The first week is in the books. I feel energetic, alive and well. And I want to celebrate with a glass of champagne (Just Kidding!) (Not really kidding, but I won’t do it).
My husband is very sick and I have felt a cold lurking inside me. Despite my lack of sleep for most of this week, I have been able to keep this cold from taking hold in my body – and I think it has to do with my diet. I am not stressing my digestive system, thereby not stressing my immune system giving it the resources needed to prevent the germs from settling comfortably.
But as a vegetarian, in order to get enough protein into my body, I really do have to think and plan. Most sources of protein that I use are banned from the Whole-30/Paleo lifestyle.
The hardest part for me as a vegetarian is the inability to eat quinoa. Quinoa is not a grain, it is a seed of the chenopodium or Goosefoot plant. Quinoa is rich in health fats and contains a complete amino acid profile.
I had a hard time understanding why something so rich in goodness could be so bad. Over the past week, reflecting on my cravings and food choices, I have come to realize how much I depend on grains and grain-like foods to “fill in” my diet and fill me up – whether it is a side of quinoa with my curry or stir-fry, a piece of whole wheat bread with my zucchini noodles and sauce or oats in my breakfast or dessert. While some choices like quinoa are better than refined white grains, they should not be used to add bulk to my meal; that job should be reserved for more veggies. Forcing myself to think beyond quinoa and grains has forced me to come up with other ideas to supplement my diet that are more veggie-ful.
Some people who have been on the paleo diet for a while have told me that quinoa gives them stomach problems (much like meat would do to me when I ate it oh so long ago). I have looked and looked for scientific articles showing that quinoa causes the inflammation that some food/nutrition website claim it does, but I can’t find any conclusive studies. That doesn’t mean the issues don’t exist or what people are saying is not true.
My philosophy is that we need to treat our body as a laboratory and play with it. Take away specific food, eat a particular food, test the effects over a period of time (typically, real changes takes weeks to notice) and observe differences. We are all human with the same DNA, yet we are unique individuals as shown by our fingerprints. No two people will have the exact same dietary needs. Do what is right for your body, no matter what the fad of the time is or what works for other people. I became a vegetarian based on a random experiment. I did not eat any meat for one month. I noticed I felt lighter, healthier, and happier. I continued to not eat meat for another month or so, and then introduced meat into my diet again. I felt depressed, sluggish and did not want to get out of bed. I quit meat again and my energy returned. People told me that I needed meat to eat enough protein, to do CrossFit, that I would crave meat while I was pregnant – no,no and no. No cravings for meat, no desire to eat it, not even while pregnant. Does that mean I will tell you to not eat meat? No. Only I know how my body feels and what is best for it. Only you know what is right for you. If someone says quinoa makes them sick, then it does.
That was a tangent. So based on my research, the best conclusions I can make about quinoa and why it may not be good to eat too much of it are: 1) It may be harder to digest, given that it is a seed, and unless we cook it a lot (which may kill some nutrients) and chew it a lot, we may not fully derive the benefit it has. 2) We eat it like a grain and tend to eat more of it than we should. It has a lot of carbohydrate content and if we are trying to stay away from a lot of carbs, quinoa is not a good option. 3)The processing of quinoa can occur in facilities that process wheats, etc and can be issues for people with celiac and a gluten intolerance.
I will not eat quinoa during the first part of this program because as I mentioned it is boosting my creative culinary skills by trying to stay true to Whole30 restrictions. However, I will eat it every so often after the program is done and I will be more conscious of quantity and how often I eat it. And I will try to incorporate it into my meals, rather than eat it as a filler.
Now on to the second part of the Whole30 rules that I find difficult as a vegetarian. No legumes. Legumes are the fruit or seed of a plant in the family of Fabaceae – legumes, peas and beans. And some misnomers like peanuts, which are not a nut, but a legume. I get a lot of my protein from members of this family including a variety of beans, chickpeas, lentils, daal, edamame and many of its forms (tofu, miso) as well as green beans and peas. I eat them so often that I as I was shopping for the week, I bought fresh green peas and was about to toss them into my salad and cauliflower rice when suddenly I realized it was a legume I was not supposed to be consuming for now. How easy it is to make mistakes when operating on autopilot.
So that made me question – why no legumes? So what I have read is that they are not “healthy” for because they have varying degress of phytic acid (phylates) lectins, galaco-ligosaccharides, phytoestrogens and other components I do not need to get into because there is a trend that I have observed.
Phytic acid binds to nutrients – minerals – in food and prevents your body from absorbing them. But this is not a good reason because nuts, which are allowed, have a lot more phytic acid then legumes.
Lectins are proteins found in almost everything plant or animal – even inside you and have many functions. Speaking only of plant lectins – one in particular phytohemagglutinin (PHA) found in high concentrations is supposedly the worst. It wreaks its havoc when it enters the bloodstream and does so by damaging our intestinal walls and creating a condition referred to as “leaky gut”. These studies were conducted in animal studies and some were correlation studies, so it is hard to truly know if they have the same effect on the human system (another discussion). But there is no conclusive evidence and current evidence appears to be in small studies. [note dried beans should be soaked and washed several times and must be cooked because of several toxic lectins – but one in particular called ricin. Breaking Bad anyone? But don’t worry, you probably can’t eat enough of the unwashed beans for them to have a significant effect on you]
Galaco-ligosaccharides are believed to cause discomfort in people who have digestive problems and irritable bowel syndrome, but no conclusive evidence in general populations of people.
Soy has phytoestogens, which mimic estrogen and are believed to be related to breast cancer. However, there have been several studies trying to understand why Japanese women in Japan, who consume more soy based products than the average person have lower rates of breast cancer than people in the West. Studies have suggested that fermented soy may be more protective against breast cancer than fresh soy, but those were studies of correlation. Personally, I am more concerned about the xenoestrogens – chemicals found in plastic that mimic estrogens that we are exposed to whether we like it or not. That plastic wrap around the meat or vegetables, that take away plastic container often reheated in the microwave, or that water bottle containing “purified” water from some exotic location is swimming in xenoestrogens and likely more dangerous than a bowlful of edamame. And yes I know soy is prevalent in processed foods, but if you are eating whole foods, then you are more likely exposed to xenoestrogens rather than phytoestrogens. Plastic is everywhere.
All in all, scientifically, I don’t buy the arguments against legumes. Legumes are high protein low-glycemicindex carbohydrates that have some essential micronutrients. They are not perfect, but I have not yet found a food that is (OK, maybe avocado. And coconut).
I have, over the years, read about why corn is bad, why bananas are bad, why meat is bad, why fruit is bad, why chocolate is bad. I have also read about why wine is good. Why coffee is good. Why chocolate is good. Why dairy is good.
Everything is both good and bad for you. Everything is bad for you in excess – even oxygen. Soy, cheese, quinoa every day could be harmful in the long run. But so can a diet rich in meat without fiber from veg or whole grains. Eat everything in moderation as part of a varied diet and it won’t hurt you. Going to your local sushi restaurant and eating fugu fish could be deadly. Soy is not deadly. While a bowlful of edamame is not as “good” as fermented soy beans in the form of miso, and perhaps that bowl full of brussel sprouts is healthier, edamame won’t kill me. I know the air I breathe in LA is likely more toxic to my system than the majority of food I put into my body.
So protein. I don’t want to eat only eggs and nuts for the next five weeks. I will adhere to no legumes and quinoa as long as I can maintain a varied enough diet and come up with some creative recipes. Many veggies that are compliant have high sources of protein: brussel sprouts, spinach, broccoli and avocado. I will include these more often into my diet.
And hemp seed. Although Whole30 does not allow for processed foods, I do need to consider what is best for my body. So I bought Nutiva hemp protein to put into my chia or avocado puddings and smoothies. My only concern is the low concentration of the amino acid leucine, an important amino acid for cell signaling.
And don’t forget to top salads or cook with nutritional yeast, especially if you do not eat egg and have zero sources of animal products. B12 can only be found in animals – plants do not make it – and is essential for our blood, brain and nervous system. Nutritional yeast (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) is not the same as brewer’s yeast. And it is not an animal protein – it a member of the fungi family – like mushrooms. It has a nutty-like flavor that can enhance some dishes. I will write about that sometime.
Food for thought for life: I will think about the food I eat, eat consciously and varied and allow myself to live and enjoy. I don’t care what Whole30 says, when I see my relatives, I will eat that plate of daal. But I will skip the rice.