I’ve been into health and fitness for most of my life. And I’ve known for a long time the kind of impact the right diet can have on a person. Through eating incorrectly, I’ve known periods of poor health and horrible productivity. Even today, as a healthy 57 year-old in great physical condition, if I try something in my diet and it doesn’t work, my health and productivity can quickly take a nose dive.
Which brings me to this week’s experiment.
I’ve been concerned for some time about the potential negative effects of too much meat, eggs, and animal products on the system. I understand that God allowed mankind to eat meat after the Flood. But I also know that the first diet He provided in the Garden was raw vegan:
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” –Genesis 1:29 KJV
Just because He allowed the eating of meat, does not mean that it is ideal.
I’ve found–as have so many–that raw vegan food–fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts–is the most health-giving food there is.
Since mankind has been kicked out of the Garden and God flooded the earth, we have eaten meat and other animal products. We know that the misuse of them brings on health disaster. Are they needed at all?
For a number of reasons, I’ve felt the need for them in my diet. I don’t know if they are physically needed, but I know I’ve needed them for the mental variety and satiation they’ve brought. At times they’ve certainly contributed to my physical energy too, though it is possible that if I’d correctly eaten a wide variety of vegan foods, combined with proper sunshine (Vitamin D) and a little healthy soil on my produce (Vitamin B-12), that my physical needs would have been met.
I’ve always sought optimal.
There are a number of things that have attracted me to wanting to eat a vegan diet:
#3. Low cost
#4. Cleanliness vs. preparing, eating, and disposing of animal food
#4. The “off the grid” mentality of needing very little
#5. Portability: Ease of travel with vegan foods
#6. Ethics: I don’t like the idea of killing animals (okay, call me a wuss!)
So I’ve been playing with vegan ideas, such as the stark simplicity of Dr. Douglas Graham’s 80-10-10 (the numbers refer to the “optimal” percent of each macronutrient–carbohydrates, protein, and fat). What I found in a hurry, though, is that I really don’t like eating fruits and veggies very much! Never have. And I just couldn’t make myself eat enough of them to sustain myself.
So it was time to optimize animal foods in my diet.
I’ve tried introducing red wine in the past, as a way to most healthfully do this. It didn’t work, but I have to admit, I’ve tried a lot of things in the past that didn’t work, but I’d be bull-headed, and think I just didn’t give it enough time! Can you relate?
So in this bull-headed fashion, it was time to try adding red wine again.
I recently tried to add a 4 ounce glass of red wine with my early evening meal to get the benefits that are so often extolled in the studies and in the Bible and other ancient books. I’ve always intuitively understood that the alcohol in the wine acts to “break up” the animal products we consume, so as to keep our internal valves free of “gunk.” I get that.
But I’ve had negative effects with wine, such as major sleep issues if I drink too close to bedtime. My body is also sensitive to the depressant qualities in the alcohol–I just don’t like the feeling as my system begins to feel those qualities.
But there are two other issues I’ve had with wine that I don’t like:
#1. Even in red wines, my body reacts negatively to the sugar it contains.
#2. The acidity in the wine irritates my skin.
By the way, as someone who makes my living in the health and fitness field, I’m sometimes appreciative that my body is so sensitive to external changes–it helps me to relate to–and more easily help–my clients.
I did some research, including in Ori Hofmekler’s well-researched book, The Warrior Diet, and found that the ancient Romans diluted their wine 2 to 1 or 1 to 2 to reduce the acidity. Made sense to me, so I diluted my wine (I did it 1 to 1). It didn’t help too much as my body still reacted to the negative effects of wine. I had no interest in diluting it further, because I understand that the acidity is the reason wine breaks up food in the body. Okay–time to stop this. When you can’t sleep because your skin itches and hurts, it’s time to wind the experiment down!
Which brought me back to vegan foods as my possible optimal diet. Now I knew that I would not be able to sustain a simple raw fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds diet a la Dr. Graham’s 80/10/10.
So I decided to go vegan–but add some other foods like cooked grains and legumes to provide sufficient calories. I used some great guide books for this such as The Engine 2 Diet author Rip Esselstyn’s book My Beef with Meat, and an excellent book Rip referred to in his book, Brendan Brazier’s (a former professional Ironman triathlete) Thrive. Brazier’s goal was to find the optimal diet to fuel recovery for endurance sports–and he apparently found that diet. The idea fascinated me, because, as am “older guy” who works out 5-6 days a week, I’d been finding that my recovery from one workout till the next was not as good as I’d like. I know many would tell me to simply cut back on my activity, but I believe we were created for near-daily activity (six days to work, one day to rest). So cutting back and just “accepting my age” has never appealed to me.
From this past Monday through Friday morning (4 full days), I ate zero animal products, and stuck to vegan fare. At first the effects were mostly positive–I actually felt more peaceful for much of the week. But that feeling of peace started to become a lack of drive.
By mid-morning Friday, my ambition level had dropped, and I was extremely tired. I actually went down for four short naps totaling about one hour and fifteen minutes. But the funny thing was, no matter how long I laid down, I could not feel rejuvenation returning to my body. Strange.
Something was up here.
I began to look at my food logs. As an aside, I’ve been keeping them for years, and they can be a fantastic tool in finding where you’re going wrong–and right. I keep the same for my training–and highly recommend you do too.
My food logs showed that during the week, to make up for the missing animal foods, I was eating lots of starch–popcorn, cereal, potatoes, baked fries, Mexican rice, bread, oatmeal, beans, and some raisins too. Now I don’t classify raisins as a starch, but as a concentrated sugar, which I’ll get to in a minute. (BTW, I ate the raisins in oatmeal cookies–more starch!– my wife made, and they were so good–love my sweets!)
Now the starchy foods I ate were considered healthy–popcorn with no butter or salt, whole wheat bread, wheat and barley cereal, potatoes, brown rice and black beans. And I was drinking smoothies with great ingredients like wild greens, fruit, and chia seeds.
But my logs showed me I was eating a lot of starch–it had to be the starch that was making me so tired! It was also causing my belly to get bigger and bigger. My body fat quickly rose into the 17% range–not a lot for some people, but very high for me.
Note: I am not blaming the excellent vegan books I referred to above. I simply had unknowingly descended into a high-starch diet, instead of making raw fruit and veggies the cornerstone.
I started to research the effects of starch on the body, knowing I was on to something.
Sure enough, I found a video by Corrina Rachel on Psychetruth about this issue. In the video, Corrina said that starch is 100% glucose–that popcorn, baked potato, pasta, and other things I was eating essentially become pure sugar in the body. I’ve “known” this for some time, but for some reason it hadn’t driven itself home yet. But I know for a fact that through eating all this starch, something in my body flipped a switch making my body go to sleep!
So by last evening, I was putting some animal proteins and fats back into my body to counteract the starch. I felt better and stronger, and by this morning my body fat dropped to 15% on the way–I’m sure–back down into the 12% range, or lower if I so choose.
I’m not saying that I had to eat animal products–I just like having some in my diet. The key was cutting the starch down.
So what’s the major takeaway?
That starch is pure sugar. That it will put your body to sleep, and make you unhealthy and unproductive.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat any starch. But watch how much you’re eating. And when in doubt, go for the least processing as possible–whole wheat bread over white bread; brown rice over white rice, etc.
That being said, I watched my sources of starch, and it didn’t help too much. By far the biggest issue, is the AMOUNT of starchy stuff you’re eating. Be very careful. As Corrina pointed out in her video, starch isn’t always sweet–but it turns to sugar! There is an interesting molecular reason that starches can actually be worse than more more simple forms of sugar–it’s in the video.
This morning, I’m back in the saddle, feeling better, and looking forward to continuing my great health by minimizing starch, and maximizing fibrous fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, and–for me, and for now–some good animal protein and fat too.
Patrick Rooney is the Owner of GREEK PHYSIQUE™, LLC a Personal Training company located in Middle Tennessee, which specializes in body sculpting for men and women. Patrick is certified through the National Association for Fitness Certification (NAFC). Patrick is available for Personal Training and Lifestyle Coaching, both in person and via phone and Skype. He can be reached at email@example.com.