Nutrition & Fitness – What the Experts Aren’t Telling You

I’ve studied nutrition for more than 12 years. I have a certification in Holistic Nutrition. I’ve read countless articles, blogs and social media posts on health and fitness. There is loads of advice on nutrition, weight loss, and every kind of exercise. But there is one thing I’ve read little about over the years: the fickle nature of the human body, which makes every health experience as unique to us as our DNA.

Continue reading “Nutrition & Fitness – What the Experts Aren’t Telling You”

Myth Busting: How Much Protein do I Really Need?

If you’ve started on your journey to a plant-based diet for optimal health, then you’ve surely already encountered the infamous question – “but where do you get your protein?” That question is what I’m going to address here, with all the breakdowns of protein needs for normal daily life, for athletes, for women, for men…if you have questions, then I have answers!

So – how much protein do I need?

We need 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. So for a woman weighing 130 pounds, that would be 52 grams per day. For a man weighing 180 pounds, that would be 72 grams per day.

But what if I work out, a lot?

If you are an athlete, or just someone who spends a lot of time in the gym burning calories, then you do need more protein than someone who is sedentary or mildly active. However, there is a big misconception about this. You do need more protein, but you don’t need to focus on more protein – you only need to focus on getting enough calories. If you’re a 180 pound man who is inactive, then you need around 2200 calories per day. However, if you’re a 180 pound man who works out vigorously in the gym on a daily basis, such as an athlete would, then you need more like 3100 calories per day.

If you’re consuming 900 calories more per day to fuel the intense workouts, and you are eating whole foods (in other words – not processed), then you are naturally increasing the amount of protein you are consuming as well, without even thinking about it. All living things contain protein, including plants (which is where animals get their protein from!), so there is no need to be concerned with protein intake on a plant based diet as long as you are eating sufficient calories.

How much is enough for pregnant or nursing women?

This follows the exact same rule of thumb as that for athletes. Women who are pregnant or nursing don’t require a significant amount of extra calories, but they do require an average of about 250-300 calories more per day. Along with those extra calories comes – you guessed it – extra protein! So a 130 pound woman who is mildly active – exercising 1-3 times per week – would need around 1800 calories per day. If she were pregnant or nursing she would need around 2100 calories per day. If those extra calories are coming from whole foods, then extra protein naturally comes along with it.

Is there such thing as too much protein?

The short answer is – yes! When our protein is coming from the wrong source, it is possible for overconsumption to be hazardous to our health. Namely – when the protein source comes from an animal. For an excellent study reference for this, please check out the book The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell conducted the largest population study ever recorded in history on protein, and his findings repeatedly and consistently came to the same conclusion – that animal proteins, consumed at a rate of more than 5% of total calories, led to cancer tumor growth.

In his early days while studying protein, he discovered something that had been largely overlooked – in populations where animal proteins were not readily available and individuals consumed their protein from only plant sources, cancer was almost nonexistent. However, in more affluent populations where animal protein was the primary focus on the plate, cancer has become an epidemic…as we see right here in America where cancer rates continue to grow every year.

Dr. Campbell was able to recreate these findings in lab rats by exposing them first to aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen, then feeding them casein, the animal protein found in milk. When feeding the rats a rate of only 5% casein, tumor growth remained unchanged. However, when feeding rats a rate of 20% casein, which is about the average for us Americans, tumor growth exploded. He then took the rats consuming 5% casein and fed them 20% casein for a few months, and the result was tumor growth. However, he then took their casein back down to 5% – and the tumors shrank…indicating that cancer growth can actually be changed just by the amount of animal protein we are consuming.

After this, Dr. Campbell got the opportunity to conduct his large scale population study in China. Genetically, all Chinese are the same. However, the diets are different depending on where they live. Campbell was able to conduct a study of the diets in different regions, as well as cancer rates in the different regions. His findings remained consistent with his early days of protein research and his lab rat experiments – the populations consuming a mainly plant based diet had nearly non-existent rates of cancer, whereas those with a diet high in animal proteins had high rates of cancer.

Since Dr. Campbell’s research, countless new studies have been done by doctors and scientists all over the world, with the findings being the same. If you aren’t up for reading an entire book, I suggest going to YouTube and searching “the China study”. There are numerous eye-opening videos, interviews and Ted Talks where Dr. Campbell discusses his research on protein.

Okay, then is there such thing as too much plant protein?

Nope! No matter how many studies have been done on this, there seems to be no link between plant proteins and cancer growth – and in fact the opposite has shown to be true. The more plants you eat, the lower your risk for cancer, as well as all other chronic health conditions!

How about macros?

If you’ve ever used the app My Fitness Pal on a conventional American diet, then you may see that the common macro suggestion is for 50% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 20% protein. This is problematic for a few reasons – one of them being that the amount of fat suggested is far more than is healthy…especially if we are concerned with weight loss or maintenance. But the other issue is protein.

We have already discerned that we need 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 130 pound woman needs around 52 grams of protein per day. If she is mildly active and consumes a diet of 1800 calories per day with a goal of 20% protein, then her daily protein intake would be about 90 grams! Nearly double what she actually needs. And if the bulk of that protein is coming from meat, eggs and dairy…we just learned above what that means for cancer risk, not to mention risk for heart disease thanks to all of the saturated fat and cholesterol that is unavoidable with animal proteins.

The ideal macro breakdown for a plant based diet is 75% carbohydrates (yes – really!), 10-15% fat, and the other 10-15% protein. You’ll find that this amount of protein actually coincides with the daily need of 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. For me, I need 45.2 grams, and 10% of my daily caloric needs from protein provides me with 42 grams.

And don’t let the carbs scare you – I’m afraid Atkins has it wrong on this. While restricting carbs may force your body into ketosis and allow you to lose weight if you push yourself hard enough, it is very hard on your body and has been known to cause permanent complications with processing carbohydrates in the future. While simple carbohydrates – refined sugars and grains and pre-packaged, processed foods – are terrible for us, complex, whole grain carbohydrates are the most important fuel we can feed our bodies. That’s right – even more important than protein! Glucose is the number one source of fuel for all of our body’s cells, so we must have it. And it comes from carbohydrates! We just need to make sure they are the right kind of carbohydrates – the kind that require work and energy to break them down and don’t come with a carb crash side effect.

What are some good sources of plant protein?

The good news is – ALL plants have protein!! The best sources, however, come from the legume family. That is, beans, peas, lentils, soy, tofu, tempeh, etc. Also, grains such as quinoa and oats, and nuts, seeds and nut butters (although you want to take it easy on nuts because of the high fat content). Even leafy greens have more protein than other vegetables. Here is a little diagram to the right to help you out.

How can I get started?

If you’ve been following the Standard American Diet for a lifetime, you’re not alone! Most of us have, and while old habits die hard, it doesn’t mean we have to keep them alive forever. There are countless plant based recipes online (some even here on this blog) to get you started.

Or you can just keep it simple – replace the animal protein on your plate with some beans or lentils instead. Skip the grilled chicken salad for lunch, and do a taco salad using black beans. Replace the meat in your burrito with pinto beans. Instead of making beef and vegetable soup, make a lentil veggie soup. Instead of having a BLT, toast up some slices of tempeh with liquid smoke and liquid aminos and make it a “T”LT. Make tacos with black beans or spicy lentils in place of ground beef. The options truly are limitless!

The most important thing is – don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. You will learn a whole new lifestyle and new way of eating that will leave you feeling fantastic. Truly – after a few months of eating 95% plant based, my chronic knee pain I had on my daily walks went away, I finally conquered my insomnia and now have only the occasional tired day instead of most of my days being low energy, my periods no longer come with cramping, my acne prone skin (which I don’t think is ever going to be completely clear) looks better than it ever has, my focus has improved significantly, and my migraines are completely gone. I haven’t had one single migraine since I took the plunge and went all-in with this lifestyle back in March.

The discomfort of learning something new is very much worth the reward at the end! If you are considering a plant based lifestyle, or have perhaps already started, then I hope this information about protein has been helpful. If you have any questions that I didn’t answer, please ask in the comments below and I will get you an answer!

Supplements on a Plant-Based Diet

I wanted to talk to you today about a common question people ask when moving to a plant-based diet – what do I need to supplement? We’ve become so accustomed to the standard American diet telling us all the time that we must have dairy for calcium, and that protein comes from animals, that the idea of eliminating these from the diet can cause concern. Please rest assured that those ideas you’ve spent a lifetime hearing are nothing more than propaganda, and you will get every bit of the nutrients you need – both macro and micro – from a plant-based diet.

There are a couple of exceptions to the rule, and those exceptions apply to everyone, regardless of diet, not just people who are meat- and dairy-free. Those exceptions are Vitamins B12 and D.

What is Vitamin B12? Rather than a vitamin, this is actually a bacteria from the soil that historically we have consumed through eating plants and drinking water. In our modern world, however, we are treating our soil with herbicides and pesticides that have largely wiped out the bacteria responsible for B12. We are also treating our water supply to eliminate disease-causing bacteria. No one would argue that we should not be treating our water as it has made things much safer for human life – however that is one more source of B12 that has been eliminated.

Why is it so common for vegans and vegetarians to be recommended B12, but not meat eaters? Studies have actually shown that everyone, meat-eaters included, is not getting the amount of B12 they really need. However, meat eaters do get more of it than non-meat eaters because the meat they are eating has been fortified with it. The grain fed to livestock contains B12, and some animals are even injected with it just before slaughter. It could be argued that vegetable farmers could fortify their soil with B12 as well to get it into their crop, but for reasons unknown this is simply not the process .

Therefore, supplementing B12 is important, especially for those not eating meat. How much do we need? Actually, not all that much. The RDA of B12 for adults is only 2.4 mcg, and most supplements on the market are 1,000 mcg or more. Even if we only absorbed a tenth of the vitamin, it would still be significantly more than we need. For this reason, I personally take a 500 mcg tablet 2-3 times per week. There is no need for B12 to be a daily vitamin.

Before I move on to Vitamin D, I thought I’d quickly cover why we need B12. B12 is vital to the body’s ability to make DNA, which means it is important for the proper function of every cell in our bodies. There is also a form of anemia that can arise from insufficient B12, as the bacteria also plays an integral role in blood health.

Now for vitamin D. It is fairly commonly known that Vitamin D serves a big role in the absorption of calcium, which we need for the health of our skeletal system and teeth. Without it, we become brittle and breakable, and at risk for osteoporosis. Calcium itself comes from plants, in particular leafy green plants more than any others. We are told that we need to consume cow’s milk in order to get sufficient calcium, and that is utter (pun intended) nonsense! The cows themselves get their calcium from the same place that every single other living creature gets it – from eating plants! We can cut out the middle-cow and just consume the plants as well.

In fact, calcium that comes from dairy is harder for the body to absorb at a rate of only 50% – compared to a rate of about 75% for plant calcium. Further evidence to the fact that we should be getting our calcium from spinach, not cheese, milk and yogurt. Cow’s milk also creates an inflammatory response in the body because it creates an acid environment, which the body then needs to draw calcium from the bones to neutralize, thus actually making the bones weaker by consuming cow’s milk, rather than stronger as we’ve been told.

Vitamin D helps with all calcium absorption, and the easiest and most direct source of Vitamin D is the sun. Once upon a time, in early human existence, we were an equatorial species without modern conveniences such as sunscreen, houses, or sweaters and leggings! We existed in warm climates where the sun was plentiful, and we spent plenty of time in it. Since then we have migrated all over the world and are now inhabiting colder climates where, for 4-9 months of the year depending on where we live, many of us are fully clothed and huddling indoors.

During the summer, when we are outdoors more and wearing fewer clothes, we are wearing loads of sunscreen and hats, and sitting under umbrellas and tents to lessen the risk of skin cancer – again, a great thing to do now that we know the risks of too much sun! But it does cut back on the amount of Vitamin D we are getting. Even when spending time outdoors in the summer, it is estimated that a majority of people are still a little short on the vitamin. To find out for sure whether you need to supplement, you can see your doctor for a quick blood panel to determine this.

How much do we need? The minimum RDA is 600 IU, but 1,000 – 2,000 is the preferred dose. I have a 1,000 IU supplement that I take daily in the summer, and 2,000 IU in the winter. Sometimes I will actually only supplement every other day in the summer when I get a chance to get outside regularly. 10-20 minutes in the sun is supposed to be enough to generate a good amount of Vitamin D production, and is also long enough to be outside without clothing or sunscreen and still be safe. So I will lay on a blanket outside in my bathing suit on my lunch break most days for 20 minutes. This allows me to supplement less.

Again, to determine your exact Vitamin D needs, a blood test is best. But it can’t hurt to take at least a 1,000 IU supplement if you’d rather not go to the trouble of a doctor visit and lab costs.

It is important when selecting a supplement to look for a source that is vegan, and this goes for both Vitamins B12 and D. Each are frequently derived from animal sources, which is something you want to avoid if you are plant-based, or simply wish to be as healthy as you can be.

If you’d like to know which supplements I’m currently taking, I found both of mine on Amazon – this B12 supplement, and this Vit. D supplement.

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions about supplementing, please leave a comment below and I will get you an answer.

More Plants, Less Weight – Weight Loss for My Teens

When I took a poll on Facebook of what people want help with the most, weight loss was the winner by a landslide. Right around that same time my children came home from their dad’s, where they spend their summers, 35 pounds overweight each. They normally gain anywhere from 10-20 pounds over the summer, but this year their summer started in March, and the scale reflected it.

As soon as they were home, I started them on a weight loss plan. In the first week they each lost five pounds, and in the subsequent week they lost four more (while also fighting back-to-school colds). They’re now one-third of the way to their goal in just two and a half weeks! That, my friends, is the power of plants.

What does this plan look like? The best part is that it isn’t complicated. There is no calorie counting, no food weighing or measuring, no carb or protein tracking, no point systems to keep track of, we aren’t even logging their food. The plan is two-part:

  1. No/low fat – i.e. no meat, dairy, eggs, processed food or oils. And for the time being, keeping nuts and avocados low as well (these will be reintroduced more regularly once the weight is down). The only fat really in their diet is flax, chia, and hemp seeds for Omega-3’s.
  2. Eat absolutely as many whole foods as they want – fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

Why low fat? In short, because the old adage “you are what you eat” rings supreme. When we consume saturated fat, it requires little-to-no conversion to be stored on the body as fat. In fact, samples of human fat have been taken, and just from analyzing the sample scientists were able to see exactly where the fat came from – pork fat from eating bacon, for example – because fat does not need to be changed to be stored on the body for future use.

It also has to do with calorie density. This isn’t a throw back to the 90’s low-fat fad, where every product on supermarket shelves was suddenly labeled as low fat or fat free to entice consumers. Just because a processed food is fat free, doesn’t make it high quality or nutrient-rich. It is likely still calorie dense and nutrient poor, regardless of fat content.

As an example, one pound of oil rings in at 4,000 calories. One pound of lettuce, however – only 63 calories. A pound of apples; 237 calories. Sugar, while fat free, is around 1700 calories per pound. And a pound of beef is about 1100 calories. Calorie density is important, and choosing foods that have low calorie density is the first major step in weight loss.

When consuming a diet of plants – where a pound of lettuce is only 63 calories – counting calories isn’t necessary because these foods are not calorie dense. The ones that are a heavier in calories, like black beans, make up for it in nutrient value. A pound of black beans is 1400 calories. But a pound of black beans also has 58 grams of fiber and 286 grams of complex carbohydrates. How much fiber and complex carbs in a pound of beef? 0 and 0!

But…aren’t carbs bad for you??

Friend – no they are not! Let’s end that ridiculous claim from the Atkins generation (currently masquerading as Keto) that carbs are bad for you. Not only are carbs not bad for you, they actually help you lose weight! Yes, you read that right.

So what gives? It’s like this…simple carbohydrates are bad. Sugar, white flour, pasta, rice, crackers, anything grain-based that is highly processed…they’re bad. They’re bad because the nutrients have been stripped away, leaving them essentially no different than swallowing a spoonful of sugar. And while that may make the medicine go down, it also spikes your blood sugar, leads to a carb crash, and takes little energy to break down which means it’s easily converted to fat.

Whole grains, on the other hand, take a lot of work for the body to break down. You actually burn calories breaking down complex carbohydrates. It takes so much effort to convert them to fat that your body won’t even bother, unless you’re drastically overconsuming them. You won’t carb crash because the break down process is so slow that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar, either. Complex carbohydrates, or whole unrefined grains, therefore actually aid in weight loss because digesting them burns calories!

Now let’s talk fiber. 58 grams in one pound of black beans? The average American eating the standard American diet doesn’t get that much fiber total in four days of eating. Most Americans are getting 15 gram or less, when we should be getting a minimum of 30 grams. Any food that is high in fiber, gets an A on a weight loss plan.

What’s the deal with fiber? You’ve probably heard the craze about probiotics recently, right? Well think of fiber as the big brother of probiotics. Fiber feeds our gut. We have 39 trillion microbes in our gut, some of which are bad and some of which are good. And guess what feeds the good guys? You got it…fiber! Each microbial species in our gut feeds on fiber from different sources, meaning that the more variety you have in your fiber intake, the better. Check out Dr. Will Bulsiewicz for more on this, or read his book Fiber Fueled.

For a bulleted list, here is what I have my teenagers doing to lose weight:

  • no saturated fat, including meat, dairy, eggs, oil, unrefined and processed foods
  • as many whole fruits and vegetables as they can stomach
  • a serving of greens, cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale), and berries each per day
  • Lots of beans and whole grains
  • Exercise – bike rides and BMX training at least three times per week

It really is that simple. No calorie counting or food tracking. If it’s a whole food, they can eat it. If it isn’t, then they can’t. If it came from a plant they can eat it, if it didn’t then they can’t.

For an idea of what they’ve been eating, here is another list:

  • Buffalo cauliflower bites
  • BBQ cauliflower flatbreads
  • Spaghetti with lentil meatballs
  • Tacos! Tempeh, black bean or lentils instead of meat, in a corn tortilla
  • Black bean quesadillas with cashew cheese (we use this sparingly since it’s nut-based and therefore high in fat. Not a daily food.)
  • Sushi with cucumbers, avocado, sweet potatoes, sriracha, tempeh, carrots, brown rice, and any other veg that sounds good
  • Tomato soup and “B”LT’s (made with tempeh)
  • Etouffee, made with beans and tempeh, sans shrimp
  • Black bean and sweet potato enchiladas
  • All bean chili
  • Chickpea nuggets (these went over well)
  • Whole wheat lasagna with spinach and cashew cream sauce
  • Oats and smoothies, or whole grain pancakes for breakfast, always with flax and/or chia
  • Lots of fruit – strawberries, blackberries, kiwi, pineapple, plums, oranges, apples, bananas, grapes
  • Salads with all sorts of toppings – bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, olives, banana peppers, pea pods, and Hemp seeds – oil free balsamic or fat free ranch (not my personal recommendation, but one of my kids won’t eat veg without ranch; and he mixes hot sauce in to make it to his taste)
  • Celery, carrots, broccoli, etc. with hummus
  • Corn chips and salsa (sparingly, however, because corn chips are fried in oil)
  • Popcorn made in an air popper, sprayed with braggs liquid aminos
  • air fryer fries or hashbrowns with a shot of ketchup or BBQ

Their next weigh-in and waist measurement day is this upcoming Monday morning. I will likely take some progress photos as well. They are 15 and 13 years old, and not only are they losing weight, but they are also learning about nutrition in the process. They spend the summer eating processed foods and dining out, only getting a real meal when they visit their grandparents. But I’m hoping that through this process they will learn enough about healthy choices that maybe they will request and eat healthier foods next summer and not gain all of the weight back.

More importantly, when they are adults and health actually starts to matter to them (we all know how teenagers think they’re invincible), they will have the tools and knowledge they need to make good choices. As parents, that is the most important thing we can do for our kids; teach them healthy habits and how to make good choices. After all, familial patterns tend to be passed down through the generations; diet and lifestyle choices are certainly no exception. We can break the cycle with our own children right now, one bite at a time.

Burger King Combats Climate Change by Changing Diet of Its Cows

Following close behind the promotion of the Impossible Whopper, a meatless sandwich alternative, Burger King announced new plans to combat climate change. By changing the diet of cows to include 100 grams of lemongrass, Burger King believes methane emissions from the cows will be reduced by around 33%. First, less meat. Second, less methane. Could Burger King make a meaningful impact on climate change?

When looking at greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture makes up 10% of total emissions. However, when looking at total environmental impact, agriculture is responsible for an astounding majority of climate change. There is a great deal more involved in animal agriculture than just the gases released into the atmosphere. Raising livestock requires food, water, and land. This is what makes the greatest environmental impact.

Worldwide, agriculture is responsible for 80% of deforestation. This land is cleared both for raising animals, as well as growing grains to feed these animals. In the US alone, 70% of grains grown are going to livestock. Growing this feed accounts for one-third of agricultural land use worldwide, not including the land used for the animals themselves.

Another major factor is fresh water. 70% of our fresh water is going to agriculture, with the majority of that being used to raise animals and grow livestock feed. In fact, to get just one hamburger patty, 660 gallons of water are needed. By comparison, the Impossible Burger uses 87% less water, and has a total carbon footprint that is 89% smaller than that of beef.

Animal agriculture may account for just 10% of greenhouse gases, but it is “the leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss.” Can lemongrass in cattle feed really make a difference? Less methane certainly means less greenhouse gas, although how much less of total methane in the atmosphere from feeding a small portion of cows a diet that reduces their methane emissions, is probably only making a dent. Any step in the right direction, however, is a good step to take.

Ironically, it is the Impossible Whopper that stands to make more of an environmental impact, even though it was not marketed as being environmentally friendly. As noted above, it is animal agriculture that is most responsible for ravishing the global climate, so reduction in meat, dairy and egg consumption would have the most profound overall impact on climate change.

The question of health still remains whether any burger, beef or plant-based, from Burger King is good for our bodies. We can all agree that a traditional fast-food burger is unhealthy, but what about the plant-based burgers? Unfortunately they are still processed, contain oils, are served on a bun made from highly-processed refined grains, and come with a side of greasy fries. It wouldn’t be a good idea to make the Impossible Whopper a frequent meal, but it’s great to know that there is a meatless option out there if you’re in a pinch. Its biggest benefit is that it can help people transition to a more plant-strong diet.

Where fast food is concerned, Burger King is pulling ahead of the curve.