Natural Sciences

Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator: Innovative Educator on Nutrition: Vegan / Plant-Based Food Industry

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

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Hey innovative educators. It’s summertime and if we learned anything during this pandemic it’s that we must prioritize self-care. That means living in a way that leads to a long, healthy life, and looking fantastic while doing it. 

Background

While I’ve always prioritized health and fitness (belonging to several gyms and an avid beach volleyball player), pre-pandemic I found myself overweight. As schools, gyms, and volleyball courts shut down in the early days of the pandemic, I suddenly had free time and looked more deeply into not only exercise, but also diet and nutrition. I am someone who is health and cruelty conscious and I followed a mostly vegan (sometimes vegetarian) diet. 

My Journey

Though I was health and fitness conscious, I was overweight. This didn’t make much sense. I bought healthy brands and was not an overeater. As the pandemic gave me free time, my research began with two books: Mark Hyman’s “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” and “Genius Foods.” My eyes were opened to all the ways the food industry misrepresents food for profit. After following some very simple advice, I changed my diet, and today at 53 and after going through menopause, I find myself 25 lbs (or 20%) thinner with more muscle, without counting calories and with eating delicious food. An innovative educator at heart, I want to share what I learned with any of you who are interested.

Learn How!

Here’s a summary of some the ways I moved to more healthful eating.

Oils

I’m starting with oils because there are oils we should use regularly and others we should avoid. Use olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. Stay away from the oils in the chart below. I’m starting with oils because these inflammatory oils are often found in food marketed as vegan and they are bad for you.

Food industry marketing

Speaking of marketing, the food industry markets food as vegan, but that typically does not mean it is healthy. It just doesn’t have animals. If it’s packaged, it often has unhealthy ingredients, additives, and oils. Remember french fries and onion rings can be vegan / plant-based.

Meat alternatives

When Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger came out, I was beyond thrilled. I even looked into investing in the companies. What I learned later is that these highly processed meat alternatives are not healthy for us. They are generally high in saturated fat and sodium and contain those unhealthy inflammatory oils.

Packaged / Processed foods

Avoid them and eat whole foods. If they are marketed as vegan or healthy, this is a red flag that they are likely unhealthy. Want examples? When I was eating mostly vegan (with sometimes vegetarian) I found Tattooed Chef’s plant-based foods. Packaged foods like this made up the majority of my diet. It was only after I learned to read the labels that I realized it was not healthy because their products contain high sodium, too much saturated fat, palm oil, and hazardous additives like disodium diphosphate, xanthan gum, and annatto.

Don’t drink your calories

Most people already know not to drink soda, but that’s not the only drink to avoid. Eating fruits and vegetables is much better than drinking / juicing. When you have juice you consume too many calories and lose much of the ingredients that are so good for you. If you drink alcohol, stay away from drinks where lots of sugar is added, you can always add your own monkfruit or stevia-based sweetener.

Eliminate wheats and grains

Wheat, and grains are often the staples of a traditional American breakfast. They are also “vegan,” but they are terrible for us. Bread, muffins, croissants, pancakes, muffins, cereal, and even oatmeal are all a no. Instead start your day with a protein rich breakfast like eggs, avocado, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes. If you want something for a sandwich I like the Outer Aisle Cauliflower Sandwich Thins or the Egglife wraps.

Eliminate pasta & replace with these options

SMASH Fish

While a clean vegan / plant-based diet is a great option and works for many people, I learned about the significant health benefits that can be derived from eating low-mercury, wild-caught fish that are ethically raised. While this does not 100% align to my desire to be cruelty conscious, I also learned that even eating plant-based only can displace and harm animals, so I am trying to make the wisest choices with these facts in mind. I learned that SMASH fish are high in omega 3’s and low in mercury. These are small fish and the acronym includes the fish in the image below.

Yuka App

Want to see how false the advertising is instantly? Get the Yuka App which provides an amazing way to see if food is healthy. Food is rated on a score of 1 -100 with 100 being the best. Ratings are based on factors such as amount of saturated fat, hazardous additives, sodium content, calories, lactose, calories, and more. As you start using the app you’ll discover foods with those healthy labels (i.e. vegan, plant-based, gluten free), often are not that healthy. There’s a free version of that app allowing you to scan items, or you can pay about $15 a year and type any product in as well.

Screenshot of an item being scanned on the Yuka app

Wake Up & Read the Labels

I love Jen Smiley’s work on Wake Up and Read the Labels. She breaks helps followers decipher the labels. She then breaks down why some of the healthiest marketed foods (i.e. Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, even pickles) are terrible for us. You can follow her on Instagram and listen to her podcast.

Stop counting calories

While restricting calories can help to lose weight, you don’t need to do that. If you eat real, healthy foods, your body will be satiated and you will lose weight. I got fit by eating as much healthy and delicious food as I want. It just took some time to learn what those foods are, and they are usually not the ones the food industry markets to us as such.



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About the author

Mamie M. Arndt