What’s So Bad About Meat, Anyway?

The center of the standard American plate is consistently some type of meat, fish, or eggs. When confronted with the potential health benefits of a plant-based diet, many are understandably reluctant to sacrifice what they know to be the primary source of protein available – meat. For decades, there has been a perpetuated belief that meat is the only complete protein source, and without it we cannot achieve total health. In fact, the opposite is true.

Continue reading “What’s So Bad About Meat, Anyway?”

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!

American Cancer Society Releases New Guidelines for Cancer Prevention

On June 9th, the American Cancer Society published new dietary and physical activity guidelines for cancer prevention. The new guidelines consist of three primary components – exercise, a plant-strong diet, and limiting alcohol. They also call out red and processed meats and refined and highly processed foods for their cancer risk, as well as sugar and saturated fats.

Physical activity has dropped over the decades as we’ve adopted lifestyles of convenience, aided by technology. It is now important to be conscious of physical activity and work it into our schedules, especially for those of us working desk jobs. It is a good idea to get up and move around as much as possible throughout the day, and to plan in some time for exercise after work.

As the article says, less time sitting in front of a TV or screen and more time moving is key. In order to combine TV time with exercise, hopping on a treadmill or elliptical while watching is a great idea. Playing sports with friends or the kids, or even mowing the lawn count as physical activity as well. The goal is for the weekly total to reach 150-300 minutes of moderate activity. To break that down – 150 minutes is roughly half an hour per day, five days per week.

The part to get most excited about, are the dietary guidelines. Plant-based nutrition expert Dr. Neal Barnard has been talking about diet for disease prevention for years. As president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), he was quick to review the guidelines on PCRM program The Exam Room Live, hosted by Chuck Carroll.

“It sounds a whole lot like the new four food groups that we brought forward first in 1991, and have been promoting ever since,” Barnard says. Indeed, the new guidelines do encourage those exact four food groups – fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. It also discourages red meats which were named in 2015 by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 2 carcinogens, as well as processed meats, which IARC named as Group 1 carcinogens.

The new guidelines point out that focus has shifted in recent years, from individual nutrients, to dietary patterns as a whole. At long last, the key to the cancer prevention lock has been found. While American Cancer Society still allows for fish and chicken – a stance that PCRM does not promote – it is now recommending legumes as a healthy protein source. It even goes on to mention soy products, which have spent a fair amount of time under attack over the years, as protective against cancer.

Also a major player in the new guidelines are leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage, which have shown to be particularly protective against cancer. That may come as no surprise to many, but what may come as a surprise in the days of “low-carb”, are the protective properties of whole grains.

Whole grains, which have not been stripped of their outer shell or refined from their original, whole state, have actually been shown to not only protect against cancer due to their nutrients and fiber content, but also actually help with weight loss! Tell that to the Keto movement, which has us believing that carbohydrates are the root of all evil in the American diet and are responsible for the obesity crisis. Simply put – that is misinformation. When carbs are not refined or processed, they shrink our waist lines.

Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, author of the new book Fiber Fueled, should be thrilled to see fiber get a special mention among these guidelines. Dr. B, as he calls himself, is a gastroenterologist who has studied the bacteria in our gut microbiome, and the effect fiber has on gut health, as well as the health of the whole body. Indeed, American Cancer Society affirms the link between fiber and gut bacteria, and the role it plays in some cancers. As for the best source of that fiber – whole foods; supplements have shown little benefit. More whole grains and less fiber? That means skip the sugar and processed foods.

While American Cancer Society is not yet stating conclusively that dairy products are problematic for cancer, it has finally admitted that studies are finding an increase in prostate cancer and possibly breast cancer risk, and it is now abstaining from dairy guidelines of any kind. Not quite to the point of “eliminate diary from the diet,” but a noticeable step in that direction.

Finally, the guidelines address alcohol. The article specfically states, “Alcohol use is the third most important preventable risk factor for cancer, after tobacco use and excess body weight. Alcohol use accounts for about 6% of all cancers and 4% of all cancer deaths in the United States. Despite this, public awareness about the cancer-causing effects of alcohol remains low.”

When it comes to alcohol, less is best. What amount is considered safe? One alcoholic drink, defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits, per day for a woman, or two alcoholic drinks per day for a man. It discourages drinking larger amounts on fewer days of the week. When it comes to some cancers, such as breast cancer, no amount of alcohol is considered safe.

In his book Eat to Live, Dr. Joel Fuhrman says “a cancer promoting diet is one high in animal proteins and fats. A cancer preventing diet is one rich in fruits and vegetables.” How incredible it is to be able to prevent cancer, along with a wealth of other diseases, every time we go to the grocery store. In the words of Dr. Neal Barnard, “we don’t want to invite [cancer] into our homes with our groceries.” And now, thanks to the new guidelines by American Cancer Society, more people will get to learn how to prevent cancer with diet.

How to Customize a Diet that Works for You in 9 Steps

Dear Friends,

We’re just over one-third of the way through Get Healthy Month, and it’s time to start talking about your diet! Not the one you’ve been doing, but the one you want to do from this point forward. The most important thing to note before we begin is this: you are not going on a diet. This is not a diet plan. This is a way of life. This is the proverbial fork in the road between where you’ve been, and where you are going. Your new healthy life begins now!

If you are new to the blog, this is the point where you will want to go back and read the previous posts under the Health tab, in the sub-category “Get Healthy Month: The Basics”. All of the information you will need to know to help you formulate your own personal diet is found in the five posts preceding this one. The key to knowing how to choose a way of eating for you is having all of the information; learning and understanding how food effects your body and your overall health. Knowledge is power, and knowledge about food will give you power over your health.

Now that you’ve read-up on that information, let’s get started! Grab yourself a pen and paper, so you can write down your brand new diet plan!


Step 1 – Pick your Top 3

What do you love? We all have different favorite foods that we just can’t imagine life without, and let’s be honest — it’s rarely anything healthy. My number one step to customizing a diet is determining what your top 3 favorite things are that you do not want to give up. Because giving those things up is the most sure-fire way to fail at your new healthy life. What we are going to do is make sure that you work these favorite things into your diet in a way that will allow you to both be healthy, and still enjoy your favorites.

Here are my three:

  1. Chocolate (especially chocolate cake)
  2. Cheese
  3. Cured Pork (Bacon, Prosciutto, Capicola, etc.)

Now chocolate is relatively good for you as long as it is dark chocolate with low sugar and small portions, but nothing else about these three is healthy. But could I sustain a way of eating that excludes them all? Never!! And that is why, as we build your diet plan, I want you to specifically work in your top three. For me, I follow a Mediterranean Diet way of eating, which allows me to have all of these things in moderation — cheese three times per week and the pork and chocolate (with the exception of pure dark chocolate, which I eat a more often) about once per month. It is up to you to decide what moderation looks like for you, just as long as you’re being honest with yourself about what is good for your long-term health in the decision process.

I chose three times per week for cheese (or yogurt, which I also eat occasionally), for example, because the recommendation from the USDA is three servings per day (which you now know is not good for your body), so three times per week is an 86% reduction in cheese consumption. That’s a pretty huge number that I can feel good about, but doesn’t stop me from eating it entirely. The Mediterranean Diet pyramid also recommends dairy, poultry and eggs a few times per week, so I feel like I’m pretty in line with that.

I chose monthly for the chocolate and cured pork, because I know that sweets and red/processed meats are especially harmful, so I don’t want to eat them very often. I had to be honest with myself about how frequent feels “safe” to me. I considered weekly, but honestly felt that was too much. I chose to look at these things as a “treat”, and monthly just felt like a good choice. It wasn’t so often that I felt it would hurt me, but was still often enough that I knew I could look forward to it and be able to stay on track with my healthy lifestyle. Another rule of thumb I give myself on the sweets, beyond just chocolate, is to limit it to special occasions and celebrations only.

So now you need to look at your top three, and if any of them are unhealthy foods, you can decide how much of each is your idea of moderation, and work that into your plan. Once per week? Once per month? Special occasions only? It’s totally up to you!

Step 2 – Fruits and Veggies

What do you need? Now that we have your must-haves down on paper, we can move on to what your body needs. In short — it needs lots of the plant stuff! Veggies and fruits, in that order. My recommendation for you is to make sure that you have at least one vegetable at every meal (excluding breakfast, but I definitely suggest getting veggies in even then if you can), and specifically make it the center of your meal rather than just a side dish! The general rule of thumb is that the dark green leafy vegetables are the best, followed by the bright colors (tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.), with the starchy vegetables (corn and potatoes) coming in last.

I want you to get experimental with this if you’re not normally a veggie eater. Go browse the produce section (stay away from canned and frozen if at all possible) and choose something that looks interesting or inviting. Look up a recipe for it. And give it a try. You don’t have to have all of the answers straight out of the gate. Take your time and try new things, gain experience with vegetables and produce, and keep trying until you get the hang of it. Be patient with yourself so that you don’t give up too soon. You are learning a new way of cooking and a new way of life. For now, just plan on making some vegetable the center of every lunch and dinner, until you figure out just what you like and can stick to as part of your new healthy life!

When it comes to fruit, try to set a goal for at least once per day. Just like the veggies, venture out a little and try new things because you might be surprised to find you love things you never thought you would. I discovered that my favorite fruit is grapefruit. I also discovered that my favorite vegetable is beets, which I never thought in a million years would be something I’d love (my boyfriend does not share my love for these — bless him for giving them a try the last time I made them, but he gave them a hard pass!).

I also suggest finding plant based recipes on Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, or even just google. Even if you do not go plant-based in your diet, this will at least open you up to a brand new world with vegetables. It will teach you flavor combinations and meal ideas that you would never have thought of on your own, that will help you fall in love with eating your greens! In my experience, this is the toughest part of getting healthy because the standard American diet is plant-poor and people often do not know where to start with getting their veggies in a way that isn’t boring and flavorless. Find a few things you’d like to try and start there. Look at this as a process, rather than something you need to flip a switch and immediately be able to do.

I will also be sharing sources with you at the end of this month that will give you lots of places to go to find help with this!

Step 3 – Carbs

Let’s talk carbs. You need whole grains in your diet. The one exception to this is if you are trying to lose a great deal of weight and are cutting carbs in your diet for the sake of shedding pounds quickly. However, that is intended strictly for weight loss and not long-term maintenance, so this will give you a plan for when the weight is off and you’re ready to start moving forward with your new healthy lifestyle. For that, I suggest a grain at every meal, just like your veggies. Now…the serving size will be much smaller, and it’s also extremely important to read labels and make sure you’re really getting whole grains.

This is the time to break your love affair with all things white when it comes to carbs. You might totally love white bread and white pasta, but (unless this is one of your top three that you’re giving yourself in moderation) the goal is to feed your body, not your poorly-conditioned taste buds. Once again, you don’t need to flip a switch and toss out everything in your pantry. But as you run out of white carbs, start replacing them with wheat or whole grain. The next time you buy a loaf of bread, opt for whole wheat or multi-grain. And be sure to read the label and make sure the first ingredient is “whole wheat/grain”, and that you do not see the word “enriched” anywhere on the ingredients list.

Something else to look at is sugar. Look for high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list, and grams of sugar on the nutrition facts. If you see corn syrup or more than 1g of sugar, I would suggest leaving that loaf on the shelf. Another suggestion for finding good bread — look in the freezer section. The best real whole grain breads are not shelf stable for very long, so they are usually frozen. This is because one of the big things that makes bread not good for you are the preservatives used to make it shelf-stable, as well as the conditioners used to make it soft.

Other grains are easier — whole wheat pasta, brown rice, couscous, farro, oats, barley. These can be found easily and are shelf stable since they’re dried. A tip on the oats — try to avoid quick cooking as they are stripped of a lot of their health benefits to make them cook up in a minute flat. I prepare my oats in the morning in a jar, then take them to work with me and cook them two hours later, once they’ve been soaking in the almond milk for a while. Overnight oats are also super simple, so quick-cooking isn’t necessary. However, if quick-cooking helps you with your busy life, then go for it! Just avoid the pre-made oatmeal packets as those are always full of sugar.

Step 4 – Protein

What is meat, and how much should you eat? Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb, and is the hardest meat on your body. Since cured pork such as bacon is one of my top three, I allow it in my diet once per month. But when it comes to beef, I personally only eat it about 1-2 times per year. This is another one of those areas where you need to figure out for yourself what your limit is. Maybe you love yourself a good steak, so where I will only eat steak about once per year, maybe you want it once per month. You know what your preferences are, but again, just make sure you are keeping your new knowledge of food and health in mind so you can make a smart choice regarding red meat in your diet. Don’t make yourself wrong, make yourself healthy!

Then there is poultry, which is anything feathered. While it’s considered safer than red meat, it is still an animal protein so I highly recommend keeping this to small and moderate portions as well. I usually do poultry about two meals per week. Eggs also count in this category.

There is also fish and seafood, which is something I personally eat as much as or more than poultry because of the healthy fats (something that no other animal protein has). You’ll want to be mindful of mercury, which is basically higher the larger the fish. But otherwise fish and seafood is another good protein to consume a couple of times per week.

When deciding how much of each type of meat you are going to consume, you need to factor in something else — alternate sources of protein. This comes from beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. In fact, I like to consider this particular source of protein when planning meals for a week before I consider any animal-based source. For me, I do a 50/50 split when planning dinner — half plant-based protein and half poultry or fish protein — because I have a family to feed. When I’m only responsible for feeding myself and don’t have to worry about what the family prefers, it’s more like 75% plant protein and 25% poultry and fish. For lunch I only have to feed myself so that is the meal where I almost always do plant proteins only. The less animal-based and the more plant-based you can do, the better…but it is up to you and your preferences to decide what you should do for your new healthy diet. If you want to go completely plant-based and do 100% plant and 0% animal protein — go for it!

So here is your protein assignment — 15-20% of your diet should be protein, so figure out how much is going to come from plant-based sources, and how much is going to come from animal-based. I would start with deciding how many times per week you are going to eat red meat, poultry, eggs and fish. Then for the rest of your meals I would factor in a plant-based protein. This truly is not as hard as you think — chili, bean burritos or tacos, soups, black bean burgers, and so many different salads out there with beans and nuts, just for a start. Something else to consider is that any and all living thing, including plants have protein, so it’s much easier than you realize to get enough without eating lots of animal products. Need proof? Here is my protein level from my last health screen:


Step 5 – Snacks

Don’t forget about snacks! This is a great place to get in an extra serving of anything you need more of, including protein. One of my favorite work snacks is a serving of mixed nuts. I also found some seed crackers (which I am soon going to be testing a new recipe for) that have the same protein content as a serving of mixed nuts. Some hummus (made of garbanzo beans/chickpeas and sesame seed butter) and veggie sticks is a good protein and veggie source. A serving of peanut butter with apple slices is a great source of protein and fruit.

I make granola bars that are nut-based, so they are low in carbs and higher in protein and fiber. I shared the recipe for them last week on Mediterranean Monday, so feel free to check out that link. These are my boyfriend’s favorite, and I make them every week for him.

Another huge suggestion of mine is this — focus slightly less on meals and slightly more on snacks than you’ve maybe been used to. It is better for your metabolism and your body’s digestive process to have smaller meals more often (probably not big news to you), and you will notice a huge shift in body regularity when you do this. I plan dinners every week, with at least one recipe for lunch, as well as a few things I can use to throw together to make lunches that aren’t planned (like keeping black bean burgers in the freezer). And I always have a snack on hand to take to work for an afternoon snack as well. So I guess for me I kind of blend my lunch and my afternoon snack.

Step 6 – Calcium and Dairy

Your body needs calcium, that much is true. But where is the best place to get it? If you’re a heavy consumer of dairy, I strongly urge you to cut back. Quit cold turkey if you can, but if you love dairy, then for the sake of your health I hope you’ll commit to cutting it back to just a few times per week, especially the milk. The fact is, you do not need dairy for calcium. As you know now from reading my previous blog posts, the dairy myth is something that has been perpetuated by lobbying and the government.

I only eat three servings of dairy (primarily in the form of cheese, and never milk) per week. Yet my health screens always show that I have the perfect amount of calcium in my body. Test result photo below for evidence:


How is this possible? First of all, I will tell you up front that I do not take any supplements or vitamins at all, whatsoever. There is calcium in so many more food and plant sources than we realize. Plant-based milk is a great start. I use unsweetened almond milk in place of cow’s milk in everything. Chia seeds also have a lot of calcium (and protein too!). I make oatmeal for breakfast every morning using oats, chia seeds, walnuts or almonds, raisins or dried cranberries, unsweetened coconut, stevia, cinnamon, and almond milk. Just that one bowl of oatmeal alone gives me 54% of my daily intake of calcium (plus 52% fiber and 12% protein)!

Those beans and leafy greens you’ll be eating more of now? Also have lots of calcium. So my assignment for you where calcium is concerned is this — break the link in your mind between dairy and calcium. You can and will get enough calcium without overrunning your body with dairy products that raise cholesterol, feed cancer cells, and create acidity in your body, as long as you’re eating whole, unprocessed veggies, fruits and proteins. So don’t even worry about calcium…you will be covered!

Step 7 – Break Your Bad Habits

Break your bad habits. This was a tough one for me, because I was a sugar addict…and I say that literally. They say sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and I sincerely believe that is true. Before I got myself healthy, I craved it all the time. The funny thing about sugar is, it begins a downward spiral. Even now, years after changing my lifestyle, when I eat something sweet I get strong cravings…not only for more sugar, but also for fatty, fried, processed, total junk foods. I had to quit sugar cold turkey, and when I do have it now on special occasions, I choose to be mindful and keep my portions small because I know the effect it’s going to have on me. Something else I have to be aware of and watch is drinking wine — because every time I have a glass of wine it sets off a sugar craving.

Which brings me to my next point — substances. If you smoke, drink heavily, use recreational drugs…it won’t be possible to achieve total health until you stop. Smoking and drugs especially, as there is no benefit at all to be derived from them, only detriment to your health. Drinking is a bit trickier, because red wine has been shown again and again to have benefits to both your heart and your immune system. But it is still something to be consumed in moderation, because at the end of the day alcohol is also a carcinogen when used too heavily.

How much alcohol is safe? No more than one drink per day is the doctor-recommended guideline, and I personally choose a little less than that because I’m not sure that daily is a good idea as the last thing I want is to become dependent on it. I have a small (meaning 3-4 ounces rather than the standard 5 ounces) glass of red wine about five days per week. I’ve figured out that amount is just enough to keep me from having sugar cravings. And if I reach a point where I start to feel myself craving wine, I take a break from it for a few days, just to keep myself from developing a dependency. I want my good judgment to have control over my body, rather than letting my body control me.

Caffeine is another common addiction, whether it’s coffee, tea, energy drinks, soda or any other source, and it was definitely a bad habit of mine. I used to drink a pot of coffee per day. I drank it black, so I thought “at least it’s not full of cream and sugar”. But what it was, is full of caffeine, and too much of a good thing is usually a bad thing. I was having trouble sleeping and focusing, so I decided to nix the coffee habit to see if it helped. I cut myself back to two cups per day, usually in the morning but never after mid-afternoon. The result? Better sleep and better focus.

This is just something else to be mindful of — black coffee and tea are fine; even good for you if you don’t overdo it. So be careful not to overdo it. If you’re doing energy drinks and/or soda — the choice is ultimately yours but I beg of you to please stop. The sugars are terrible for your health and your waistline, and the artificial sweeteners that are in the diet variety are terrible for your brain and joints. Not to mention the chemicals in energy drinks are cancer-causers.

The best way to quit any bad habit is simply cold turkey. It won’t be easy, but it’s the quickest way to get the garbage processed out of your body and allow yourself to start to heal. Be patient and don’t give up on yourself — you can do it!

Step 8 – Planning

This one is less about the specifics of a diet, and more about maintaining it. Plan ahead. Write or type out the details of your diet:

  • how many times per week will you eat meat?
  • how many times per week will you eat dairy?
  • how often will you eat sweets/allow yourself a treat?
  • how often will you allow yourself your top 3 from step 1?
  • how many times per day will you eat vegetables?
    • what kinds of vegetables do you like eating or cooking?
  • how many times per day will you eat fruit?
  • how many times per day will you eat grains?
    • what kinds do you most like eating and cooking?

Once you have these details laid out, you can start planning your meals and snacks for each week. Eventually you may not need to do this as you become experienced with your diet, but in the beginning I strongly suggest doing a meal plan. Figure out what you want for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and maybe even dessert (a good place to work in some fruit or grains, or the occasional treat). This way you can look at the whole week and make sure that you are getting the number of servings of everything you have mapped out for yourself, then make your shopping list and get started.

If you don’t know where to start with meals or recipes, I would start basic. Pick a protein, grain, and vegetable you know you like and make that your dinner, for example. Then you can use that as a guide to look up recipes. Pinterest has a wealth of food ideas for you to browse. If you’re looking for something that uses beans for a protein source, you can just type in “bean recipes” and lots will come up. Another place I’ve found that is awesome for ideas is Instagram. I love both the #plantbased and the #mediterraneandiet hashtags. Sometimes you will find recipes in the description, but sometimes you’ll only find a picture with a description of what the dish is, but at least you can see what ingredients go into it and you can get ideas for what to put together.

Sitting down and planning out your week, making a shopping list, and getting your groceries all bought will give you a big leg up on your new way of life. Being prepared will take the stress and frustration out of learning new things. And I promise, after a few weeks it will start to become familiar, and after a few months it will start to be automatic. Which brings me to the final step…

Step 9 – Patience and Practice

Have patience, and practice practice practice! Remember learning to ride a bike? How many times did you topple over, hurt yourself, and get mad? But you stuck with it and you learned how to do it. Once your body learned the motor coordination needed, it became second nature and you had a new skill for life. Learning this new way of eating is the same. It’s unfamiliar, and your body isn’t used to it. It will take time and practice to discover new foods and new recipes, to fine-tune your shopping and cooking skills (a topic coming up soon on the blog), and for your body to adjust.

That’s something else I want to give you a head’s up on before you begin. Some of you may eat relatively healthy now, and some of you may be making a total lifestyle change. Depending on the diet you’ve been consuming, and especially if you have an addiction or bad habit to break, switching to this new way of eating might have some surprising unexpected effects on you. If you’ve been especially accustomed to sweets, meats, alcohol, and fried and processed foods, you will likely experience a detox as your body gets the break it needs to rid itself of the toxins those foods have put in it.

Here are some things you may experience:

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Restlessness and/or fatigue
  • Breakouts, or maybe even rashes or other skin reactions
  • Headaches or body aches
  • Nausea

These things are the most common, particularly in people who have been eating especially unhealthily, so if you experience them it is important to understand that it is normal. Symptoms of detox may last from a few days to a couple of weeks. Maybe even a few weeks in special cases. I’m telling you this not to scare you, but to prepare you so that you don’t quit, thinking that your new diet is doing your body harm. It is actually quite the opposite…your new diet is allowing your body to heal itself, so be patient during this time.

Once your body detoxes and adjusts to your new healthy life, your skin will be clearer, your energy level will be higher, and your mood will be better. You’ll also likely start to notice aches and pains you may have had will start to fade, and you will experience less brain fog. There will come a day (for me it was probably six months to a year in), where you’ll realize that all of the stuff you used to eat doesn’t even sound good anymore.

When I was growing up, I loved Coca-Cola, sweets, and most anything fried — mozzarella cheese sticks especially. Now the thought of all of those almost makes me nauseous. It takes time, but you will find that as you start to unlearn your old ways and adopt your new healthy habits, your mindset on food and health will change completely.

I grew up with no concept of health whatsoever and was pretty much allowed to eat whatever junk I wanted. It wasn’t until a major health problem came up in my family (my grandmother was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia) that it all came to a crashing halt for me and I started to learn and care about diet and health. My wish for you is that you don’t wait until there is a health crisis to get serious about your health. You have the power to start any time, including right now in this very moment. If you slip-up, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Just chalk it up to a lesson, dust yourself off, and pick right back up where you left off.

There is no such thing as perfection, and if you demand that of yourself you’re sure to fail. What you can do is learn, come up with a plan, practice, and give it the best you have to give. Do what works for you, and live your best life as your best self. You can do this, I know you can!




Differences Between the Diets: Vegan, Plant-Based, Keto and Mediterranean

Dear Friends,

Later this week we’re getting to the good stuff — how to customize your own diet so you will have something manageable that you can stick to for the long haul. Ahead of that I wanted to do a post where I talk about some of the most common diets out there right now, and compare them to their healthier alternatives.

First up — Vegan vs. Plant-Based

When you step back and look at the basics, these appear to be the same thing. The root of each diet is total elimination of all animal-based foods. No meat, no dairy, no eggs. However, there is a pretty big difference between the two.

The traditional vegan diet does mean no animal-based foods are allowed. Another major point to the vegan diet that does not necessarily apply to the plant-based diet is that the use of leather and fur in clothing are also not allowed, as well as choosing only products that are not tested on animals. The reason for this is that veganism has as much to do with protection of animals overall as it does with health and nutrition.

From a health perspective, the vegan diet may fall short of the plant-based diet for one major reason — it isn’t focused on nutrition. With a vegan diet, you can technically eat as much junk food and processed food as you want, so long as it doesn’t contain meat, dairy or eggs. You can pound potato chips, eat Oreos every single day, and chase each meal with soda if you wish. They also make very expensive meat and cheese substitutes/replacements that are geared toward the vegan community, most of which are usually highly-processed.

With a plant-based diet, the focus is on a well-balanced diet that provides your body’s much-needed nutrition, and eliminates animal products due to their negative impact on health. Chips, Oreos and soda are all on the chopping block of a plant-based diet, because processed foods, added sugars, and foods fried in oils are not a part of this diet. Instead, meals are centered around beans, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fresh veggies and fruits. Meat and cheese replacements can absolutely be a part of this diet as well, but the focus is less on replacing meat and cheese with something that looks and tastes the same, and more on eating as many whole foods as possible.

There is no reason these two diets can’t be blended. A vegan who cares strongly about animal rights can absolutely be a plant-based vegan who cares just as much about nutrition, for example. I’m not hating on the vegan community by any means, I just wanted to point out the differences specifically for those focused on getting their health and nutrition on track. Also, if you choose to go entirely vegan or plant-based, it will be worth it to look into some B-vitamin supplements as well, as that tends to be the main nutrient that gets short-circuited on a fully plant-based diet.

There is no reason you can’t eliminate animal proteins entirely and be completely nutritionally-balanced. In fact, it is my belief that a completely plant-based diet is the healthiest diet you can follow. The only reason I don’t follow this one myself is because I really like cheese and seafood, and I believe that consuming those things in moderation will not be detrimental to your health. I also believe that a diet that restricts you from things you love 100% of the time will create a struggle and may ultimately lead to failure.

Next up — Keto vs. Mediterranean

Just to be clear out of the gate, these two diets are definitely not as closely linked as vegan and plant-based. In fact, in their primary purpose they are quite opposite.

The main goal of Keto (or Atkins, etc.) is to reduce carbs and increase fat. The specific reason for this with Keto is to shock your body into burning its fat for energy, or in other words put your body into a state of ketosis. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, is very much carb-friendly, with one caveat — the carbs have to be whole grain and minimally processed. These carbs are high energy producers and have a lot more fiber than their counterparts, meaning they are processed more quickly by the body, used for the fuel they are intended to provide, and most of what is unused is expelled as waste. It is not converted to glucose like simple carbohydrates are.

When it comes to fats, both diets are strong proponents of fat. However, on Keto, any fat goes. That includes saturated and trans fats. You can eat a double-bacon-cheeseburger drowned in ranch dressing, for example, as long as you don’t eat the bun. On the Mediterranean Diet, your fat is comprised of healthy fats, meaning they are high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that help lower your cholesterol and keep your circulatory system clean and healthy. So a fatty meal on this diet may consist of a salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing, topped with sliced avocado and a piece of salmon. Olive oil and avocado are excellent sources of the afore-mentioned fats, and salmon is the best source available of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

So similar to the vegan diet, the focus of Keto is not on health or nutrition. Rather, it is a weight-loss plan that is not intended to be followed long-term. The Mediterranean Diet, on the other hand, provides excellent weight loss assistance while also focusing on nutrition and long-term maintenance. It is largely centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts (just like the plant-based diet), but also allows for healthy oil, seafood, and poultry and dairy in moderation; red meats and sugar are minimal.

So if you are following Keto for weight loss, my recommendation would be to follow Mediterranean overall, but keep the grains and fruit minimal upfront until you’ve had some good weight loss success. This way you aren’t compromising your health in order to lose weight – you can have the best of both worlds.

Wrapping Up

This post is more brief than the last have been, but I felt it was pretty easy to get to the point on this topic. Next up on Thursday this week — we will discuss how to customize a diet that fits your needs!

After that:

  • Mediterranean Monday (recipe to be determined)
  • Meal planning, creating a shopping list, and prepping food
  • Decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy products
  • Breaking patterns to learn how to cook and eat healthy
  • Resources to help you find products and recipes, so you can get on track and stay on track

I will see you again on Thursday!


Photo Cred: Harvard Health