4.19.2012

A Plant-Based Diet


Alessandro and I have been on a plant-based diet for nearly two months now.  When we told our family what we were doing, we got a lot of:  What?  Why?  How?  But you guys love food.  Of course you are.  You guys are weird.  What?!  

All true statements.  

Here's my attempt to explain what being on a plant-based diet means for us, how we have changed our eating habits and what our long-term goals are.  This is just our take on a plant-based diet, and we don't claim to know anything about anything other than about what we're doing.  (And sometimes we don't even know that much).



What is a plant-based diet?  
It is a diet focused on the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  Meat, fish, dairy and oils should be limited, if not totally eliminated from a plant-based diet.  If animal products are consumed, they should be of a higher quality (ex:  organic grass-fed meat over non-organic corn-fed meat).  Oils should also be eliminated, but if they are used, they should contain no hydrogenated fat.  All processed foods are a no-no.  Processed foods are bad!  Bad!    

What can we eat?
We can eat whatever we want.  We want to eat things that will keep us healthy, energized and feeling good about ourselves.

Things we eat regularly on our plant-based diet:  beans (black, naturally refried, white, red), whole grain pasta, whole wheat and multi-grain vegan bread, lentils, brown rice, corn tortillas, quinoa, oats, farro, hummus, soy milk, and fruits and vegetables (with an emphasis on kale, swiss chard, spinach and other leafy greens).  Oh yeah, and Montel's Smoothie, which we have been drinking long before we started this diet.
Things we have eliminated from our diet:  meat, fish, dairy (eggs, cheese, milk, butter, cream), olive oil, vegetable oil, regular pasta, refined white flour, and all processed foods.

We eat a lot.  As Alessandro likes to say:  "It's not about what we can't eat.  It's about what we can eat and what we should eat more of."  One day I ate an entire box of chocolate covered raisins because it was technically fruit, so yeah, you can see where I can take that concept in moments of weakness. 


Are we vegan?
No.  We like to joke that we're better than vegan since we don't eat processed foods.  Ha.  But, actually we're nowhere near vegan because we do dabble in animal products occasionally.  For example, on Opening Day we each had a hamburger from Cliff Bell's and that bad boy was delicious.  And the other day at brunch, I had huckleberry ricotta pancakes with scrumptiously fat sausage and Alessandro had a bagel gravalox (salmon).  We were in heaven.  For Easter, we each ate a piece of ham, but instead of having sweet potatoes smothered in brown sugar, butter and marshmallows, we pulled a few pieces aside and baked ours plain--no oil or butter or salt--and did the same for our asparagus.  Our rule of thumb if we are eating meat is that the meat serving should be only 1/4 of our plate while the other 3/4 of our plate should be filled with greens/veggies/grains.

Since our hesitation to eat meat or dairy is not based on ethical considerations, we will still eat meat and dairy occasionally as a treat or if we just plain out really want to.  But we try not to.  And we try not to want to too.  (Got that?)


How did we implement our diet?  
Soon after we decided we were going plant-based, I did a major overhaul of our cabinets and pantries.  I got rid of everything we didn't want to eat anymore.  I gave my mom a huge bag filled with boxed mac-and-cheese, stove-top stuffing, white pasta, graham crackers, cheezits, etc.  (She was pretty excited about it!  And it made me realize how much bad stuff we had in our house).  I stopped buying milk, cheese, eggs and butter and instead bought soymilk and lots of avocados.  I stocked our pantries with canned beans and veggies (with no added salt--that's important, so look at the ingredients label), barley, vegetable stock, whole wheat pasta, lentils and quinoa.  Our fridge is always stocked with spring salad mix, spinach, herbs, pears, grapes, apples, salsa, corn tortillas and hummus.

So, since there is really nothing in our house that we can't eat, we are good to go!

Why are we doing this?  
It's healthy.  Eating fruits, veggies, grains and lots of natural foods is not a bad thing.  (Although I realize for some people it might seem like we're party poopers; like what it might feel like to hang out with a friend that doesn't drink during cocktail hour.  But don't worry, we still booze it up, so we're good to go).  

But if you know Al and I, you know that we loooove food.  We are total foodies.  So, there must be more to us going plant-based than just "wanting to eat healthy."  And there is.  We're hoping that our new diet helps Alessandro.  That it helps him walk better, feel better, be more energized, strengthen him and improve some of his symptoms.  And guess what? After eating this way for nearly 2 months, Alessandro has noticed an improvement!  He says that he feels a lot more energized, he has been having less bathroom issues (must be the fiber) and has generally felt really good about himself.  He is not necessarily walking any better, but hopefully that might come in the future.  (Disclaimer:  He is still taking his medicine!  This new diet is in no way meant to replace that form of treatment).


What inspired us to go plant-based?
The first bit of inspiration was this video:
Dr. Terry Wahls:  Minding your Mitochondria, found here, on twitter.  Dr. Wahls has Multiple Sclerosis and was wheelchair bound before she decided to self-medicate herself by changing her diet.  She went from a wheelchair to standing to walking to biking in a short period of time, and she credits her improvement to her plant-based diet.  Dr. Wahls' own daily diet consisted of several servings of greens (especially kale), a variety of colored fruits and vegetables and small portions of grass-fed meat.  Special thanks to Lee for forwarding this to Alessandro!
The second piece of inspiration was:
Forks Over Knives, a 2011 documentary that not only demonstrates the health benefits of a plant-based diet through research and live case studies, but also highlights the risks and consequences associated with a typical "Western" diet.  The doctors featured in the film, Drs. Esselstyn and Campbell, are pretty hard core.  They are 100% anti-animal products, processed foods and added oils.  Our favorite line from Dr. Esselstyn from the movie:    “Some people think the plant-based whole foods diet is extreme.  A Western diet guarantees there will be half a million people who have to have the front half of their bodies divided, their heart exposed, then veins will be taken from their leg and sewn on their heart.  Some people would call that extreme.”  Touch√©, no?


What has been the hardest part of changing our diet? 
Cooking without oil was weird at first.  I thought it was impossible, so at first I was all like, "Oh, I'll just use a little bit of olive oil to saute these veggies.  That should be fine."  But now I'm all like, "Vegetable stock is an awesome way to cook veggies.  Who needs EVOO?"

UPDATE:  I was way too over-enthusiastic about that.  I have since reverted back to using olive oil when sauteing or roasting veggies; broth just isn't the same. 

Also, healthy food is really expensive.  I bought a little tiny jar of all-natural jam from Eastern Market last week for $7; and a jar of all-natural pasta sauce from Rocky's in Eastern Market for $10.  Both super delicious and very good for you, but seriously expensive to buy on a regular basis.

What is our long-term diet plan?
We hope that we are strong enough people that we can make healthy eating a way of life for us.  When we started this, I don't think we thought we would even last this long.  I mean, we live for food basically.  Eating is our pastime, as is evidenced by my wealth of blog posts on the topic.

But we are actually pleasantly surprised with the plant-based meals that we have made at home so far.  Some of them have been really really good, and a  lot of them have gotten us excited to try more things and to master this new way of cooking.

And, we have our eye on the prize:  a better Alessandro.  Even though he's pretty perfect already.

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Homemade food from top to bottom:  Vegetable stir-fry; black bean and zucchini corn tacos; spinach, hummus and mushroom panini with potatoes and asparagus; steel-cut oats with cinnamon, coconut, pure maple syrup and raisins; whole wheat veggie wrap.  Anyone want the recipes?  I could do that in a separate post.

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If you haven't already, please follow this blog on Facebook.  While you're there, take a minute to vote for Alessandro's truffle pretty please!

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I'd love to hear from you on the topic of food, so please comment if you have any thoughts!  I'd appreciate it. 

6 comments:

  1. Whoa, Mod, that is intense! Good for you for sticking with it! I hope you both reap the benefits. (I am really excited about making food at home a la Make the Bread, Buy the Butter... and eager to check out this book: The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Homemade-Pantry-Buying-Making/dp/030788726X/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1334892851&sr=8-7

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    1. I love the idea of having control over what you eat instead of eating things filled with who knows what from the grocery store. I will certainly check those books out! Thanks for sharing. Your cooking adventures are equally intense!

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  2. found a link to this through The Haps, and I love everything you're saying about this! My boyfriend and I are trying to eat more veggies and less meats/processed foods, it's a slow transition but we're getting there and having fun discovering new foods and recipes.

    Strangely, we also live in a high rise in downtown Detroit (well, right outside Greektown). Kinda crazy that I randomly click on a link from a blogger's site who lives nowhere near me and find someone right around the corner!

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    1. Oh my gosh, I'm so blown away that you are my neighbor! I seriously think we may be in the same highrise. I'll email you : )

      And thanks so much for the comment. The food thing definitely is a transition, but so worth the journey I think.

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  3. Kudos for taking care of yourselves. My family and I try to eat similarly - lots of local veggies, grains, good quality meats and eggs and very little processed foods. I'd say we eat this way about 80% of the time and then don't worry about it the rest of the time. The nice thing about eating this way is that all the really junky stuff starts to taste bad. I can still eat tortilla chips at the local taquerilla on occasion, but I could never ever eat a dorrito. Ew.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment. I think making informed decisions about our food is so important. And you are so right. Doritos? I'd rather not! But I am all about corn chips and salsa from my favorite local Mexican market : )

      In only a few short weeks of eating better, my taste buds have changed quite a bit.

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