Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Let's be honest, there's a whole stinking heap of stuff to worry about in our fast-paced, modern world. Pretty much everyone, rich or poor, young or old, seems to have thousands of moving parts in their day to day lives. I work three jobs, am a member of a progressive metal band, write a blog, try to keep up with family, and also have to go to the dentist on occasion, so I'm a juggling pro!
When you're just trying to get through your day (and once in a while do something fun) new lifestyle choices, like... trying to get yourself on a budget... start working out... cut out all sugar... well, it starts to seem unattainable. After a week or two, a lot of us kinda feel like it just isn't a priority. So why, of all things, should you try to go VEGAN?
Well, lucky for you, I'm not here to tell you that you should. I'm here to tell you that getting close, or even somewhere in the neighborhood is a BIG achievement!
No, but... really... why bother?
Okay, there are three main reasons, any one of them is good enough on it's own, but put 'em all together and WHAM you've got a hell of a case. It's a LOT of information though, so in an effort to avoid a case of "tldr" I'm only going to cover the first one in this post.
Reason #1 - YOUR HEALTH
Note: Let's be clear here, when we talk about going vegan, we are not talking about waltzing out to Trader Joe's and stocking up on vegan Cheeto and Oreo knockoffs. We're talking about eating mostly whole foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
Saturated Fats: First off, you're gonna knock out almost all of these. Not necessarily bad for you in small amounts, but without red meat and (hello!) dairy products to skyrocket those levels, you have a lot better chances of having reasonable cholesterol levels. That makes your heart happy! Studies have shown that eating a plant-based diet significantly and consistently reduces cholesterol levels. (1) It does this both quickly, and for the long-term. If your family has a history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or strokes then PLEASE take this seriously.
Calories: Secondly, you're cutting out A LOT of high calorie foods that you're not going to be able to replace with just vegetables (unless you put avocado on literally everything). This means if you're looking to lose, or maintain weight, a vegan diet could help. Really though, eating more than you need on a daily basis, even if you're not gaining weight, is still not great for you. It can mean high levels of triglycerides in your blood and that's BAD.
Too. Much. Protein: Wait... Whaaaat?!? I know, right? I'm supposed to be like "You can still get PLEEENTY of protein on a vegan diet." And, well, you can, but that's not even the issue. The issue is that virtually all Americans already get well above the minimum protein requirements. (2) Something between 0.8 and 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight is recommended (3) and the average american gets 1.1 g per kg. Some groups in the study cited ate as much as 3.6 g per kg! (2) Studies have shown that high protein intake can actually increase your likelihood of age-related illness. (4)
Alright, now track with me for a second... Excess protein leads your body to basically go into growth mode. You start producing more of a growth hormone called IGF-1 which tells your cells to start duplicating rapidly. When protein levels are lower, your body conserves that energy instead and focuses on repairing existing cells. This is important, because the more your cells duplicate the more opportunities they have to form genetic mutations. These are usually harmless, but some cause cancer. The proteins you get from animal products are more likely to trigger IGF-1 production than proteins from plant sources, so if you prioritize plant sources, you'll have less new cell generation and fewer chances to develop genetic faults, and ... ya know... get cancer.
In fact, unless you're trying to grow as an athlete, (or if you're a child! For the love of all that is sacred, please, give your children plenty of protein) you can feel pretty comfortable keeping your protein intake close to the minimum.
Plus, a slice of peanut butter toast has the same protein content as two eggs, so like... chill out about protein.
Inflammation: Okay, so this is kind of a hot topic in nutrition these days. You've probably heard that things like Turmeric and Cinnamon can help "reduce inflammation" but what does that actually mean? You may have heard a doctor call a cut, bruise or infection "INFLAMED" by which they meant it was red, swollen and sensitive. The kind of inflammation we're talking about is the same, but not on a body part you can see. The ENDOTHELIUM is a thin layer of cells that lines the inside of all of your blood vessels (among other tissues.) Certain diets are high in inflammatory compounds that cause the blood vessels to basically constrict. (5) At best, this means your muscles and other body parts are not getting optimized blood flow resulting in decreased performance. At WORST, you have a higher risk of many cardiovascular ailments and even type 2 diabetes!
Food groups that cause the MOST inflammation are (among others):
Processed grains - (Think white bread or rice krispies cereal)
Food groups that you can scoot by with a moderate intake:
Low-fat dairy products
Food groups most associated with LOW inflammation:
Legumes... I think you get the point.
So, long story short, there are SO many health benefits to a plant based diet, and the more you emphasize plant-based, whole foods in your diet the more vegan superpowers you'll have! (Or at least health powers). It's simple, if you want to look and feel your best, cut the meat, boost the veggies.
Of course, if you decide to go FULL vegan please do so with care! Nutrient deficiency can happen and you need to really be paying attention to your protein, iron and B-12 levels, and should consider taking supplements.
If that kind of lifestyle commitment isn't for you, don't give up! All big changes start with little decisions, so know that every time you choose to skip the cheese or leave off the bacon, you'll be doing yourself a big favor! Happy eating!
Reason #2 to be practically vegan is all about ANIMAL WELFARE. Read about it HERE
Since we talked about cholesterol, I'm including a recipe for a meal designed to LOWER CHOLESTEROL! Hope you like it! (Click on the picture for the printable recipe)
Okay, what is salmon belly, and why would I use it? In the U.S., fish belly is usually removed from the filet because it’s thinner, fattier and just less pretty than the clean-cut filet. However, it is a very flavorful cut that is highly prized elsewhere in the world. Most people here don’t want it, but that means it’s CHEAP. Creating a market for this by buying it means that this cut will be thrown away less, reducing waste. It has a higher fat content than the filet, but since those are healthy Omega-3s, that’s not a bad thing!
These succulent and savory tacos are sort of a remix between classic Tex-Mex tacos and southern barbeque. I include the recipe for the marinade/baste for the salmon that I made myself, but you could always just buy a bottle of maple-bourbon marinade or something similar to save time.
Coleslaw (Make ahead of time)
This coleslaw recipe is actually inspired by KFC’s slaw, and is a milky-sweet version. Mine is quite lemony, since I wanted that flavor with the salmon. You can reduce the lemon ingredients if you’re not so into that.This makes more slaw than you’ll need to go with the other components, so consider halving the recipe if you don’t want a bunch of leftovers.
· ½ Head Cabbage (Red or Green)
· 2 Carrots
· 1 Jalapeño
· 2 Tbsp Onion (I use red onion if I’m using green cabbage, and scallions (green onions) if I’m using red cabbage for more color!)
Grate or chop cabbage, grate carrots, finely dice jalapeño (remove seeds if you don’t want it spicy) Cut onions into thin ribbons or dice. Combine in a large bowl or Tupperware and set aside.
· ¼ Cup Mayonnaise or Vegannaise
· ¼ Cashew Milk (or whatever ya got as long as it’s not sweetened or flavored)
· 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice (fresh is best)
· 1 Tbsp Sugar
· 1 Tbsp White Vinegar
· ½ tsp Lemon Zest
· Salt & Pepper to Taste
Whisk all ingredients together vigorously, then pour over your cabbage mixture. Mix it all up really well, then cover and chill for at least an hour.
· 1 Tbs Oil
· ½ Cup Diced Onion
· 3 Cloves of Garlic (Minced or Pressed)
· 1 Small Tomato, Diced
· ½ tsp of Cumin
· Dash of Chipotle Chili Powder
· Dash of Ancho Chili Powder
· Dash of Cayenne Pepper (Or your favorite hot sauce)
· Dash of Oregano
· 1 Can Black Beans (drained and rinsed)
· Salt to Taste
Heat a medium saucepan over a medium flame,
then add a few drops of oil and your garlic and onion. Once that’s browned a bit, add the tomato, some more oil and a little salt. Let that cook down for about 4-5 minutes, then add all your spices. (Don’t add salt till the end)
Stir it around and let ‘em feel the heat for a minute. Then add the black beans, turn down the flame and let it all cook together for about 5 minutes. If your mixture is dry and sticking, you can add a little broth or water (not too much) and let that all simmer.
Maple Barbecue Marinade
· ½ Tbsp Oil
· 1 Tbsp Tomato Paste
· ½ tsp Mustard
· 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce (My store brand is vegan. If it doesn’t list ‘fish’ as an allergen then it doesn’t have anchovies.)
· Dash of Cayenne Pepper (add more if you want it spicy)
· ¼ tsp Salt
· ¼ Cup Maple Syrup
· 3-4 Drops of Liquid Smoke (Don’t skip this, it’s so good!! But don’t overdo it either)
In a small saucepan over low heat, toast the tomato paste in the oil for a few minutes. Then add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne pepper.
Get out a little whisk and whisk it up, baby. Cook together for a minute, then add the rest of the ingredients. Use salt to taste.
Cook the Fish and Assemble the TACOS!!!
Preferred Method for Cooking Fish:
Salmon belly is fatty, so you don’t need to add oil. It is also rather thin, so it should fully cook rather quickly. Plop it into a hot frying pan to sear on one side. While that’s going, slather some marinade on top. Flip it and let that stuff caramelize onto the bottom. Put marinade on the side you cooked already and flip once more. You want the marinade to brown and crisp onto the fish.
If you can’t find salmon belly and are using a filet, you may want to finish it in the oven after putting a little more marinade on top to keep it moist. Let's say 425 degrees for 6-10 minutes, depending on how done you like it. Also, oil your pan just a little. If you start it in a cast iron pan, you can put it straight in the oven without switching pans.
I use whole wheat tortillas because of the heart-healthy whole grains. It adds a rich flavor to the taco, that I think pairs perfectly, but really you can use whatever tortilla you like. Corn tortillas are naturally gluten free.
Layer some salmon, then beans, then slaw on top. If you like to squeeze citrus on your tacos, go with lemon instead of lime. Optionally top with vegan sour cream (Tofutti is actually really good #notasponsor,) hot sauce or cilantro, and enjoy!
Meta-analysis of studies comparing plant-based and omnivorous diets and their effects on cholesterol levels. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28938794
Protein Intake of Americans https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29931213
Low Protein and IGF-1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3988204/
Presence of endothelial inflammation biomarkers as a result of different dietary patterns. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270900/