These are the questions I get asked most often about my food choices. I think most people are just curious, some concerned, and others looking for a little intellectual food rumble. No worries though, I confident and happy with how I eat—feels great to be a veghead!
But where do you get your protein?
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this question I’d be rollin’ in it. This is a perfect example of how the FDA’s relationship with the meat industry has effected the way we think about meat. Most North Americans consume way more protein than necessary, which I would argue is way harder on our bodies and the environment than consuming a little less than recommended. Not that I eat less than I need—I eat oodles of protein rich foods.
There are so many quality sources of plant based proteins! There are the obvious ones like nuts, seeds, and legumes but it doesn’t stop there! Certain grains and pseudograins are extremely high in protein. Quinoa, amaranth, and barley, to name a few, are great protein sources. Whole wheat pasta also offers a pretty high protein count. There’s even quality protein lurking in those greens I told you to eat! This is crazy—30% of the calories in spinach come from protein! I know—awesome.
As an athlete, my protein needs are slightly higher than sedentary people of my age/weight but I never have to specifically try to add protein to my diet. Sure, I’m intentional about getting all the nutrients I need but as long as I’m eating a variety of vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts…I don’t need to worry about a thing. My body will tell me what it needs– I just need to listen.
How do you get enough calcium?
This question reflects what a great job the FDA and Dairy Farmers of America have done in convincing us that dairy is an essential part of our diets. The Got Milk campaign was absolutely genius—giving milk ‘staches to all those sexy celebs.
We don’t need dairy and I think it’s a tad ridiculous for the FDA to tell us we must have 3 servings a day to be healthy. Ethnic groups whose ancestors came from places with harsh climates that couldn’t support dairy production (Africa, parts of Asia, etc.), have very high rates of lactose intolerance. Up to 75% of African Americans and Native Americans and up to 90% of Asian Americans are unable to process dairy. As much as 61% of the total population is lactose intolerant! But yet we’re told we need it. Hm, kind of fishy don’t ya think?
Humans are the only mammals that drink the breast milk of other species and we are the only ones that continue drinking milk past infancy—seems a weeeee- bit odd to me.
I recently watched a little video about hormones in milk. Some people say they won’t switch to soy (particularly men) because they are afraid of the phyto estrogen—guys think they’ll grow boobs (totally proven to be false). High estrogen levels have been linked to several types of cancer including ovarian, corpus uteri, breast, testicular, and prostate. But, as I learned in the milk video, cow’s milk is crazy full of estrogen. In a study done to measure how the consumption of cow’s milk affects estrogen levels, a group of men ages 19-21 and children ages 7-9 were given a quart of milk to drink. Within an hour of the milk hitting their intestines, both groups’ estrogen levels had significantly increased while testosterone levels had dropped.
So, the question—where do I get calcium? There are many plants that provide high dosages of calcium. Sea vegetables have more calcium (ounce for ounce) than cow’s milk. Amaranth, a pseudograin, has twice the amount of calcium as milk (and it doesn’t make me farty). Some others include: leafy greens, sesame seeds, figs, white beans, and tofu. I’m totally covered on the calcium front.
Don’t you ever just crave meat?
No. Once I learned about all the horrible things that are done on conventional farms and in the meat industry, I had zero desire to eat it. The environmental impact alone probably would have been enough to convince me— rearing live stock creates more CO2 emissions than cars and its current practices lead to considerable land and water degradation.
Aside from all the harsh effects conventional farming has on the environment, I have many ethical and health concerns when it comes to how we eat meat in the western world. Cows that are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, that stand in their own poo all day, and eat food their bodies weren’t designed to eat. Chickens that have their beaks cut off so they don’t peck each other to death in their crowded stressful environment. Piggies whose tails are chopped so other piggies crammed in with them don’t try to bite their tales off when they have a break down due to their crappy overcrowded living situation. I won’t even go in to how they are slaughtered and the and how poorly many of the people in meat factories are treated (read Fast Food Nation). There’s really no denying it—its inhumane and unhealthy.
It would probably be a different story if I wanted to stop eating meat just to see if I could—but once I am fully convicted that a particular food does not serve me, I just don’t want that food anymore.
But what about cheese?
Yes, cheese is quite delicious. This was the one food that kept me from pursuing a vegan diet for a while. I just couldn’t imagine life without cheese. It was by far the hardest thing to let go when I decided to go for a completely plant based diet. Here’s why: Milk contains a chemical called casein. When we are babies and we drink our mama’s milk, this casein causes a release of feel good chemicals. This is so crucial when we are infants and our bodies need the nutrients from our mother’s milk to grow at such a rapid rate.
As we wean off of our mom’s milk and begin to eat food, we no longer need the nutrients provided by breast milk. In fact, our bodies begin to forget how to proces the stuff! Then come cow’s milk and other dairy products such as cheese. We start consuming the breast milk from other mammals and we get that same feel good release we got from our mum’s teats. So, yes, we are addicted.
That feel good release isn’t wrong in and of itself. Many healthy things can cause this reaction. But I don’t believe cheese is very healthy—its high in saturated fats and it’s extremely difficult for our bodies to process. So, for me, the cheese thing was a matter of getting over my addiction. I needed a little cheese detox and now I don’t crave it anymore—and this to me is a miracle considering how much I loved cheese! I was a complete cheese head. Every now and again I think, “Gosh, remember how good cheese tasted? Maybe I should just try a little.” But fear of that post cheese cramping keeps me away.
This is a loaded question. I could write a whole book about why I choose not consume animal products but its already been done by people who are way more clever than me. I am not opposed to eating meat. I’m opposed to the industry that creates it as well as the over consumption of it in America. So, why don’t I just eat grass fed, organically raised meat from local farms? That’s just not where I’m at. I believe there is room in this world for meat consumption—but it looks totally different than the standard American diet. I just don’t need it and think my body does well without it. Who knows, maybe some day this will change.
I’ll save you from anymore of my Vegan-evangelism for today. The more detailed answer to this question will unfold as I continue to write about why I choose to eat how I eat in later posts.
Here are the questions I ask myself:
- Have I consumed a large variety of colorful foods today?
- Have I made sure to eat something with B-12 or taken a supplement with it?–its very scarce in the plant kingdom.
- How do my food choices affect my energy and mood?
- What did I eat yesterday that is making me feel so great/so horrible today?
- Do I feel nourished and satisfied?