Plant-Based Diets, Health, And Moderation

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.

11 Responses to Plant-Based Diets, Health, And Moderation

  1. Totally.

    I’m in it for the animals first, my health second. I know I am fat but if I ate animal foods I would likely weigh much more than I do. Although I am eating really well right now I can’t say I have the magic answer, that I will always go for the right foods. If I can manage to make these breaks with “plant-strong foods” few I”ll consider that a good solution for me.

  2. I had these crispy tenders last night for dinner. I put them in the oven and baked them. AWESOME. One of my fave eats is boca chickn patties on a whole grain bun with a little bit of tomato sauce. Hello chicken parm! :)

    You can also skip the bun for pasta and make a pasta bake with the same ingredients. Good stuff.

    I realize I became vegan for health reasons, but I totally recognize that dairy in this country should be a BIG NO NO for everyone. (Too many additives, hormones, antibiotics?). This coming from a hardcore dairy-feind: big big change!

    The only thing I dont understand is honey. Why is honey considered non-vegan?

  3. BTW: Ive realized that in the beginning of my veganism, I stuck to the basics… and the weight poured off…

    …now since Im learning more “OK” foods, I;m afraid I will start a bad trend. I want to continue on my journey of eating right — plant based — no fried… honest to goodness wholesome foods. And stop looking for my oldschool eats some of which SURPRISE SURPRISE might be accidentally vegan.

    Ive also noticed that exercising helps. Obviously. :)

  4. Great posting, thanks! I appreciate your honesty and the excellent portrayal of your struggle which so many of us share. I have always loved the comedy of one of my favorite mottos: MODERATION—OR DEATH!!
    (Get it?)

  5. I have recently learned of ethical omnivores who are also “in it for the animals first”, but whose diet is far healthier than those veg*ns who eat too much veg*n junk food. These ethical omnivores feel that eating a humanely raised organic chicken is healthier than eating a bunch of fake chicken nuggets. Although I personally will not eat meat, poultry or seafood (or fake versions either), I tend to agree with them.

  6. “These ethical omnivores feel that eating a humanely raised organic chicken is healthier than eating a bunch of fake chicken nuggets.”

    The operative word here is *feel*. This is an intuition. A feeling.

    Not fact.

    Fact comes from science, and the science is now pretty overwhelming that consumption of meat, dairy, and other animal products is damaging to human health. It promotes coronary artery disease as well as some other common ailments.

    Vegetable protein-even the processed “fake meat” variety-has not been linked in the same way.

    Bottom line? The only conclusion I can draw from the science that currently exists is that “fake” chicken nuggets made from vegetables are not as bad for you as “real” chicken nuggets made from birds, no matter how the birds have been raised.

  7. everything in moderation. i wonder about that myself. yessir. when i first went lacto-ovo-dummio veggie i did it for many reasons, but i was not really aware about the many forms of animal suffering, or how barbaric it really is. after all when you crunch the numbers it makes you stop and think, but in reality there is no way to be actually aware of the intense amount of suffering and cruelty performed against the animals. but i knew that cruelty is wrong. i know that barbaric suffering and non-stop cruelty is wrong now. now i’m a does your food have a face type of vegan. The Witness is what did it for me. you do what you can.

  8. Fake chicken nuggets are high in sodium. Some still may prefer them to real chicken nuggets, although I would not eat any type of nugget at all. In my opinion, neither of these options is as healthy as a broiled skinless organic chicken breast that has been humanely raised.

    I personally do not eat any poultry or any fake poultry products. Chicken and turkey never appealed to me in the first place, so I never had to give anything up for the animals.

  9. your delirious speciesist doubletalk is an embarrassment, and does not belong on this board, to be very nice about it. obviously the ethical concerns and moral objectivity of veganism is beyond your powerless. perhaps you should think about the animals and not how much sodium is in a food sample. at least no animal had to die for the fake meat chicken nuggets. something to consider.

  10. Be careful with Quorn Chik’n Nuggets – http://www.quorn.us/products/12/chikn-nuggets

    They contain cholesterol as well as eggs and rehydrated egg white.

    Remember, I am not the issue here. I do not eat chicken or any form of fake chicken either.

  11. Eliot, no one brought up Quorn products except you.
    Also, in regards to your “boiled chicken” comment – apples and oranges. Breaded and fried vegan chickn nuggets are comparable to breaded, fried nuggets made from dead chickens, not to boiled chicken. A fair comparison between a vegan product and a nonvegan product uses fods that are similiar in taste, texture, AND cooking method. For example, boiled chicken would be more fairly compared to boiled tofu.

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