There were at least a few people who were interested in hearing more about my decision to move to a whole-foods, plant-based diet (vegan diet) and what I've learned so far. I hope that by making this post I am able to help at least one person positively change their life.
Disclaimer: By making this post, my sole intent is to disseminate information that I've found extremely valuable and that I believe could dramatically change many people's lives in an extremely positive way. I am not trying to force this information on anyone by making this post. Nor do I want to offend anyone. Nor do I stand to gain anything personally. Rather, I am simply sharing some knowledge I have gained with the sole intent to try to help others who will benefit from the same knowledge.
After talking with few friends, family members and acquaintances about diet, I have now learned to try to avoid using the word "vegan". I prefer to use the term "whole-foods, plant based", when discussing my new way of eating because "vegan" is a loaded term. To many people (myself formerly included in this group), it connotates not just a particular way of eating, but a code of ethics and a sense of political activism as well. There's definitely a stigma to the word "vegan" which all too often alienates those people who could most benefit from embracing what the word truly represents. Before I started eating this way, the word "vegan" brought to mind a far-fetched, hippie-way of not just eating, but living. I believe that almost everyone pulls up a particular image or set of ideas in their head when they hear the word "vegan". I've noticed that discussing diet with people sometimes results in them becoming irrationally emotional, defensive and guarded. Even though there is nothing more than a presentation of information, I believe that many people feel judged or criticized. And merely mentioning the word "vegan", or even the words "plant-based diet", often prompts immediate debate and judgement of the type of person I am (if they do not know me already).
We Americans live in the most prosperous nation on Earth, yet as a society, we've never been more unhealthy. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and a vast array of other very preventable diseases plague Americans unnecessarily. But rather than address what is actually causing these ailments, our culture emphasizes pharmaceutical fixes. If someone wants to truly heal, then they must embrace preventive medicine. This starts with diet.
If you are suffering from ANY sort of ailment, I'd highly recommend trying a change to a whole-foods, plant-based diet for at least 4 weeks and see if your health doesn't improve.
In the books listed below, there are lots of meal plans and suggested foods for those who know nothing about the subject but who are willing to try a vegan diet.
How and why did I (Matt) end up adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet?
I've always been an athlete and interested in getting a performance edge through nutrition. My diet has been evolving since I was in high school and started running. At that time in my life, I had no real understanding of nutrition. Growing up in the Midwest US (rural Missouri), I grew up on one of the poorest diets in the nation; rich in meat and dairy and processed foods; severely lacking in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and other whole foods. As I gained more knowledge of what I thought was healthy, I started eating less red meat and focused on lean meats (mostly chicken), low-fat dairy products, what I thought were "healthy" processed foods (cereals and pastas), while still eating few vegetables and fresh fruit. My knowledge of nutrition continued to expand and I eventually started moving away from processed foods altogether and eating almost entirely whole foods. I also moved away from meat produced by large companies and started purchasing organic/free-range meat whenever possible. Eventually I moved away from all meats except fish. However, I still consumed a lot of dairy.
Into the picture comes Netflix! Soon I started watching a lot of documentaries about food and nutrition. The one that really changed my life was "Forks over Knives" (actually that and The Extended Interviews). Upon watching "Forks Over Knives - The Extended Interviews", I made the decision to change my diet. After making that decision, I started researching what to eat as a vegan athlete and was extremely happy to find quite a lot of literature out there on the subject, not to mention several other extremely impressive and accomplished athletes that are vegan. There are even vegan bodybuilders, which might seem like an oxymoron!
What has changed or improved since the diet change?
Below is a quick summary of what I've noticed since my diet change:
1) I have an arthritic knee caused by a traumatic knee injury when I was 18 years of age. I have ran my entire life. The pounding of running dramatically increased the arthritis pain. It grew progressively more painful until the point in time came when I could no longer run. I switched to swimming and it has also been a dramatically life-changing decision, but that's a different story. But since starting this diet, the daily arthritis pain in my knee has went from a 7 or 8 to a 1 or 2! I'm almost completely pain free and could actually even run again, but I have decided not to do that because it will simply accelerate the arthritis. This significant reduction in pain is almost certainly entirely due to eliminating dairy from my diet. As I found out from the documentaries and books, dairy is extremely inflammatory and worsens all kinds of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis (both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis).
2) I was getting to the point where I was overweight. I am a 6'1" male. Most of my life, when I was extremely fit, I have weighed between 180 and 185 pounds (82 to 84 kilos). Before making this diet change, I was 211 pounds (96 kilos). Now, after only a handful of weeks, I am already down to 188 pounds (85 kilos), as of May 25th, 2013, and expect to continue losing weight. I'm not sure at what weight my body will reach equilibrium, but my guess is somewhere around 180; though it could be as low as 170. Should be fun to find out!
3) My energy level has increased dramatically.
4) I can maintain vigorous activity levels longer. This is of special importance for me as an endurance athlete (swimming and cycling).
5) I sleep better.
6) I don't crave food very often. In fact, I welcome hunger and am excited to put extremely nutrient rich food in my body when it's ready for it.
Interested in learning more?
First thing I'd actually recommend to start is watching "Forks over Knives" (available on Netflix). And pay close attention to the data they present:
http://www.amazon.com/Forks-Over-Knives ... 0053ZHZI2/
"Forks Over Knives - The Extended Interviews" is also on Netflix and is THE ONE that actually made me decide to do this diet change. It will present most of the information you could find in "The China Study" book I recommend below:
"Thrive" is a great book for the recipes and nutritional information about good foods to purchase. I use it as my reference manual:
http://www.amazon.com/Thrive-Nutrition- ... 738212547/
It's easy to read and not very long. It is almost a "must have" for a vegan athlete!
The next two books listed below are more for the background and science that proves how eating animal products and processed foods directly leads to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity and many other serious diseases. The evidence presented in the books is extremely clear. Most of it is presented in the "Forks over Knives" documentaries, so if you watch those, you may find it unnecessary to read these. But having a bit more background knowledge as to why you are moving to a whole-foods, plant-based diet and the risks of continuing to eat animal products, might be extremely beneficial.
"Eat to Live" has some amazing personalized case stories of people healed by a whole-foods, plant-based diet along with tons of other information about how and why the average American diet is deadly. It also contains some good suggestions how what to eat in a similar way to "Thrive":
One more that explains the science and results behind diseases caused by eating animal products is "The China Study". This one gives details about common cancers such as breast, prostate and colon cancer, which are definitely important to you and dad (Dennis) since dad already has prostate cancer and you're at risk of getting breast cancer because your mother had it. Most of this information is presented clearly in "Forks over Knives":
http://www.amazon.com/China-Study-Compr ... 932100660/
Right now I'm reading "Finding Ultra" which is an inspirational story of a guy who was a collegiate swimmer who lost his way in life due to alcoholism and a very poor diet. He got very unhealthy and eventually found his way to a plant-based diet and became an extreme ultra triathlon (double ironman) athlete:
http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Ultra-Rej ... 307952207/
What do you eat, Matt?
Below is an example of my schedule and what I eat every day:
1) Wake up at 5am to go swimming and eat 1 or 2 organic medjool dates to get some calories and quick energy.
2) Swim from 5:30 to 6:45 and immediately drink a serving of Vega One nutritional shake:
http://www.amazon.com/Vega-Nutritional- ... B0079BZDK0
3) After returning home, I'll eat some organic fruit and organic nuts. Usually a mango, banana and an orange. Sometimes only two of the three or sometimes different fruits like pears, cherries, blueberries, etc., along with a handful of walnuts or almonds or pumpkin seeds.
4) For lunch, usually between 10:30 and 11:30, I'll eat an organic sweet potato along with a mix of organic wild rice and organic red quinoa, topped with organic black (or pinto or chickpeas) beans (not from the can -- bought in bulk and cooked on our stove top). I season them with sea salt and Himalayan pink salt (going lightly with the salt), garlic powder, and diced onions. Then I top it off with organic green salsa and organic home-made guacamole.
5) If I work out again in the afternoon (I often bike ride or lift weights), I'll have another serving of Vega One after my workout. This would be around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
6) If I'm still hungry after the Vega One nutritional shake, I may have another piece of organic fruit along with a handful of organic nuts.
7) When I get hungry again in the evening, usually between 4:30 and 5:30, I'll make a very large green salad. It includes the following:
organic spring green mix
organic kale mix
organic roma tomato (cut thin and placed on top)
organic cucumber (cut thin and placed on top)
organic carrot (cut thin and placed on top)
organic walnuts (handful)
organic sunflower seeds (handful)
organic flaxseed, ground (2 tablespoons)
organic sesame seed, ground (2 tablespoons)
organic hemp seed
vinegar and olive oil dressing to taste
8) That's usually all I eat these days. But before I lost so much weight, I would get hungry again sometime in the evening (around 7 or 7:30) after the salad and would have to eat more sweet potatoes and/or rice and beans that I eat in session #4 above. But now that I'm nearly 25 pounds lighter than I was when I started, I don't get hungry again before bed after eating the big green salad.
So what's your shopping list look like?
One more thing that you might find helpful is a shopping list. Below is what we usually buy to make all of our food. I'll break it into categories.
legumes and grains:
organic black beans, bulk
organic pinto beans, bulk
organic chickpeas, bulk
organic red quinoa, bulk
greens and veggies:
organic spring green mix
organic kale mix
organic roma tomatoes
bean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts
organic sweet potatoes
organic red potatoes
nuts and seeds:
organic walnuts (raw)
organic almonds (raw)
organic sunflower seeds (raw)
organic sesame seed
organic hemp seed
organic nut butters -- almond, cashew, peanut (raw if possible)
organic medjool dates
dulse (sea weed -- it's a great snack and high in micronutrients and electrolytes)
organic vinegar and olive oil dressing (for salads)
organic salsas (green and red)
coconut water (try drinking this instead of soda and diet soda -- but only one a day or so is enough)
BEER -- Thank goodness beer doesn't have any animal products in it. Of course, it probably goes without saying that it is a processed food and should be consumed in extremely small quantities...
One tip that Leah asked me to include: To add moisture and flavor to any kind of grain or legume, we usually add salsa and guacamole (or thinly sliced avocados).
I can't seem to find all of this food in my favorite grocery store! Where can I get it?
There are quite a few stores popping up all around the nation that offer this kind of food. One large chain that can be found in most large cities is Whole Foods. They will likely carry most, if not all, of the above listed food. If you have a local food coopertive, that is the ideal place to find this kind of food. Here in Ashland, we actually have 3 stores to shop at that all carry most of the above listed items.
What should I avoid eating?
Try to always avoid the following foods, except on extremely rare occasions as treats (once a week or less) if you must have them:
processed foods (anything that comes in a bag or box with ingredients listed you can't pronounce or know aren't natural)
breads and pastas
sugary foods (doughnuts, candy, etc.)
sodas (diet or regular)
That's enough information to get anyone started, I think. I hope that someone here finds it beneficial. As always, feel free to ask any questions you may have and I'll do my best to provide an answer or more information.
Happy growing and healthy eating