22 June 2012

On Eating More Plants

peanut pad thai

So far this has been my favorite dish since we started eating more plants. It is a basic pad thai, and I used rice noodles and a pad thai mix from the grocery store, following the package instructions. I also used raw peanuts, and browned them in oil before I sauteed the veggies to go with them, and it was very delicious. I happily ate the leftovers for lunch for several days in a row. Have you ever made rice noodles? Surprisingly easy, and tasty if you use the right sauce.

There has been some discussion in my real life resulting from our decision to do what I am now calling "eat more plants." So I thought I would write a few notes on the subject to clarify some things.

First, let's define some terms.

Vegan: Someone who does not eat any animal product whatsoever, and tries to avoid heavy oils. This means no milk, no eggs, to meat, no cheese. If it is or comes from an animal, they do not eat it. We are not doing this.

Vegetarian: Someone who does not eat the flesh of any animal with eyes. Fish, shrimp, pork, chicken, etc. Those all have eyes, too, not just cows. So Vegetarians do not eat their flesh. Vegetarians do eat some things that are considered animal products. These things include eggs, milk, and cheese. I imagine there is a whole spectrum regarding this, but I don't think it's as mysterious as most people might think.

For the record, we are not strictly joining either camp. We are simply trying to eat more plants. After I read the China Study, I picked up my grocery list off the counter, and it said, "sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, string cheese, milk, bread, ranch dressing mix" and maybe two household cleaning products. That was a more dairy heavy list than my typical list, but it was a real eye opener for me. One (maybe two) of the food groups was over-represented in our diet, and that needed to change. We are still going to eat meat as a flavoring on occasion, and probably for most Sunday dinners.

We are several weeks out. My weight has not changed. My energy level has not changed. I did have two very tired days, but they occurred at the same time of my normal biological cycle as they always occur. If anything, I have felt a little lighter, like my body had less heavy stuff to work through. I felt like running longer this morning during my usual walk. I felt less dragged down. There was some of the normal trouble with beans at first, but my body seemed to adjust to it after about a week of eating them more often. I had a friend who used to be vegetarian, and I asked her if she still was. She said she was too tired when she ate that way, but it was because she was a "lazy vegetarian." I think she is right to eat what gives her energy, and that lazy vegetarianism is not healthy. But lazy omnivorism isn't healthy either. Fast food and over-processed convenience foods are terrible for health and energy levels.

People keep talking about protein, so I want to make a note on that. There is protein in most food. Protein is composed of amino acids, which our bodies constantly break down and reassemble, sometimes even out of our own existing mass. Vegetables are often more protein dense per calorie than animal products. The only thing that makes it harder to get your protein out of plants is that you have to eat more of them. All of that chewing is a lot of work. There is a lot of talk about how you have to mix and match things to get the complete protein you need, but it is not as complicated as you might think.  Eat whole grains along with your vegetables. Include legumes (beans and some nuts) and maybe some some tofu, or tempeh.

Iron is also important, and since we are eating eggs they are a source, but green vegetables like broccoli and spinach are also great sources if iron. If we eat them with lemon (and butter for spinach, wilted in a pan. Mmmm!), the ascorbic acid even aids our absorption. Furthermore, wheat bread and other products are often fortified with additional sources of iron.  

I have cooked tofu once a week, and my most recent try was the best. I think I finally dried it out enough. Did you know you have to buy extra firm, wrap it in a towel an hour before you want to cook it, and put something heavy on it to squeeze out the water? Then you can cut it into cute little cubes and fry it up in a stir fry until it is crispy, brown, and tasty. I have had soggy, flavorless tofu disasters in the past, and this is not the same stuff. Add yummy sauce, and wow!

So far, I have loved the variety. The kids have been as picky as ever, and are subsisting on their normal unhealthy fare of fruit, noodles, toast, potatoes, and any animal protein Grace can coax me into feeding her (Tuna! Eggs! Milk! Chicken!). Hopefully their little tastebuds will eventually mature. Scott has been surprisingly open to brown rice and a few of the legumes we've tried.

This is turning into a novel, but I just want to say this in bold.

I do not expect everyone I know and love to eat the way I now want to eat.

If I seem weird talking about food now, it's because I have realized that some people are sensitive about what they have the right to eat, and I don't want to offend. It is a free country, eat what you want. I am not judging you. Eat cake. Be happy. Live long. Prosper.


msjvd said...

Sigh. You've inspired me. My copy of The China Study is on its way. I cleaned out most of my freezer store of beef (a few lingering steaks) and sad, frost-encrusted vegetables to make room for more fresh stuff of a type I can eat. And I've had two cases of tofu from Costco in the bottom of the fridge for more than a month.

Well, plus I shared that great tofu pudding recipe with you. That's going to mess up all your good work! Hahaha!!

amy said...

It can be helpful to draw a distinction between ethical vegans who abstain from using all animal products, even honey or insect parts used as colorings in food or cosmetics (yum!) and those who follow a plant-based diet for health reasons but may still use leather or other animal products. Unfortunately, as you know and is obvious, very unhealthy diets (think doughnuts) exist that do not violate this ethical code. I think the avoidance of oils you reference is more common now since the popularization of Eat to Live and The Engine 2 Diet and Rip Esselstyn's other book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, (which I have not read but would welcome your review). These folks follow a no refined sugar/grains, no oil, whole foods vegan diet. I have eaten this way (I also severely limited my grains) and lost weight rapidly and easily for the first time in my slow metabolic life. They often refer to this type of diet as "plant-strong", because vegan just isnt hard core enough.

Until I eliminate oil, sugar, and grains I do not lose an ounce, so you may be of the same variety. I really appreciated Fuhrman's assurance that because those who eat the fewest calories live the longest, the slow metabolismed are actually survival machines as they can get by and thrive of so few calories (presumably all from very nutrient dense foods, pass the salad, hold the dressing!). At least I have the potential for super longevity.

I know I've recommended lots of books, but super immunity is fuhrmans latest, and really good.

amy said...

Also, we need to talk about tofu. Try marinating it in the basic baked tofu recipe but then broiling for five min on each side until the edges look crispy. Then stock it in a Tupperware in the fridge and the moisture will redistribute and make it delicious beyond description. I would think your children would find it tasty and satisfying to the desire for string cheese. Other kid friendly (or so I'm told...) healthy vegan foods include split pea soup, chili with cornbread, smoothies, and things that can be dipped or skewered. I will pass along any other ideas.

Liz said...

I love this. I went through a phase where I was a flexitarian, which essentially meant I was eating more plants. I think I'll read the China study and jump back on board with you. How can I get some recipes that you've liked?

The Yoder's Four said...

You are a brave woman. I remember my mom going through a phase like this (not that you're just going through a phase...), although it was more like, "let's buy everything from the smelly health food store" than just eating more veggies. Tofu and fake cheese and carob and everything. The Asians really do have a smart thing going though. If anything, you're keeping your arteries clean! Good for you!!

My5wmd said...

We're not critical of you, and I hope you don't feel we are (although I can see why you would.) To be honest, we're just disappointed in our own inability to follow the proscriptions that would be best for our health. I think the plant-heavy diet you are embracing actually fits the WoW better than any other diet I've tried. So, good for you. You may just be the needed inspiration for all of us health nuts who've sort of lost our way in a maze of cherry-picked food ideals.

I do think it's important to note that one should never equate weight loss with health gain. Just because you lose weight or inches on a particular diet does not mean it is a healthy choice. Healthy will stand the test of time. Here's hoping you will feel fabulous and fit in a year, 10 years, even a lifetime from now.

Brittany said...

Isn't it amazing how sensitive people are about their meat? :) Oh well, I guess we all want to be defensive about what we do. I'm glad you are eating more plants. I am enjoying watching your recipes, perhaps I'll try a few. After being strictly vegetarian for two years, it is nice to just be mostly vegetarian now. Less pressure, still most of the nutritional value, and I have less family being bothered by the label. Thanks.