Everything in moderation.
This is the mantra that the worst offenders in our food industry abuse to excuse their products.
Cola contributes to obesity? Nonsense, they say. As long as you enjoy it in moderation, it can be part of a healthy diet.
Bacon contributes to cancer and heart disease? Poppycock! Just eat it in moderation and you’ll be fine.
I can’t tell you how much I hate this argument. It can be applied to literally every substance on the planet. Gee, don’t worry about cigarette smoke in the air. Just breathe in moderation and you’ll be fine.
While I can’t reasonably argue that consuming two strips of bacon or one eight ounce cola per year will shorten your life expectancy, this is obviously not how people behave. When people identify themselves as cola or bacon consumers, they nearly always consume in quantities that adversely affect their health.
This “everything in moderation” advice is clearly meant for some other species. Not homo sapiens.
Enter the plant-based diet contingent. I love these guys. Barnard, Esselstyn, Ornish, McDougall, Fuhrman, Novick, et al. These guys advocate plant-based diets for health. They want to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and various other ailments. They prescribe a diet composed mostly of whole, lightly or unprocessed plant foods. No animal products. No added oils or sugars (as these are highly processed, concentrated forms of plant nutrition). Low sodium. Basically just plants.
They’re right. This sort of diet does dramatically reduce the chance of suffering from many of the ubiquitous health problems of our society. It is better than any pill (and I say this as someone not at all opposed to pills when they are the best solution for a problem). And science is squarely on their side, which is something I can say for few other “diet and nutrition experts.”
Eat primarily a whole plant-based diet, and your odds of living longer and healthier go up significantly. Of course nothing guarantees health, but a solid diet improves your chances.
The problem for many people, however, is how to get from here to there. I’ve been a vegan for a number of years now, but I still struggle with my weight. I’m a stress eater. It’s my one really bad habit. Pile on the stress, and I start pouring bags of vegan cheese shreds on everything I eat, I start baking cookies regularly, and I don’t order it at a restaurant unless it’s fried.
This is, indeed, a bad habit. It makes me gain weight, and it increases my cholesterol levels and blood pressure. And it is decidedly not “plant strong” as Rip Esselstyn likes to say.
I will say one thing for it, however. I’m a whole lot better off pouring vegan cheese on things than I am pouring cow cheese on things. I’m better off eating vegan chicken nuggets than bird-based ones. And vegan cookies don’t kill me quite as fast as the butter-and-egg variety.
I imagine many of the plant-based diet advocates would say my distinction is between unfiltered and filtered cigarettes. They both kill you. And they would be right. Vegan junk food is still junk food, and it still makes trouble for your body.
But here’s what I would say, especially to those who are recently omnivores and who are trying this plant-based diet thing on for size. No, just because you have bought into plant-based diets for health (and you’re absolutely right to buy in), it doesn’t mean you must never have junk food again. You can have cheesy things and meaty things and sugary things and oily things.
In moderation. (I feel dirty saying it.)
But you really, REALLY, should make the commitment to yourself NEVER to eat animal products ever again. Why? Because the animal versions of junk foods really are much worse for you than the plant-based versions. Back in my meat-eating days, my cholesterol would ride up over 300 and my blood pressure would hit 140 over 90. I was in my early 20s at the time. Those are heart-attack-before-age-40 numbers.
Now that I’ve been vegan for a long time, even in my worst times of stress eating, my cholesterol rides up to about 200 and my blood pressure just to 120 over 80. These aren’t good numbers, and they place me at risk for heart disease, but at much less risk than the animal-based numbers.
When I’m eating a healthy, plant-based diet, my cholesterol settles in around 140 and my blood pressure around 110 over 70. These are the target numbers that suggest my diet is truly protecting me from disease.
This post was inspired by a post on the Engine 2 Diet Facebook page.
It’s the nutrition facts for Gardein Crispy Tenders. The post lists the ingredients, and it asks, “Is this plant-strong”?
No, it’s not. It’s breaded and fried soy and wheat protein. It’s vegan junk food. If you eat a bag of these every day, your health will suffer for it. Fried foods are not health-supporting.
But I think we all kinda know that, right? I know there’s a lot of ignorance out there about diet and health, but I haven’t met many people who think fried foods are good for you.
These Crispy Tenders are also very tasty. When I’m stressed out and want some relief, throwing a few of these on the skillet does the trick.
Now I need to find more positive and constructive ways to alleviate and prevent stress. Exercise and yoga would be better gotos for me.
But old habits die hard. I know that as well as anyone. And even as I do turn more to exercise and less to food, I will still from time to time turn to junk food. Honestly, I will probably never completely break this habit.
I’m ok with that. What I will NEVER do, however, is turn to animal foods. There is no, no, no reason ever to do that. They are bad for your health. Bad for the environment. And absolutely devastating for the animals.
So here’s my life advice. Live “plant strong.” If you slip up, slip up with VEGAN junk food.
And do it in moderation.