The ultimate guide to a plant based diet was created by a question I decided to put out there. The question was simply this: How can I eat for maximum energy, brain function, anti inflammation, body composition and performance? The answer showed up through an amazing influence in my life who basically inspired me to try a completely plant-based diet for myself, if only for a period of time. During the two weeks I ate vegan, I noticed I had more energy, less brain fog, less inflammation, and leaned down quite a bit in just 14 days.
Here is my typical eating strategy:
I ate six meals a day, that were smaller meals, as this tends to work best for me and give me the nutrients and calories I need to power through many training sessions.
Meal 1: Breakfast Smoothie
Meal 4 (post-workout)
Since I had such fantastic results from my 14 day vegan diet, leaning down and feeling so energetic, I decided to put together one article exploring the benefits of a plant-based diets and how to do one correctly, so that you get the most out of it.
Increasing evidence is showing that a plant based diet is a smart way to eat—if you make certain to strategize ways to get the nutrients you only get from meat into the diet via vegetables, protein sources, and supplementation.
As researchers note in this 2013 article:
Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. We present a case study as an example of the potential health benefits of such a diet. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HBA 1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity. See link.
What is a Plant Based Diet?
A plant-based is a diet comprised chiefly of plants. Foods such as grain, nuts, seeds, vegetables of all kinds, sea vegetables, seaweed, kelp and basically all plants that grow above and below ground and in the sea.
For some plant-based dieters, their diet is completely vegetarian—with absolutely no dairy, fish, or meat of any kind consumed or eggs. These are called vegans. Other plant-based dieters might eat fish and plants only. These are called pescatarians. Other types of vegetarian diets include a lacto-ovo-vegetarian style diet (dairy and eggs plus plants) or ovo-vegetarians. Some vegetarians are hesitant to give up eggs, as they are such a rich store of so many healthy compounds and, especially, trace minerals.
The Mediterranean diet could be considered a modified plant-based diet. It’s a diet based chiefly on plants, nuts, seeds, grains, fish, eggs and poultry and red meat only consumed on rare occasions. It is also a diet which eschews processed foods, any foods laden with chemicals, diet foods, packaged foods, convenience foods and focuses solely on clean, whole foods of all kinds. This diet has been touted by many scientists as one of the healthiest diets in the world. (study, study, study).
***However, what I am thinking is that we should consider that our oceans are increasingly becoming more polluted and more fish, fish oil, and especially shellfish are testing positive for cadmium, mercury, and numerous toxins and metals, a plant based diet might be a very reasonable consideration. So much pollution is being dumped into our waters by not just people littering but factory runoff, that the vast, vast ocean is becoming highly toxic in certain areas of the world. Farmed fish are also dangerous, because they are fed cheap toxic grains.
The only fish oil I recommend anymore is, in fact, krill oil, as fish and bottom feeders like krill are harvested from low waters which are still clean.
What are the Benefits of a Plant Based Diet?
It can keep you thin and trim
Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that a plant based diet lowers the risk of obesity and is very weight-loss promoting. In fact, in a recent study, individuals who switched to a plant only diet for 30 days achieved a 7.48 pound weight loss. Typically, in studies, you only see this kind of weight loss over months, not in 30 days. Evidence and then some: link, link, study, study).
Plant based and vegetarian diets are anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is a direct result of negative “things” flowing into the system from viruses to pesticides and other toxic chemicals found in foods. Your body becomes inflamed from reactions to pesticides, for example, because your body attacks any invader that seeks to cause harm to your health. Meats contaminated with pesticides, hormones, and poultry high in arsenic, for example, will set off a preemptive strike in your body, to fight the invader before it can hurt you.
This is why harmful food causes inflammation. This is why processed foods cause inflammation—they contain FAKE everything and toxic compounds like food colorings (full of toxic chemicals), preservatives (full of chemicals), and Omega 6 fats, industrial seed oils (full of toxic chemicals), and trans fats that your body sees as a threat to its very life force.
Therefore, eating organic and plant rich is a way to reverse inflammation in the body over time. Another benefit of the plant based diet for inflammation is that you are also flooding the body with anti-inflammatory compounds such as phytochemicals and isoflavones, which help reverse inflammation and promote health in many ways. Since inflammation is at the root of virtually all disease from diabetes, to cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, and cancer, this is a very health promoting way to eat. (study, study, study, study).
Can Prevent and even REVERSE type 2 diabetes
In a recent meta-analysis of 477 studies, researchers found overwhelming evidence that a chiefly plant based or vegetarian diet results in improved blood sugar control in diabetics. (study). And although vegetarians do eat a carbohydrate rich diet in terms of grains, breads, rice, and carbohydrate rich vegetables like potatoes and legumes, it seems the avoidance of meat and all that that implies, along with a diet rich in nutrient-dense vegetables, has proven to both treat and prevent type II diabetes. The goal with the plant based diet is to not eliminate carbohydrates, as the ketogenic approach does, but rather to be selective in one’s choices for carbohydrates, as well as in fats and protein choices (plant versus animal).
In fact, as a researcher in a 2017 article titled “A Plant Based Diet for the Treatment and Prevention of Type II Diabetes” notes,
Cohort studies strongly support the role of plant-based diets, and food and nutrient components of plant-based diets, in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Evidence from observational and interventional studies demonstrates the benefits of plant-based diets in treating type 2 diabetes and reducing key diabetes-related macrovascular and microvascular complications. . . . Multiple potential mechanisms underlie the benefits of a plant based diet in ameliorating insulin resistance, including promotion of a healthy body weight, increases in fiber and phytonutrients, food-microbiome interactions, and decreases in saturated fats, advanced glycation end-products, nitrosamines, and heme iron. (study).
An endless array of bloggers attest that a plant based diet or vegetarian diet has helped them to even reverse type II diabetes after diagnosis.
Red meat might be much to blame, in fact, for acquiring type II diabetes, although researchers are, as yet, uncertain why. In fact, in studies, individuals who ate red meat daily for four years had a 50 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
As Dr. Sharon Palmer notes, “Study after study has tightly linked eating a plant-based diet with decreasing a number of chronic diseases—type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers” (article).
Researchers in the journal Nutrients just released an article noting the benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets for prevention of all kinds of cardio and metabolic diseases noting,
Evidence suggests that plant-based diets may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease events by an estimated 40% and the risk of cerebral vascular disease events by 29%. These diets also reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes by about one half. Properly planned vegetarian diets are healthful, effective for weight and glycemic control, and provide metabolic and cardiovascular benefits, including reversing atherosclerosis and decreasing blood lipids and blood pressure. The use of plant-based diets as means of prevention and treatment of cardio-metabolic disease should be promoted. (See study).
Heart healthy and lowers risk of cardiovascular disease
Plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian diets, if you follow healthy ones low in refined carbs and sugar, industrial seed oils and other Omega-6 rich fats, will lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower inflammatory markers, all of which is good for the heart. They are rich in antioxidants that help undo oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Plants also enrich your diet with healthful Omega 3 fatty acids, which can reduce your risk of heart disease, dementia, and high blood pressure. They can also help lower cholesterol.
Good ways to make sure you get your Omega-3s on a vegan diet would be:
What Does Jackson Say?
Of the different types of plant based diets, I instinctively gravitate towards an strong vegan diet base with periods of going back to wild meat or fish occasionally, as long as it’s pure wild caught or pasture-fed, non-hormone, no nitrate sources of meats– all totally clean, hormone and antibiotic free protein sources.
Although our meats and oceans are increasingly polluted, testing positive for mercury, arsenic, pesticides, hormones, and nitrates, I do believe wild proteins from trusted origins offer a healthy dose of nutrients for overall health, performance and energy.
The problem is this—conventional poultry is fed grains enriched with arsenic today to plump the chickens, making them look bigger and weigh more, thus equally more money for the purveyor and the supplier. Arsenic is a toxin that causes major inflammation, weight gain, toxicity, and damage to the body and brain. Note: Vegetarian fed hens EQUALS arsenic laden feed. Look for pasture fed, grass fed chicken and research the supplier thoroughly first.
Research backs me up on this. In fact, researchers have found that “all variants of vegetarian diets (vegan, lacto-ovo, and pesca- and semi-vegetarian) were associated with substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes and lower BMI than non-vegetarian diets. The protection afforded by vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian diets was strongest.” (study).
Having said that, I also believe in nutrient cycling. If you think about it, our ancestors could not always find meat. Animals hibernate in the winter and sometimes meat was very scarce. Finding meat depended on the success of the hunt typically, and the area of the forest or seashore mankind found himself in. There is a likelihood our systems are best wired for periods of high protein consumption and high vegetable and fruit consumption.
Whatever diet you choose, the new food pyramid designed by nutritionists clearly states that at least half of each plate should come from vegetables. A diet of at least half to three quarters of dark, leafy greens, and nutrient dense fruit and vegetables is a smart way to assure that you’re getting all the vitamins, nutrients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants you need to promote health, longevity, and vitality.
However . . .
One point I’d like to make about plant based dieting and sweets and salty-carbohydrate rich foods like bread, muffins, chips, cakes, bagels, all of it.
Plant based diets are not an excuse, therefore, to eat a lot of cupcakes, potato chips, and other packaged foods. You’re not taking away enough calories by giving up meat. In fact, you’re adding calories with foods like potatoes, fruits, and seeds and nuts, also high in calories.
So, vegan diets do not mean go carb-crazy. Again, meat has few carbs and you’re exchanging meat for more carbs. Choose those carbs wisely. Packaged foods are death for the system in numerous ways and the problem with many plant based dieters is that they become grain-i-tarians and actually gain weight because of a diet overly rich in carbohydrates and sugar.
How to Make Sure to Hit All Your Nutrient Requirements with a Plant Based Diet
The chief nutrients you want to make sure to get enough of with a vegan or plants only diet would be
Vitamin D: Look to mushrooms, fortified almond milk, and sunlight (just 15 minutes twice a week or everyday (not during peak hours of noon to 2 pm))
The only reliable vegan sources for true vegans and plant eaters are from foods fortified with B12 like cereals and plant milks.
You have to get adequate B12 or you can damage your heart and/or become anemic.
How to get your B-12 if you’re a vegan:
Good sources of iron for vegans include:
And blackstrap molasses, prune juice
***Plant based food are rich in non-heme iron only, a form of iron not as easily absorbed by the body. However, consuming your iron-rich foods with vitamin C packed foods like peppers and fruit will greatly enhance iron absorption.
If you’re an ovo-vegetarian, you can some of your B2 from eggs (about only about 15% in one egg, however). Other sources include almonds, fortified almond milk, mushrooms, spirulina, spinach, sesame seeds, quinoa, buckwheat, and prunes.
Although the DV for zinc is 15 milligrams for adults, vegetarians and vegans should aim to eat 30mg a day because zinc is not as bioavailable in plants. Vegetables high in zinc include edamame, shiitake mushrooms, green peas, lima beans, spinach, lentil sprouts, asparagus, corn, broccoli, and okra.
Make sure you are getting plenty of protein in the diet. Nuts and legumes need to be a big part of your diet as well as almond or cashew milk to get adequate protein in the body. Protein is your body’s building blocks for everything in the body, from energy, to hormones, to metabolism, red blood cells, and on and on. You need protein for healthy hair, skin, nails, and a healthy body and mind. Nut butters are a great way to get more protein.
Omega 3s: The DHA and EPA you need and would typically only get from fish and seafood is impossible to get in plants. You do get a form of Omega 3s called ALA which are very healthy for you but cannot be converted fully to EPA and DHA. Supplementing with krill or algae oil is wise.
Try a plant based diet for as long as you feel it for —and let me know how it worked for you.