I’m a vegan by choice… but it wasn’t an easy choice. In fact, the choice was made for me when I had some health issues and the doctor casually said he would schedule surgery. Just to be fully informed, I inquired about alternatives and was told, “Not unless you wanted to become a vegetarian, and nobody does that!” At that moment, I became a vegetarian. It’s been well over a decade, and I never had to have that surgery.
For the most part, modern medicine tends to treat the symptoms and not the cause. That’s like continuing to pour oil into your car instead of finding out where it’s leaking from. We never get to the root of the problem. To do that, you have to do the work. You have to read and research and ask questions. While you can treat the symptoms, and perhaps the pain, with surgery or a prescription, the reason for having the medical issue in the first place is rarely tackled, and you are left with a lifetime of continuing to treat and not cure.
Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.” The research being done by a handful of prominent physicians like Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn can really open your eyes. It’s key that you take the time to look at their research. Eating the right foods, especially a plant-based diet, has been shown to improve — and at times reverse — a number of medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It’s been shown in case after case that people that change their diets take less medications.
I’m fascinated by all of this. Every day, I read more and more about what foods are best for treating what ailments, and it’s remarkable! What confuses me is when you show research to people showing that by simply changing what they eat, they could reduce or stop taking medications, lose weight, and get back to living a more normal life, and they shrug and say they could never give up their current lifestyle — meaning they won’t even consider adopting a more plant-based diet! This kind of attitude boggles my mind.
Before all this, I was the typical meat, eggs, and cheese guy. When I was little, my mom would ask if I liked something, and I would say, “Yes! It tastes like hamburger!” For a time, I was even following the paleo (or cave man) diet, which meant eating tons of meat and pounding the protein! Now I know that there were two main issues with that.
First, humans are not designed to be mainly carnivores. You hear a lot about humans having teeth designed for eating meat when in reality our teeth are like an ape’s — shaped for grinding plants. True carnivores have very sharp pointed teeth like your average house cat. Take a look sometime. Those teeth are really meant for tearing into flesh. Even our stomachs are not really designed for eating raw meat, and you can’t leave raw beef, chicken, pork, or any meat sitting on the counter and not expect to get food poisoning without first cooking it to a proper temperature. Most veggies just need a good wash and then can easily be consumed right from the garden.
The second problem with the paleo diet is our misunderstanding of protein. “But where do you get your protein?” is the one question that will pop up every time you tell someone you’re vegetarian, and the answer is quite simple. Most plants contain protein and by eating a good variety you get all the protein you need. Here’s the problem: back in the 50s, advertising agencies really hit protein hard. The ads made it sound like we needed loads of protein to build strong bones and muscles. The average person who is relatively sedentary needs about 45 to 55 grams of protein per day. The average American eats over 100 grams of protein per day — double of what we need; and yes, there is such a thing as too much protein.
“But come on…it’s protein! You want to grow up big and strong, don’t you?”
Some of the biggest and strongest animals are vegans — gorillas, elephants, moose, cattle, and bison, for example.
I recently read an article in the Denver Post from a reporter who went vegan for a week. She made her two kids and her boyfriend endure this weeklong experiment and basically sabotaged the whole thing from the beginning. Her takeaway was obviously less than positive. Sadly, we have gotten into this fast-paced society where everything has to be quick, quick, quick. We don’t have time to prepare a meal from scratch. We only have 15–20 minutes to grab something for lunch or dinner before we are dashing out again. Both my wife and I like to cook. We like to experiment in the kitchen with new tastes and textures. We also have the luxury of time, and I get that. But there are dozens of great YouTube videos, websites, and books on how to prep meals so you can keep that grab-and-go aspect while enjoying good, fresh food.
One of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed is the whole idea of replacing foods. I cannot set a veggie burger in front of you and ask you to compare it to a hamburger made from cow. There is no real way to compare these two things. One tastes like grilled meat and the other doesn’t. Lots of dollars and research have gone into concoctions to simulate various foods. There is faux fish, chicken, beef, pork… you name it. But it’s not the same. Sometimes the taste and texture can come close to meats, but I see the whole concept as a serious problem. Why can’t a veggie burger just taste like a delicious veggie burger? Why do we feel we need to replace meat with meat simulations?
One of my absolute favorite meals is nothing more than a plate of roasted vegetables — carrots, potatoes, onions, turnips or rutabagas, broccoli, and cauliflower. It’s about as easy as you can get. I simply lay the veg out on a cookie sheet, lightly spritz them with some oil, add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and pop them in the oven at 425˚ for about 30 minutes. It’s pretty hands-off; I just keep an eye on them towards the end of the 30 minutes to make sure they’re brown (but not black). Once out of the oven, I usually sprinkle on some fresh herbs or balsamic vinegar. Perfection.
Do the research yourself — and I don’t mean read what people say on social media, I mean real research. Learn why Hippocrates said what he said about foods being medicine. Learn why consuming less meat is good for the environment. And for goodness’ sake, learn that a plant-based diet is more flavorful and delicious than you could ever imagine!
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr, MD
American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (Nov. 2021)
Main image by Tangerine Newt on Unsplash