Eat Your Veggies!
We talk to a lot of people who ask us about “plant based diets”. Often the questions we get asked are along the lines of: “is vegan really healthier?” and “is meat really that bad for you?”
Let’s clear up both of those questions in one answer; no. Veganism and vegetarianism are not necessarily more healthy that a diet that includes meat and other animal products. For some they may work well and for many there are moral and religious arguments that can be made for both.
However, our job is not to judge but to point people in the healthiest direction possible. In that case, rather than go on about the pros and cons of veganism and vegetarianism, we’ll answer a different question instead:
What is a plant based diet, actually?
What do you mean by “plant based”?
We find that many people often take “plant based” to mean plants only (aka vegan/vegetarian). This is a simple misunderstanding.
Michael Pollan has written many books, one of which is In Defense of Food. In it, he prescribes how humans should eat for optimal health. It’s a simple statement:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Wait…mostly plants? So, it’s okay to eat meat? Yes. Yes it is. Eating a plant based diet means eating mostly plants, not exclusively.
Meat (fish, chicken, turkey, beef, bison, wild game, etc.) has essential nutrients in it (essential fatty acids, essential amino acids) that are crucial to optimal function on a daily basis. Can you get them from plants? Some of them yes, some no. But even in the cases where they are present, it’s rarely at levels found in meats.
So How do I do it?
In his statement “World class fitness in 100 Words”, Greg Glassman gives us his prescription for eating. The statement starts: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake at levels that support exercise but not body fat.”
Sound familiar? It should since it’s basically what Pollan said just in a different way. Eat food (meat, veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, starch (potatoes, squashes, etc.)). Mostly plants (veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, starch (potatoes, squashes, etc.). Not too much (keep intake at levels that support exercise but not body fat).
What Glassman gives us is a more identifiable way to classify what exactly we should eat and what to avoid. He gives a succinct list of food to pursue and is intentional about foods left out and those that are strictly off limits.
Notice that in both Pollan’s and Glassman’s statements that neither mention grains. It’s an intentional omission. Grains are not optimal for humans. Edible, yes. Optimal, no.
They are both specific about eating food, not food like products aka convenience foods like any “junk food”, “protein” bars, snack bars, etc. One of the largest reason Americans struggle with their diets is that we have moved from whole, unprocessed food and more toward packaged, processed, convenience foods.
So really, how do I do it?
Both Pollan and Glassman want us to focus on eating real food. To do that, shop the parts of the grocery store where food is refrigerated or frozen (usually the perimeter of the store). Food should be unprocessed or minimally processed. Essentially, it should look like it came out the garden or off the farm.
Stay away from additives, preservatives, and added sugars (real or fake). The sugar conversation is one in it’s own and we’ll have that, but for a while (several weeks or months) stay away.
If you eat foods from those parts of a grocery store in the right amounts you’ll be good to go. How much is right for you? You can try our Hand Method:
Ladies, at every meal eat 1 closed fist size of protein, 1 tight cupped hand of starchy carb, 1 BIG handful of colorful veggies, 1 thumb size serving of edible fat. Double those amounts for most men.