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Curious about Plant-Based Eating?

Your #veganism FAQs - Answered!

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I’m not sure what predispositions you bring to the table when it comes to plant-based eating, or what you think when you hear that phrase.  I know that we live in an age where trendy new “diets” lurk around every corner and that you probably know numerous people who are trying “paleo” or “gluten-free” or “soy-free” or who knows what else?  I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that any particular food is the enemy (except maybe margarine… BLECH!)  Instead, I find it more helpful to focus on what foods I’m able to eat in abundance in order to fuel my body towards greatness.  (And of course, they must taste amazing.)

I think my current food philosophy is best summed up in this quote by the lovely Sarah Britton...

A lot of people want to know “what I am” – vegetarian, vegan, raw foodist, fruitarian, macrobiotic…guess what? I am a person who eats!
My food philosophy is this: I hate labels. They stink. They force a person to define themselves with very rigid terms, and beat themselves up if they suddenly eat something that doesn’t fit that definition. I know I never want to have to label what “kind” of diet I subscribe to. Being dogmatic about anything, for me, just doesn’t work. Being flexible does {…}  My diet consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. {…}  The only label I’ll slap on myself is “whole-food-lover”. Nothing makes me feel better, think better, and look better than whole foods! And the big bonus? I never count calories or worry about my weight because I know that if I eat this way, my body will be in a perfect state of balance and health, naturally.

Let me be clear… this food philosophy is somewhat new for me.  In high school and college, I was a very disordered eater.  As I entered adulthood and transitioned away from that period of time, I developed a healthier mind and body and my diet naturally shifted.  I learned to enjoy the “moderation” I’d never quite gotten the hang of.  And with the continued passing of time, I’ve continued my shift toward healthier habits.  I now eat an largely plant-based diet… and the big shocker is: It is totally by choice and I LOVE it!

Now, before you go runnin’ for the hills… I want to assure you that this does NOT mean Pretty/Hungry is going to become a “vegan blog.”  Much of the cooking I do is still for family members who do not mind animal products in their diets, so you can bet that I’ll continue to have a wide variety of delicious recipes to share with you for years to come, both meaty and not-so-meaty.

The reason I’m writing about plant-based eating today is because the last year has been quite a learning experience for me and I’ve collected some great resources about the truths and myths surrounding plant-based eating.  It occurred to me today that some of you might have some of the same questions I had about the subject!  And if you do… well, I’m just thrilled to be able to pass along some of the helpful tidbits I’ve found.  Again, let me stress that I’m not trying to convert you! (Ha!)  I’m just gathering into one place all my favorite answers to the FAQs I hear most about plant-based eating, in case you’re itching to know more. :)

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My top FAQs about veganism: Answered!

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The #1 question I had every time I’d hear about someone “going vegan” was always:

“WHY?”

Why make it so much harder on yourself to get enough protein?  Why subject yourself to the misery of a life without cheese, butter, and filet mignon?  Why make it harder to enjoy eating out, eating at friends’ homes, etc?  Why compromise your energy level?  (The list of “whys” went on and on.  And if you know a bit about plant-based eating already… you know that many of my questions were misguided, due to my lack of knowledge.)

So in answer to the all-important question: WHY? … I won’t attempt to convince you of anything.  (Honestly, it really doesn’t concern me how you choose to feed yourself as long as you can truly say you are treating your body kindly.  And everyone’s “why” is a little different anyway.)  What I will do is explain my “why.”  It’s quite simple.  With each gradual change I made toward eating more whole, unprocessed, plant foods, and fewer processed, packaged, and/or animal foods, I felt and looked better!  Perhaps the most compelling thing I can do is provide you with cold, hard numbers.  And luckily I have some!  You see, I spent the greater part of the past year participating in a nutrition research study for pregnant women.  The analysts collected in-depth records of my food intake, as well as measured my activity level, my resting metabolic rate, my body composition, etc.  Astonishingly, they noted that even though I take in many more calories than the average participant (my average number vacillates between 2,300-2,700 calories per day) I did not struggle to maintain a healthy weight and did not gain excess weight during pregnancy.  They also noted that my resting metabolic rate (meaning: the number of calories I would burn just lying in bed all day staying alive) is around 1,400.  When that number is combined with the number of calories I burn in my daily activities, the total adds up to almost 2,200!  During one appointment, one of the nutrition coaches in the study remarked to me that my diet was very different from most other participants.  When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that I’m one of very few women she has worked with who cooks almost everything I eat from scratch and incorporates vegetables into nearly every meal and snack.  “Hmmmm,” I thought, “Maybe that’s the secret!”

So that’s my “why.”  Plant-based eating has made staying healthy SO easy for me.  And happily, with each change I’ve made, I’ve discovered that it is actually far from miserable… it’s delicious!  I’ve never in my life had an easier time maintaining a healthy weight while feeling full and satisfied.  It’s pretty thrilling, to be honest.

For additional reading on the topic of “Why go plant-based?” you might enjoy this post by Bonnie of Going Home to Roost, called “Why Becoming a Vegan Was the Best Thing I Ever Did.”  Fascinating stuff!  She lists the 20 biggest benefits she noticed after a year of plant-based eating.  (I would love not to have to wear deodorant!!)

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FAQs about my #vegan #pregnancy

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The #2 question I always had for all the vegans out there was:

“What’s so wrong with animal protein?”

And there are LOTS of opinions out there on this one.  Many people vehemently oppose the meat-packing industry because they believe it is inhumane.  (I am not one of them.  I sheepishly admit that I’m not a huge cow-sympathizer… so this issue was never very compelling for me.)  Others refuse to eat meat/dairy because of the fact that the production of animal food products is far more taxing on the environment than the production of vegetable food products.  (Again, I sheepishly confess that this issue is less compelling to me than perhaps it should be.)  Still others choose to avoid meat/dairy in their diets because of the numerous scientific studies linking animal protein to increased risk for various diseases.  (Now THAT one had me intrigued!  Cancer happens to run in my family.)  Bottom Line: There are lots of reasons one might decide animal food products are not for them (and you can read more of them here.)  But here is where I’ve landed on the issue:  It’s not that I believe animal protein is so evil… it’s just that vegetable protein is SO MUCH BETTER for you.  Let’s take broccoli for example: Broccoli is a protein power-house (it is actually 1/3 protein!)  But in addition to protein, it’s a source of fiber, Vitamins A, B, C, & K, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, folate, iron, calcium, & potassium.  (Look it up.  It’s crazy!)  Simply put, the more I researched it, the more I felt compelled to get more of my nourishment from veggies.  They simply crush their meaty competition when it comes to overall nutrition!  More and more research is coming out to support that a plant-based diet is the best weapon you can have against disease.  Here’s one of my favorite articles on the subject of diet and its link to disease treatment and prevention.

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#Veganism FAQs: Answered!

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Another big question I always had for my meatless friends was:

How do you make sure you’re getting enough protein?  And don’t you need to combine certain foods to make sure you’re getting the same “complete” proteins you would get from meat?

Most non-meat-eaters get a lot of concerned questions like these from friends and family about how they will receive the proper nourishment without meat and dairy in their diet.  This concern (while it usually comes from a place of love) is quite misguided.  Many people believe that meat and dairy are vital because they supply calcium and protein.  But a diet consisting of unprocessed vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds happens to supply calcium and protein in abundance!   In fact, you would be hard-pressed NOT to get enough of these nutrients if you stuck to a whole-foods, plant-based diet.  It just isn’t possible.  (Unless, perhaps, you ate only fruit.)  Additionally, most people are quite mistaken about the actual amount of protein the body requires in order to function at optimal levels.  (It is a much lower number than you might guess.)  Here is my favorite article explaining what our actual protein requirements are, and how easily and completely those requirements can be met by a veggie-based diet.

For my part, I’ll just add that when I am eating this way, I do not struggle with any blood sugar issues or lack of fullness.  I get plenty of satisfying protein to keep me full and happy, I have ample energy to carry out my daily activities, and a plant-heavy diet allows me to recover exceptionally well from even the most intense workouts (no protein supplements required!)

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Top #veganism FAQs: Answered!

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And my last major question was always:

What would I eat?  Limiting meat and dairy products sounds downright miserable… not to mention burdensome for friends & family, and a total drag when eating out.

I think this is a very good question/concern.  It can be super challenging to adopt new habits when you are so used to basing your meals around meat, dairy, and processed foods.  I think the best tip I can offer is to start by adding vegetables to every meal you eat, and work your way up.  Serving up a pot of chili on a cold Winter evening?  Throw in a few diced up zucchini along with the onions and garlic!  (Or sub half the meat for quinoa!)  Try a green smoothie at breakfast.  Another of my go-to strategies is to add chopped frozen broccoli and/or spinach to almost everything: soup, lasagna, casserole, you name it.  Know that to whatever degree you choose to shift your diet in a veggie-heavy direction, you are making positive changes.  Don’t get hung up on perfection or the “label”… just focus on learning to love and appreciate all the amazing plant foods that are out there at your disposal.  Incorporate them in ways you haven’t tried before, at times of day you haven’t tried before.  Every good choice (big or small) is a kindness to your body and your health.

As for burdening your friends and family with your new and improved eating habits… DON’T!  I may be in the minority on this one, but I say that 98% of the time, when you’re in your own home, you’re free to make and eat whatever kind of food you want.  So when someone invites you into their home and lovingly prepares a meal for you, eat it and be thankful.  Unless you have a dangerous food allergy or something, I think it is gracious and admirable to keep your food preferences to yourself in order to avoid placing undue stress or pressure on your host.  Cooking for someone who follows a “special diet” you are unfamiliar with can be very intimidating.  Spare your friends and family that agony, pretty please.

And to address the “What to eat?” and “Won’t I be miserable?” parts of that question… Boy have I got some killer resources for you!  The first is this great post from Going Home to Roost, called “Why Being Vegan is Easy.”  (Sound like an oxymoron?  Check it out!)  I’d also like to direct you to my Cleansing Recipes board on Pinterest, which is my collection of drool-worthy plant-based recipes that are downright fabulous.  Even my meat-loving husband is happy as a clam with the meals I make him from that board.  There are also categories here on the P|H blog for “Healthy” and “Meatless” recipes… did you know that?  And lastly, I’ll share with you the cookbook I’m currently lusting over.  Can’t wait to get my copy!!

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Top 4 #veganism questions: Answered!

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Whew!  What a boatload of info!

So now I’m curious… what are the biggest questions/concerns you have when it comes to plant-based eating?  Would you ever consider adopting a plant-based diet?  If so, to what degree?  What would you foresee being the biggest challenges or obstacles for you personally?  (A big one for me was budget! But it has turned out to be no problem at all.)

Have a relaxing Sunday,

XO- Carissa

10 Responses so far.

  1. Shannon says:

    Carissa, I love this! I have recently been trying to move our family away from meat centered dinners, but it is hard! My biggest challenge is making something my pizza and cheetos loving guys will like. I’m excited to click through all your links in this post!

    • Carissa says:

      They’re all awesome… hope it makes for some great reading for you. The Pinterest board has some great recipes to try. Good luck, Shannon!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Loved this post! I have always gravitated towards plant based foods just because I like how they taste and preparing meat has always had the “ick” factor for me. I do enjoy getting meat when I eat out or it is prepared by someone else. I could easily be a vegetarian but being a strict vegan would be hard for me just because of cheese! To me there just isn’t anything like a cheesy lasagna, casserole, etc. I agree- it most definitely can be budget friendly!

    • Carissa says:

      I know… it seems cheese is the Achilles heel for most vegetarians who resist going vegan (it’s so delish!) I eat small amounts of cheese and try to limit my animal-product-intake to about 5% of my diet so I’m not having to give it up entirely! (And I’m totally with you on the ick! factor of preparing meat at home. I love not messing with it!)

  3. Savannah says:

    Great post! Have you watched the documentary forks over knives? If not, you’d enjoy it!

    • Carissa says:

      Yes! I was especially intrigued by the part in that documentary where they talk about the study where mice who went back and forth from a 20% animal protein diet to a 5% animal protein diet showed immediate improvement in pre-cancerous liver cells. Fascinating!

  4. Mallory says:

    First off, I am perfectly content to eat a meal that has no meat. At this point in my life (where husband and I are both fairly busy and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the food we eat), my biggest struggle is finding food to prepare that is a good balance between nutrition, budget, and convenience. It often seems that what one entrée offers in 2 of those categories, it severely lacks in the 3rd.
    What I wonder about the plant-based genre is how it measures up in the convenience realm.

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