The Daily Beet

19 Jun Keeping it Simple.

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I am sharing the following e-mails with permission, but the person asked for me not to use their real name. This exchange is from last month, and then picks up a few days ago.

E2X member: “Hey E2 Coaches! I have a problem. I HATE vegetables. I mean, I gag when I try to eat them. I hate kale, spinach, collards, anything green. I don’t like broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, I don’t think I can go plant-strong if I don’t like plants!”

My response: “Do you like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, corn peas or carrots? How about beans and oats?” What about fruit?”

Their response: “I like potatoes (thought they were bad!) I like rice, pasta, corn, peas, not carrots, I like some beans and I like oats, I like most fruit. I’ve also been taking a (name withheld) powder and trying to down it in a smoothie every morning, and I try to use gluten free when I can, and I use agave. I’m worried because I see these people eating a pound of greens a day saying that is the key to being health, so I feel like I’m not getting the nutrients I need!”

My response: “Well that is great news! You like most of the food that we recommend. So this is what I want you to do, I want you to eat all of the things you do like, the potatoes (they are great for you!), rice, pasta, corn, peas, the beans you enjoy, oats and fruit. Drop the smoothie and the powder, no need for any of that, if you do not have an issue with gluten, don’t worry about that, and it doesn’t matter what sweetener you use. Eating the foods you mentioned will provide ALL of the nutrients you need. I’m not saying that eating vegetables and greens isn’t great, but you get plenty of nutrients from whole grains, starches, fruit and beans. Let’s make this simple and see what happens.”

So for a month I wrote back and forth to this person. We constructed a meal plan around the things they liked to eat.

After a month, their results were as follows:

E2X member: “Ok, the numbers. Starting cholesterol 223. Current: 162!! Starting blood sugar: fasting 125. Current: 87!!! Starting weight: 246. Current: 232!! Starting BP: 130/90 Current: 110/75!!. My Doctor is shocked! Especially since I’m eating all these carbs, haha! I feel better than ever. And guess what? I tried spinach like you suggested in my soup and then in my pasta dish and I loved it!”

(I asked what their favorite meals were)

E2X member cont.”I love the potato dishes, all of them! I eat those Jeff Novick burgers all the time, even for breakfast, I like oat crisp a lot, lasagna, the potato scramble, I eat oats and fruit every morning, it’s so much more filling than drinking a glass of food. Sometimes I have a few potatoes for breakfast with nutritional yeast and salsa. I like the chili, wraps are good, pasta, I’ve really just tried to make things super easy. I’m not worry about getting the nutrients I need. My Dr. said that I’m doing great with all my levels.” – E2X member.

Recently, I was listening to a Q&A session with Jeff Novick, MS, RD. The questions ranged from what nuts were best, to if soy was ok, to what exactly is nutritional yeast. If you’ve ever heard Jeff talk, you know that he is a comedian with a nutrition background, it was all very entertaining. More so, what you probably know about Jeff is that he cuts through all of the misleading information there is out there and gets right to the point. He points out flaws in studies, in this particular Q&A he was going through why the studies on the health benefits of nuts were greatly flawed  (you watch a clip of the talk on nuts here), and other studies on things like chocolate and coffee and why people think that they are healthy for them. I’ll let Jeff cover those things in further detail later, but what I really wanted to talk about today is keeping things simple.

A few months into my plant-strong journey I got really hung up on complexity. I had this notion that if I missed SO much information on nutrition, I probably was missing a TON more on nutrition! I started reading, researching, looking up every single bit of info I could find. I was going to the store and picking up various special products, supplements, I was buying into notions that we should do things like only eat certain foods at certain times of day, or that I really had to watch how many potatoes I ate, or what kind of sweetener I used, or if I should buy raw cacao, maybe I should be drinking coconut water, I should eat more kale, I should eat acai or other super foods! I needed more nutrients! I was paying attention to all of these (possibly well meaning) people who were advocating focusing on one off nutrients or the antioxidant powers of a particular fruit or even how I should really drink a certain tea to really maximize health benefits. There was just so much out there, and so many things that seemed confusing.

Truth is, I wasn’t really researching, I was just reading one off articles, listening to a 2 minute clip of some guru, reading one off studies or even headlines and just jumping in. I was so afraid that I was missing out on something, and I kept thinking that if I had got so much wrong about nutrition before, there was a big possibility I was still missing out on a lot.

It occurred to me at some point in all of this, that as humans, we haven’t changed that much. Our bodies still pretty much work the same as they have for a very long time. And there were people in rural areas in the world who were not getting the same western diseases, and they had no fancy grocery stores, no fancy pills, powders or even super foods. It was around this time I met a friend from Africa who told me about how she ate in Africa – mostly yams. They didn’t have much in the way of greens, or even many other vegetables, but they had yams, and that is what they ate a lot of. Guess how many people she knew with T2 diabetes, heart disease or who were obese? Zero. They had plenty of food, she would tell me, it was just, mostly yams.

We like to complicate matters. I think we do it because we are afraid that we might get something wrong, so we throw as many darts at the board as possible. When the truth is, the answer that works each and every time is one of simplicity. Vegetables/starchy vegetables, fruit, whole intact grains and beans. It really is that easy. There are 1000’s of combinations in just those things.

There are no rules after that. Eat until you are comfortably full. If you find that you are not losing weight at the pace you’d like, increase the amount of low calorie dense foods (vegetables/fruits). If you feel like eating, eat. If you want to have a few potatoes for breakfast, have a few potatoes. If you want to have a bowl of oatmeal with some delicious summer fruit, have that. If you want to skip breakfast, skip it. If you want to have oatmeal for lunch, go ahead. If you want to have dinner at 9pm, have dinner at 9pm. Incidentally, Rip stayed at my place for a couple of nights, and it turns out he and my husband both enjoy a bowl of oats before bed.

This way of eating, for many is a drastic change from the diet you may have been used to eating. Why make it more complicated than it needs to be? Keep it simple. This should not require all that much complication. If you aren’t into vegetables, don’t worry. If you hate quinoa, it’s ok, if you hate kale, who cares? Find what DOES work for you within the healthiest, most simple foods on the planet: vegetables, starchy vegetables, whole intact grains and beans.

The point in which I realized that I needed to relax about food was during my first stay at True North. At True North they have a big library of great medical books. So for fun and to pass time, I read through medical books. They have some really old medical and nutrition books. And do you know what I found out? The information 50-60-70 years ago, is basically the SAME information that we are teaching today. A lot has gone wrong because we’ve let food manufactures dictate so much of what we think about nutrition, but basic biochemistry and what we should be eating, that really has not had many significant changes at all. In fact, there was an entire chapter on salt from a book written 50 years ago, that suggested exactly what we suggest as far as salt intake now.

The issue is that we have been introduced to a vast amount of food, most of which is not good for us, and a lot which is just not needed. We in a sense have been spoiled with toxic food. It ends up making our food choices seem limited, when they are in no way limited at all. Most of us have access to grocery stores in which we can buy tons of produce, grains, beans and fruit. The issue is that because of all of the other junk, the good stuff can be drowned out.

For some, following recipes and trying new things is a lot of fun, and I think it’s a great thing to do. Just don’t get caught up in the other ways to complicate plant-strong. It will end up saving you a lot of frustration and probably a lot of money in the end. So keep it simple, be marvelous.

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Natala Constantine
  • Martha
    Posted at 11:03h, 19 June

    I love this post!! I was so frustrated a couple weeks ago because I read how we should all be eating a ton of greens for breakfast. I’m sorry, but I can’t, and I don’t want to think I’m missing out on something if I don’t, it’s been hard enough. Every other week it’s something new that you have to do. There are a couple of doctors who do the same thing, one who wants you to eat 2 pounds of vegetables a day, maybe that works for people, but it doesn’t work for me. I’m glad you posted about the person who didn’t like vegetables, that’s me, but I’m getting plenty healthy without eating a ton of vegetables, I’ve been eating tons of grain products, and I’m losing weight and I feel better than ever. I’m hoping that my tastes will change someday, right now they are the way they are though lol.

    • Plant-Strong Deb
      Posted at 11:06h, 19 June

      haha Martha, I know exactly what you are talking about with the shoveling kale down at breakfast, I saw that and smiled, I know people are trying, maybe that works for them, but I’m going to have my big bowl of oats, peaches and a few walnuts and not feel bad, there is plenty of nutrition in oatmeal.

    • RunningonStarchDiva
      Posted at 12:02h, 19 June

      Martha! I know exactly what/who you are talking about. I just threw my hands up in the air when I read it, and thought, “I’m OUT”. This is so refreshing. Yes, it is hard to make this change, why make it more difficult by adding more rules or make it seem if you don’t do x,y,z you won’t be as healthy. Good riddance to making things harder than they need to be. Let me be with my oats or big bowl for breakfast!!

  • Shelly
    Posted at 11:12h, 19 June

    Dr. Oz is the worst when it comes to this! And I hate to say there is another dr who is plant-based who makes these claims all the time and I always go out and buy whatever he’s pushing, and then realize how pointless doing that was. Having one kind of fruit or vegtable is not going to protect you from cancer or heart disease, it’s about the overall dietary intake. I hate when people make it about one thing.

  • Brenda Rowe
    Posted at 11:15h, 19 June

    This post takes so much pressure off me. I have been trying so hard to make sure I eat a big variety of foods and feel like I am cheating when I eat a lot of my favorite veggies and do not eat as much of the ones I am not as crazy about. I am feeling so healthy right now. I have been eating plant strong for 4 months now. I have troubles with restaurant food because I have always thought that if you pay for food it should taste better than what you get at home. So for I find the plant based foods in restaurants are a big disappointment and cost way too much for what they are giving you. At home I feel like I am having the best foods of my life. I am getting the hang of cooking and making up my own plant strong recipes that taste great.

  • Nancy
    Posted at 11:25h, 19 June

    I’m with Brenda! What a sigh of relief. I hate these bloggers, doctors, nutrition people who all try to get a leg up on the other bragging about what new crazy thing they are trying or how much green juice they drink or how many smoothies, it is a huge turn off . What is wrong with rice and beans?

    • Dawn Martin
      Posted at 11:29h, 19 June

      I LOVE RICE AND BEANS! I really could eat rice and beans for every meal! 🙂

      • Leah
        Posted at 15:22h, 19 June

        I just said this a few nights ago after 4 nights of rice and beans in a row. 🙂

        • Dawn Martin
          Posted at 08:52h, 20 June

          My guy always makes fun of me because I love it so much… but hey, it’s cheap, easy and very versatile!!!

  • Dawn Martin
    Posted at 11:27h, 19 June

    LOVE THIS!!!! I’m reposting on FB & pray all my friends & family read it!

    • Dawn Martin
      Posted at 11:28h, 19 June

      oh and I just ate a big bowl of Happy Herbivore’s Potato Salad! HA! Love potatoes 🙂

  • Healthy Heather
    Posted at 11:31h, 19 June

    God bless you. I needed to read this so bad today, I was choking down kale with vinegar this morning and I was about to give up on all of this. I’m having potato scramble tomorrow.

  • Lindsey
    Posted at 11:44h, 19 June

    BEAUTIFUL!!!! I cried reading the last sentence. Thank you.

  • csjohnsrud
    Posted at 11:50h, 19 June

    Thank you! Very happy to read this because I’ve been feeling like I’m not eating enough vegetables (in spite of the five-cup salad I have every day and lots of onions/peppers in stews and soups and occasional stir fry) according to what Dr. Fuhrman proposes. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief.

  • yoweeland
    Posted at 11:58h, 19 June

    BRAVO! STANDING OVATION! I have given up on being plant-strong so many times because of what you mentioned above, I keep thinking there is just no way I can keep up with all of it. I had to stop following a popular doctors facebook page because every day it was something new about how I was not doing something right and how I needed something else to be healthy. I’m just gonna stick to the ps food I like and not worry about the rest from now on. Tahnk you natala. I’m excited you are part of the team here.

  • Minny in Madison WI
    Posted at 12:02h, 19 June

    Bless you, Natala! You are a born writer, and I hope you write your own book one of these days. I always fell inspired after reading one of you posts. I’m mostly a green veggie lover, but the last few days I just haven’t felt like eating them (really into sweet potatoes for now) and was feeling guilty!. I feel much better now!!!

  • jeanne
    Posted at 12:17h, 19 June

    Thanks for this post! I just got back from a medical appointment to find out that after 5 months of eating plant strong (“mostly vegan”), I’ve lost 7 pounds, and my A1C is down from 7.1 to 6.6 – the lowest it’s been in four years. I’m excited, but at the same time, feeling guilty because I still don’t get a lot of greens into my day. As I read this article, I was eating a lunch of hummus and pita and an apple, and feeling bad that there weren’t any veggies in the meal! Instead of being impressed that I’m not eating a burger and fries. This article will help me stick with the healthy plant strong eating that is already improving my blood sugar and my weight. Thanks!

    • Leah
      Posted at 15:20h, 19 June

      Yes, remember all of the good things you’re doing, do be impressed! 🙂

  • jane
    Posted at 12:20h, 19 June

    I love greens. I also love potatoes and rice. One of my friends got on my case because I wasn’t eating enough nutrients, I had to point out that there are nutrients in all food, not just greens! The people who get stuck on the nutrients are like peple who don’t believe there is protein in all food. Whole plantbased foods are great, and complete or whole.

  • Diana
    Posted at 12:41h, 19 June

    I was at an event in Marshall TX earlier this year and walked away so frustrated because of all of the different plant-based messages and how confusing it all was. I actually ended up eating worse after that weekend because I was so frustrated and confused, and all the speakers I heard were trying so hard to have their own “spin” that they ended up making it sound harder to me. Another friend of mine quit after going to an event with a Dr. who just had a book come out, he was going on about nutrients and getting enough foods with nutrients, and she decided it was just too much to figure that mess out.
    A month ago I read “Starch Solution” and now I’m back on, that book is very helpful for anyone just starting out, I like Dr. McDougalls approach to healthy living. I told my friend about it and she was very relieved. She spent a lot of money on this other drs products, which did nothing for her and even a really expensive blender that is collecting dust now, it’s all about money for those people.

  • James
    Posted at 13:06h, 19 June

    Natala, my big problem is that I do not know how to cook, not even a salad. I bought Jeff’s DVDs and I might be able to do that but I am not sure. Can you help?

    • Engine2Team
      Posted at 13:14h, 19 June

      Jeff’s dvd will help you a lot! There are a lot of things you can buy that you can microwave as well – potatoes, brown rice that is already cooked, quinoa that is already cooked, beans, oats, and you can steam vegetables. So as long as you can use a microwave, you should be ok.

      This is the brand of quinoa: http://www.amazon.com/gogo-rice-Organic-4-2-Ounce-Containers/dp/B003U35BQC/ref=pd_sbs_gro_1

      and they make a brown rice:http://www.amazon.com/Steamed-Brown-Organic-Microwaveable-7-4-Ounce/dp/B000FIXT2I/ref=pd_bxgy_gro_img_y

      You might also like Eden Organics cans of rice and beans, they are a great start to any meal. Heat them up, throw on some pre-washed spinach, you have a pretty tasty meal.

      So you could add a can of low sodium beans, a bag of microwave, steamed vegetables to one of those containers and you have a meal. Get some condiments you like, hot sauce, bbq sauce, salsa and you have flavor.

      For breakfast stick with oats or whole grain cereal and fruit.

      You can eat this way without ever using a knife to chop or a measuring cup 🙂

      • James
        Posted at 13:53h, 19 June

        I did not even know what quinoa is. I looked it up on Wiki. I ordered both from Amazon. They seemed a bit expensive. I am going to go to Walmart soon to buy the ingredients for Jeff’s first DVD. Would Walmart have pre-cooked cans of various beens and pre-cooked bags of frozen veggies? I really am like an infant when it comes to buying and preparing food as I have never done it. I do not have a clue. I find it scary. Any other help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

        • Engine2Team
          Posted at 13:56h, 19 June

          Walmart should have everything you need. Look for low sodium cans of beans, Bushes brand usually has that, and they are in Walmart. They will definitely have quick cooking rice and bags of frozen vegetables that you can use the microwave for.

          I’d start off trying just one of Jeff’s meals and see how that goes.

          Pick up some oats while you are at Walmart and if you want, non dairy milk which they should have, and frozen fruit.

          Also, pick up potatoes, you can microwave them very easily. Just wash the potato, then stab a few times with a fork, wrap in a paper towel and cook in the microwave for 5 minutes. (for a medium/large potato)

          It will get easier!

          • James
            Posted at 14:04h, 19 June

            I will start making my shopping list now. Thanks again so much for the tips and encouragement!!!

          • James
            Posted at 14:46h, 21 June

            My quinoa and rice just came from Amazon. Where do I get the pre-cooked beans and veggies? Once spinach has been frozen, can it still be used?

          • James
            Posted at 15:32h, 21 June

            My quinoa and rice just came from Amazon. Where do I get the pre-cooked
            beans and veggies? Once spinach has been frozen, can it still be used?

  • ConfusedAthlete
    Posted at 13:34h, 19 June

    Natala asked me to post this comment, I e-mailed her, I’m taking out names though, I don’t want to stir up trouble, lol.
    I went to 2 events last year, and both had 2 athletes I greatly admire. Initially I was confused because they do things that Engine2/McDougall/Esselstyn don’t promote like expesnive oils, vitamins and protein powders. I decided I’d take their advice, because I want to be a better athlete. A month later I was in the worst shape of my life, my weight went up and my cholesterol which had been 140 went to 199, all eating vegan. I had spent a ton of money on special oil, expensive protein powders, expesnive bars, and even new kitchen appliances like a juicer. After my devastating Dr. apt I threw my hands up in the air, I wrote to the 2 athletes I had got the advice from and they were clueless, they just make those recommendations because it works for them is what one of them told me. I was livid that they didn’t actually bother to research if what they suggest works for everyone, even a 40 y.o. mom of 2! I am slowly getting back to simple with the help of Ami and Natala on Engine 2 Extra it’s helping a lot, and undoing a lot of bad information. I’m glad that E2 sticks to their guns with it all, and doesn’t just have people who teach messages that don’t align with actual science. Thanks for this article, I’m glad you went through the same thing when you started.

    • Mark
      Posted at 14:32h, 19 June

      I hate to say it, but it was at an E2 event that I got confused because of the same thing you mentioned. The team got me straightened out, but it was hard to separate fact from fiction!

  • Shiela
    Posted at 15:06h, 19 June

    I just printed this out to keep on my fridge door, I need this reminder all the time.

  • Leah
    Posted at 15:18h, 19 June

    Beautiful post!

  • Carolyn
    Posted at 17:22h, 19 June

    Love this, Natala! What great advice you’ve given us. Simplicity is the answer! Rice, potatoes, beans, veggies, fruit. How simple is that? I don’t have to feel guilty that I don’t care much for mushrooms in spite of their anti-cancer properties. I’ll stick with broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and all the other veggies I love to eat. So nice to know we can avoid the confusion, eat simply and healthy, and feel good about our food sources as long as they are plant-based.

  • Plant-Strong in North Carolina
    Posted at 18:35h, 19 June

    I wish other plant-based “experts” would read this post, they all make it very confusing, I agree with a poster below, the athletes are the worst. They are always posting these really hard to find things, powders, oils, and talking about super foods, it makes it impossible to know what to do. Thanks for the post, looking forward to hearing you talk in Atlanta! I’m glad that the experts E2 chooses are all on the same page, I hope it stays that way!

  • Cheryl
    Posted at 18:53h, 19 June

    This is why I love Jeff Novick, and why no other RD comes close. He makes it simple, and doesn’t add in his own personal biases. I’ve heard other RD’s who are all over the map and who clearly can’t read a study to save their lives. Jeff makes it easy. I’m so glad E2 works with him, that is why Rip can be trusted, he puts the best on his team.

  • E2michel
    Posted at 21:24h, 19 June

    I friend of mine started the E2 diet and she is lossing lots of hair. Please help? Thank you

    • Engine2Team
      Posted at 21:34h, 19 June

      Sometimes it is just a normal process that comes along with weight loss and hormonal shifts – most people find that their hair grows back stronger/thicker.

      • emichel
        Posted at 20:17h, 20 June

        Thank you for your help . Should she take any supplement to strengh the hair folics?

  • Lc Starr
    Posted at 03:46h, 20 June

    Excellent post!

  • Linda Schiltz
    Posted at 12:51h, 20 June

    Would it be possible to post the meal plans you constructed. I’ve just started the 28 day challenge and I don’t like any of the peppers etc that are used. I like the same foods the person you were working with, plus I think I could get my husband (7 vessel by-pass, 5 heart attacks and a stroke) could eat. This is the first time he’s been willing to try something other than his usual steak, hamburger, mashed potatoes.

  • Cathy
    Posted at 19:45h, 20 June

    I was very happy to read this post! I love all the foods you mentioned, and all the raw salads just bloated my stomach. How does pita bread, corn tortillas etc fit in the picture? Great post!!

  • Cathy
    Posted at 11:36h, 21 June

    Great post! I love how simple and basic this is! No guilt for not eating the foods I don’t like. Could you talk about how pita bread, corn tortillas, whole grain bread (ex. Ezekiel) fit in? thanks, I look forward to more posts about keeping it simple……..

    • Engine2Team
      Posted at 02:14h, 25 June

      Hi Cathy
      It kind of depends on your goals. Breads/corn tortillas/crackers are a little more higher in calorie density, so if you are having trouble losing weight, I’d say don’t go crazy with them. If you are satisfied with your rate of weight loss you can include them. The other issue would be is if you had heart disease, in which you’d also want to cut back.

  • Denise
    Posted at 19:54h, 03 July

    Amen for keeping it simple. First I was in the store and did not know what to buy. Made it way to complex and then I thought just buy what you normally buy, fruits and veggies I love to eat and then it went great picking out I wanted to eat. Great blog

  • fitinthemiddle
    Posted at 20:15h, 30 July

    my brother hates green vegetables as well just like the first email, I think I’ll give him your advice as well, I think it’ll help him too.

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