Vegetarian Conversion

brown highland cattle on field of grass

Photo by Gabriela Palai on

You’ve decided to cut out meat to see if your health improves, and your brain is drawing a blank as to how to plan meals. How will you get enough protein? Will you be hungry all the time? What will you put in the place of meat so you don’t feel like you’re missing out or penalizing yourself?

Having grown up vegetarian, this was something that never bothered me and I laughed when people asked me “What on earth do you eat?” The answer was simple: Everything. Everything but meat. Of course, this was horrifying to my pediatrician, who insisted upon every wellness visit that iron and protein levels be tested. Miraculously, as my mother cooked whole-food, plant-based meals for us, my brother and I always tested within a perfectly normal range.

We’ve been trained to think it’s ok–even normal–to eat more wheat, or maybe oats, in a day than we do vegetables. Some people tolerate whole grains just fine, and if you feel that you need them in your diet for balance, keep at it. However, as with any diet, it’s wise to be mindful of how and where we’re getting the bulk of our calories, protein and carbs. Are those sources are processed (and pumped full of additives), even if they are organic, and is there any nutrition available beyond a factory-added B vitamin?

Paying attention to balance, in any diet, is really important in order to avoid deficiencies. For vegetarians, and even more so for vegans, this takes a little extra work. If you have children in your household, pay especially close attention to B vitamins, as kids can easily suffer irreversible cognitive disability due to deficiency.

Virtually every cell in your body has a receptor for Vitamin D, making it obvious that we depend upon a sufficient amount for innumerable functions.  What goes hand-in-hand is a bio-available form of Vitamin A (taking a clean cod liver oil is a two-for-one win, as you get a bio-available A and D).

Last but not least, especially if you’re vegan, you might wish to consider a complete version of vitamin K2 in order to handle proper calcium distribution. Of course, supplementation should be used sparingly and doesn’t fix a nutrient-poor diet. A multi-vitamin isn’t going to make up for French fries and ice cream for dinner three nights a week. The best place to get your nutrition is from whole foods, as these are more readily absorbed into the body and at a dosage your body understands and can easily process.

Your body will tell you what it thinks of your current diet and it will tell you what it thinks about any changes you may incorporate. Listen carefully and monitor how you feel. If you feel tired, weak, or lethargic, you may need to add in more complex carbs. If your stomach is upset by legumes, don’t feel like that’s your only option as a protein source. (Nuts, seeds, veggies, eggs, bone broth if you’re willing to take it that far–it adds up if you’re paying attention to it.) If you find that dietary changes are really sapping your strength, talk to a professional. See a functional medicine doctor for testing and talk to a nutritionist about how to build healthy, balanced meals. It may be that you’ve made too many changes at once, or unwittingly put yourself on a self-inflicted version of the Autoimmune Protocol.

So where to start? As it so happens, there are thousands of recipe bloggers in this day and age (God bless the Internet?), and you can find numerous blogs devoted to all manner of lifestyle/health choices: gluten-free, AIP, GAPS, low-FODMAP, low-histamine, grain-free, vegan–you name it!

I’ll give you links to some of my favorites here. (Most of these happen to be vegan or vegetarian, but you can add meat or cheese to just about anything if that’s not your bag. Because come on, how many things have you met that weren’t improved with cheese?)

Love and Lemons • Somewhat recently relocated to Chicago, this blog boasts great vegetarian recipes and gorgeous photos. Jeanine has two cook books under her belt!

Detoxinista • Megan is a trained nutritionist–that was enough for me! She has “specialty” recipes if you’re vegan or following Paleo.

Pinch of Yum • A vegetarian blogger hailing from Minnesota (God bless her frozen fingers), Lindsay has a personable writing style and some great recipes!

Oh She Glows • A Canadian blogger, Angela’s plant-based blog is one of the first I started following years ago when trying out a vegan diet.

Cookie and Kate•  Based in Kansas City, Kate whips up awesome vegetarian recipes and sweetens the deal with adorable pictures of her dog, Cookie.

A Saucy Kitchen• Sarah’s got it all together! Looking for gluten-free? Low-FODMAP? She’s your girl.

So this may be the part where I confess that after 39 years as a vegetarian (some of those years involved complicated forays into a vegan diet), we are no longer vegetarian. This has been a struggle for me, as I never developed an appreciation for the taste or texture of meat. (Remember how I wouldn’t eat anything that had a mother? I swear the animals look at me differently now.)

We don’t eat a great deal of meat and haven’t ventured beyond collagen powder, pasture-raised chickens, wild-caught fish or organic, pasture-raised beef or chicken bone broth. With some attention to what we’re putting into our mouths (and yes, we take beef liver capsules–gag), I’m confident we’re pretty well balanced on average. Keeping the focus on fresh, whole foods is something we’ve really ramped up in the past year and we’ve noticed many benefits of this improved diet: weight loss, mental clarity, improved healing from injuries and no more aching joints! In my book, that’s reason enough to keep doing what we’re doing, but always being willing to accept new information and incorporate it if it makes sense. That’s all we can do, right?

Go forth today and conquer, all in good health!

All work on this site is original and proprietary. Credit to other authors is given in recognition of their cited works. All rights reserved pertaining to copyright laws.



Keeping It Simple

If you find yourself confused by the “perfect diet,” as so many out there claim to be, you’re not alone. Many bill themselves as the perfect diet, sure to change your life, and you may try one or two before becoming disillusioned because it didn’t deliver on what you understood to be the promises.

Most people undergoing a radical diet revamp are doing so because they feel they have only two options: scary prescriptions or overwhelming dietary modifications. For some, examining their diet is the only possible answer to the mysterious symptoms they’ve been suffering. For others, it’s treating disease factors attributed to lifestyle: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, etc. These diseases are now understood to be more lifestyle-based than genetic, although in some cases genetics do play a role, simply not as broad a role as we once understood.

The easiest response is to become completely overwhelmed and throw up your hands. You’ve spent a lifetime learning how to eat, and how you eat is likely deeply emotional, linked to social situations and emotional reactions. You associate certain foods with comfort, family, or happy occasions. Realizing suddenly that some of those foods aren’t going to make the cut when you start cleaning things up is often met with a very visceral reaction. Think of how many of our preconceived ideas about food are tied to our emotional state!

So where to start? You’ve overwhelmed and don’t know what’s most important. You’re about as likely to know what you’re doing in the grocery store as you are to likely pick up Mandarin as a second language, overnight.

Keep it simple for yourself. You already know that “whole” and “unprocessed” are very friendly words, but what does this mean? It’s not a life filled with kale smoothies, if that’s your worry. (You know, unless that’s your jam.) Could you work a few more veggies into your diet? Would a gigantic salad make you feel better than your standard lunchtime sandwich?

In my household there is no real classification for our diet. I’ve never developed a taste for red meat–and I’m the one who cooks, so there you go. While we do eat wild-caught, sustainable fish and pasture-raised chicken, the real key seems to be vegetables: as many fresh vegetables as we can possibly stuff into our mouths on a daily basis. (Let me tell you of the wonders of a roasted vegetable platter sprinkled with a hint of Pecorino-Romano–and drool all over myself at the thought.) If you question the powers of a veggie-dense diet, give yourself 20 minutes and watch this. Be prepared to experience total disbelief.

We haven’t entirely limited dairy, as evidenced by our love of cheese. However, we try for organic as often as possible when having cheese, ice cream or milk. This is because of the high levels of pesticides stored in animal fats.

When searching for produce, helpful lists to keep in mind are the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15.

While we do incorporate some grains, we try to largely limit our wheat consumption, due to the fact that Celiac disease runs in my family. It doesn’t seem wise to poke the monster. However, we do incorporate the occasional serving of wild rice, or pseudo-grains like quinoa and buckwheat.

Start small. Be realistic with yourself and don’t expect to overhaul everything overnight, especially as this is a huge and sometimes burdensome learning process. Be kind to yourself, as you can’t possibly plug your brain into some great database and learn All The Good Ideas at once.

Where did we start? We stopped eating breakfast cereal, as silly as that sounds. Instead we swapped in scrambled eggs with sauteed kale and cherry tomatoes. Or a “souffle” of eggs, sweet potatoes, spinach and cheese. You’ll start with a couple “go to” recipes and expand your repertoire as time goes on. (I’ll provide you with links to some of my favorite recipe bloggers in a near-future post.

What are three of the fastest ways to cut out the majority of the junk? Take a deep breath with me, because this might give you vertigo:

  1. Wheat
  2. Soy
  3. Sugar

Did that just make you mentally review and throw out 80% of your pantry?

I don’t suppose you need much convincing about sugar, as you’ve seen the studies, the papers, the articles published by doctors saying things like “It’s not the fat that’s killing you, it’s the sugar.” Good, healthy fat is essential to our survival and to the very health of our brain, but none of us has a sugar deficiency.

There are a number of reasons that most functional medicine doctors, naturopaths and even nutritionists will now point out why wheat isn’t the best option. Not only are most grains drenched with glyphosate during the growing and harvesting process, but most strains of wheat have been so heavily modified that the argument is the body can no longer recognize these grains as food. (Chris Kresser has an excellent article showing the link between gluten intolerance and thyroid dysfunction here.)

As for soy, quite simply put, it disrupts hormones (your endocrine system). It’s a popular food additive (filler) given that it’s a subsidized product and is therefore cheap. Eating it in the quantities we do wreaks havoc with our hormones, as it has estrogenic properties. It’s no surprise, when you consider this, that puberty is striking at horrifically early ages and boys are growing breast tissue.

The point is to do what you can, where you are able, when you can. Even something that seems a small and insignificant step is the first step on your journey toward wellness.

All work on this site is original and proprietary. Credit to other authors is given in recognition of their cited works. All rights reserved pertaining to copyright laws.

How Important Is Your Diet?

Humans complicate things. We make relationships harder than they have to be. We procrastinate. We stress out over completely unimportant details. Maybe some of this is biology, or maybe we do it to make ourselves feel set apart from the crowd in a really strange way. We’re different, see? That makes us special.

One of the most polarizing topics, second only to politics and/or religion, it could be argued, is diet. There are a thousand variations out there: Atkins, Paleo, AIP, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, etc. Each has their own zealous disciples, preaching the gospel truth about wheat germ, pasture-raised eggs or the miracles of soy milk for menopausal women.

Entirely relearning the way to cook and eat can be overwhelming when you’re faced with a lifetime of comfortable habits vs. unlearning all those behaviors. After all, who’s the actual authority? There are so many well-meaning folks barking down at you from TV’s, radios, bookshelves, about how you have to follow their prescription for better health. Buy their book! Buy their E-package! Learn how to simplify and improve your life in 21 recipes!

My family followed a strict vegetarian diet for several generations, and growing up in this environment lead me to believe it was the healthiest option available. I righteously explained to curious friends and later to coworkers that my diet was: “If it had a mother, it’s not going in my mouth.”

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

And then my family started getting sick.

One extremely health-conscious grandmother was all about the low-fat craze. Veggies! More grains! Fresh fruits were acceptable, but not too many because sugar was also the devil, followed closely by his evil cousin, salt. But the surest path to hell was butter. Eggs. Avocados. Olive oil. Oh, Lord save our souls, fat was the Antichrist. And thus it was that she began the four-decades-long descent into severe dementia while still only in her 50s: by avoiding healthy fats she had literally starved her brain.

The other grandmother was an excellent cook and, hailing from Norway, butterfat ran in her blood. She was a connoisseur of milk, cream, butter, eggs and cheese. There wasn’t a single vegetable she couldn’t cover in a cream sauce or mayonnaise-based dressing. It could be argued that her relationship with food was complicated, and she died at 74 after a decade of battling colorectal cancer and all the associated indignities.

When my mother began suffering strange and inexplicable symptoms in her early 40s, the medical community was only just beginning to pay attention. Aching joints, incredibly painful pressure points, fatigue, digestive issues, brain fog, and overwhelming, untreatable migraines were chalked up to being “in her head.” Was she sure she wasn’t just a hypochondriac?

What happened? We’d thought we were making such healthy choices! Since we didn’t eat meat, we replaced it with all the fun substitutes from grocery freezers. These replacements were filled with soy and “isolates” and all manner of things completely unrecognizable to the human body.

We didn’t buy “store-made” bread. We came from hearty stock who took pride in baking their own bread, growing their own gardens, and making our own “burgers” from wheat gluten. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)

For years we slathered our bread with margarine, cooked with canola oil, and consumed mass quantities of MSG before anyone had yet pointed out the dangers.

The problem was that the organic movement wasn’t big yet. We were eating huge quantities of whole grains (thanks, food pyramid!), surely drenched in what is now a commonly known and feared biocide. We lived in a farming community where huge tanker trucks trundled through lush green fields, dousing the crops with a haze of pesticides. Those pesticides that surely made their way into the water table and into our wells. The pesticides we marinated in every time we showered, brushed our teeth or drew a crisp glass of cold water from the kitchen sink.

It’s said that a little knowledge is dangerous and to some extent this is probably true. However, most of us can probably agree that what we didn’t know has been killing us: things that have been kept a secret through outright omission, fantastical feats of marketing and the unbelievably legal practice of allowing companies to label their products with vague ingredients, such as “natural flavors.”

The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” ― Ann Wigmore

No one can avoid every possible pollutant or contaminant, as none of us would live very long if we stopped drinking water or started holding our breath. But to control the dosage? We all have some power to do this.

Do we need to complicate this? Do we need to rigidly adhere to one diet or another, or do we do that to make ourselves feel accepted, or even superior to others?

As humans, we’re constantly adapting and changing. It’s to be expected that we cannot demand 100% perfection of ourselves 100% of the time. Sometimes we’re going to have a slice of pizza or a crispy baguette. (And hey, potato chips happen. Sometimes right before ice cream.)

What’s the easiest way to approach cleaning up your diet? By adding things in. Add in bright, colorful, delicious berries. Add in eggs from pasture-raised hens. Add in tangy, rich green extra virgin olive oil and rich, delicious avocados. And then, once you’ve realized how many wonderful whole foods are available to you, start subtracting the processed, the inferior, the boxed, bagged, and packaged, loaded with sugar and preservatives. It’s a process and it takes concerted effort and the reading of labels, but you’ll notice benefits: more energy, better sleep, fewer aches and pains, clearer skin. You’ll also begin to notice which foods don’t agree with you, once you begin to realize that it’s not normal to feel sluggish and lethargic all the time.

What works for you, or are you still searching?

All work on this site is original and proprietary. Credit to other authors is given in recognition of their cited works. All rights reserved pertaining to copyright laws.