What I've Learned From Whole Foods Plant Based Eating

I've been eating a strict whole foods plant based (WFPB) diet since the middle of September of this year.  I've lost almost 30 pounds in that short period of time and more than that, I feel good.  I have a lot more energy (although the release of stress from caretaking is likely part of that).  I don't suffer any sinus headaches at all (and with fall I usually suffered immensely) and my immune system feels stronger.  

This post is in no way an attempt to convince anyone to go WFPB.  Heck, I'm not at all sure how long I will continue following the strict guidelines, but I have learned a LOT in this short period of time and thought I would share what I've learned with you.  I feel some of it I should have known, but I guess I never really thought about it.  Regardless, it came about, I suppose, when I needed to see it.

A Quick Recap:
Four years ago I gave up dairy.  I was sick of being sick.  Sinus infection after sinus infection continued to land me in Urgent Care and my doctor's office and after one rather severe infection that just wouldn't get better I decided to give it up.  That was step one in my WFPB journey.

I've suffered from seasonal and dust mite allergies since my early twenties and developed additional allergies to cats and dogs in the past 10 years.  My allergies caused me constant issues (after all, I have cats AND dogs in my life and live around molds and mildews of the great northeast!) and some years I would end up on antibiotics up to 4 times.  After 30 days of being dairy free, I felt so good that I decided to try what I'd suspected might help me out health wise - going WFPB.  Mostly to help lower my blood pressure and gradually increasing cholesterol.

If you look up info on the WFPB movement, it involves giving up not only meat, seafood, and dairy but also oils, salt, and refined sugar too in addition to cutting down consumption of nuts to just a small handful daily, at most.  While that is a quick list of what to cut out, what you add in is just as important.  Veggies - a LOT of veggies, at least two times a day.  Lots of leafy greens, cruciferous veg, as well as all of the other types you can think of.  Beans or legumes and whole grains as well as fruits are added in volume to your daily meal plan too.

When I first gave up meat, almost three years ago, I did not go completely WFPB.  I was still cooking with oils half the time and water the other half, I started using butter again, but only as a spread for bread.  I still consumed refined sugar (although quite a bit less)and although I believed I was eating nuts in moderation, I now know that I wasn't.  I was also eating some vegan "junk food" (vegan cheese & vegan sausage/"meats").  I lost 15 pounds and I did feel a bit better.  While I did not get any further sinus infections, I continued to suffer from sinus headaches with the changing of seasons, before rain or snow, etc.

After about a year and a half of that I began eating meat and seafood here and there, once every 1-2 weeks.  Then, when I began trying to adjust my life to include caring for my terminally ill mother, I began eating more meat.  Rather than finding time that I didn't have to continue cooking a meal for J, a meal for her (food was very difficult for her at the end), and a meal for me for lunches and dinners. Every. Single. Day.  For months.  I gave into eating meat and seafood about 3 times a week so that I could cook one meal for two of us and then I only had to figure out a separate meal for my mom.  And I gained most of the 15 pounds back.

Me sporting my graying hair

My mother passed away in September of this year and what really shook me to the core was how rare her cancer was.  Not only how rare it was but also how far progressed it was by the time anyone found it.  My health suddenly became the most important thing in my life (which it should have been...).  I fully understand that I can't do much about genetics.  But what I can do, is try to be the healthiest version of me that I can so hopefully when/if I have to battle a serious illness, my body will respond well.  I can also hope that being the healthiest version of myself may help protect me for either a longer period of time or, lessen the impact.  I went full-on WFPB the very next day.

Here is what I've learned the past 2 months that I've been following a strict WFPB diet:

1. Nuts (and seeds) Are Good (In Moderation)
     While there are some studies that show and physicians who believe that the nutritional value nuts holds is not worth the risk of consuming the amount of fat they are comprised of, most say they are very good for us in moderation.  Moderation is further defined as a small handful per day.
     I began adding a small handful of chopped walnuts to my daily oatmeal and thought "I've got this!"  Additionally, once a month I eat 2-4 Brazilian nuts.  Once I switched to the strict WFPB guidelines, and began actually consciously paying attention to what I was eating, I realized I'd been fooling myself.  Most vegan alternatives ("cheese", "sauces", "milk", etc.) contain nuts.  This meant I was eating my small handful in the morning (I use oat milk rather than nut milk), and then again at lunch with a "cheese" I added to my veggie burger (which had seeds in it), and sometimes at dinner in a sauce made of a large amount of cashews.
     My personal theory is that following the "nuts are good in moderation" determination is the one I'd like to continue following.  I believe they do offer a significant nutritional benefit, I enjoy them, and will choose to continue consuming them.  In moderation, of course, because first, they are high in fats and I'm not interested in ever going back to consuming as much fat as I'd previously been consuming.  Second, they are expensive.  And third, there are other ways to make sauces, etc.  It just takes a bit of research and trial and error.

2. Most Of Us Do Not Consume Enough Vegetables
      Eating a strict WFPB diet where I incorporate a salad of leafy greens with almost every meal has really opened my eyes to the fact that I was definitely not previously eating enough vegetables.  I mean, honestly, when was the last time you ate leafy greens (they don't count if they were drenched in a high fat dressing) with lunch AND with dinner for more than one day in a row? They are chock full of nutrients and help our bodies on a cellular level.
     Additionally, there's just so much information out there touting the benefits of cruciferous veggies as well as eating a rainbow of colors at every meal, that I will definitely continue this practice.  I've found that chopping veggies on the weekend and keeping them in the refrigerator in containers allows me to easily make side salads to go with my weeks worth of lunches and dinners.  If I don't prep ahead of time it's, unfortunately, more likely I will not eat a salad.

3. Are "Healthy Oils" Really Healthy?
     The short answer is, I have no idea.  There's so much research on both ends of the spectrum, but what I do know is that I have been using and consuming way too much oil.  (did you know that many packaged oat milks contain oil?  what????  it makes no sense to me....) Like nuts, oil is expensive, so at the very least using less is good for my budget.  But the bigger picture is that oil-free cooking and eating is really easy once you get used to the alternatives.  Salad dressings, roasted veggies, stir fry, and baking are all easily created with healthy replacements to oils.  I use water or broth for roasting or stir frying, applesauce for baking, and I'm a big fan of just a bit of balsamic vinegar for my salad.
     That also brings up processed vegan foods.  When you look at the ingredients list for most alternative meats, cheeses, etc. they are loaded with oils.  Loaded I tell you!  Yes, technically they can call the "plant-based" because the oils come from plants.  But is that really healthy???  I, personally, don't believe it is so I'm choosing to continue to omit them from my life.
     Oils as a part of a whole food (fish, avocado, olive, etc.) I can see could be healthy.  But stripping oil from the food and just consuming the oil (like consuming fruit juice instead of the whole fruit leaves you devoid of fiber) doesn't seem like it would be a good idea.  Again, I never thought of this before until I began delving into WFPB but it sits well with me.

4. Whole Grains Have A Place In My Heart
     I have no issue at all with a switch from white pasta to whole wheat.  I also have found a short-grain brown rice that I really like.  My husband, on the other hand, isn't interested in trying either.  He's sticking with the white versions, thank you very much.  If you can't or aren't interested in eating wheat, quinoa and millet are gluten free and also delicious and so easy to prepare (even my husband likes both of these!).  There are a number of alternative whole grains out there whether you are gluten-free or not, and they are a great addition to meals.
     One thing I have found, however, is you could go broke and crazy (ok, not really, but you get the idea) trying to follow different whole grain recipes because it seems like each one calls for a different grain.  I've decided to convert any recipe I try to using one of the 4 grains I'm choosing to purchase (whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, & millet).
     Whole grains make me feel full, they are satisfying to me, and I plan to continue eating them.

5. Eating Natural Or Other Sugars Sparingly Is Key
     We know this, right?  But do we follow this?  I may have told myself I was eating sugars sparingly, but after really examining my daily eating habits, I was not.  (look closely at labels - it's so frustrating how many items have sugar in them!) If you aren't addicted to sweet foods then this isn't an issue for you (and you are VERY lucky).  I, however, am.  I've begun using primarily maple syrup and dates for sweeteners and they have worked out very well!  But even better, I've cut down what I make that needs any sweetener and instead we eat whole fruit.  And fruit is sooooooo much sweeter now that I rarely consume any sweetener.
     Although I may consume refined sugar very rarely and not be so restrictive, I have no desire to go back to consuming it more than a couple of times a year.  For a few reasons.  First, I don't believe it's a good thing to put in our bodies.  Second, it's too easy for me to get addicted to it and want it more and more.  And third, because I want to continue with natural sugars for any baked goods we do consume, which is rare nowadays.

6. No Salt, Or Low Salt?
     On WFPB you either cut out salt completely  or cut it back quite a bit, depending on who's version you follow.  Salt is an item I don't eat a lot of but I have cut it back even more (because of my high blood pressure).  For the first month I consumed no added salt.  The few items I purchase that are processed (canned tomatoes and boxed veggie broth) I purchased the no salt added versions.  These past couple of weeks, I have added a very small amount of salt here and there because, well, it just makes food taste soooo much better.
     I now use Redmond Real Salt from Utah (affiliate link) and really like it.  And I use it very very sparingly.  It only took about 2 weeks for my taste buds to adjust when I originally omitted it, although many foods do still taste very bland without any salt.  Those are now the only ones I (sparingly) salt and I no longer use it when cooking.

7. Follow Your Gut
     I really believe that we know, intuitively, what is best for us.  And what is best for me may not be best for you.  We have to also factor in that we change - our bodies change, our needs change, etc.  I don't know about you but I've spent my entire life worried about weight.  Weight and clothing size have been the main focus points.  No more! My focus now shifts to getting myself and then keeping myself as healthy as I can.
     The only numbers I'm going to concern myself with are those from routine blood tests and blood pressure tests.  No more scale or clothing size.  Additionally, I want to keep the weight off my middle (which is where I gain it first) since that's the most dangerous, and feeling good.  Stress and poor eating have nearly destroyed my immune system and I'm sure I will spend the next year or more rebuilding it.   That being said, I've made that commitment to myself.

Oliver doesn't care if I eat WFPB or not.  As long as he gets his treats.

So, for now I continue to eat WFPB as I work on healing my immune system and plan to do so for the foreseeable future.


Kathy said...

Very informative post thank you for sharing and my thoughts and prayers are with you with the passing of your Mother.

daisy g said...

There is so much to learn. I applaud you for sticking with the program that's been working for you. I have adjusted my diet drastically in the last 6 weeks as well, due to the desire for better health.

I made some raw brownies that I will posting tomorrow on the blog. They are date-sweetened and have only 5 ingredients. They really help me when I get the craving for sweets.

Stay the course and you will be rewarded!

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Thank you so much Kathy - I really appreciate it!

Daisy, I'm hoping you've found what works for your body. It sure is hard to figure it all out, isn't it? I can't wait for the raw brownie recipe. I LOVE dates so I'm sure they will be delicious!!

Janet @ My Miniature Donkeys said...

I'm going to go back and read your post more thoroughly, but wow, not sure I can do it. I've been a vegetarian for about 40 years (after learning about the hideousness of factory farming), but have been moving toward vegan the past 3 years (after learning about the hideousness of dairy farming). But give up my vegan cheese and meat? Yikes. And nuts...

As I say, I need to re-read the details.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Hi Janet - yes, WFPB is definitely a restrictive way of eating. The research on each of the categories excluded is very interesting though. :)

VegiChik said...

Stay with it! Certainly you can feel free to allow a traditional holiday treat or a fish dinner etc. But the overall health benefits of plant based eating are incredible. I have been vegetarian since June 1 1997 & “vegan” (do consume some raw/local honey) since same date 2007. By the way, I noticed the weight loss right away in your (nearly chickenless😉) photo. You should use updated picture on your blog home page😊-you look amazing!!! Soap order coming soon . . .