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.