“Let Food Be Thy Medicine!”
I have decided to stop eating animal products for many reasons, but as a Sports Therapist and Personal Trainer I am eager to see if it can improve my health. I am going to start by clarifying some terms, firstly, a strict Vegan is:
1.a person who does not eat or use animal products.
I have decided to follow the first half and will not be eating animal products for at least 3 months to see if I can optimise my health.
Health and especially Nutrition are hotly debated subjects and words like ‘Vegan’ are loaded with political, environmental and even religious connotations. For this blog post I am solely exploring the effects on my health and I am in no way advocating or suggesting you follow in my footsteps.
The important thing is to do the research yourself on what diet suits you and where your food is sourced from. The best way to avoid pollutants, excessive hormones and chemical laden food is ideally a diet based on natural, organic, non-processed ingredients. I’m keen to see if I can feel better, get fitter and have more energy on a plant based diet.
My diet for the last 8 years has been animal protein based, gluten free and a sprinkling of fruit and veg everyday, nowhere near as much as I should be consuming. I would eat salmon twice per week, eggs almost every day, milk in tea and porridge, lots of cheese at Christmas and resort to gluten free toast and butter if it was in the cupboard. It is time to improve my vegetable intake, get creative in the kitchen and see how it effects my health by monitoring my energy levels, body weight statistics and blood profile.
The big question that comes up when removing animal products from your diet is;
“Where do you get your protein, iron and calcium?”
There are loads of plant based foods packed with these nutrients:
Protein rich foods – beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soya alternatives to milk and yogurt, or peanuts. There is a lot more protein in meat and dairy per gram, but the average person needs approximately 50g/day, so all the rest is metabolised and excreted or stored as fat. We cannot store protein in the body to be used later, so a daily intake of 50g is needed. A chicken breast alone has 31g or protein!
Iron rich foods – lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereal. The recommendation is 8.7g for all men and women over 50yrs and 14g for menstruating women. A diet rich in nuts, seeds, chickpeas and beans should cover this but it is worth keeping a close eye on this and supplementing under a GP’s guidance if needed.
Calcium rich foods – kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds. The recommendation is 700mg/day and having a healthy range of vegetables, nuts, fortified bread or milk alternatives gets you up to 700mg easily.
There is a lot of conflicting evidence about ‘what is a balanced diet’, but there are ways to ensure you get everything you need in a colourful diet, lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, legumes. Now the trick is to make it tasty! I had a little experience of reducing my animal product intake in Switzerland in 2010. Driving my campervan around Europe with no refrigerator and the cost of meat in Switzerland being so high, I eat very little meat and dairy, climbed everyday and felt great, so my transition to eating lots of veg, lentils and beans might be easier than most I’ll admit, but by adding coconut milk, spices and fresh herbs you can create a tasty curry and reduce your shopping bill in the process!
Now for the science! I have had some blood tests done measuring all sorts of things and it will be interesting to see when they are repeated in 3 months time if there are any improvements or any deterioration in my levels of Vitamin D, B, Cholesterol, Iron, Blood sugar and liver function. I am passionate about my health and that of my clients, so if you need advice about going gluten free (as I have been for 8 years) or for some vegan recipes, get in touch!
(Before embarking on any changes to your diet, please seek the advice of a medical professional)