These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Perhaps the thing I learned most about my new diet, is that I had to find what works for me and be willing to adapt. Plus, there is no substituting for the “easy factor.” The drive-thru at the fast food restaurant was a temptation because it was “easy.” So, taking a tip from Chef AJ and others, I am learning how to stock my pantry with things that make my diet a bit more convenient.

For example, let’s start with some of the basics. First of all, a good green salad is good for me. But having to get the lettuce, carrots, peppers, spinach, kale, and other salad goodies out, then wash them, chop them, and assemble them into a salad takes time. Time I think that I don’t have. So Barbara and I actually will prepare a bunch of salad at a time and store it in the refrigerator. This allows us to put the base of the salad on plate, toss on some raisins, pumpkin seeds, and maybe a few tomatoes, avocado and fresh sweet basil.

You have a salad now. How do you dress it? Most of the dressings you buy in the store contain oil. I like my vinaigrettes, and Rouxbe Cooking School gave me a quick and tasty alternative. First, take some time to make up a batch of date paste – mainly a mixture of pitted dates with water mixed into a blender until if forms a paste. You can store this past in the freezer (it doesn’t become solid). Just scoop out what you need as you need it. So you take a bit of the paste, put it in a jar with some balsamic vinegar, add a few herbs ands spices (I like garlic, some fennel, maybe a bit of diced chives). Put the lid on the jar, and shake. Viola! A vinaigrette.

Need a snack to keep you going during the day? Few things are more satisfying to me than peanut butter. So I toast a slice of sprouted bread, smear on a bit of natural peanut butter (look for the ones with only “peanuts” as the ingredient). If I want a bit of sweetness on it, I skip the jelly and sprinkle on a few raisins. Or Barbara loves avocados, so she will often spread some ripe avocado on her toast, slice on a few cherry tomatoes, maybe some onion and fresh basil.

Lately, when I need something a bit more substantial, I have started turning to a good tofu scramble. Surprisingly easy to make, there are several recipes online to show you how. I can easily vary the ingredients based what’s in the pantry and what I am in the mood for. But the basic ingredients are a block of firm tofu, a bit of turmeric for color, some liquid aminos, and some nutritional yeast. Then toss in some of your favorite scrambled egg ingredients like spinach, onion, mushroom, or tomatoes. All depending on your mood and what’s in your refrigerator. Maybe top it with some salsa and vegan cheese.

For variety, we will frequently sauté up a few chopped mushrooms, with some plant protein crumbles, onions, peppers and other vegetables. Maybe toss a few black beans into the mix. This is something that you can keep in the refrigerator and add to a many recipes. Or shove the mixture into a tortilla with some hot sauce for instant street tacos.

These are some of the recipes I use frequently, so I try to make sure that I have the ingredients on hand. Of course, it doesn’t mean that it’s all I eat, but if I ever feel rushed for time and need something quick, it keeps me from hitting the local drive-thru.

Where Do You Get Tour Protein?

Someone asked me, how could you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat? My answer was, have you ever seen and ox eating meat?” – Patrik Baboumian

I think anyone who admits to eating a vegan diet probably gets this question at least three times a week.  “Where do you get your protein?

To tell you the truth, when I first thought about doing this post, I thought I could whip this post out in three minutes and have all the answers laid out in front of me. Then I examined my typical day. I found that I really needed to ask myself that very question.

First of all, the reason most of the people who ask this question are meat eaters.  They have always done it that way, and have always been told that meat was an “important part of a balanced diet.” Watching “The Game Changers,” I found myself going deeper into the food chain.  Instead of asking “Where do I get my protein?”, it asked “Where does the cow/pig/chicken/fish that I am eating get its protein?”  Looking back down the food chain, we discover that protein comes from plants. As I thought about it, it was true that “animals are just the middle men.”

As with all middle men, they take their piece of the pie as they pass it through to the next level. I don’t blame them for this – they provide a service and need to make a living. When it comes to food though, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just bypass the middle-man and go directly to the source? It’s the same source that elephants, rhinoceros, and primates like gorillas go to. They get their protein from the plants they eat. 

But how much protein do I need? It turns out that the answer to this question is pretty fuzzy. The numbers I see range from 0.36 to 0.86 grams per pound of body weight (depending on activity level). One source indicated that you should run the calculation using your lean body weight.

What plants are high in protein? As you might guess, beans and legumes are high on the list. However, green vegetable like broccoli, and spinach are also fairly high in protein. There is a fairly good chart showing these sources on healthline.com.  If you want more details about sources, you might want to check out this table at the Vegetarian Resource Group

As to where I personally get my protein, I have a confession to make. To get ready for this post, I actually used an app to track the amount of protein in my diet.  I found that I was a little short of where I wanted to be. To compensate, until I can get my act together, I have started adding an unflavored protein supplement to my oatmeal in the morning.  There are several vegan protein supplements out there – from powders to crumbles. The powders work quite well in things like oatmeal and smoothies. The crumbles make an excellent replacement in recipes calling for ground meat, like tacos.

My hope is that I will be able to wean myself off the supplements as I get used to the diet. For now it helps, me get a little extra protein into my diet. 

Learning More

Fortunately there are many tools that helped me on the way to a plant-based diet. Here are some of my favorites.

First, comes the information and motivation. Everyone is motivated differently. I prefer a more positive approach – highlighting the benefits, letting me know what I have to gain. For example, one of my favorites (I’ve only watched it about a dozen times) is “The Game Changers.” Narrated by James Wilkes, it is a documentary that investigates the benefits of a plant based diet for athlete’s performance, recovery, and healing. But it is not just about athletic performance, it also shows the benefits to a non-athlete as well. Other good documentaries include What the Health?, and Forks Over Knives.

Both Dr Michael Klaper and Douglas Lisle, Phd have TEDx talks that are available on YouTube. Dr Neal Barnard also has several videos online including Why Go Vegan. Rich Roll did an extensive interview with Dr Alan Goldhamer that includes not only information on the whole food plant-based diet, but also information on fasting. If you would like to know more about fasting in particular, I would suggest you visit the TrueNorth Health Center’s site.

There are also a plethora of sources out there to help you make the transition in the kitchen. Here are some of the ones I know and use.

BravoPB – Chef Ramses Bravo is the executive chef at TrueNorth Health Center so I have already sampled may of his creations. He goes into details about how to use the flavors of food to make a meal interesting without using salt, oil, or sugar. Also some good demonstrations on how to improvise in the kitchen when you can’t make it to the grocery store.

Chef AJ not only gives you great tips and recipes in the kitchen, but she hosts many webinars and web conferences with experts in the health and wellness field. A great source of information and inspiration to keep my plant-based journey on track.

The Whole Food Plant Based Cooking Show. I bet you can’t listen to an episode of this show and not come away humming their jingle. I’m doing it right now. Great practical recipes and a relaxing approach to healthy cooking.

Well Your World has become one of my favorites. It’s like hanging out in the kitchen with the cool kids. Dillon and Reebs give you some great tips in the kitchen while making it entertaining. They also offer a range of SOS-free whole food plant-based products like sauces and dressings that can make cooking in the kitchen more convenient.

The Rouxbe Cooking School has a series of cooking classes to help newbies (like me) adapt to a plant-based diet. They start with the basics, like knifing skills, and move into other techniques that help make me more effective in the kitchen. This is especially helpful for those that have relied heavily on restaurants and fast food and want to do more in the kitchen. I am still working through the courses, but have already learned some valuable lessons.

Of course, there are other great sources of information. If I missed your favorite, please let me know. I am always open to new ideas.

Will It Last?

One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain.” – Rick Godwin

You may be asking me, after over 50 years of being an omnivore, “Will you be able to resist the urge to shed the vegan lifestyle and dive right back being into a carnivore?” My answer is “I certainly hope so!” Just the phrasing of that seems to add quite a bit of doubt – and there is some there. I think the key for me will be a long memory – knowing where I came from and remembering how I felt before the diet.

It took a bit of encouragement to get me to write this post. There is a lot about this subject that is still quite sensitive to me. But my loving wife Barbara convinced me that it would be a good idea to put it down in writing. I will try not to get too graphic, but I know how imaginations are and how people can fill in the details. So consider this a warning if you are sensitive to such subjects.

I remember going to a seminar on personal security. In it, the presenter stressed the importance of locating all the exits are when you enter any venue. In my case, the most important thing for me was knowing where to find the nearest restroom – along with the second nearest. It was a bonus if there was a third nearby. This habit started early in my teenage years and continued until just recently.

As I grew older, the number of situations that I had to account for grew. A road trip, a plane ride, a long business meeting, or even a long bike ride each had its own set of challenges. I visited a doctor about it several times. He would run tests and invariably come up with a prescription for the acid blocker du jour and send me on my way. They might help the symptoms for a while, but it would not last. So I came up with my own methods of coping.

For example, before I retired, I plotted a route to work that maximized my access to a restroom. I knew, that at a particular intersection, I could turn left instead of right and a gas station would be just a block away. I even knew which gas stations had more than one stall, to minimize the chance that it was taken.

Since eating often triggered it, I would not eat at all during longer drives or meetings and only sip at a drink. On organized bike rides, I would never eat any type of energy bar or snack until I was approaching a rest stop. And in many cases, I would take a dose of Imodium (loperamide hcl) as a preventative – before any symptoms occurred – just to avoid an issue. I was coping with the problem. Not fixing it.

I don’t remember any official diagnosis. Much of the doctor visits occurred before the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) was a big thing, so it may have been that. But I will tell you that, while it wasn’t instant, moving to an SOS-free plant based diet has worked. I saw noticeable improvements in a short time, which continued to get stronger as the weeks went on. In addition to fixing the digestive issues, it also helped correct an irregular heart beat, increase my energy, shed a few pounds and improve my health overall. These benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.

Please don’t take this as a complaint about the life I’ve had. I’ve had a beautiful life and would not trade any part of it for anything. Still, I find myself identifying the nearest restroom before I really need it. But that habit is slowly fading, and I am finding myself enjoying each moment more and more.

A note from my wife: As a holistic medicine practitioner with massive successes helping people with their body issues, I was at a loss with David’s problems. I felt like he spent 1/2 his life in the bathroom and I could see the “coping” skills he had honed. I was frustrated, not with him (it was more sympathy), but for my own inability to help him, so I had him seeing other professionals as well, looking for what I couldn’t identify, without succumbing to prescription drugs loaded with side effects for life.

Response from the author: My wife understates her role in my journey. The idea to convert to vegan was entirely hers and I could not have done it with her immense love and support. Her skills as a healer are incredible, but in some cases the patient has to take a greater role in the solution. This is one of those situations.

The Pleasure Trap

Optimal results are n to achievable without optimal behavior.” – Douglas Lisle

I have talked a bit about what is in the an SOS-Free diet. I want to talk a bit now about how to make intelligent choices within the plan. I recognize that everyone’s goals regarding their food choices are different – from what they eat to why they eat. In my case, my choices related to several things – weight, digestion, and heart health to name a few.

I was, and still am, overweight. Oh, many can’t tell by my overall frame and how I carry it. As a teenager, when I went to a carnival, there was always someone there that would try to guess your weight or age. I always chose weight and always came away with the prize. It made me feel good when they came up short. But maybe they were just being nice to me.

Growing up, I was a model consumer for the “Can’t Eat Just One” products. If I ate one potato chip, the whole bag was chasing it. Why one scoop of ice cream when there was an entire carton available? Moderation was not easy for me. I blamed it on a large family and competition for food, but I have since learned that I am just wired to work that way. I have been falling into the Pleasure Trap.

Early in the history of man there would be cycles of plentitude and scarcity. When hunter-gathers found food, they weren’t certain when the next famine would come. As a result, they gathered food and consumed it whenever they could. It also meant that they favored foods that were high in calories. Food with extra calories meant that their bodies could store to make it through the next down-cycle.

In their drive for more calories and survival, their bodies also developed mechanisms to encourage that high calorie-seeking behavior. When our ancestors found higher calorie foods, their brains would generate a bit of dopamine to encourage them to seek out even more of that food. And it would decrease the dopamine hit for lower calorie foods. So my brain rewards me for eating foods with high sugar and fat (very high caloric density) but not so much for those leafy greens. This works when you have those periods of scarcity. But I live in a time of plentitude, and my body does not know when to stop storing.

I find that it is much easier to control something once I understand it, and my explanation is a bit terse. It’s tough to describe in a 500 word post. Dr Douglas Lisle does a much better job explaining it than I ever could. You can find more about the Pleasure Trap online – like his TEDx talk, or the book he co-wrote with Dr Alan Goldhamer, The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness.

What’s In It?

It’s not a diet. It’s called healthy eating.” – Unknown

What’s in a SOS-free, whole food, plant-based diet? How do I get me some?

Let’s break it down.  As the name suggests, the core source of the diet is plants. This means avoiding meats such as beef, pork, chicken and even fish. But it also includes avoiding any animal products – including eggs, milk, butter and cheese.  Now you may find this extreme, and I am right there with you. But there are a lot of good reasons for this, many of which are far too technical for this humble blog.  To learn more about the science of it, I would suggest any one of a plethora of documentaries out there – like this one. Suffice it to say that I feel healthier than have in a long time.  I still have to remember that there are some plant-based products that are not as good for me – things like refined sugar and oils.  I’m learning how to limit or even eliminate these from my diet.

Now the “whole food” part. I strive to eat the entire plant. Of course, I exercise a bit of common sense here. I don’t eat the peel of the banana or the shell of a pecan. But many foods come better as a package – like the fiber in fruit that can slow absorption of carbohydrates and help digestion. It also makes it more filling.  An obvious example is fruit juice. In a whole-food diet, I would lean toward eating an apple instead of just drinking apple juice. I will admit that I am quite liberal on this point.  For example, I might add some pea protein (protein extracted from peas) to a smoothie or drink some juice. Despite the stumbles, in large part, I strive to keep to the idea that I should be eating the entire food.

SOS stands for “Salt, Oil, and Sugar.” The “free” part is a bit of an exaggeration. It really means that there is no added salt, oil or sugar. I still get plenty of each of them, just in their more natural forms. Sometimes I have to get a bit creative. If I need to sweeten things, there are whole food alternatives – like dates in the form of date powder or as a date paste. Sautéing vegetables? Try a water based sautéing technique instead of oil. To me, the hardest part of this is the elimination of the salt. I had grown so accustomed to the saltiness of today’s processed food, that it took me a while to get used to it.  And this is from someone who never added salt to anything! It took a while, but now I can actually taste the natural saltiness of raw celery, kale, and chard.

So now when I am shopping for food, I look at the nutrition label. If the ingredients include animal products or added sugar or oil, I try to avoid it. If the number of grams of sodium in a serving is greater than the number of calories in a serving, then I also try to avoid. I am not perfect. I do find myself making compromises. But considering everything, I think I do a pretty good job sticking to it.

Baby Steps

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.” – Jessie Potter

How many of you remember the best thing you have ever eaten? I do, but to you it may sound a bit ordinary. It was my first meal after having my gall bladder removed.  You see, I went to the hospital suffering from a bout of pancreatitis.  It seems that the gall bladder was the culprit, so they had to remove it. The thing is, they can’t remove the gall bladder while the pancreas is acting up, so they had to calm it down. How do they do that? Simple – an old-fashioned water fast.  Nothing but water and ice chips for a few days.  When my system was stable, the surgery was done and I was treated with what I can only describe as the “nectar of the gods”.  Actually, it was just a cup of chicken broth. It was at the hospital, so it was probably not the kind of slow cooked, homemade broth that my mother used to make. It probably came out of a little foil pouch.

That is what I expected when we left for the TrueNorth Health Center. A deep and thorough palate cleanse that would make the next bite of food taste like heaven. It was not what I thought. That is not what happened.  As I mentioned in my previous post, TrueNorth is medically supervised. When the doctors made their original assessment, it was determined that I should not go on the fasting right away. I was assigned to the slow road. They would monitor my health and reassess as we went. In the meantime, I was free to eat whatever the center had in its cafeteria. In a practical sense, I was immersed in a whole food, plant-based diet, with an extra twist. It was also “SOS-free”.  No added salt, oil, or sugar.

The food looked delicious. But to tell you the truth, everything “needed” salt.  Actually, to be more accurate, I wanted more salt. And this is from someone who hardly added salt to anything! I had been eating processed foods with too much salt for so long, my tastes had come to expect that saltiness. But I endured the weeks I was there, and continued to be immersed in a healthy diet. Meanwhile, my wife went on the fast. We went to educational programs that taught us about the diet – the benefits and the choices we would need to make. After a while, I managed to progress to juice, then to broth.  Then back to juice and real food. By the time we left the center, the food still tasted like it needed salt.  But my old diet was no longer appealing to me.  I made it this far, I can take it the rest of the way.

Six months later and my food no longer “needs” salt. In fact, I can now taste the natural saltiness of celery, and chard. The natural flavors of the food now stand out much more. The reasons for not being allowed to do the fast seem to have dissipated as my diet got healthier.

Setting the Stage

In food excellent medicine can be found, in food bad medicine can be found; good and bad are relative.”  – Hippocrates

What follows is a story of how I came to adopt a whole foods plant-based diet. I am not pretending to be an expert on the subject of dieting in general, or even plant-based diets in particular.  To you, I may seem like one among thousands of other bloggers that tout their diets as the be-all end-all answer to nutrition and weight loss. Maybe I will get a bit enthusiastic at points, but I will try to keep it on an even keel for now. I believe that one of the wonderful things about our world is that everyone is different. Find what’s right for you and your circumstance. Maybe something in my story will help. Maybe not. Either way, it is your journey and your responsibility.  This blogs is about mine.

For many reasons, I already had an inkling that there was something wrong with my diet. It was never a priority of mine.  The word “never” is a bit harsh. There were times when I would get serious about it and join a diet program, or adopt a new fad.  They would invariably work.  I would lose weight and I would feel better. I would get more active, more productive, even more confident. Then something would happen. It could be anything: an injury that would disrupt my routine; more travel in my job; or just added stress from whatever source. My diet would then become an inconvenience. I would find myself craving easy and comfortable food and once again find myself frequenting the local fast-food drive thru.

I remember learning about nutrition in elementary school. At that time, it was the “Food Pyramid”.  You know the one – the foundation was breads and grains, and the tip was oils and sweets.  A bunch of stuff shoved in the middle. Comparing what I learned then to what my practices had become, so much had gotten flipped around.  Fruits and vegetables were now on the tip.  Sweets and oils were sliding further down. Meats and dairy were also forming a wider base on the pyramid.  My diet was morphing into what has become known now as the “Standard American Diet”. This is neither and endorsement nor and indictment of the food pyramid.  So much has been learned about nutrition since then, and there is still so much more to be discovered. But it is useful to me to discover where my ideas about diet and food came from.

That was the past.  Why now?  What caused me to make that radical shift to whole foods plant-based diet?  The spark that caused the flame was actually my lovely wife, Barbara. She had heard about the TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California where they helped people convert to a whole food plant-based diet through a medically supervised program. She was interested in it not only for her own health, but also to gather more information that might help some of the her patients at Inspired Holistic Therapies. Having recently retired, I decided to go through the program with her.  Both of our experiences were very different, but we both emerged from it armed with much more knowledge about diet and how it might improve our lives.

In my next post, I will share you a bit more about my journey.