Going Vegan Isn’t as Hard as You Might Think
“Where do you get your protein from?” “The vegans I know are scrawny or unhealthy.” “Our ancestors ate meat, we need animal protein.” “It’s hard to get ‘complete’ protein.” “You need more protein to build muscle.” These are things I said before switching to a plant-based diet.
I never set out to become a vegan and didn’t give veganism a warm welcome. I discouraged clients who thought about it and gave vegetarians the protein lecture I now hear from my own critics. Not long ago, I was a meat-lover who believed you could not build adequate muscle without animal protein in your diet. I followed the popular 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% healthy fat meal plan, ate plenty of calories and watched my carbohydrate intake, ultimately leaving me unsatisfied with meals.
I struggled to consume twice the protein I recommend as a Dietitian, eating high amounts of animal products and supplementing with protein powders. I had digestive issues, most of which I blamed on an inability to eat certain vegetables. My weight fluctuated regularly, even after small slip-ups in my diet. I developed disordered eating habits such as being afraid to eat too much fruit, cutting out “starchy” or “high sugar” vegetables, having cravings daily and binging on the weekends. I was tired and, though I was eating “clean”, I felt unhealthy. This was not a lifestyle I wanted forever.
My eyes were soon opened when my husband gave up animal products. I was unsupportive at first, doubtful of his success and wanting to prove him wrong. I decided to experiment and switched to wild fish and free-range eggs as my only animal protein sources, believing they were the healthiest options available. Living on the Nova Scotia coast, I was shocked to discover fresh, wild fish was expensive and hard to find. This led me to research the advantages and disadvantages of plant-based diets. I soon discovered that the facts were undeniable.
Research shows humans need much less protein than traditionally thought. Dr. Colin T. Campbell, researcher and author of the China Study, and his colleagues found evidence suggesting that we only need 10 percent of nutrients from protein, which can be easily consumed through carbohydrates. Excessive protein is hard on our kidneys and too much animal protein can lead to various diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Athletes and bodybuilders need more protein but they also need more calories – with enough calories comes enough protein.
Beef, poultry and pork contain hormones and antibiotics. Fish, wild included, contain pollutants and toxins like mercury, DDT and PCBs. Dairy products, even organic, contain naturally occurring steroids and hormones. These hormones, antibiotics and toxins are harmful to our health. What about grass-fed beef and free-range eggs? Research shows the variation in nutrient composition of grass-fed vs. conventionally grown is very small, especially when compared to the difference between animal and plant food.
Animal protein is hard to digest, leading to malabsorption of some nutrients while plant-based protein is easily absorbed by our bodies and has been found to be a complete protein. Plant-based products also provide other essential nutrients such as fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
While consuming too many animal products has been proven to cause disease, there are no known health disadvantages of excessive whole-food plant products. Dr. Max Gerson, a well-known German physician, and many others have shown that plant-based diets can reverse diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
It’s been four months since adopting a plant-based lifestyle and I haven’t felt this amazing in years. I no longer follow a strict diet or deprive myself of healthy foods. I’m eating over double the amount of carbohydrates and less than half the protein. I don’t worry about “where I get my protein from” because I know I get more than enough high quality protein from nutritious plant-based options. I have incredible energy, my skin and hair are glowing, I’ve never eaten so many vegetables and my cravings and digestion problems are gone. As for my physique, I’m the leanest I’ve been all year and am building muscle while losing body fat. It’s only been a few months but I’m certain I have found the balance I’ve been looking for. I want my husband and I to live long, full lives and I strongly believe that plant-based nutrition is the key.
A valuable lesson I’ve learned is that veganism is not a fad diet; it is a way of life. Every step towards adopting a plant-based diet, even just one meal a week, is a step towards better health. I’m so grateful that I have discovered my new path and I know my body will thank me for it down the road.