A thorough inquiry

Category: Nutrition

Plant-based Conclusion

Last week marked our return from vacation, and the conclusion (for now) of our plant-based diet experiment. It lasted 6 weeks, and we were extremely happy and satisfied with the food. It was a great opportunity to cook with a bunch of new ingredients and prepare some more traditional dishes from around the world. We would have continued with this diet if it weren’t for two things: GI distress and poorer body composition.

When we first started eating a very high fibre diet, I assumed it would take around 4 weeks to adjust, digestion-wise. During this time I experienced a lot of bloating, gas, and cramping (as might be expected), but it seemed to taper off somewhat at 3-4 weeks. However, a moderate and constant amount of gas and bloating persisted, and this wasn’t something I was used to or particularly keen on tolerating. I felt as though most of the legumes and grains that we ate were properly prepared (legumes soaked for at least 24 hours, sprouted grains, etc.), so it’s not clear whether or not these symptoms could be fully resolved on a diet including these foods for us. A possible alternative would be to base meals around starchy tubers, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. We may consider this approach for the future.

The body composition issue (decreased muscle, increased fat) was not severe, though still fairly disheartening. This is something that wouldn’t be an absolute show-stopper for me in the long run, but at the same time, who doesn’t want to be more lean and muscular? Since the diet was very high in carbohydrate, I did avoid any additional added fats. This meant no nuts, no added oils (not even for cooking), and choosing plenty of low-fat staple foods such as lentils and rice. Of course, if you believe Taubes, it makes perfect sense for carbohydrates to drive fat storage, but I was trying to give the other side a shot with this experiment.

So what’s next? A diametrically opposed experiment, of course. More details to come, but here are some dinners in the meanwhile.

Wild Alaskan salmon with fresh mayonnaise and cold-pressed camelina oil

Rib steak with home-made dill mayonnaise

Lamb loin chops with parmesan

Bean burritos and more

It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve embarked on our experimental plant-based journey. I’ve had more ingredients to be inspired by, but also quite a few tricks and techniques to learn. Still, the quality and flavour of the food has been amazing, and we’re excited to continue on in the experiment.

Last night we made some bean burritos using nice organic dried black and pinto beans from Community Natural Foods, as well as homemade pico de gallo. The pinto beans in our slow-cooker on high for 8 hours made for some great refried beans!

Over the weekend we made a couple of delicious “fast-food” meals: baked falafel pitas and sprouted legume burgers:

I have much to learn when it comes to vegan burgers, but luckily Boon Burger Cafe was recently featured on You Gotta Eat Here, so I will be attempting to rip off as much as I can from them in the future.

Lentil Tacos

A few days ago we finished the last of our excellent grass-fed beef from Hoven Farms and embarked on a plant-based diet experiment. We were already eating whole foods before, so this basically meant swapping out meat with legumes and including more fruits, vegetables, and starches (with a bit of whole grains here and there).

Here are some lentil tacos we made last night:

  • 1c dried green lentils, soaked for 12h, cooked for 10-15mins
  • 2-3tbsp taco seasoning, to taste
  • 1/2c jasmine rice with chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2c frozen corn
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • white corn tortillas
  • nutritional yeast (the yellow flakey stuff), salsa, hot sauce, to taste

Vegucated Mini-Review

A few weeks ago we sat down and watched the documentary Vegucated. After seeing Forks Over Knives and reading The China Study, my curiosity about plant-based nutrition has been piqued, so I was interested to see what this film might have to add.

The film follows three omnivorous New Yorkers who have volunteered to spend 6 weeks eating a 100% plant-based vegan diet. It attempts to address both the ethical and health aspects of veganism,  and reveals that three goals shared by the volunteers at the outset were to lose weight, feel good, and look better. In fact, they did both bodyweight and blood-work measurements before and after to highlight the health effects of the diet.

Unfortunately, much of the shopping guidance given to the volunteers centered around vegan analogues to animal foods, junk food, Oreos, Earth Balance, etc. rather than what basically all plant-based nutritionists advise: a whole-food diet consisting of whole grains, vegetables (green, starchy), fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds. I understand that the project was trying to use comfort foods to generate buy-in on the part of the volunteers, but I would argue that a switch to a healthy diet (especially from the SAD that they were eating before) would’ve resulted in much more progress towards their original three goals and thus a higher likelihood of long-term adoption.

After 6 weeks, the participants’ blood lipids did improve, but weight loss was almost negligible. The results were absolutely nothing like those reported by The Engine 2 Diet or Forks Over Knives. It was actually disheartening to watch these volunteers be disappointed by a lack of results when they obviously desired them as part of signing on to the project.

If you’re going to give the film a watch, don’t have your hopes up to see things like disease reversal and other significant health effects, rather, focus on the ethical message of the film, which did seem to very well received by the participants.

You Don’t Have To Eat That

If you believe that one should eat every three hours to avoid metabolic slow-down, you might be interested in hearing  what Martin Berkhan and Mark Sisson have to say on the matter. But even if you accept that there might be more to the metabolism story than ‘stoking the fire’, what does that mean for someone who wants to eat healthy on a daily basis without implementing one of the several different Intermittent Fasting protocols?

I think there’s a clear answer: choose to skip meals on occasion that would otherwise be unhealthy. You get access to some of the benefits that Mark talks about above (brain health, longevity, weight loss, anti-carnogenic effects), piled on top of the accomplishment of avoiding poor food choices. I can think of plenty of occasions where I now no longer feel the need to ‘grab a bite’: road trips, airports, busy weekends, running errands. No need to tote around a cooler of healthy snacks, just relax and have a coffee or water instead!

Intermittent Fasting

It’s been about a year or so that I’ve been following an eating pattern called Intermittent Fasting (IF). My first exposure to this (and I’m sure many others) was through Martin Berkhan’s site Leangains. Later research led me to Ori Hofmekler’s books, the first of which being The Warrior Diet, and my favourite, Maximum Muscle Minimum Fat. The basic idea is to improve body composition (muscle mass relative to fat mass), but there are plenty of other potential benefits.

I’ll get into details later on about my experience, what I’ve learned so far, and what I still need to figure out. At the very minimum I’m now freed from the worry of missing meals. I think this is a hugely practical takeaway that anyone can benefit from, whether or not they’re interested in physique development.