Archive | None RSS feed for this section

Vegan 4 Lyfe?

10 Sep

During July, I followed a 100% vegan diet. For the year leading up to this milestone, I made gradual dietary transitions to prepare. As a result, this was my easiest vegan experiment yet. More companies are cranking out vegan products and more restaurants are catering to vegetarians, but it’s not an easy lifestyle change for most. If you’re feeling veg curious, I recommend a gradual approach.

Here are some products/ingredients I have found helpful:

Nutritional yeast: cheesy tasting flakes that can be added to all kinds of things. Popcorn made with coconut oil and sprinkled with nutritional yeast and salt used to be one of my favorite snacks before I found out my immune system hates corn. Dammit! Please try this combination, so I can live vicariously through you! I promise you will not be disappointed.

Oatly brand oat milk: The first time I tried oat milk, I decided it was gross. But it turned out that company just sucks at making oat milk. The Oatly brand is tasty and easy to find at Target. It’s probably the yummiest non-dairy milk I have ever drank. Some plant-based milks are only suitable for cereal or mixed in with something else, but I am quite happy to drink this oat milk straight up. It’s mildly sweet but not overpowering like sweetened soymilk tends to be. It’s also fortified with good stuff like calcium and vitamin B12.

Miyoko’s vegan butter: I am still impressed by this stuff. To me, it tastes just like the real thing, but it’s made with cashews and coconut. Badass.

Nugo protein bars: I’m pretty picky when it comes to protein bars, but I do appreciate the convenience they provide. I will not put up with Stevia pretending to be as good as sugar or protein bars that taste like brown rice soaked in chemicals. Not all Nugo bars are vegan, but they have a decent selection to choose from. My favorite flavor is the dark chocolate pretzel which is vegan and gluten free.

Legume pasta: I’m a big fan of red lentil and chickpea pasta products. They are full of protein and fiber and have a lot more to offer from a nutritional standpoint than standard wheat pasta.

Tofu: Super versatile and satisfying.  I’m convinced that people who “hate” tofu either never gave it a fair shot or haven’t had it prepared the right way. (Or maybe they were just indoctrinated at a young age by the famous Beets song “Killer Tofu”.)

THe Beets

Vegan cheese: I’m going to be honest. I have yet to find a store-bought vegan cheese that I’m excited about, but if I’m craving a grilled cheese, Daiya or Violife cheddar gets the job done. I have found that I like those cheeses melted but would not want to eat them cold. Miyoko’s makes a mozzarella that is decent as well. I’ve made a homemade cashew ricotta that tasted legit. I also purchased a dairy-free cheese making cookbook but have yet to get my ass in gear to make any. I have high hopes though.

Steel-cut oats: My standard breakfast is steel-cut oats mixed with peanut butter and strawberries, sprinkled with sugar and pecans. Sometimes I’ll throw some hemp or ground flax seeds in there. When I ate instant oatmeal for breakfast, I became hangry before lunchtime rolled around. I discovered I feel better when I eat steel-cut oats as they offer a much lower glycemic load…which is a fancy way of saying they don’t spike my blood sugar, causing dramatic crashes that make me want to murder everyone around me.

Vegan yogurt: I’m picky about my yogurt too. The only two I go back to again and again are the So Delicious coconut vanilla flavor and Silk soy peach flavor.

Vegan cream cheese: Kite Hill makes an almond cream cheese that is pretty good on bagels.

Canned coconut milk: As a creamy soup base and for making curries

Veganaise as a mayo replacement

Aquafaba: This is the liquid in a can of chickpeas which can apparently be used to make all kinds of cool things, from mayo to egg-free divinity and meringue. I haven’t experimented with it yet, but I’m intrigued with the concept.

Ground flax seed as an egg replacement in baking

Impossible burger and other science meat atrocities: If you haven’t heard of the Impossible burger, it’s a weird science burger derived from soybeans that “bleeds” like a real burger and is formulated to simulate the taste and texture of meat. The impossible burger is now available at Burger King which is pretty damn cool. I tried it over a year ago when it was still hard to find outside of trendy restaurants. It’s not a health food by any means, but it’s great as an occasional indulgence. My favorite store-bought mock meats include: Morningstar Chick’N Strips, Gardein cripsy tenders, Field Roast Apple Sage Sausage, and best of all? Field Roast Miniature corn dogs which taste exactly like real corn dogs. Quorn makes a “chicken” nugget out of mushroom mycoprotein which my non-vegan husband prefers to regular chicken nuggets.

Favorite Vegan YouTube Channels: Unnatural Vegan, So You’re Dating a Vegan, The Vegan View, Mic the Vegan, and GojiMan

I’ve procrastinated writing this blog post, because I felt like I needed to know where I would go from here, but the truth is, I don’t know yet.

I have stuck to a vegan diet since July (other than drinking some chicken broth when I was sick with a cold). I made the broth several months ago from the carcass of a chicken I bought for my non-vegan daughter. The jars were taking up precious real estate in my freezer, and I decided consuming the broth fit under the category of freegan* which sounded like a good excuse at the time.

*freegan: a person who rejects consumerism and seeks to help the environment by reducing waste, especially by retrieving and using discarded food and other goods.

I can envision other chicken broth scenarios that might arise where I am able to rationalize making non-vegan choices. I’ve explained in previous blog posts why I am okay with eating oysters (they’re not sentient) and why I struggle to care about eating insects (because it’s likely they don’t feel pain, they emit fewer greenhouse gasses than traditional farm animals, and also, I have a personal bias). Junior Mints are my favorite movie theater candy. They are dairy and egg free. But hold on! They contain some weird beetle derivative? I might be fine ignoring this knowledge and choose to eat them anyway. My cousin keeps backyard chickens that live a very fine life. Would I be opposed to eating those eggs? Not really. Hunting and fishing for sport disgust me, but for food? Maybe I wouldn’t mind eating an occasional walleye my husband caught. And I’m still not sure how I feel about eating honey. The vegan label comes with a lot of baggage, a lot of assumptions I don’t wish to carry. But when it comes down to it, it’s an easy way to describe how I eat. Should I tell people I’m 98% vegan? Veganish?

For now, I plan to continue eating a vegan diet and calling myself vegan for convenience sake (just don’t tell the vegan police! Trust me, they’re out there.) I don’t care to be holier than thou, but I do want to reduce suffering. While I am not against the concept of eating meat, I am against the manner in which most of it is sourced, and becoming a mom made my knowledge of the dairy industry even harder to stomach. The idea that an entire being’s existence revolves around being artificially inseminated and having their babies taken away on a repetitive basis is beyond horrifying.

Comedian Marc Maron once coined veganism as an “ideological eating disorder”. Is he right? I don’t think so. Burning down acres of the Amazon rainforest to grow more animal feed doesn’t makes sense. Condemning other countries for eating dogs and dolphins while chowing down on bacon doesn’t make sense. Eating a diet that reduces my carbon footprint while simultaneously easing my conscience? Makes sense. Veganism, while socially inconvenient and stigmatized, makes sense.

This is where I stop rambling and bid you farewell, lovely readers. I shall retire from this blog once more. Thanks for tagging along on this wild journey.

LEAP + July Vegan Diet (Happening After All?)

24 Jun

I am officially a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT)! In a nutshell, I am now fully equipped and qualified to design individualized anti-inflammatory diets based on a patented blood test called the MRT (Mediator Release Test). The test is targeted to help those with IBS, fibromyalgia, and migraine but may also be beneficial for other conditions associated with inflammation: arthritis, sinusitis, and inflammatory bowel diseases, such as colitis and Crohn’s disease (to name a few). Through my training, I learned a lot of fascinating things about the immune system and its involvement in the above conditions.

Traditional food allergies are known as Type I hypersensitivity reactions.When you think about a hypersensitive immune system, you probably think of things like shellfish causing someone to break out in hives or the anaphylaxis that keeps peanuts out of many school cafeterias.  However, there are other types of immune hypersensitivity reactions to food which are not “true” allergies but can cause their own set of miserable symptoms. These are referred to as food sensitivities and are what the MRT helps identify. My MRT results:

MRT

MRT - page 2

Green = not reactive. Yellow = moderately reactive. Red = Reactive with a capital R. I’m grateful I didn’t have any of those! Yellow foods are to be avoided for 3 months and red foods for 6 months. Read: Justine doesn’t get to have any chocolate, coffee, wheat, garlic, or corn, among other nummers until September, and FUCK MAN, don’t you feel sorry for her? Because I do. Ha!

Based on MRT results and other relevant considerations (does the client have food allergies, lactose intolerance, celiac disease? etc.), a CLT creates an eating plan to calm the immune system and drastically reduce symptoms in the shortest amount of time possible.

I am currently following my own LEAP (Lifestyle Eating and Performance) program, and the results have been impressive. My pain flare-ups have been less frequent and intense, and my body just feels better overall. Before I knew better, I used to combine several reactive foods at meals and eat multiple servings of these foods daily. My whole body jolted into a sudden state of panic after eating most meals. My gut would start churning and I’d hyperventilate. I felt fatigued and short of breath. Every nerve seemed to be on high alert. And all I had done was eaten lunch.

And so here we are again. I have a diet plan that is working fairly well but requires the kind of diligence that makes me sad to be alive (I’m exaggerating, kind of…) I have less pain and anxiety but can’t indulge in any of the yellow items on the above list until the end of summer (which means I’m depressed). I know it’s not forever, and I know it’s for the best, but what can I say? I’m only human, and cocaine food is a hell of a drug.

Despite all this, I have decided to experiment with a full vegan diet for the month of July. It was about a year ago when I awoke this hungry guinea pig out of her blissful slumber, a slumber which involved eating whatever she felt like whenever she felt like it. Granted, this guinea pig often felt like shit, but hey! She could just eat more chocolate and pretend like things were fine. All of this is to say that my lot in life is this: I can eat whatever I wish and feel like garbage or follow a strict diet and feel sorry for myself.

As I have dwindled down my animal protein consumption, I have had doubts about my ability to sustain eating in such a fashion. I STILL have doubts, but I’m not ready to give up. The planet is dying, and factory farming makes me sad. I’d take up hunting except I am far too lazy and uncoordinated and would probably just cry thinking about Bambi’s mom the whole time. Eating less meat should be enough, right? I think reduction is a great goal, but I feel like perhaps, I can do better than that.

And so, after much ado, I’m ready to go all in for one full month. After that, I can decide where this year of experimentation has brought me. Back to square one: eating meat a couple times per week?  Pescatarian? Vegetarian? Vegan? Tune in next week…

Just kidding, it’s going to be at least a month before I blog again. You already knew this. In any case, shortly after I complete my vegan challenge for the month of July, I’ll likely retire from this blog once more. I get burned out talking about my dietary successes and failures, but I appreciate you coming along on this wild ride. 🙂

I’ve Got 99 Symptoms…and Every One of Them is a Bitch

25 Apr

I’m not in a good place right now.

Over the past few months, I have spent more money and time than I care to divulge trying to get to the bottom of the mess that is my body.  I am awaiting the results of a hormone panel, comprehensive stool analysis, organic acids urine test, and a lipid panel. I requested the lipid panel mostly out of curiosity, and because I’m getting to that age where I have to give a shit. Also, my friends and I like to compare lab values ‘cuz we’re cool like that, and I want to see where I stack up.

Recently, I almost passed out while a lady drew four vials of my blood for an MRT food sensitivity test. It was worth it, even though the results told me things I didn’t want to hear. Unlike most food sensitivity tests, the MRT test is legit. It reveals the specific foods that cause inflammation in an individual’s body. While it may seem counterintuitive, some foods typically associated with an anti-inflammatory diet, such as salmon or blueberries, can create inflammation in certain people. This test takes the guess work out of designing an elimination diet by showing you which foods you should avoid and which foods you are least reactive to (known as a LEAP diet). I’m so convinced in the validity of this program that I am training to become a Certified Leap Therapist (CLT), an option open to registered dietitians with an interest in functional medicine (Read: ME!)

My CLT mentor will help me design a diet based on my results, but in the meantime, I’m trying to focus on phasing out the foods that are causing inflammation in my poor, poor body: almonds, hazelnuts, garbanzo beans (my beloved chickpeas!), sesame seeds, green peas, eggplant, corn (my worst offender – also in EVERYTHING!!), oregano, garlic, wheat, COCOA (I’m still getting over this one), coffee (cut out months ago, because it ALWAYS made me feel sick all over), egg whites, cheddar cheese, whey, cow’s milk, scallop, and crab. In addition, I showed up reactive to the chemicals: saccharin (which is found in my Colgate toothpaste, apparently), solanine (the chemical that turns potatoes green), potassium nitrates (used to cure meats, etc), and polysorbate 80 (a common additive in ice cream, among other things).

Yes. All of those things must go for a minimum of three months.

After I received my results, I gave up dark chocolate cold turkey. Intuitively, I knew the test was going to show that chocolate was a problem for me, so I had tried to mentally prepare ahead of time. I was NOT a very pleasant person on those first two days, and I spent Easter surrounded by chocolate eggs while barreling through the end of my detox. My grandma studied me and asked if I wasn’t feeling well or was just tired. Explaining the intricacies of my never-ending health saga exhausts me and (I can only assume) bores others: “Just tired” I said.

You know what they say: desperate times call for desperate measures.

In the past I have tried a million different diets to feel better, but this time is different. This time is different, because I finally have a map to show me what my immune system does and doesn’t like. This time is different, because I will be doing whatever it takes to treat the underlying issue causing all the food sensitivities in the first place. The goal is to heal, so I can eat more freely. Unfortunately, my body has reached its breaking point, and I really don’t have any other choice.

It’s interesting to note that the last time I ate corn and dairy together, I felt sick for a full week afterwards. When I think back to the beginning of my health crisis days, I remember several occasions where I experienced severe shortness of breath and an immediate panic attack upon consumption of corn products, scary enough that I remember each specific episode: popcorn in a bar, corn starch in my grandma’s potatoes, anything deep-fried from a restaurant (corn starch swimming in vegetable oil, which may or may not be corn based). I felt like I was having an allergic reaction on every one of those occasions, but I always pretended to be fine until the shortness of breath finally ceased. When you’ve been sick for as long as I have, you get tired of bringing your illness to everyone’s attention all the time. I figured I’d either pass out and turn blue or keep on keepin’ on. Either way, there’s a certain learned helplessness that goes along with chronic illness, and you (kind of?) get used to being miserable all the time.

So…the vegan diet is not going to happen until after my I complete my specialized “immunocalm” diet (and beyond that, we’ll have to see how I’m feeling and what kind of progress I’m making). For now, I shall remain pescatarian, and I’m leaving egg yolks on the menu. I stopped eating dairy at the end of January and have definitely experienced less pain since this time, so I’m excited to see what happens when I cut out the rest of my offenders and get serious about healing my oh so fucked up gut.

One Step Forward…Two Steps Back

18 Feb

My original plan when I first started reducing my animal product intake in July:

February**: I will follow a full (lacto-ovo) vegetarian diet. No fish or bug allowance.

March: a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 4 servings for the entire month

April: a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 2 servings for the entire month

May: a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 1 serving for the entire month

June: I will follow a full vegan diet

**We are here, but I’m not there.

 

Whenever my health goes to (extra) shit, there’s generally a trifecta of events that bring it on. For example, when I was diagnosed with IBS in high school, it followed a bout of food poisoning (bad bug invasion), going on “the pill” (hormonal fluctuations), and a stressful period of my life (nurturing an unhealthy relationship instead of myself).

What could have brought on my recent health woes? I recently had the stomach flu (bad bug invasion), I stopped breastfeeding shortly before starting this experiment (hormonal fluctuations), and dietary changes (including a massive carb binge over the holidays not too long after recovering from the stomach flu. Way to kick my gut while it was down, eh?)

A few days ago, I received the results from a breath test which showed an overgrowth of bacteria in my small intestine (SIBO). You know how you’re always hearing about gut bacteria and how probiotics are amazing, because they feed the good guys? Well, that’s all fine and good unless those bacteria are growing in the small intestine instead of the colon where they belong. As a result, traditionally healthy foods create symptoms as the bacteria have a feeding frenzy at the wrong lunch table. Bonus: you might end up with nutrient deficiencies if they’re greedy enough.

I’ve found it necessary to be stricter with my FODMAP intake recently, and I suspected feral gut critters to be the guilty culprit. SIBO is strongly correlated with both IBS and fibromyalgia, and since I won the jackpot and have both (ha!), it just makes sense. I will be seeing a naturopathic doctor in a week who can hopefully help me address this through anti-microbial supplements, such as garlic extract and oregano, in lieu of antibiotics. The antibiotics used to treat SIBO are crazy expensive, have some scarier side effects, and don’t have a stellar success rate.

Vegan diets don’t cause SIBO, but they can highlight an overgrowth that already exists. Since bacteria love to munch away on carbohydrates, and vegan diets tends to be high in carbs, I’ve been holding on to a few sources of animal protein until I can get my gut out of this rut. A low-FODMAP vegan diet is possible. However, I’m currently taking a break from soy and peanuts as they are difficult to digest, and I’ve been suffering from relentless reflux. Without these items, a low-FODAMP vegan diet becomes very restrictive, very fast.

Cue Jud Crandall from Pet Sematary: “You don’t want to go down that road!”

And so, things are not going as planned. The good news is I’m not that bummed about it, because I am still making progress, even if that progress is slower than I hoped.

You’ve got to ac-centuate the positive…

I’ve successfully cut out beef, chicken, and pork.

…E-liminate the negative…

I haven’t had any dairy for a month and plan to keep it that way. This change has been made possible by: various coconut and almond substitutes, but mostly… Miyoko’s. https://miyokos.com/

Miyoko’s vegan butter is amazing. Miyoko’s mozzarella cheese makes vegan pizza feel like an indulgence rather than a punishment. Seriously, store-bought vegan “dairy” products have come a long way over the past decade. But I digress…

I went back to eating fish on a semi-regular basis (2 or 3 times/ week) but am making a conscious effort to reduce my egg intake. I usually eat at least one egg per day, so there’s plenty of wiggle room for improvement.

What’s so special about fish? I guess if I’m being honest, I feel less sad about eating fish than I do eating mammals or supporting the suffering inherent to the dairy industry. However, let’s not kid ourselves. It still makes me sad, and seafood comes with its own set of environmental ramifications.

I am in no hurry to make insects a non-option. No, eating insects is not vegan. But as I explained in my previous post, I’m just not that sentimental about bugs at this time.

A new plan*: (*Subject to change after consulting my doctor about my endlessly angry belly)

February**: I will follow a (mostly) pescatarian diet that includes crickets but excludes dairy (I will eat eggs and fish with abandon. That sounds dramatic, but I swear I’m not chomping away on endless seafood. I couldn’t afford that even if I wanted to.)

March: a (mostly) pescatarian diet with an egg allowance of 4 per week

April: a (mostly) pescatarian diet with an egg allowance of 2 per week

May: a (mostly) pescatarian diet (also including crickets, but excluding dairy and eggs)

June: I will follow a full vegan diet – During this time, I plan to eliminate oysters and insects just for the full experience. Depending on how it goes, I may add them back in (especially oysters, since they are not sentient). I hope to eliminate fish from my diet long-term, but…we shall see what my body has to say on the matter.

What can YOU do today? Swap your beef for beans. If every American did this, the U.S. could almost meet its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals created by President Obama in 2009.

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/if-everyone-ate-beans-instead-of-beef/535536/

 

2019 Resolutions: Starting Off on the Right (Carbon) Foot(print)

30 Dec

Happy (almost) New Year! I’ve been busy crafting a January vegan(ish) inspired menu for myself. I’m changing course with my previous plan after some trial, error, and soul searching.

I recently had a cold and stomach virus at the same time. My sensitive stomach made eating while sick extra challenging, and I was not prepared. My appetite was minimal, and I caved and ate some chicken breast (an impromptu meat allowance) and an extra serving of fish. While under the viral influence, my vulnerability had convinced me that I needed to end my veg experiment in the interest of my health. But as the post-sick haze dissipated, I regained my resolve.

Original January Plan: Lacto-Ovo (includes unlimited eggs/dairy) vegetarian diet with a fish allowance (1 serving for the whole month)

New Plan: Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diet with a bigger fish allowance (2 servings for the whole month) and a reduced dairy allowance (4 servings for the whole month) – Reducing my dairy consumption earlier than planned helps me feel better about my inability to give up fish (yet).

I will limit my mock meat consumption to once a week. I may need to lower this if these indulgences cause pain flares.

I am also including 2 non-vegetarian products in my diet: cricket flour (daily in my smoothies) and oysters (weekly).

Since my desire to go vegan is based on minimizing my carbon footprint and reducing animal suffering, these two products fit the bill well enough for me. My special needs body may indulge in animal proteins while leaving my conscience mostly unscathed. Win-win!

Why Oysters?

Oysters and mussels are animals, but they are not sentient beings. They do not possess brains and are unlikely to feel pain. Most seafood cultivation results in a depressing amount of bycatch.

From the World Wildlife Fund:

A staggering amount of marine life—including turtles, dolphins and juvenile fish—is hauled up with the catch, and then discarded overboard dead or dying. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/bycatch#

Oysters, by contrast, are farmed in a way that causes less harm to other sentient beings. Oyster cultivation even offers environmental benefits. Oysters help clean water by filtering out excess nitrogen which, along with phosphorus, contributes to algae blooms.

Oysters are not vegan by the classic definition, because they are animals (so are sponges). However, eating oysters is consistent enough with the ethical principles behind veganism that a special term was coined for vegans who choose to eat oysters: ostrovegan.

Oysters are a good source of protein, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. While all these nutrients are attainable on a well-planned vegan diet, I think my body will appreciate the occasional boost, especially given my malabsorption issues.

Why Crickets?

If you think eating bugs is gross, but you enjoy hot dogs, your opinions are determined by western ideals rather than logic. Or maybe you’ve just never looked into what hot dogs are made of before.

Insects require much less water to produce than livestock, and they emit only trace amounts of greenhouse gases.

Crickets are a nutritional powerhouse. They are a good source of iron and an excellent source of protein, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 (a nutrient that must be supplemented on a vegan diet). Since my body will not allow me to eat isolated proteins (found in mock meats and protein powders) or beans with abandon, I’m doing my best to choose the lesser of all the evils.

Pigs are smarter than your dog (and probably my toddler, for that matter), but because culture doesn’t give a damn about rational decision making, many humans happily munch away on bacon while wagging their finger at people who eat dogs. From a moral standpoint, it’s arbitrary and ridiculous. The jury is still out on whether insects feel pain, but I’m more comfortable with suffering bugs than suffering mammals, even if that’s not entirely ethically sound.

 

References

https://sentientist.org/2013/05/20/the-ethical-case-for-eating-oysters-and-mussels/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IK_tZ7sTwrI

https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/bycatch#

https://www.seafoodhealthfacts.org/description-top-commercial-seafood-items/oysters

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwC4WRKi5QY

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/06/will-eating-insects-ever-be-mainstream

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFRQd-1bv5I&t=378s

https://www.reference.com/pets-animals/smart-pigs-4d7e3191b725823e

 

Are Vegan Diets Healthy?

2 Dec

The answer to this question is: it depends. It depends on what your health goals are, what health issues you struggle with, and how you implement the diet.

When I started my veg experiment, I laid out my two reasons for attempting to transition to a vegan diet: 1. the environment (following a vegan diet is the single biggest way for a person to reduce their carbon footprint and 2. the animals (factory farming is wrong on so many levels…’nuff said). The third reason people “go vegan” is for their health. As a result, many people equate a vegan diet with a healthy diet. But a vegan diet, like any diet, is only healthy if you want it to be. Check out this mock vegan menu:

Breakfast: Reese’s Puffs cereal with sweetened rice milk, white toast with peanut butter and jelly, and apple juice

Lunch: Processed veggie dog on white bun with mustard and ketchup, potato chips, and Oreos

Supper: Nachos (corn chips with melted vegan cheese), Skittles, and Diet Coke

Ethical vegans do not necessarily care to eat a healthy diet any more than omnivorous Americans do. I doubt most ethical vegans eat this atrociously, but the point is, “vegan” is not synonymous with healthy.

A minimally processed whole foods vegan diet can be healthy….IF you plan properly and take supplements or eat fortified foods to make sure you are meeting your nutrient needs on a consistent basis.

Vitamin B12 is the biggest nutrient of concern on a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal foods, and a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage. All vegans should supplement with vitamin B12 or make sure they are getting enough through fortified foods, such as nutritional yeast.

For more information on how to follow a healthy, nutritionally-adequate vegan diet, check out this vegan RD page: https://www.theveganrd.com/vegan-nutrition-101/food-guide-for-vegans/

Research suggests a vegan diet based on whole foods (also called plant-based) decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, and can slow the progression of existing heart disease. These are common health conditions, so the average American is likely to benefit from a healthy vegan diet.

However…

Many Americans (especially women) suffer from an autoimmune disease: https://www.aarda.org/diseaselist/ Because there is a connection between many (possibly all?) autoimmune diseases and intestinal permeability, a strict Paleo diet with a focus on optimizing nutrient density may be more appropriate for managing these type of diseases. Healthy vegan foods, such as legumes and grains, may contribute to an inflammatory response in people with autoimmune disease.

Several factors (genetic, environmental, etc.) contribute to a person’s response to a dietary approach and if optimum health is the goal, some self-experimentation and research may be in order. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, but at the end of the day, a diet centered around whole, unprocessed foods (whether that includes animal products or not), is going to be more health promoting than the standard American diet.

I didn’t go vegan for my health, but I would be willing to quit a vegan diet for my health.

First, let me clarify that I am not even vegan yet. I am following the schedule I created in this post: https://thehungryguineapig.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/im-back-baby-but-please-hold-the-baby-back-ribs/ Currently, I am following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (includes dairy and eggs) with a fish allowance. In November, I ate fish four times over the course of the month. For December, I am allowing myself two servings of fish. I started limiting my meat consumption in July. Since that time, I’ve had terrible symptom flare-ups related to my fibromyalgia. My neck pain (especially during my period) has amplified and my immune system seems compromised (I’m getting sick more often, with worse symptoms and longer recovery times than I’m accustomed to). Recently, I had several lab values checked to rule out autoimmune thyroid disease among other things (mentioned in my previous post), but they all came back normal.

I can’t blame my (mostly) vegetarian diet for my worsening symptoms, because correlation does not equal causation, and there have been other changes since this time. For example, I had recently stopped breastfeeding, and my fibromyalgia seemed to benefit from the hormones that were flowing through my body when I was still nursing. Seasonal changes also have a history of making everything worse. Still, I can’t rule out the possibility that my diet is a factor. Mostly, because I know too much about the connection between diet and health to be so naïve.

I suspect that if my new diet is to blame, it has less to do with the meat I’ve removed and more to do with the foods I’ve been eating more of, such as soy and gluten and protein isolates derived from them.

For a person with fibromyalgia, food sensitivities are common. A 2016 study found that removing altered proteins, such as those found in all the fun mock meats I started regularly indulging in, resulted in significantly improved pain symptoms in fibromyalgia sufferers. Well, shit. I suspected the processed fake foods were making my body angry, so I stopped eating them a couple months ago. I’ve been eating a mostly healthy vegetarian diet centered around legumes, tofu, produce, nuts and seeds, calcium-fortified soy and almond milk, hard-boiled eggs, a small amount of cheese, and some grains (usually of the whole grain variety). But STILL, my body hates me more than usual.

In the course of my MANY diet experiments of the past, the diet I followed which offered the most relief excluded all the following: gluten, soy, peanuts, corn, dairy, eggs, caffeine, sugar, sugar substitutes, processed oils, and alcohol. For obvious reasons (who wants to eat like that all the time?!), I abandoned that diet but took solace in the fact that I could return to it if necessary.

Interestingly, a small 2001 study found that a mostly raw vegan diet provided dramatic improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms for 19 of the 30 participants. What were they forbidden from eating?: refined flour, corn syrup, dairy, eggs, caffeine, sugar, processed oils, alcohol, and all meat. Hmmm…

Disordered eating has continued to be a non-issue on my current diet, so I am entertaining the idea of trying out a vegan diet like that outlined above to see if it makes me feel better. I doubt a diet like that is sustainable over the long term, but I’d like to give it a go at some point. I don’t have any immediate plans to add additional restrictions to my current diet but perhaps sometime during the new year. If I discover that certain vegan staples, such as soy, are problematic, then it may be time to get creative.

I am approaching my vegan diet experiment with a cautious optimism. If it becomes apparent that my mental and/or physical health is suffering from its implementation, I will stop following it and see what I can do to support my health while reducing my impact. I believe in compassion for all living things, and this includes myself. But the animal welfare and environmental benefits of following a vegan diet is something I’ve become quite passionate about, and I’m not willing to give up without a proper try. Onward!

References:

https://www.consumerreports.org/diet-plans/plant-based-diet/

https://www.healthline.com/health/fibromyalgia-diet-to-ease-symptoms

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC57816/

 

 

 

 

 

Phase One: Pescatarian – Success! I think…

29 Sep

The end of September marks the end of phase one of my veg experiment. Let’s recap my plans and goals and see how I did:

July: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian* diet with a meat allowance of 4 servings for the entire month.

*Pescatarian: a vegetarian who also eats fish.

August: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 2 servings for the entire month.

September: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 1 serving for the entire month.

Check. Check. And check! I followed this plan to a T, and this slow and steady approach seems to be working so far. I have only craved meat on a couple of occasions. In the beginning, I wished for regular chicken tenders instead of a vegan replacement. And more recently, I couldn’t stop thinking about beef roast. I solved this by making a roast to eat for my final meat allowance. Sadly, (or luckily?), when I finally ate it, the flavor was a disappointment. Not to mention, the heartburn.

From a mental standpoint, the experiment is going well. I’m not having any issues with disordered eating. Subject to change now that an entire food group (meat) is officially off the table. Having a meat allowance definitely helped make the transition less jarring.

Physically, however, I feel like hell lately. I have no idea if this is diet related. I’m inclined to think it’s not, because my diet hasn’t changed that drastically yet. I  doubt these few tweaks would make that big of a difference, especially when I am taking supplements, but who knows.

I had a doctor appointment yesterday. My doctor is running a slew of tests which will help rule out some of the more obvious dietary causes. I am a weirdo medical nerd and am super excited to see what my levels are. Here’s everything we are looking into:

  1. Magnesium levels – I have never had this looked at before. If anything, a vegetarian diet should help improve my magnesium status. Magnesium is found in healthy vegan staples, like legumes and leafy greens. It’s also found in dark chocolate, which serves as its own food group in my diet. I take magnesium supplements, because it may be beneficial for my fibromyalgia. Magnesium deficiency can mimic fibromyalgia pain, because magnesium plays a pivotal role in muscle relaxation.
  2. Vitamin B12 – I have never had this looked at before either. This is THE nutrient of concern when it comes to a vegan diet. Vegans must supplement or eat fortified foods to assure they get enough of this crucial nutrient. Vitamin B12 is only available in its natural form by eating animal products. However, even meat eaters, especially older adults, may struggle to obtain adequate vitamin B12 without supplementation. I started supplementing with vitamin B12 since I’m eating fewer animal products and plan to cut them all out eventually. And since my intestines have a hard time with absorption, I thought it would be smart to have my current vitamin B12 status looked at. The blood test for vitamin B12 is not as accurate as the urine test, but when I requested the latter, the lab tech looked at me as if I had two heads and replied, “We don’t do that here.” Oh well. Only the blood test for now I guess.
  3. Glucose – This is one of the values measured by doctors to diagnosis diabetes and pre-diabetes. Considering plant-based diets tend to be carb heavy, I have probably been eating more carbohydrates than I normally would. I am not one of those people who believes carbohydrates are inherently evil. Most of my carbs come from healthy sources, such as beans and fruit, so I’m not too worried. However, I have so many random symptoms and some of them seem to correlate with meals, so I figured this would be a good marker to look at. I requested a glucose screen, but my doctor recommended a full BMP (basic metabolic panel), because she said the way insurance billed for a glucose test, it would cost about the same to run a full panel. I am all for more information, so I agreed. In addition, to glucose, a BMP looks at potassium and sodium levels, as well as other fancy kidney function markers, such as BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine.
  4. Hgb (hemoglobin) and Ferritin – Hemoglobin looks at current iron status and ferritin shows the level of stored iron. Vegetarians can get plenty of iron in their diets, but they may need to make a bit more of an effort than some meat eaters. I don’t supplement iron, because this is one of those nutrients that can cause some pretty wicked tummy upset (just what I need!). Side effects of iron supplementation can be reduced by taking the pills with meals. Unfortunately, this also reduces the absorption by half. Bummer deal! I am open to taking an iron supplement if my levels are found to be low, but otherwise, I’ll just use the tricks I learned in my dietetics training: pair vitamin C rich foods with iron-rich plant sources to increase the absorption of iron, cook in cast iron cookware, and eat plenty of beans, dark chocolate, and leafy greens (Bonus: magnesium!) I’m also still eating eggs and fish on occasion, which are decent sources of iron as well.
  5. Thyroid Panel – Most practitioners will only look at your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) if they want to test your thyroid function. I had 2 TSH screens in the past: one came back normal and one was borderline high, indicating subclinical hypothyroidism. I have been fiending to see the results of a full thyroid panel for awhile now. Many fibromyalgia symptoms mimic thyroid disease, and I want to get a clearer picture of what that very important thyroid gland is up to. I also recently discovered thyroid dysfunction trends on my mom’s side of the family, so now I’m extra curious! Iodine deficiency and excess can lead to thyroid issues. I currently supplement with iodine. This is a nutrient vegans need to be cognizant of, particularly if they do not use iodized salt. Many Americans get their iodine in a second-hand fashion: the iodine used to disinfect cow udders and milk cans makes its way into dairy products. Um, gross.
  6. Vitamin D – I’ve had this looked at twice before, and it’s always in the correct range, but I’ve been supplementing with vitamin D for years, and it’s a good thing to keep tabs on. When you live in the tundra, and you’re in the nutritional know, you just gotta!

That’s it! In addition to the supplements mentioned above, I also take an omega-3 (DHA+EPA) supplement. People tend to think of fish oils when they hear omega-3s, but fish are only good sources of omega-3s, because they eat algae. Vegans can go straight to the source and take algae supplements instead of fish oil to get their omega-3s. (This is the kind I currently take.) The standard American diet contains large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. For optimum health, a proper balance of omega-3 (anti-inflammatory) fatty acids to omega-6 (pro-inflammatory) fatty acids is important. An omega-3 supplement may be beneficial to help achieve this. I still eat vegan mock meats and junk foods, and these are full of processed seed and vegetable oils which provide omega-6s galore!

I found it annoying (though well-intentioned) when my doctor expressed concern about vegetarian* diets. She asked if I was eating a vegan diet, and I explained that no, I still eat eggs and dairy and fish on occasion. But even after explaining that, she said it was very difficult to get a healthy vegetarian diet right. Have you seen the standard American diet? Because that’s nothing to write home about either! I’m not saying a healthy vegan diet doesn’t require extra vigilance, but when a person only cuts out meat and continues to eat eggs and dairy, it’s hardly cause for alarm. Many cultures eat vegetarian diets for the entire duration of their lives. Also, I’m a dietitian. If I can’t figure out how to follow a balanced vegetarian diet, then I should never have received these credentials, because it’s NOT HARD. The secret to a healthy vegetarian diet is simple. You know all those foods you are supposed to eat? Yep, just do that and eat beans instead of lean meats. Impossible, I know.

*Vegetarian: typically refers to lacto-ovo vegetarian, as in a person who refrains from eating fish and meat but still eats eggs and dairy products.

Here’s what’s in store for the next 3 months:

October: I will follow a full Pescatarion diet (No more meat allowance)

November: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug* allowance of 4 servings for the entire month

(*Cricket protein powder! Excited to try it!)

December: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 2 servings for the entire month

Alright, that’s enough rambling for one blog post. I’ll update when I know more about the ongoing mystery that is my body and the relevance of its flaring symptoms to my diet changes.