The world of nutrition is a continuous development of new trends, fad diets and new fashionable foods. The truth, however, is that following a trend, usually has some negative effects, because people fail to look at the bigger picture. Being healthy is a lifestyle, not a temporary phase, and usually, people who embark on new journeys unprepared, don’t dig deep enough to make sure they are eating appropriately and healthily, and that is when they get into trouble.
Observing this behavior made me think of veganism and why, in its entirety and integrity, is far from a trend, even if, unfortunately, because it is gaining popularity and being exploited by some celebrities, it might seem like one.
Being a vegan is a lifestyle. It does not only embrace not consuming animal products, but also living a cruelty free lifestyle. I personally didn’t understand that from the beginning, as my journey into veganism started for health rather than because I felt compelled to saving our planet and the living beings on it.
I became vegetarian in November 2013, with the exception of having one last turkey at Thanksgiving, because my mother in law prepared a “mean” one the year before and I still dreamed about the smoky flavor of that bird.
I read this and cringe now, but even through my awful carnivore behavior, something quite amazing happened: When I tried the turkey, after being meat free for almost a month, I realized that I didn’t love it as much as I thought. My taste buds had already started to change a little.
For the 5 months that followed, I started reducing the intake of dairy and occasional fish as well, and I started to see some magical things happen. But it wasn’t until we traveled to India, in May 2014, that I really understood the health benefits of a vegan diet. Once I stopped eating all animal products, I felt amazing; my IBS “left the building” and I started losing weight. My eyes and skin became brighter and I had more energy without trying.
Because I already lived a pretty clean lifestyle, with the exception of milk chocolate, I knew the nutritional balance I required for staying healthy, and how to get the right amount and quality of protein, carbohydrates and fats into my body, but most of all, how to guarantee a micronutrient rich dietary intake.
As I lived a vegan life, I started noticing more positive changes, like caring and understanding the environment, where food comes from and the need for a “Kind Life”, as Alicia Silverstone puts it.
But I realized that not everyone understands the benefits of a vegan diet, the correct way to approach it or the relationship between eating a plant based nutrition and the ecosystem. So I decide to list the challenges and solutions to the most popular comments and myths about being vegan and give you some insight into why this is something to try, do right and embrace, in order to save our health and our planet, without it being a trend.
1. “How do you get your protein?” – If I had a dollar for each time I was asked that question, I would be a millionaire! (So please ask and pay up ☺ ). The belief that protein needs to come from animal sources is a great marketing and monopoly strategy applied by the government to promote the sales of heavily subsidized industries. We are so brainwashed into believing that meat, poultry, dairy and fish are the best sources of protein that we have completely lost touch with nature and other sources providing high quality and healthier protein. Before getting into this, let’s look at a bull. Isn’t the bull an ensample of rippling muscles? What does the bull eat? That’s right: grass! Plants are a very good source of proteins and scientists are discovering more and more that this is the case. Aside from vegetables though, we have really good quality proteins in all pulses. Chickpeas, lentils, peas and peanuts (yes peanuts are part of the pulses family) are amazing sources of protein and easily absorbed by the body. Soy products are also great, even if they need to be consumed in moderation and one needs to understand what types to consume. Then nuts and seeds make amazing protein packed foods to add on to our lifestyle as they contain healthy fats and clean energy. A vegan diet is surely not void of protein as popular belief dictates. I would recommend checking out Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s website and books, which are a great guide into being a healthy vegan, because he focuses on getting nutrients into our body, which is what ultimately promotes health and prevents diseases.
2. “I know fat vegans”- True statement but it comes with a caveat. Not all vegans are healthy, because, like with every nutritional plan, one can do it right or get it completely wrong. Did you know Oreos and Twizzles are vegan? Yes they are! But are they healthy? If a person decides to cut out animal products but eats a heavily processed and sugar loaded diet, then being vegan will not help their health or waistline at all. I also believe they are not saving the planet either as the chemicals used to process all the junk in those foods, actually pollute anyway! So let’s do it right! When going vegan the key is to eat unprocessed, clean and real food! Mainly vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains. The rest should be kept at bay, as treats. In my new book, Innocently sweet, out in September, I speak about having vegan treats full of nutrients too, so there is really no need to go and get junk after all. If you eat pure food with healthy fats, and avoid sugar, you will not be fat!
3. “Vegans are hippies and tree huggers!” – I can guarantee that even if I really love nature, I do not go to the park and hug trees or raise bunnies in my backyard. I do have a dog and I love him, but I am not any different from anyone you know. I shower, brush my hair, wash my clothes and work! I do use incense and stay away from chemicals as much as I can, but is that being a hippie and “tree hugger”, or just a conscious, caring human being? Don’t let anyone label you! I don’t see why we get called names for our conscious decisions, but people who destroy the planet and hurt living creatures are the norm. Learn to live your truth without feeling any pressure; it is the greatest liberation and the reason why you will be a successful and healthy vegan.
4. “If you do not have milk then you lack in calcium” – another myth created by “big agra” to make money off their products! Milk is rich in calcium, but so are green vegetables and “newsflash” , calcium is actually NOT the sole constituent of our bone structure and in fact, it alone does not promote bone health. Bone health is dependent upon other main components:
– Hormones like testosterone, progesterone and DHEA being the main ones, plus many others.
– Calcium, Magnesium, Boron, Manganese to name a few, so there is not just a nutrient that makes up bone, hence calcium is not that unique micronutrient we need to stay healthy.
– Make sure your body is alkaline and non-toxic! The more acidity and toxicity in the body the more you will corrode your bones! No matter how much calcium you get, unless your body is clean and alkaline (void of heavy metals floating around) you will not absorb any of the nutrients and minerals required to build bone structure.
– Stress and lifestyle. If you do not keep your mind and body strong enough, calcium is not going to help your bones staying strong. High cortisol levels promote bone loss so basically: chill out!
5. “Being vegan is hard” – I heard this so many times. People asking me if I know what I should be eating and if it gets boring. The reality is, since I turned vegan, I feel like I enjoy food a lot more. I remember vividly that I was getting so bored with food when I used to eat meat; I got tired of the taste of chicken and fish. In retrospect, maybe it was my body trying to tell me something, and I just didn’t realize until now. I find that vegan food is much more flavorful and “happy” than “dead” things! You can choose between raw, cooked or dehydrated; so many ways to eat amazing food, so for me, in particular, it is not hard. Sometimes going out can be a challenge but I found that if you eat at a restaurant and are nice to the waiter, and take the time to ask for the chef and greet him/her, explaining your position, they actually go out of their way to try and create something you can enjoy, and show that they have skills. I have yet to find any chef who didn’t make a vegan dish just for me so that I could eat at their restaurant.
6. “Vegan dishes are hard to prepare” – I need to start by saying that, like for any type of cuisine, you can go the easy or the hard way. If you are a skilled cook or even chef and want to go fancy, by getting a dehydrator and all sorts of tools for making special vegan dishes, particularly raw, then you are ready to take that on and know that it takes time and commitment. But not everyone has the skills, time and even financial means to go fancy! So the truth is, making vegan dishes can be very easy and quick, and you can skip the more sophisticated sort of cuisine. A very good tip, that I always share with my clients, is to find recipes you enjoy, that you are familiar with and then just swap the source of protein in there from animal to plant based. This honestly helps people not to be frighten by veganism and to try new things, also it gives them a sense of familiarity that will automatically make them comfortable. I gave a workshop last week, where we made “chili sin carne”, so the vegan version of a Mexican Chili and It was great! People were impressed and happy to try this new dish, and see that being vegan still allows them to have their favorite cuisines.
7. “Vegan food is expensive” – We go back to personal choice again, but like with everything else, making vegan dishes can be either expensive or not. There are some exotic products that may cost a little more, but if budget is your worry, then stick to the basics. Dry pulses are very inexpensive and they constitute your protein intake already;’ they are certainly better priced than animal products are. I don’t know if you noticed, but meat is expensive; 300g of codfish will cost you around £4 ($7) and that will make one dish. Beans, lentils, peas and the likes, costs about £3 per Kg, depending on where you shop, and trust me, you get a lot of volume once cooked. Fresh vegetables and grains can be very inexpensive if you do your homework and try eating in season. Moreover, with Internet, you have access to online stores that create great competition and also access to local farmers who can offer very competitive prices. Also, remember, you do not need to eat a lot when you eat well, as you get a lot more nutrients for less food, and that is how we were designed to live long and healthy lives and not break the bank!
8. “If you don’t eat meat you are weaker” – This has to be my all time favorite, because it really shows we are very conditioned by advertising and society. Before I go on, I would like to quote an insert from Breaking Muscle: “Many pro athletes are vegan. Recently, NFL player Arian Foster went vegan. Boxer Tim Bradley who just beat champ Manny Pacquiao with a controversial win is vegan. Bradley admits he is only vegan when he trains. That’s how much he believes in the results. Many ultra endurance athletes (like Scott Jurek and Rich Roll) are vegan mainly for the recovery claims, and a few MMA fighters, such as Mac Danzig are vegan. Venus Williams became a raw vegan to battle her recently diagnosed Sjorgen’s syndrome, and though she is not the player she once was because of the disease – she’s also thirty-two years old – she still managed to win the 2012 Wimbledon doubles title. Needless to say, these are examples of exceptional vegan athletes who have had great results.” I don’t even think I need to add anything here, as it is clear that, peak performance can indeed be achieved if one eats a plant-based diet, with athletes and champions proving that. I had the pleasure meet Venus Williams at the IIN conference last November, and she was very positive that changing her diet saved her life and really attributes her come back in tennis to veganism. From my own experience, by not feeling awful, tired and in pain every day, as I suffered from IBS, I can vouch for feeling stronger since I have been vegan. I will say though, when it comes to energetics, I can see why meat eaters may be more aggressive. I truly believe that when we eat certain foods we inherit its energy and animal energy is much more aggressive than plants’, and can indeed be passed on to humans. This point may be more esoteric, but it makes sense to me. But don’t worry eating a plant based diet, when done properly and in balance, will give you energy and strength and, in fact, cleaner versions of them.
9. “Farm animals are humanely raised and killed with no pain” – it is undeniable that comparing commercial to free range farming will show some pros in terms of the meat and the animal’s happiness, whilst still alive. But all in all, killing an animal, no matter how kosher or halal the procedure is, will inflict pain. In commercial farming, the animals sense their death is coming and start panicking. Their terror has them release toxins in their bodies, which are then ingested by us when we eat meat, and may cause health issues. In any case, we would get energy from a dead animal that is far from happy. The way they are raised is also very questionable, being piled on top of each other and transmitting diseases back and forth, being pumped with antibiotics so that they do not die, and hormones, so they look bigger. Yes, you are eating all that when you eat meat. An organic and free range farmer may allow its animals free access to the outdoors and live a happy life, but animals are very intuitive, they know when the end is coming and moreover, even when shot or cut, in the head or throat, they still don’t die instantly, causing pain anyway. I did some digging into the subject and no matter what, the fact is, we are inflicting pain to living beings and no matter how quickly and “humanely” we kill them; we still harm them. Let me ask you: would you eat your pet? Are you not outraged that some civilizations eat animals that we love as family? Chinese people don’t think dogs suffer when they eat them; after all, they die quickly! Well, I cannot see that argument working, more so as I have a dog and love him as my own child, so really, what is different about a cow or sheep or pig? Suffering is suffering!
10. “If not for meat we could not feed our growing population” – This is the biggest lie of all! Let me quickly go back to the Paleolithic era first, as Paleo is “back” and very happily supported by big agra, pharma and corporations! The Paleolithic man HAD to eat meat to survive. These guys lived in areas where winters were brutal and so quite difficult to find berries, nuts, seeds and greens. Also, they realized that they could gain more weight and store more body fat, in preparation for winter, if they ate animals and could therefore survive. They built tools to catch and kill those animals, as they could not physically do so on their own, so what does that say about us? Are we really killers who need meat to live, or was that a move for survival? When I interviewed Davey Du Plessis last week, he made this exact same point, and it made so much sense. Fast-forward ten thousand years or so, and here we are, having access to food all year round. Do we really still need meat to live? Not to say that, on the contrary of what we are told, meat is causing severe food shortages to feed the planet. To make a pound of meat we need about 20 pounds of corn (because this is how our animals are fed; with heavily commoditized crops) and 6 months worth of water used by one person to shower everyday (wonder why California has a drought?).
Moreover, the chemicals (hormones and antibiotics) used for the meat pollute our soils and damage the ecosystem even further. To top it all off, animals (cattle especially) fart! Yes they fart and their little explosions are more polluting than cars gas ‘emissions globally. The Brazilian rainforest, a natural beauty and one of the lungs of our planet, that we will never get back, was decimated to make space for cattle grazing. If we cultivated vegetables, grains and any other edible plant, would we not allow the planet to heal and allow many more people to create life by planting food rather than giving that privilege to just a few big corporations? I am sure that if we worked on teaching people, to grow their own and use their land to give life, we would have much less poverty in the world. But that would surely mess up the plans of those who hold financial monopoly over our food supply. So the truth is: we would feed the world without meat.
For those who know me, and my mantra, I believe “knowledge is power”, so I ask you to please really think of ways to live a much cleaner, healthier and kind life, by eating a plant based diet. Think long term and think smart and allow the food you ingest to give you health, energy and the power to sustain our planet and embrace those changes as lifestyle, not just trends, no matter what goes in and out of fashion! Being vegan is certainly a movement for the right cause.