Sunday, January 4, 2015

Two Questions on a Plant-Based Diet

I received a couple of questions regarding my plant-based, whole-foods, no-added-fat dietary regimen. Today I'm addressing those questions.

Note: As a registered dietitian/nutritionist, I have learned that nutritional science is very complex, and there are so many variables that it is a long and circuitous route to the truth. Because of that, I try to avoid absolute statements of fact, but I will convey what seems to be indicated by research.

Q: How does one get enough protein on a plant-based diet?

First of all, it's important to know that most of us get more protein than we need. The long-accepted rule-of-thumb range of dietary protein is 10% to 35% of your daily energy needs. So by this criterion (and the upper end of the range is probably excessive), if you need about 2000 Calories per day, you would only need as little as about 50 grams of protein. (10% of 2000 Calories is 200 Calories. Since protein is 4 Calories per gram, 200 Calories is 50 grams of protein.)

Even though we have been conditioned to think of protein foods as meats, poultry, fish, and diary foods (and they are), there is protein in most foods that we eat. (Even a banana is listed as having protein.) By eating a healthy variety of plant foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (such as chickpeas, black beans, lentils, peas, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, etc.) it is not at all difficult to consume enough complete protein to meet our needs -- even for those who are very physically active.

By the way, if you eat more protein than you need (and most of us do), the excess is converted to non-protein and either burned for energy or stored as fat. Additionally, this puts a burden on our kidneys, increases our need for water intake, adds to our acidic-food intake (which takes calcium out of our bones increasing our risk for osteoporosis), and seems to be related to increased risks for certain cancers and, due to the fats, increases the risk for heart and artery disease.

Q: How do you get enough variety in your meals as a vegan? Isn't it boring?

Although we have been conditioned to crave the fat and savory flavor of animal-based food (as well as salt and sugar), after three or four weeks on a healthy vegan diet, these cravings diminish to an acceptable degree. For some, they never go away completely, but one has to decide at some point whether to eat to live, or live to eat.

In terms of variety, there are thousands of recipes to make vegan entrees and side dishes that are tasty, satisfying, and varied. You can find these recipes in appropriate cook books and on the Internet. You don't have to always be eating salad and other raw vegetables. It does take a retraining of old habits including new grocery-shopping lists (as well as additional grocery stores, perhaps), new family recipes, and an adjustment of our learned food preferences.

As always, for a starter, check out via Netflix or other outlets the movie, Forks Over Knives. Also the book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr, M.D. is another good place to start for more information and justification for following a plant-based, low-fat, whole-foods dietary regimen.

Whew! Thanks for asking these questions. It's now time for my morning shave -- which will be with a new Israeli Personna red-label blade. After that, it's breakfast, which will be oatmeal with some Grape Nuts added as well as raisins and a berry medley.

Happy shaving!

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