Many articles have been written about the dangers OF a vegan diet.
Many of the points made in those articles are valid and need to be raised. They’re also blown out of proportion and taken out of context.
Eating an unbalanced vegan diet can lead to some health problems related to deficiencies. However, deficiencies are not a very common problem compared to diseases of excess.
We live in a world of abundance. By far, the biggest problems we face are caused by eating too much of the wrong foods rather than not enough of the right foods.
That being said, the human psyche is wired to worry about lack rather than abundance. As we evolved on this planet, the biggest danger we faced was famine. That’s why we like fatty foods.
When a group of early humans came across extremely rich fatty foods, those who ate them survived. Our brains are programmed to like concentrated sugars and fats. This program worked well in the context of a world where those foods were rare and helped us survive by providing the calories we needed, when few calories were available.
In the world we live in today, we experience the opposite problem. Yet, we still worry about lack.
- Are you going to get enough?
- Are you sure you’re going to be okay?
- Are you sure you’re not going to run into deficiencies?
Those are the types of questions we get asked by our parents, nutritionists, and so on. Does this diet contain every nutrient? Are you sure you’re getting all your vitamins? Are you sure you’re getting all of your protein?
The Dangers of a Vegan Diet
I purposely use the word “vegan” because it’s a little offensive. A vegan diet applies to plant-based diets in general. The word “vegan” implies more of a life philosophy, but it is actually the proper term to describe a diet that does not contain any animal protein.
Plant-based is more politically correct, but it implies that the diet could have a lot of plants in it while not being completely vegan. Let’s stick with the word “vegan” for now because it describes a diet devoid of animal protein.
Are there any dangers to following such a diet?
Well, if you’re getting enough calories from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans (with a little nuts and seeds for Omega 3s), then the dangers are quite limited—in fact, widely exaggerated.
B-12 can be a problem. B-12 is found in animal products, but that’s because it’s made from bacteria and we don’t live in the type of environment where we get exposed to unwashed foods and fecal matter and other nasties. So, we take a B-12 supplement. Most vegans know that they have to take a B-12 supplement and do. Not a big deal.
What about vitamin D? Vitamin D is contained in animal products, but vitamin D is not specifically a product made by animals. Vitamin D is not specifically a product that we have to get in animal foods. It is made by our bodies through sun exposure. Granted, if we don’t get enough sun, we could run low on vitamin D and eating certain animal foods could be beneficial, but whether you take the vitamin D from an animal or from a supplement, the end results are the same. Running low on vitamin D is not a vegan problem per se.
What about Omega 3s? We’ve heard that we must eat fish for Omega 3s, but where do the fish get their Omega 3s? Plant foods; namely algae. Are vegans low in Omega 3? No lower than anyone else. The human body can make its own DHA and EPA from other Omega 3 fats that are found in plants. Still, some people have concerns that they’re not getting enough Omega 3s. In that case, you can take a supplement of Omega 3.
Finally, we have the question of protein, which has been a debate in the nutrition world for a long time and is still being advocated as an important part of our diet. Vegan diets contain plant-based protein and there are many advantages to consuming proteins from plants rather than animals.
Recent research by Italian researcher, Dr Luongo, found that a lower protein diet, in general, is the best for cancer prevention.
Vegan diets contain almost the same percentage of protein (by calories) as omnivorous diets. The big difference is that the protein is coming from plants, not animals. And no credible research has ever shown that consuming plant proteins leads to health problems. In fact, quite the contrary.
Vegans get plenty of protein, more in fact than what is recommended, as long as they eat a wide variety of foods from the categories I mentioned previously. If you get enough calories from those foods you will get enough protein, even the foods we typically don’t associate as protein sources. For example, brown rice and even green vegetables.
We have a few nutritional concerns regarding the vegan diet, which is normal because the human brain is wired to worry about deficiencies.
But let’s ask a more important question. What are the dangers of NOT eating a vegan diet — in other words, of NOT eating a diet that is largely plant-based? I think those dangers are much, much bigger.
One can run low on B-12, and fix the problem almost instantly if it is discovered early.
However, when we create other problems in our health such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, they are much harder to reverse.
Diets rich in animal protein have been linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a wide range of other health problems.
To me, the two things that are most worrisome and lead me to prefer a vegan diet are heart disease and cancer.
- Heart Disease: The scientific consensus is that saturated fats in our diets raise our cholesterol levels, and high LDL cholesterol levels create hardening of the plaque in the arteries, leading to heart disease. This is an established scientific fact. I know, I know… you’ve heard differently via blogs and diet books. But think about who you should trust: a blogger or dedicated scientists that have painstakingly researched this issue for decades? A paleo blogger or a cardiologist like Dr. Esselstyn that is actually getting results actually reversing heart disease?The bottom line is that we know for sure that elevated LDL levels cause heart disease. They are one of the most identifiable causes of heart disease and diets rich in animal protein DO generally raise LDL cholesterol levels in most people.
- Cancer: This is actually a little scarier. This idea that animal protein drives cancer growth isn’t just shared by a few lunatic researchers, but is becoming more widespread in the scientific community, especially with the latest research done on fasting by Italian-born Dr Longo. This is also the view of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, an actual biochemist and other of over 300 scientific papers. Oh but wait… His China Study also has been “debunked” by a blogger. I will admit however that the case for “animal protein driving cancer grown” is a little less solid that that of heart disease. But I certainly don’t think it’s a coincidence that all long-lived cultures of the world eat a plant-based diet (in most of these cultures, meat is a “treat” or a “condiment” but never a main part of the diet.).
I’m not going to review other potential health problems caused by animal products, as this has been covered extensively in many excellent books by respectable authors. In fact, that’s not even the point of my article.
The point is that the so-called “dangers” of a vegan or plant-based diet are largely overblown. But because our brain is wired about deficiency, we tend to worry about those “dangers,” instead of worrying about the potential health cost of not ditching animal products.
Dr. Michael Greger is someone who really does keep up-to-date on all the latest nutrition information, and he’s passionate about sharing it with people. He has been a medical doctor in the plant-based nutrition field for years and always presents his information in an easily digestible way.
Low carbohydrate diets are a diet fad that has been around for years. Whether it’s Atkins, paleo, primal, or anywhere in between, there have been people writing books saying that eating bacon and eggs, in lieu of starches and vegetables, is the panacea of good health. Some of us may have an idea as to why that’s not really the case, but not everyone understands the real health challenges people can face on such diets.
Check out this video of Dr. Greger explaining the pitfalls of low carb diets, how to avoid them, and more:
- Understand what the insulin index is and how certain foods’ different indexes directly affect your health.
- Take a look at why beef, a carbohydrate-void food, actually spikes insulin levels higher than that of white potatoes, bread, or pasta.
- What exactly causes diabetes and how what you eat can either help with or cause it.
- Why your insulin sensitivity is so important to your overall health and how this common practice can actually wreak havoc on it.
- How treating the cause for diseases like diabetes vs. simply treating symptoms is the only way to allow people to become truly healthy.
There will always be fad diets out there claiming to offer all the health benefits and absolutely none of the pitfalls. The reality is that there really is no perfect one-size-fits-all diet that you can box every single person into.
That being said, sausages and eggs for breakfast every morning may not prove to be the healthiest for anyone involved.
But with a combination of common sense and modern science, we can say that eating more whole fruits, vegetables, grains and other plant foods in your diet will almost always be for the better.
Every single macro-nutrient (carbs, fats, and proteins) has been demonized or ostracized by different people for different reasons, but none among them have taken a beating more so than sugar, a carbohydrate. Whether it is crystalline in a glass jar on a café tabletop or cooked into candies and lollipops, refined sugar is everywhere, and people are eating a lot of it.
Check out this video by Dr. Michael Klaper to hear his findings on excess sugar in the diet:
- Take a look at why your arteries are so vitally important to your overall health, and why you are “only as young as your arteries”.
- How the insides of your body (including your arteries) can become “glycogated”, or sticky, as a result of excess refined sugar in the diet.
- When looking at a loaf of bread can give you insight into what actually happens in our body when we eat excess amounts of sugar and protein.
- Understand the significance of “Advanced Glycation End products” in your diet and how they can actually age you faster.
Most people will unanimously agree that refined sugar isn’t good for us and we should probably eat be eating less of it, but still not everyone agrees that only refined sugar is the issue. Some people may include fruit sugar in this “Sugar = Bad” category, but I haven’t seen any convincing information that fruit sugar eaten in healthy quantities is really an issue. Weaving out the refined, processed sugars in your diet and replacing them with whole fruits and vegetables is always a good idea!
Filed under Vegetarian & Vegan Nutrition by Frederic Patenaude
How to Live 100 Years: the Blue Zones Revealed!
An interesting book to read, now almost a classic, is called “The Blue Zones” which researched areas of the world that have an unusual concentration of centenarians (people reaching the age of 100).
I first became aware of this research when I was living in Costa Rica and a group of researchers came to the Nicoya Peninsula to discover that this area of the world was one of those coveted “Blue Zones” where there’s a very high percentage of centenarians compared to the United States.
What I really liked about the book was the fact that it was based on actual, verifiable research.
In the past, many people have claimed that certain cultures have lived a very long time, such as the Hunzas in Pakistan or the Vilcabamba residents in Ecuador. The problem is that the record keeping in those areas was very poor and there was no way to verify the ages of the alleged centenarians. Someone could claim to be 110 years old and in fact be only 90. In fact, this kind of exaggeration was very common.
With The Blue Zones, the researchers had new scientific techniques that could verify someone’s age, and using DNA data they could also trace back the ancestry of the people they met. Combined with verifiable birth certificates, they have located five areas of the world where people have managed to outlive Americans by often a decade or more.
A lot of people who are proponents of specific diets, such as the paleo diet, like to refer to some unproven, anecdotal advice on the “good health” of certain tribes, such as the Inuits. When in fact there are many other people who lived far longer and healthier than this example.
The Blue Zones is the first set of data that looks at populations that have an unusually high number of centenarians. Often these areas have been overtaken by fast food and the health of new generations is poor. But those people that managed to live 100 years or more are from a different era, and have kept the same lifestyle practices that they had in their youth.
These five Blue Zones are:
- The island of Sardinia, in Italy
- The tropical islands of Okinawa, in Japan
- The Nicoya peninsula, in Costa Rica
- The religious group of the 7th Day Adventists, living in Loma Linda, California
Those four groups are covered in the book. But last year the group of researchers also uncovered another Blue Zone, on the island of Ikaria in Greece, where nearly 1 out of every 3 people make it to their 90s (Which is very unusual).
Before I go into the characteristics of these people, I want to point out one important point for all those people out there on low-carb, paleo, meat-eating, “hunter-gatherer” diets (or whatever you want to call them).
All of the longest live people in the world — without exception — live on a high-carb, plant-based diet!
You will not find anywhere in the world a group of people — with documented evidence — living that long and that well on a high-fat, high protein, animal-based, low carb diet.
Also, the research done on the 7th Day Adventists debunks the myth that there are no long-lived populations on a vegan diet (more on that later).
What did these people eat?
==> In Sardinia, Italy, the traditional diet was based on whole wheat bread, vegetables, a little goat cheese and wine. Meat was not consumed on a daily basis.
From the book: “Shepherds and peasants in Sardinia have an exceptionally simple diet, which is extraordinarily lean even by mediterranean standards”, a 1941 survey reported. “Bread is by far the main food. Peasants leave early in the morning to the fields with a kilogram of bread in their saddlebag… At noon their meal consists only of bread, with some cheese among wealthier families, while the majority of the workers are satisfied with an onion, a little fennel, or a bunch of radishes. At dinner, the reunited family eats a single meal consisting of a vegetable soup (minestrone) to which the richest add some pasta. In most areas, families ate meat only once a week, on Sunday (…). Interestingly for a Mediterranean culture, fish did not figure prominently into the diet”
Also, the Sardinians consumed goat’s milk and not cow’s milk.
It doesn’t take much nutritional knowledge to see that the diet described above is plant-based and very low in fat, and high in carbohydrates.
===> On Okinawa, the diet was based on sweet potatoes, traditional soy products, rice and vegetables.
When a 102-year old woman (who apparently looks like she’s in her 70’s) describes her routine, she says:
“I wake up at about 6 a.m. and make a pot of jasmine tea and eat my breakfast, usually miso soup with vegetables. (…) At noon, Kamada said, she wanders into the kitchen garden behind her house to harvest some herbs and vegetables for her lunch. “I’ll use mugwork to give my rice flavor or tumeric to spice my soup, she said. “I don’t eat much any more. Usually just stir-fried vegetables and maybe some tofu.” And meat, I asked. “Oh yes, I like meat, but not always. When I was a girl, I ate it only during the New Year festivals. I’m not in the habit of eating it every day.”
She eats a very light dinner before 6 p.m. that might include some fish soup, whatever vegetables are in season, some spring onions, salad and rice. She’s usually in bed by 9 p.m.
When the researcher asks her daughter if she ever drank a Coke, we find out she never once did that in her life, and when she first saw a hamburger she had asked “What do you do with that?”
The typical diet of these Okinawan centenarian was again very simple: vegetables from the garden, green tea, and maybe a little fish, with some rice and tofu.
They also have the interesting habit of saying hara hachi bu, before each meal. It’s a Confucian adage that these elders say before they eat to remind them to eat until they are 80 percent full.
===> The 7th Day Adventists’s diet is more aligned with your typical health-food store enthusiast rather than a traditional diet forced by circumstances. Things like fresh fruit, oatmeal, salads and vegetarian foods are part of the menu. Interestingly enough, not all 7th Day Adventists are vegetarians or vegan. But the vegetarians lived longer than the meat eaters (on average two years longer), and the vegans lived even longer than the vegetarians.
“(…) Adventists who are what we call lacto-ovo vegetarians, meaning they eat eggs and other dairy products, still are an average of 16 pounds lighter than Adventists of the same height who are non-vegetarian. And Adventists who are strictly vegan, which is only 4 percent, are 30 to 32 pounds lighter than non-vegetarian Adventists of the same height. That has a huge impact on cardiovascular disease, on blood pressure, on blood cholesterol, on inflammation related to hormones and the way it stimulates cells in the body.”
For those who think there are no documented populations of vegans in the world who live a long life, they are wrong. The 7th Day Adventists prove exactly that.
===> The Nicoyans in Costa Rica ate mostly corn tortillas, beans, some animal protein such as eggs and some amount of pork or chicken. They ate more animal foods than other long-lived populations, but also ate the most fruit out of all long-lived populations.
From the book: “They asked centenarians what they ate and heard “beans, rice, tortillas and fruit” over and over. (…) A few characteristics of the Nicoya’s diet stood out. Like the people in most other Blue Zones, Nicoyans ate the emblematic low-calorie, low-fat, plant-based diet, rich in legumes. But unlike other Blue Zones, the Nicoyan diet featured portions of corn tortillas at almost every meal and huge quantities of tropical fruit. Sweet lemon, orange, and a banana variety are the most common fruits throughout most of the year in Nicoya.”
An interesting fact of the Nicoyan diet is that Nicoya have the lowest stomach cancer rate out of the country of Costa Rica. For some reason, Costa Ricans have one of the highest stomach cancer rates in the world. The conclusion by the researchers was that the high amount of fruit consumed in Nicoya helped prevent stomach cancer.
If you want the full story, you can read the book, but let me outline a few important points about diet that stood out for me.
- All long-lived people live on a high-carb, low-fat, plant-based diet
- All long-lived people eat a lot of vegetables, including greens.
- Whenever they can get it, long-lived populations eat a lot of fruit and it seems to contribute to their longevity
- When animal products are consumed, it’s occasionally and in small amounts only. But the 7th Day Adventist study also showed that vegans live longer than vegetarians or meat eaters, so the ideal is to avoid all animal products. If you do eat animal products, it shouldn’t be more than a few times a month (paleo eaters take note).
- All long-lived people had periods in their life when a lot less food was available and they had to survive on a very sparse, limited diet. For example, the centenarians in the book in Okinawa describe a time during World War II when they lived on sweet potatoes for three meals a day. When discussing the centenarians in Italy: “When their family was young, in the 1950s, they were very poor. They ate what they produced on their land — mostly bread, cheese and vegetables (zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and most significantly, fava beans). Meat was at best a weekly affair, boiled on Sunday with pasta and roasted during the festivals.” This reinforces my concept of periodic fasting. Because we live in a society of such abundance, we have to force ourselves to go through periods of restrictions with periodic cleanses and fasting.
- All long-lived people live in a sunny, warm climate — but not necessarily tropical. They got plenty of vitamin D from natural sunshine. The warmer climate probably also contributes to less stress and a more relaxed lifestyle.
- All long-lived people consume beans in some form or another.
- Nuts appear to be good for health. The 7th Day Adventists who ate a small serving of nuts several times a week had about half the risk of heart disease of those who didn’t.
- The typical centenarian diet is very simple. If you analyze all these diets from long-lived people around the world, they essentially eat the same simple foods every day. It appears that you do not need a wide variety of foods in your diet to be healthy. Quality food over variety is more important. Also, rich foods like meat and cheese are reserved for special occasions, and eaten at the most a few times a month if at all.
- They did not constantly change their diet or jump on the latest superfood fad. They ate the same seasonal things every day of the year.
Of course, diet is only part of the answer. Other important points outlined in the Blue Zones include:
- Exercise. The biggest insight in the book besides the diet points I have outlined is how much long-lived people exercise. It actually shocked me to realize that I’m not getting nearly as much exercise as I should.It seems that in the prime of their lives, these centenarians were probably getting something like 5 or 6 hours of moderate exercise per day (such as walking and working outdoors). And as they get older, they keep on walking and being active.Thus, the concept of exercising a few times a week to stay in shape seems seriously flawed. None of these centenarians “worked out”. They simply had an active lifestyle and walked a lot.An hour a day of walking or running, combined with weight training exercises and other outdoor activities you enjoy (golfing, swimming, etc.) should be the goal for anyone wanting to live a long and healthy life.
- An Active Life — Another stunning realization is that all of the long-lived people in the book loved to work. In fact, some of them could be considered to have been “workaholics” in the prime of their life, and many of them never actually “retired”. They maintained an active lifestyle throughout their life.This blows out the concept that working hard is bad for you, or that staying home doing nothing is the best way to relax, or that the goal in life should be to save enough to retire at age 55 or 60 and then enjoy the good life.
- A sense of purpose — All long-lived people had a strong sense of purpose. They had a reason to get up in the morning and do something. The Nicoyans called it “A plan de vida” which means a “life plan”. They were also engaged socially in their communities.
- Family — This is a tough one for many of us, but it seems pretty obvious that in order to live a long life you can’t go it alone. All centenarians had big families that they supported and who supported them until the end.
- Obvious things — Of course, the obvious factors are there as well. None of them smoked (no kidding) or ate massive quantities of food. However, from reading between the lines, I also understood that these centenarians progressively reduced the quantities of food they ate as they got older. One lady in Okinawa said ‘I don’t eat much anymore”.
Obviously, if you’re 35 you can’t follow the diet of a 102 year old lady. But as we get older, we must progressively reduce the amount of food we eat if we want to live a long life.
The big question everybody will ask is obviously this one: how come none of the long-lived people on the planet eat a raw-food diet?
You have to keep in mind that except for the 7th Day Adventists, none of these long-lived people actually consciously chose their diet and lifestyle. It was something that evolved naturally and that they did due to the environment of where they lived.
But the 7th Day Adventist study showed that when a group of people consciously decides to improve their diet as a whole, that they can significantly increase their lifespan and the quality of their lives.
The 7th Day Adventists did not have particularly good genes. They just were part of a religious group that had the particular feature of discouraging bad habits such as eating meat or drinking caffeine.
The 7th Day Adventists who ate a vegetarian diets lived longer than those who still ate meat, and those who were vegans lived even longer. Who knows what would have happened if some of them also ate a mostly-raw or all raw diet?
We actually don’t know what would happen if a population of people ate a raw food diet because it’s never been done and documented before.
However, based on the current studies done on long-lived people with the Blue Zones, we know that:
- All long-lived people eat a high-carb, low fat diet
- All long-lived people eat a plant-based diet
- All long-lived people ate a lot of vegetables
So if you wanted to try a raw-food diet for longevity, it would have to at least meet those requirements.
Which means potentially the best diet in the world would be a diet of fruits and vegetables, with some nuts and seeds, where most of the calories come from fruit.
How many of you are ready to live 100 years or more?
I really like Dr. Klaper. He’s been truly a pioneer in the field of scientific, vegan nutrition.
I met him during my short fast at the TrueNorth Health Center, last December, where he works as a doctor on staff. I also did a consultation with him.
I always found him full of insights, inquisitive, and extremely generous.
Enjoy this video of Dr. Klaper at conference a couple years ago, where he discussed olive oil. You’ll discover:
– Why studies done on olive oil never proved it was healthy in itself
– What’s wrong with restaurant food
– The reasons why olive oil is NOT heart-healthy
– How olive oil makes your arteries stiff, and the studies that proved it.
Now, does it mean that you should NEVER consume olive oil?
I put olive oil is the category of “concentrated foods to be enjoyed rarely and in moderation.” If you’re really active, burn a lot of calories, and eat only whole plant foods, then having a dish containing a small quantity of olive oil, like one teaspoon or two, once in a while, probably won’t hurt you. But I agree that for most people, when trying to lose weight, the policy of avoiding most oils 100% of the time is best.
What do you think?
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As you may know, I recommend a low-fat diet.
This may fly in the face of current diet fads and trends that tout the benefits of “good fats” to no end. Yet, I have never found anything more powerful for health as a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet.
My program is not original. I first came to these conclusions after eating a raw food diet for a period of three years and not only failing to find any benefits in my personal health, but also experiencing a decline. My problems were those that many others have experienced on a similar program: lack of energy, blood sugar swings, mental fog, and failure to thrive. Those problems were resolved by increasing the carbohydrate content of my diet and eliminating excessive quantities of fat — whether refined (like oil) or coming from natural foods (avocados, nuts, etc.).
I initially experimented with this idea after having read many books by Albert Mosséri, one of my early mentors in Natural Hygiene. He was extremely skeptical of nuts and avocados, and recommended to avoid them in general or only consume very small quantities. He never blamed the fat specifically, but relied on his experience working with more than 4000 patients at his fasting and retreat center.
Later, Dr. Douglas Graham influenced me greatly, when he was promoting his 80-10-10 diet, before his book was published. His diet advocates getting most calories from fruit, with plenty of green vegetables, and a maximum of 10% of fat by total caloric intake. That means, for most people, less than 1/2 avocado a day, on average (and not every day, if you’re not very active or athletic).
Finally, getting up to date on the latest science in human nutrition through the work of many great doctors has reinforced my belief that a low-fat diet is best for health. The doctors and authors who influenced me the most are:
Dr. John McDougall, MD
T. Colin Campbell, PhD
Dr. Neal Barnard, MD
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
All of those doctors, and at least a dozen more that I won’t mention today, all recommend a low-fat, plant-based diet.
What’s a low-fat diet?
Essentially, it doesn’t mean avoiding all fats. But it means getting most of your calories from carbohydrates (from whole food sources), and fewer than 10% of your calories from fat. Some people allow up to 15%.
In practice, that means:
* Do not consume any oil.
* Do not consume any food of animal origin, especially dairy products, beef, chicken and eggs.
* Do not eat more than one ounce of nuts a day, or half an avocado, on average. Eliminate those foods if you have heart disease or wish to lose weight.
When you follow such a program, your taste buds will require a bit of adaptation. It’s not that fat has much taste, but it helps carry flavors like salt or sugar. Also, when we eat a higher-fat diet, our taste buds get used to it.
According to Dr. Esselstyn, it takes around 12 weeks to adapt to a low-fat diet. Initially, you may find the food bland and unappetizing. But, after a while, you will enjoy it even more than your old food, and will even find the taste of a high-fat meal repulsive.
This entire process takes around 12 weeks, so be patient.
I can attest that it’s true. Nowadays, if I eat something that many people would consider “delicious,” I will find it extremely unappetizing if it contains a lot of fat. Unless, of course, all that fat is mixed in with sugar, which tends to fool everyone’s taste buds.
When I go to a restaurant, I always ask for “no oil” even if the recipe doesn’t mention that oil is added. Many chefs drizzle oil on top of a salad or a soup just before serving. For example, hummus at Middle Eastern restaurants often receives that oily treatment. By asking for “no oil” you can at least avoid that extra, added fat. Also, I ask for dressing on the side by default. This tends to work better than asking for “no dressing,” which often leaves the waiters absolutely puzzled.
Question of the day: How long did it take you to adapt to a low-fat diet?
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been eating the same meals over and over. Initially, this experiment started out of practical considerations. I was traveling and didn’t have time to prepare foods, and couldn’t rely on restaurants. When I got back home, I had a limited variety of foods left in my fridge and cupboards, so I decided to finish them first. I didn’t get tired of eating the same foods over and over, so I decided to keep this up.
I also wanted to go for a while without any overt fats (no avocado, nuts, seeds, etc.) to see if I noticed any changes from an ultra-low-fat approach.
The only meals I was eating during my “experiment” were:
1) Brown rice and black or red kidney beans (home cooked), along with diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, steamed broccoli and/or spinach, and seasonings (no oil or fat).
2) Fruit: Either apples, oranges, or bananas.
Like I said, at first I was just finishing up my existing stocks, and I was curious as to what would happen if I only ate the same foods over and over. Some thoughts went through my head, such as “Oh I should include some salad too” or “I should also be making green smoothies” or “I should eat potatoes instead of rice and beans because tubers are more alkaline.”
But I thought to myself… what’s the worst that can happen? People have lived for years on the same foods. As long as what you’re eating contains all the necessary nutrients and calories, there should be no issues.
One day I went “off-track” and made a big cabbage salad (cabbage with lemon juice, tomatoes, cilantro, and some seasonings).
What I’ve noticed with this experience of limited food choices is that I actually enjoy it. Instead of having to worry about what I’m going to eat next, I always eat the same things.
I also noticed that I was satisfied with three meals a day and no snacks, whereas before I was eating every three hours.
My desire for variety and “excitement” around food has actually decreased and I had no cravings whatsoever for anything else.
My food budget went down dramatically. I was spending less than $25 a week eating this way (and I ate large quantities).
I even noticed that I was losing some body fat.
What the Research Says
Study after study showed that monotony in meals leads to “appetite suppression.” Some people call it the “school cafeteria syndrome,” but I believe there is more to it.
In one study, volunteers ate the same mac and cheese dish every day for five days. By the fifth day, they were consuming 20% fewer calories than on day one.
The idea is that the more times we’re presented with a stimulus, the weaker our reaction to it becomes. This process is called “habituation.” It applies not only to food, but to all sorts of things, from loud noises to mating partners (there are some interesting studies about that last one!).
Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to say that meal monotony leads to “appetite suppression.” I think it’s more the opposite. Meal variety leads to overeating. Meal monotony needs to a normal appetite that’s actually in tune with your body’s needs.
Why We Seek Variety
It seems that everyone these days is a “foodie,” seeking endless excitement in exotic ingredients and complicated food preparations. Why do we seek so much variety, when throughout most of human history, we lived on rather Spartan diet?
Maybe it’s a moot point. We seek variety because variety is available. The human brain is wired to seek novelty, because more sources of calories meant a higher chance of survival for our ancestors.
Our ancestors who were curious enough to try out new foods that they rarely came across, such as honey, whale blubber and whatnot, got extra calories in their diets. Extra calories meant survival, and therefore the “curious” gene got passed along.
Seeking food variety works really well when your main concern is not getting enough food or not enough nutrients. But, in our modern society when the main problem is getting too much, variety can become a pleasure trap. The more exciting and different our meals become, the more we seek even more excitement and variety in food, and suddenly food becomes a central focal point of our lives. And more often than not, “variety” just means more rich and calorie-dense foods that lead to health problems.
Some Myths Busted
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessary to eat a huge variety of foods to get all the nutrients your body needs. Hundreds of cultures around the world have done just fine on a very basic menu.
Plant foods are very rich in nutrients. As long as you include foods from different categories of foods, it doesn’t matter so much which food you choose in each category. Here are some examples of categories:
– Green vegetables
– Grains or starches
– Whole plant fats: nuts, seeds, etc.
Is it even necessary to eat foods from all those categories? I’ve known thousands of people who have lived exclusively on fruits and vegetables, with the addition of some nuts and seeds. Likewise, you could very well live on just a few sources of starch, along with green vegetables and no fruit. In all cases, as long as you get enough calories and eat green vegetables every day, you could design plant-based diets in almost any combination and still meet all of the body’s needs.
I’ve spent hours and hours on nutrition databases, trying out different combinations of simple ingredients, and always finding out that plant foods ARE complete when menus are designed in this fashion. Only vitamin B12 is missing, but this is another topic (yes, you should take a supplement). Vitamin D can be a problem, but only because of our modern living conditions.
Perhaps some plant fats are need for long-term health, due to their omega-3 content. However, remember that green vegetables do contain a small percentage of omega-3s. Even so, it makes sense to include a source of omega-3 in your diet, such as ground flax seeds.
One diet that I designed contained only brown rice, black beans and spinach.
When 2000 calories of this very basic diet are consumed, you get a whopping:
78 grams of protein (13% of total calories)
11 grams of fat (that’s without adding any overt fats, and is surely loaded with omega-3s)
65 grams of fiber (that’s more than 4 times what the average American eats!)
986 mg of Calcium (99% the inflated RDA!)
1246.2 mg of magnesium (297% the RDA)
17.6 mg of manganese (a ridiculous 766% of the RDA)
15.7 mg of zinc (143% of the RDA)
In fact, almost every nutrient is off the charts except for vitamins C and E, which are a little below recommendations. I don’t even think that’s a problem because you are getting some on this diet. A person could easily add a lousy orange per day to fill the gaps.
I don’t even think that the RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) hold that much value. It’s never been proven that people eating below the RDAs in many nutrient categories actually develop deficiencies.
A different diet that I designed contained only sweet potatoes, broccoli and bananas.
This diet again surprised me. It contained:
– 24 grams of fat (10% of calories, with no added fats)
– 45 grams of protein (6% of calories. This is actually still adequate.)
– 13,662 mcg of vitamin A (1518% of RDA – try to beat that!)
– 759 mg of calcium, surprisingly
– 724 mg of vitamin C (805% of RDA)
Pretty much every nutrient is off the charts or adequate. Selenium is a little low (36% of daily value), but it is in most diets. I wouldn’t personally worry about it for even one second. It’s rather shocking actually that it doesn’t take that many foods to create a “complete diet.” So, why do we maintain the myth of the balanced diet?
The Human Being is Wired to Worry About Deficiencies
A few months ago, I attended a marketing event where many book authors in the alternative health movement shared ideas. I was invited by a third party to go to that event, but was not familiar with this group. It was an “invitation-only” event. If I told you who were in attendance, you would be surprised. Let’s just say that many of the big names in the natural health field were there.
One speaker mentioned that the human being is wired to worry about deficiencies, so if you want your audience to nod their head in agreement, you should frame everything in terms of “what could be lacking in your diet” rather than the other way around.
It’s true. The authors who are the most successful in this field, like Andrew Weil, always talk about nutrients that could be lacking in people’s diet. And people nod in agreement.
Yet, the biggest diet-related killers are not caused by deficiencies, but by excess.
When was the last time a friend of yours had scurvy?
Or beri-beri? (vitamin B1 deficiency)
Or kwashiorkor, which is the scientific name for protein deficiency (which can result in severe edema, and an enlarged liver)?
You don’t know anybody with those diseases because everyone you know is suffering from diseases of excess: heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc.
Yes, it’s true that some raw foodists take things to an extreme and may be lacking in some nutrients. But the only major problems that I’ve seen, resulting in death, were when calories were restricted. Even those who get 100% of their calories from raw fruits and vegetables are doing fine, as long as they consume enough calories.
Vitamin B12 can be a problem, but that’s more because of our overly sanitized society. So, between dipping carrots in a bit of rabbit dung and a supplement, most people choose the latter!
Vitamin D also tends to be low in modern people, but I think fears of deficiencies are a bit overblown there. Taking a supplement is advisable to people living in Northern latitudes.
I’m not saying that you should forgo variety and eat simple, bland meals over and over again. My point is that there are some benefits to a certain meal monotony, and that as long as you get enough calories from whole plant foods with some green vegetables, you likely will get all of the nutrients that you need.
The principle of meal repetition can be used to:
– Shed extra body flab
– Simplify your life: fewer dishes and less thinking about food
– Reduce overall food expenses and waste
– Overcome overeating and food addiction
A Few Tips
To try this approach, start with a meal or two. If you’re not already eating the same thing every day for breakfast — start. A simple breakfast is the foundation of a healthy diet. Green smoothie, fruit or oatmeal are all excellent choices.
You could simplify your lunch as well and eat the same thing every day for a week, and see how you like it.
My main recommendation is to find a few meals that you actually like, that you can repeat often. This will greatly simplify your food prep and help answer the question “What’s for dinner” without anxiety.
For example, I don’t think I could ever get tired of the same green smoothie recipe that I make over and over again (consisting of water or store-bought almond milk, bananas, lettuce or spinach, and a handful of frozen berries). Because I like it so much, I don’t feel the need to vary it often.
I also never get tired of rice and black beans, along with steamed greens, lots of diced tomatoes (canned or fresh), and sprinkled with seasoning.
Or sweet potato with squeezed lemon.
We’ve been fed the idea that nutrition is complicated and that in order to make our diet complete, we need all sorts of supplements, endless variety, and complicated combinations. We’ve also been told that a vegetarian diet requires “a lot of planning” to get all the essential nutrients. All of these statements are false. Nutrition is simple, as long as you understand the concept of eating whole foods. Get enough calories from whole plant foods, and make sure to include plenty of green vegetables, and there’s almost no way you can go wrong. For safety, however, make sure to include a B12 supplement in your diet plan.
It might surprise you to hear me say that, but I believe that white sugar is not the root of all evils, as it’s often portrayed to be.
Sure, it’s very refined. It’s unhealthy. And you shouldn’t really eat it if you want optimal health. If you eat too much of it, all hell will start to break loose in your body.
But… and here’s the big “but”: if you have a little bit once in a while it’s not going to hurt you.
Nowadays it’s fashionable in the health and fitness industry to condemn sugar and carbohydrates in general as being responsible for the obesity epidemic. You also hear all kinds of statements about sugar.
The other day I was in a health food store and two employees were chatting together. One of them said that “after you eat sugar, your immune system shuts down for four hours.”
I laughed to myself when I heard that! Not only is it not true, but it’s not even physiologically possible.
Let’s talk about one of the biggest claims about sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, namely that it’s turned into fat by your body after you consume it.
Sugar turns into fat, right?
Some animals, such as cows, have a physiology that makes it very easy for them to convert carbohydrates into fat for long-term storage. For example, cows eat grass, which is a carbohydrate that’s indigestible for humans (but they have the ability to use the energy in it), and cows can store an incredible amount of fat from this food source.
Humans are very inefficient at converting sugar into fat.
In a lecture on Fructose, Sucrose and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Dr. James M. Rippe presented the current research on the subject. A few highlights:
– Americans consume between 100 and 150 grams of fat a day. How much body fat do they store each day from sugar intake? About one gram!
– In one study, they gave young healthy males up to 50% added carbohydrates. That’s 1500 calories above their regular diet! How much fat was produced by their bodies on this excess? 3.3 grams on average. That’s on a diet containing over 700 grams of carbohydrates.
– To put it in perspective, one pound of fat is 450 grams.
So, when you feed people an extra 1500 calories from sugar or carbohydrates, and about 3 grams of extra fat are generated by the body, where is the rest going?
It’s stored in the muscles as glycogen, and the rest is burned off as heat and energy.
You can make somebody fat by feeding them extra sugar and carbohydrates, but it’s NOT because most of that sugar is turned into fat.
It’s because it’s preventing the fat in the diet to be turned into energy.
In other words, here’s what happens:
1) People eat sugar.
2) They eat other forms of carbohydrates.
3) The average American eats between 100 and 150 grams of fat in their daily diet.
4) The carbohydrates they eat are turned into energy. Only one gram on average is turned into fat.
5) The body STORES the extra calories coming from fat into body fat, instead of burning them off as energy.
Whenever there’s an imbalance in energy (too many calories in, not enough calories out), the body will store excess calories as fat. But those calories essentially come from the fat in your diet, not the carbohydrates!
That’s why high-carbohydrates, low-fat (less than 10% of calories) programs are very effective ways of burning fat.
I saw it with my own eyes when I put my own mother on such a diet, and she lost over 60 pounds without ever gaining it back.
If you eat a healthy low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, you can get away with eating some refined sugar once in a while.
It’s not going to kill you, it’s not going to turn into fat, and it’s certainly not going to shut down your immune system.
Of course I’m not suggesting making white sugar a part of your diet. But if once in a while you have a teaspoon or two of sugar, it’s no big deal, and it’s certainly better than the same amount in oil.
I recommend satisfying your sugar cravings with fresh fruit. Once you eat enough fruit, you’ll never have a craving for refined sugar.
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Last week a met someone who asked me a few questions about diet, after seeing what I eat. The topic of olive oil came up.
I had to answer in less than a minute why the diet I promote (and try to follow as closely as possible) contains no added oil, not even the so-called “heart-healthy” olive oil.
Most people can’t fully accept that concept, because we’ve been told incorrectly over the last few decades that olive oil (and other vegetable oils) are great for health. In reality, the opposite is true!
Here’s a quick summary of the reasons why you should do your best to avoid all vegetable oils. I’ll focus on olive oil because that’s where the source of the confusion comes from, but most of these points apply to most other oils as well.
1) Oil is a refined product and the most concentrated source of calories available anywhere. One tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories of pure fat with almost no other nutrients. Refined sugar is only 50 calories per tablespoon.
The fat you eat is the fat you wear, and a few splashes of olive oil here and there can quickly add up to hundreds of extra calories that you don’t need. Worst of all, those calories are missing all the fiber and essential nutrients and are empty.
It’s been found in multiple studies that adding fat to food makes people over-consume calories without realizing it, because fat has a very low satiety factor compared to carbohydrates or proteins.
Remember: it takes 24 olives to make 1 TBS of olive oil. I don’t know about you but I’ve never once added 24 olives to a single serving of salad.
2) Oils are a concentrated source of saturated fat. Most people don’t realize that even olive oil contains almost 15% saturated fat. This fat consumed in excess contributes to a host of health problems, including arteriosclerosis and heart disease.
3) Excessive fat consumption lowers insulin sensitivity. The higher in fat your diet is, the least effective your insulin becomes. If you combine a high fat diet with a high sugar intake, you have a recipe for disaster that will lead to many health problems.
4) Vegetable oils contribute to inflammation. Omega 6 fats contribute to inflammation in the body, while omega 3 fats reduce it. But most vegetable oils have a ratio that dramatically favor omega 6 fats. We should seek to a dietary ratio of no more than 4 times the omega 6s vs. 3. Olive oil contains over ten times the omega 6 as omega 3, and many other oils are worst.
5) Olive oil doesn’t lower LDL cholesterol. It’s a myth to think that olive oil is “heart healthy.” Studies have only shown that it lowers LDL cholesterol when it REPLACES animal fats like butter. But to add olive oil (and other vegetable oils) to an otherwise healthy diet actually increases LDL levels.
6) Olive oil injures the inner lining of the arteries (called endothelium). A study conducted by Dr. Robert Vogel and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that a meal containing olive oil caused severe constrictions in arteries, contributing to heart disease. Blood flow was reduced by 31% in this study. It’s worth noting that canola oil or salmon didn’t cause this problem (however, all vegetable oils are unhealthy to some degree).
What this study found was that the protective components of the Mediterranean diet appear to be fruits and vegetables, and NOT the olive oil. Greek people only got away with eating olive oil because they consumed a lot of fruits and vegetables. They also replaced animal fats like butter with olive oil. But olive oil in itself isn’t healthy.
7) Oils release toxic compounds when heated. Many oils become carcinogenic when heated. And yes, every type of oil can withstand a different level of heart. But don’t believe for a second that nothing is happening to your oil when you start heating it. Udo Erasmus, one of the world’s most well-known experts on fats, always recommended to NEVER heat any fat. He said: “If health is what we want, water is the only oil appropriate for frying. We’re back to steaming, poaching, boiling, or pressure cooking our foods. Or, even better in most cases, eating them raw.”
What about essential fats?
It’s true, we need some fats for good health. But all whole foods contain them to a certain degree, and in the perfect omega 3/6 ratio. Additional fats should come from whole foods such as: nuts, seeds, avocados, etc. Those foods can be consumed in smaller quantities and people who want faster results should avoid them completely.
Should you believe what I say about Olive Oil and other vegetable oils? Here’s a partial list of doctors that agree with this no-oil approach:
– T. Colin Campbell
– Dr. John McDougall
– Dr. Douglas Graham
– Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
– Dr. Neal Barnard
– Dr. Joel Fuhrman
– Dr. Michael Klaper
I could list even more, but if you want more information, you can start there.
Now, does that mean you can never have a splash of olive oil? If you’re very active and burn a lot of calories, a bit of olive oil won’t hurt you. But try giving it up and you’ll notice that your taste for oil will disappear. If you crave something fatty, have a whole food like a bit of nut butter, for example.
Last week we talked about foods to eat and avoid at a raw food restaurant.
Not everybody lives close to a raw food restaurant. However, most cities will have at least one or two vegan restaurants.
Generally speaking, vegan restaurants use a lot of oil. However, you’ll find some great healthy food there if you know what to order.
What to Avoid at Vegan Restaurants
Veggie Burgers – Generally, the burger patty is not the problem, but it’s what it comes with. A big bun, fried or roasted potatoes, and lots of vegan mayo in the burger. To make a healthier meal, replace the fries with a salad, and specify any creamy spread on the side.
Sandwiches — Generally, they are loaded with a lot of fatty mayo and are not nutrient dense (not enough vegetables).
Meat-Replacement Dishes — Dishes that try too hard to replace meat are generally loaded with fat or contain too much soy or gluten. For example, scrambled “vegan eggs” generally use an insane quantity of tofu.
What to Eat at Vegan Restaurants
Soups — Soups with lots of vegetables are generally fine to have. Creamy soups generally should be avoided.
Dragon Bowls — Many vegan places have a version of this bowl. It could be called the “dragon,” “buddha” or “macrobiotic” bowl. Generally, it includes brown rice, lots of raw veggies, some cooked veggies, and a sauce. So it’s a salad that mixes cooked and raw ingredients. It’s generally one of the healthiest choices at a vegan restaurant.
Salads — Salads are generally pretty healthy, but the dressing is usually very fatty. Ask for dressing on the side and order a bowl of rice for a complete meal.
Smoothies — Smoothies at vegan restaurants are generally okay, but avoid those containing syrups or added nuts and seeds.
Juices — Most fresh juices are fine to have.
Additional Guidelines for Vegan Restaurants
The menu at vegan restaurants tends to vary a lot more than at raw food restaurants. Your main concern will be to avoid fried foods and dishes containing too much oil. Often, ordering from the “sides” menu is a good idea, when completing a meal with a salad. You can often order simple steamed vegetables and brown rice to go on the side.
Of course, if you want to treat yourself, eat whatever you feel like! But if you seek health and want to eat vegan food that’s actually better for you than regular food, stick to whole foods, with lots of fruits and vegetables, and try to avoid foods loaded with oils.