Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Vegan Experiment

Vegan.  The word sparks up so many visuals in my mind.  I can’t help but picture a hemp-covered hippie with dirty hair, sporting edible, biodegradable Crocs and protesting outside of a chicken farm.  Well, maybe that’s overdoing it, but still, the word has a negative connotation.  I have come to discover that the word “vegan” means different things to different people.  I know there are many die-hard vegans out there that would go berserk if they ate bread because, “yeast has feelings”.  For the sake of this blog, when I say “vegan”, I strictly mean, “no meat, no dairy, no eggs”.  

A week or so before Christmas I went to my doctor to get a normal check-up.  My blood pressure read was 143/100, which, unfortunately, has been a very normal number for me since I’ve had Zechariah.  My doctor has been very concerned and referred me to a cardiologist.  I was so devastated and embarrassed.  I’m 24, I work out occasionally, and I thought I was healthier than the average American.  I knew that if I went to a cardiologist, they would put me on medication.  I understand that medication can often times be necessary, especially with hereditary issues such as HBP, however, I wanted to try other things before making that decision.  I did some research and found that by reducing foods high in cholesterol, fat, and salt, that blood pressure would lower naturally.  I believe it was Hippocretes that said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.  After a gluttonous Christmas season, I was truly up for anything!

Let’s go back to 4th grade and set this up in a Science Fair format (If only I had a 3-sided board to present my findings!).

Problem: Will switching to a plant-based diet lower my blood pressure in 6 weeks?

Hypothesis: I believe that by eliminating animal-based foods from my diet, and incorporating exercise, that my blood pressure with stabilize without the help of western medicine. 

Control: eliminate meat, eggs, dairy, and as much refined sugar and processed foods as possible from my current diet.

Method/recipes: I started out really frightened by the thought of not cooking with meat or dairy.  The first week was definitely the hardest! I spent a lot of time planning what food I would eat for the following day.  Nick decided to be supportive and just did the “no meat” portion of the experiment—this was really helpful for me!  I found Pinterest to be my biggest ally in this adventure. 
Here are some of my favorite recipes (I am not great at food photography, so please don't let that discourage you from trying the recipe): 

3. Lentil Soup  (Nick was not so much a fan of this one-but I thought it was delicious!)

5. Kale Salad *pictured>:  (no link…Amber, my health-food cheerleader, told me about this one…and this recipe makes me LOVE salads!)
3-4 C kale, chopped
1 avocado
juice of ½ lemon
2 tsp of LOW SODIUM soy sauce (optional)
1 T sesame seeds (optional)

mash the avocado all throughout the kale (use your hands…really saturate it), squeeze the lemon on top.  Add the soy sauce and sesame seeds according to your taste.  I’m telling you—this salad will blow your mind. 

I use a lot of quinoa, barley, and brown rice for our whole grains, as well.  When I’m in a pinch for time, my “go-to” recipes are stir-fried veggies, and whole wheat pasta with organic tomato sauce.   I basically purged our fridge and pantry of all junk food.  I kept fruits and veggies cut up so I had easy access when I had the munchies.  In order to get optimum nutritional value, I tried to keep my fruits and veggies at their most raw state for most meals.  When I needed an energy-boosting snack, I would eat seeds and nuts (raw, unsalted) or I’d make some juice! 

Disclaimer: I figured I might ruffle some feathers with this post, so I want to do a little disclaimer section.  I believe God gave us dominion over the animals on the earth, so I don't think that its wrong to eat meat, nor do I judge those around me for not taking this approach-it was a simple 6-week experiment and there are plenty of other ways to live a healthy lifestyle.  I’m still nursing, so I was adamant that I keep a log of all my nutrients to make sure there were no gaps being passed down to my little Riah Boy.  A lot of people have urged me to eat meat because I need protein.  I agree that protein is essential in a diet.  daily protein requirement chartI need to be taking in between 50-70 grams, especially on days I work out.  I have found that there are plenty of foods outside of meat that are high in protein: lentils (and other beans, whole grains, nuts, spinach, and soy. I input everything I eat into an app on my phone, which then charts my nutrition for the day. I also add walnuts and a tablespoon of flax seeds to my oatmeal each morning to get all those good Omega-3 fatty acids.  In addition to nutritious foods, I take a daily multivitamin to help with iron, zinc, and b12, which are common deficiencies among plant-based dieters.  So, before you go blowing up my comment section, know that I am very mindful of supplying my body and my baby with the best nutrients possible! 

Conclusion: after 6 weeks of staying loyal to this program, my blood pressure has lowered significantly!!!! I have successfully lost all of my baby weight (yes, I still had a couple of lingering pounds).  On top of it all, I feel fantastic.  I also feel like I have more energy when I run.  

Will I continue with this program? Yes-but I will adopt a modified version.  I really don’t miss meat that much, but I certainly miss my cheese! However, cheese is a huge source of saturated fat and sodium, so I want to really keep an eye on my intake.  I have decided that I will remain “plant-based” 80% of the time.  The extra 20% will give me more freedom when we have visitors (or when we ARE visitors), go out with friends, or have special occasions.  I want to have more leniencies with myself, but also do my best to maintain a healthy blood pressure through diet and exercise.  Although Nick has been extremely supportive, I have decided that my man needs his meat! I will be continuing to cook meals with meat and dairy for him to keep our marriage strong. :-) 

There are always ways to become more healthy in life.  This was a big step for me because I have gone through stages of my life where I really didn't care what I put in my body. I was pretty proud of myself when I hit the 6 week mark, because I have no been known for self-discipline.  I've always lost motivation half way through and  given up, so to accomplish this was a big victory for me.  We can always learn more about nourishing our bodies to the fullest! Please feel free to share any accomplishments or changes you've made in your life that have boosted your health! I'd love to be encouraged by your stories, as well.