notice much difference.
So let’s flip sides. Paleo.
I went to the Philippines last fall, which really prohibited me from eating on any sort of vegan or plant-based, whole-foods diet. I just ate what I was given, which was always a hunk of meat and rice. When I got back, I was getting ready to phase out meat again, when I ran into a friend who had gone paleo. (He works out at Crossfit, which I’m learning many people who do Crossfit are also paleo). He told me a bit about his diet, which is basically opposite of veganism. Paleos eat like caveman, so just meat, nuts, fruits, and veggies.
I was interested, so I researched more about paleo. It posed a lot of counter arguments to veganism. For example, it claimed soy-processed foods, like tofu, are really not healthy for you, and neither are beans, surprisingly. Which were formerly the base of all my meals. Additionally, beans are high in carbs, as are quinoa, millet, other grain-protein bases. So then I realized that the reason I felt so bloated and sluggish is because I was pumping myself with carbs! And a lot of general nutrition activists argue how grains and carbs are really not good for your body because our stomachs are unable to digest them efficiently, which can also cause a lot of serious health problems over time. (Hence why we have so many gluten-free / celiac people these days).
The more I researched, the more I realized every food has an argued benefit and an argued detriment. And all this research was coming from MD’s and licensed nutrients. Like eggs and milk, beans and meat, soy and grains. Some swore by them and others swore against them. Even certain fruits were deemed bad because of the high amount of glucose, which prevents your body from reaching ketosis – a natural fat burning state that is hindered by peaks of sugar. So I thought, what in the heck are we supposed to freaking eat for maximum health?
My Decision - I agree with components of veganism – like organic and grass-fed meat is healthier than conventional and mechanically-processed meat. And I do believe that cutting animal products from one’s diet can balance out hormones, but I don’t have any physical or emotional/mental conditions that need to be balanced, so I’m not really concerned about that. Additionally, I am a high-performance runner, so the high amount of carbs from veganism could be beneficial. One of my favorite books is still Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide by Brendan Brazier who is a professional Ironman Triathlete.
However, I decided to try going paleo, just to see. So my diet became a lot of fruit, frozen veggies, nuts, and a piece of chicken with a kale/spinach salad every night. And I LOVE it. I haven’t worked out as much as I did over the summer when I was vegan, but I’ve slimmed up a ton and look more toned than I ever have just because my diet is so much lighter! Additionally, meals are SO easy and quick to prepare. It’s cheaper (veganism is a huge investment!), and it’s way easier for me to eat out at restaurants! (Vegans basically can’t eat out, because everything has chicken broth or cooked in meat grease). My body feels really healthy! I don’t feel sluggish or bloated. And I still have a ton of energy to operate as a high-performance athlete even though I’m not carb-loading.
And finally, this is a weird reason, but it still had a minor impact. Paleo feels so much more "no-strings-attached." Veganism is very much a diet, as well as a community, because of the animal beliefs attached to it. So people have an ardency about veganism that makes you feel guilty if you betray it. By announcing I was vegan, and then eating a piece of cheese, I really would get evil eyes from people. What the?! People, seriously! But paleo doesn't have this sense of guilt or overlooking community attached. By announcing you're paleo, most people just figure you're health conscious and salute you. Which is a much preferable response.
However, I also believe the title of any diet isn't as important as the actual items being consumed. I know plenty of "plant-based, whole-foods" people or "whatever other title" who swear by their claims, as they shove their mouths with cheesecake and oreos. The preach of information is always easier than the application of it. Mostly I just live by "no-sugar, high-greens."
Anyway, thank you for asking me about all this. I know it was one simple question, and I wrote TWO freaking pages. But it really helped me conceptualize it. I’m a health/nutrition fanatic, so ask anything else or bounce off your own ideas. I always love them!
You’re a great man, Nicholas. Happy to know you.
And happy eating to all!