A Plant Based Diet

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Why go plant based?

Three years ago a friend sent us the book, The Engine 2 Diet.  The author, Rip Esselstyn , is the son of Cleveland Clinic cardiologist, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who has studied the effects of diet on heart disease.  The book advocates a strictly plant based diet to reduce cholesterol and improve heart health.  Our friend had gone on a two week retreat where he ate strictly plant foods and did yoga every day.  He said he felt great and chose to continue once he returned home.

My husband wanted to give it a try.  I felt like we were already eating very healthy and doubted we would see any benefit.  At the time I was fixing about 4 chicken breasts,  1 lb. of ground turkey and some preservative free sliced turkey for the four of us each week, so we weren’t consuming a huge amount of meat.  Reluctantly I agreed to make the switch – no dairy, no meat, no eggs.  An amazing thing happened.  After about 2 weeks I woke up one morning and realized I didn’t feel any pain in my joints or hands for the first time in years!

3 years later we don’t hold to a strictly plant based diet but I would say we are MOSTLY plant based.  I still use eggs for some baking and chicken broth in soups.  However our cheese and dairy consumption is way down and I remain pain free.   A few times per month, I buy rotissarie chicken for the kids and the husband and I eat sushi.

I never imagined I would choose a primarily plant based diet.  It always seemed to me like it would be a life of “I can’t eat that.”  At first I was uncertain what to make and so many of the recipes I found were either super complex and required ingredients I’d never heard of or they were so simple it didn’t even seem like cooking.  I didn’t want to replace simple minimally processed meats with replacement products that had long lists of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce.

Is it practical to eat a plant based diet?

Yes.  In fact in most respects it’s easier and I feel more freedom as a cook.  It is definitely easier to get the recommended amounts of fiber and vegetables.

Do I feel like I’m missing out?

Not at all.  I eat a much greater variety of foods now.   However, I have learned that if I get a craving for a particular food to just go for it.  That means I do eat ribs or a steak maybe 3 times per year and sushi a couple of times per month.

Do I plan to stick with it?

Since eating a mostly plant based diet makes me feel tremendously better it’s easy to maintain.  I would think it’s the same for people who find out they are gluten sensitive.

What about for young people?

I don’t try to have my kids follow a strict vegetarian diet.  They have chicken a couple of times a week.  If it’s been a few days without meat I make sure they take a vitamin B12 supplement.

I really enjoy having the chance to talk with families when the teenagers are thinking about going vegetarian.  It can feel so intimidating to parents, because they want to make sure the kids are eating healthy nutritious food, but they don’t want to cook a whole different menu just for the kids.   Parents don’t want to give up their favorite foods or be made to feel guilty about eating them.  It’s important for kids to understand that while eating vegetarian or vegan is possible, it does take work to make it a healthy choice.  It’s not just about the absence of meat, you have to eat healthy whole foods to maintain energy.

How do you get enough protein?

I use rice protein powder in my smoothies each morning.  It’s convenient and has a good amino acid profile.  The rest of the day my protein intake is from a variety of beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, quinoa or nut butters.  I usually only use tofu once or twice a week and I avoid most meat replacement products.

Do you take any supplements?

I take a multivitamin, a B complex, vitamin D, and calcium supplements.  I also make sure to add flax seed to my smoothie each morning for Omega-3’s.  I found that with a vegetarian diet a separate vitamin B supplement was necessary to keep my energy levels up.

What do you use for milk?

I use almond milk in my smoothies.  Our youngest drinks chocolate soy milk and our oldest drinks organic milk.  I don’t eat cereal much anymore because I can’t get used to not using regular milk on cereal and my smoothie makes a much better start to the day.

What sort of dishes are staples at your house?

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing some of my favorite winter plant foods.