WHAT DOES BEING VEGAN EVEN MEAN?!
While vegan-ism is somewhat of a spectrum, the basic premise of the lifestyle is eliminating the consumption of animal products. People’s reason for choosing a vegan lifestyle can be for health, environmental, ethical reasons or any combination of the 3. The less extreme end of the spectrum commits to a diet that doesn’t include meals or foods made with any meat, seafood, fish, eggs or dairy products. Nope, not even feta on salads or eggs to make cupcakes! More disciplined vegans not only adhere to those basic principles, they also commit to a purely plant-based diet [meaning nothing heavily processed like refined sugars, food dyes, harmful preservatives, etc]. So yeah, not all vegans would agree with the trending idea that “Oreos are vegan” just because they’re made without milk or egg product. The most conscientious vegans hold the same principles for everything they consume, not just the food they eat, [meaning they won’t purchase leathers, wools or silks, nor any household or beauty products made using honey or animal products/animal testing].
WHY DID I EXPERIMENT WITH THE VEGAN DIET ANYWAY?!
After seeing all the buzz around the documentary "What The Health” [WTH] on Netflix, I gave it a watch. There were people featured in it that were extremely unhealthy and suffering from a long lists of health problems like obesity, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Throughout the documentary, we witnessed their journey of adopting a vegan diet, and each of them claimed that their health completely turned around after just 2 weeks. Some were no longer taking ANY of their, [many], prescription medications! After listening to their stories, I wasn’t surprised that changing their diet gave them such dramatic results, but I also wasn’t entirely convinced that eating vegan was what did that for them. That’s why I wanted to give it a try myself.
Those people's health turned around more so because they added more fresh produce, plant product and real, whole foods to their diet and less because they eliminated animal product. That's my hypothesis - I'm not claiming that's the reality! That’s why I wanted to try this experiment. My diet is about 60-70% plant-based already and I'm consistently healthy, [as in, I hardly ever even deal with a seasonal cold], and I feel great the majority of the time... So I wanted to know: would eliminating animal product completely change the way I feel/change my health? To be clear: I know some people adopt this diet for ethical reasons regarding environmental sustainability and the treatment of animals. That's an entirely different perspective that I respect & commend, but I did this experiment focusing on WTH’s claim that it'll transform your health.
WHY 2 WEEKS?
That was the amount of time the documentary required in order to make a claim about the effects of a vegan diet on those people’s health... If 14 days feels like too short a time span to be making any dramatic claims, then you and I are on the same page ;-)
SUPPORT FOR MY HYPOTHESIS
I’m no Registered Dietician, nor am I a Nutritionist, so don’t take the following as fact or even a claim. Just know I do my best to keep up-to-date and educated so that I can make informed decisions about what goes on my plate. In my opinion, WTH didn't focus enough on distinguishing the health hazards of highly processed animal products vs fresh, local, free roaming and grass-fed options. [I know some people disagree with me on this and believe all meat/fish/animal product is hazardous. That's ok!] I consume a lot of plant product; veggies, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains make up the majority of my diet. People ask me often if I'm vegetarian, but I'm not - I’m just super conscientious about the quality and safety of the animal products I eat. I purchase meats from a local butcher who only provides grass-fed, locally sourced options. To be honest though, I don’t really enjoy meat, but I do enjoy eggs and fish/seafood, so I eat those far more often and opt for eggs that are cage-free and local, and for fish/seafood that’s not been previously frozen or bred in a fish farm.
As I mentioned before, despite eating these animal products, I remain in excellent health and have plenty of energy. Yet, WTH warned that eating an egg is equivalent to smoking 5 cigarettes and our meat consumption is more responsible for our obesity and diabetes epidemic than highly processed foods and beverages like Twinkies, Cheese Puffs and soda… I just couldn’t take it seriously… Putting a Big Mac under the same umbrella as local, grass-fed, organic beef is like putting Cherry Kool Aid under the same umbrella as fresh, organic cherries - it’s outrageous and misleading. Quality matters more than category, [in my humble opinion ;-)].
Do I agree that over-processed beef made into patties, mixtures of poultry and soy made into nuggets and cracked eggs mixed in a carton with preservatives are all harmful food options? I sure as hell do!!! But just because those options are filled with carcinogens and toxins that can wreak havoc on our body doesn’t make ALL beef, poultry and eggs an extreme health risk. People choose those heavily processed beef-like, chicken-like and egg-like products because of their convenience, and often without any clue that they’re harmful to their health! Tell people they can’t eat it and of course they’re going to feel better!!! What if they replaced it with better quality options and focused on the majority of their diet being plant-based? I think they’d still feel better. I wasn’t going to sit on my soap box and just say it though… so I tried it.
WAS MY LIFE/HEALTH CHANGED AFTER 2 WEEKS?!
To put it simply: no. However, I learned a TON about the lifestyle, animal product alternatives that are available, [like vegan cheeses!], and my own body. My perspective as a consumer shifted a lot, but physically I didn’t feel significantly different. I did feel different though…
WAS IT HARD AF? WERE YOU MISERABLE?!
Dramatic answer: On Day 4 I thought my stomach was eating itself and on Day 5 I was convinced I was losing my boyfriend Adam in the depths of his mind. [Yes, he did the experiment too! What a trooper, right?! He’s the best partner in crime ever.]
Reality: Initially, we didn’t really take into account that by eliminating calorie dense proteins from our diet that we were creating a calorie deficit if we didn’t eat more often and/or larger portions. So by days 4 and 5, our bodies screamed at us that we needed to EAT MORE. Once we listened, we were fine.
What I did notice though is that our energy crashed and hunger came extremely quickly because we weren’t eating as much protein. The HANGER was real! Realer than it had ever been for either of us. So yeah, there were far more headaches and moments of short patience than usual… but luckily during those cranky crashes we didn’t have the energy to sass each other. So crisis averted, I guess - HA!
DID YOU EAT HEALTHIER?!
LOL, NOPE! Contrary to popular belief, vegan options on restaurant menus are not all salads and grain bowls… I was able to order vegan wings, a burger, pizza and eat treats like dairy-free ice creams over the course of my 2 week experiment. I even had a girl at the grocery store proudly tell me that Oreos are vegan when I told Adam that the cookies he wanted were not an option. Junk food is in high supply for Vegans.
Now for a little science-y look at the diet: As I mentioned above, our energy levels were less consistent, so we HAD to eat more frequently, and I have a a theory as to why… Not only were we eating less protein, we were eating WAY more carbohydrates. [Hold up!! Don’t freak out! I love carbs. I eat them daily. I do not think they’re the devil. In fact, I think they’re necessary for most bodies to function optimally.] What I mean is, we were eating them more often and in larger quantities than we normally do, which I speculate caused our blood sugar and insulin levels to have more dramatic peaks and valleys.
For example, because we couldn’t eat eggs for breakfast, and didn’t want oatmeal every morning, we’d sometimes eat avocado toast or toast with almond butter. Normally, I’d just eat avocado on my eggs, rather than on toast - or occasionally put avocado and eggs on 1 slice of toast rather than just avocado on 2 slices of toast. Another example that sticks out to me was the thai yellow curry I made. Normally, I’d eat that with shrimp or scallops in it and pass on the rice. During the experiment, I couldn’t eat the seafood, so I added the brown rice. As you can see, meal after meal, these small changes add up to a significant difference that my body needed to adjust to.
If you’re at all familiar with the glycemic index, then you know that carbohydrates, especially simple and refined carbs, are the foods with the highest glycemic index. The higher the glycemic index of a food, the more dramatic the increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, and the faster the food is metabolized. Since we were eating more carbs, I think it’s safe to say that our blood sugar rose higher and fell faster. Proteins help slow the process of metabolizing our meals, which keeps us full longer and can even help keep our blood sugar levels stay more consistent. The University of Sydney has a department dedicated to research about the glycemic index levels of food and the effects it has on our body, and they claim that eating a diet that creates minimal fluctuation in our blood sugar and insulin levels is “the secret to long-term health, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also one of the keys to maintaining weight loss”. So with that in mind: is eliminating animal product, and therefore creating a greater dependence on carbohydrates, really the best thing we can do for our health?
Yes, yes, fruits and vegetables are carbs. I know, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Literally, if we only got our carbs from fruits and veggies, it would be a full time job to eat enough to not whither away. Remember, that’s what I was doing for the 1st 4-5 days… and it wasn’t pretty. I HAD to add in more bread and rice so that I wasn’t hungry ALL the time, and I eat a ton of fruits and veggies!! They just aren’t calorie dense enough to be sufficient on their own if you’re eating a reasonable volume of food.
Also, let’s quickly touch upon the vegan junk foods… I ate vegan wings that looked like boneless chicken wings, tasted like them and even had the same texture as them. They tasted amazing!! In fact, I’m quite sure there aren’t many people who’d eat them and actually be able to tell they weren’t just boneless wings if you didn’t tell them otherwise. This solidified why I avoid eating boneless wings or chicken nuggets or any sort of processed animal products - it’s so processed and manipulated to be the perfect flavor, texture and appearance that manufacturers could be using any concoction of the meat with soy and grains, and we’d never know what we’re actually eating. It makes me wonder - how much chicken do the chicken nuggets in school lunches get made with? Or is it mostly soy? And if it were, would you feel misled? The more processed a food is, the less you know about it… whether it’s vegan or not. Same goes for the egg substitutes used in vegan baked goods. If I refuse to eat eggs from a carton because I don’t want to consume the preservatives and because I don’t know where it comes from, then I’m going to avoid vegan egg substitute in a carton for the same reason.
“I’m Vegan” DOES NOT = “I’m healthy”, but that also doesn’t make every Vegan unhealthy. So if you’re thinking about using my article as ammo to judge a Vegan for their lifestyle choices, you’re missing the point. If you want to go Vegan for ethical reasons, that’s amazing!! I’m actually challenging myself to eat less animal product now that I know I can do it.
Also, Adam and I absolutely loved a ton of the vegan recipes we tried. We both agreed that the experiment made us more creative and inspired in the kitchen, so we actually had a ton of fun cooking the past 2 weeks! I love burritos now that I can make them using cauliflower rice! With traditional burritos, the rice, beans and protein all packed in together is way too heavy for me. Even though I enjoyed the flavors, I’d always feel lethargic after eating them, but discovering the vegan burritos solved that problem and I’m seeing way more burritos in my future!! [Plus, I love any way to sneak more veggies into my meals, so replacing rice with cauliflower pumps me up!]
I never have, [and likely never will], label my diet for the long term. I’m not Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-Free, none of that - I just educate myself about the nutritional benefits of foods to ensure I’m eating a nutritious diet that supports my lifestyle; then I eat what makes me feel good and avoid what makes me feel bad. I like my food like I like my people: real, simple and energizing. If I’m buying a food that should be an ingredient, not have ingredients, I read the label to make sure that it’s the only listed ingredient. If it’s not, and I don’t know what the other ingredients are or why they’re necessary, I won’t buy it. For example, if I’m buying chicken, but the ingredients are more than “chicken”, that looks a little sketchy to me. If I’m buying frozen pineapple, but the ingredients list more than “pineapple”, I’m not going to trust it. If we put our full attention into avoiding artificial additives, preservatives, flavors and herbicides, we’re putting our full attention into creating a healthy diet and lifestyle. So if you’re looking to improve your health and well-being, I wouldn’t say that any particular fad diet or label is the way to go. If you make 60-70% of your diet plant-based foods and focus on the quality and realness of the other 30-40%, I’m confident that you’ll see your life shift in the direction you’re hoping for.
Aight, that’s all I got! If you have any questions or comments about my experience, email me: email@example.com