It feels as though my passion for health has always been there. This statement is true based on the fact that both of my parents had readily been a strong positive influence on the health of the foods that both my brother and I ate while growing up. My dad was the one who had initiated the start of this process for my family since it had been started by his grandmother years prior to him even meeting my mom. My dad’s grandmother came from another country- Poland, and since she wasn’t familiar with the relatively new processed foods that this country had exposed her to, she became weary and skeptical of the health-effects that could come from consuming them. When my dad had spent some time over there during the summer months, his grandmother would constantly impress upon him the importance of only placing trust in wholesome-real foods. The lessons he was learning over there had started to rub off on what he would eat when he was at home as well. My dad said that he was known as a kid to throw cookies out into the trash as his mom would go looking for them (my aunt had verified this).
The knowledge imparted upon my dad while over at his grandmother’s house, allowed him to think about food in a different way- realizing that there may always be a better alternative. This way of thinking came in handy when my dad started to face his own health ailments at a young age. Through my dad’s early 20’s, he had trialed through his own health problems, which were very disconcerting- he started to have symptoms of epilepsy. For those familiar with epilepsy- once you start having epileptic seizures, medication seems to be the only thing that is going to spare you, or is it? Just as many don’t like the idea of having to rely on medication, my dad especially didn’t like the idea, and so, he started to research other options.
One of those options became a doctor with more of an ‘alternative’ or ‘holistic’ mindset and focused on how the foods we eat, in turn, affect our body. The doctor told him that he would need to only consume his carbohydrate sources from either vegetables or whole grains- such as cooking with millet/quinoa/buckwheat/oat groats, etc. The doctor explained that as oppose to processed foods made from these grains, the grains in their whole form will always be healthier since they will breakdown into blood sugar in small increments as oppose to large increases seen in processed grains. So, my dad started making whole grain cereals and eating them for breakfast instead. These same whole grain cereals have been what my brother and I were raised on as well (although anyone coming over to the house viewed it as being ‘bird seed’).
The whole grains and other small diet modifications did wonders for my dad to the point that he was able to start to decrease the dose of his epileptic seizure medication (I do not advocate decreasing medications without working with a doctor). My dad continued on the path of good diet and was eventually able to completely stop taking his epileptic medication- this transition did not happen overnight- it happened after many little changes had taken place over a couple of years- remember that the body itself needs time to adjust to the new dietary habits as well. Achieving this took time, patience, will-power, strength and a general stick-to-it attitude.
When my dad had met my mom, he was already on a healthier nutrition path and so when he found out that she was consuming almost nothing but ‘junk’ and processed foods, he made it his mission to help improve upon her dietary health (especially since she had been recently diagnosed as being pre-diabetic). My mom started to begin her journey of health one slow step at a time- she had mentioned the first thing she stopped consuming was ‘wonder bread’. She then worked on the next thing and so on until she was generally consuming less sugary sweets throughout the day and more wholesome, real foods.
When my brother and I came into the picture, my parents made a point of continuing to follow healthier ways of eating. Just as is normal, it may take a good amount of time (if not years) to figure out what type of foods and what kind of diet works best for your particular body. Growing up, my mom put into place a Japanese style of cooking and preparing foods- this was called a ‘macrobiotic’ diet, which mainly consisted of a vegetarian-type diet and cooking with seaweed. From there, my parents transitioned into regular vegetarian type eating and then eventually added in some meat (chicken/turkey/fish) once in a while. Growing up, both my brother and I had never even had a McDonald’s hamburger or a real hot-dog for that matter. My mom used to also make her own ‘healthy’ version of a birthday cake for us to take with us to a friend’s birthday party so that we could have the healthier option. Needless to say, my mom never did become a diabetic and remains in good health.
My dad would further cement good nutrition into our minds, by telling us that the food advertised in the ‘junk food’ commercials we’d see on TV were actually poison for our bodies! My dad would also tell us that the donuts and baked goods we’d see while walking around the mall were poison as well and truly expected us to believe that! (his grandmother probably did the same thing to him). To this day, I don’t look at baked goods quite the same way as most everyone else does- I see inflammatory flour and sugar which can lead to diabetes and heart disease as well as many other health ailments and thus- I see poison! Do not fret though- I am not that abnormal, – I most definitely do have a sweet tooth and will give into certain things at times, but this is usually pre-planned and the ‘healthier’ version.
Once I became of high school age, I can remember being extremely interested in health and nutrition- reading as many health books as I could find. I was always very conscious of my health and how the things I’d put into my body would in turn, affect it. During that time, still being mostly a vegetarian (other than a little fish, chicken, or turkey just every once in a while), I had transitioned to being a vegan- meaning I did not consume any dairy either. My point for bringing this up is that everybody has to find out for themselves which foods make their body feel most well-nourished and alive- usually this can be a long process of experimentation. Looking back, my diet at that point lacked many needed nutrients and I really had no clue.
Though the way I had eaten at that point did able me to side-step the main foods most teenagers eat- such as fast foods and processed snacks, I now believe that my diet went too far the other way. Being so staunch in my beliefs and having much will-power (as well as not knowing any different), I was able to stick to a basic vegan diet that mainly consisted of brown rice, beans, vegetable soups, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. Although this diet is much healthier than the way many others have attempted it- my diet still wasn’t perfect. I know there are people out there who follow a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle who will basically eat anything as long as no meat is involved (or dairy if the diet is vegan) – this leaves the door wide open for junk food of all sorts, which is not the way an authentic vegetarian diet is meant to be. Essentially, diets like this would consist of all the ‘junk foods’ the person wanted as long as there was no meat involved.
My diet, on the other hand, almost completely lacked dietary fats, variety of all sorts (I pretty much ate the same thing every week), lack of protein- I was essentially eating the way someone would have to if they couldn’t afford to put the money into more nutrient dense foods such as including more healthy fats/animal proteins. Although food is and always will be costly, we need to do the best we can in regards to our finances (after all, if we don’t, we will make up for it later through medical expenses and medications). Sometimes a diet of lentils and rice is the healthier option compared to a different alternative, but many times we can do even better than that- this, of course is up to you and your finances. The human body will adapt to what we give it, but to feel as though you are thriving in regards to energy and sustenance- is a completely different story. I now know that each macronutrient group comes into play when it comes to having sufficient energy to complete your daily activities. Enough energy for your daily activities plus an exercise routine on top of everything else, forces you to stay on top of a good diet plan.
I am not saying that every single person who consumes a vegetarian diet is suffering from complete ill health- I believe that your genetic history/ your ethnicity along with many other aspects has a ton to do with how well-adapted your body is at living off of certain foods, however, I also believe there is a science to eating a vegetarian/vegan diet correctly, just as there is a science to eating a meat centered diet correctly. Most times it is probably even best to take the best foods from both the vegetarian and meat world in order to combine them into a balanced diet- which is the way I personally now eat my meals.
We cannot consume processed junk and simple carbs and call ourselves a healthy vegetarian just because our diet avoids meat, just as much as we cannot consume large amounts of meat that is corn/grain fed and pumped with hormones or antibiotics and lack eating any real vegetables and consider ourselves healthy meat-eaters. There is a balance for everything and balance is most definitely the most pivotal aspect of nutrition. Through the years of my diet experimentations, I have found that there is a point to learning about the 3 major macronutrients, which are: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Fiber plays into a healthy diet as well, along with essential vitamins/minerals. Through these major macronutrient groups is where our body obtains most of the nutrition it needs for energy, brain-power, athletic performance, general mood and ability to ‘get through the day’. I now feel that it is when these major macronutrients as well as vitamins, minerals, fluid needs etc. are out of balance for our particular body that we feel the adverse results in low energy/mood etc.
Anytime we try taking out a major nutrient group completely (because a walk through the grocery store aisles led us to believe we need to- such as eliminating fat from the diet) we take away a key part of what the body needs to survive. The body will still be able to survive for the most part with the most minimal quality of nutrition as long as it has some nutrition- how long before it starts breaking down is a different story. To feel alive and live a long- healthful life absent of medication is a completely different thing than just merely surviving and trying to get through each day.
Although it is true that everyone’s body may need slightly different ratios of the macronutrients, everybody still needs each of those macronutrients- a diet devoid of any of them, is a diet devoid of health and energy. When I ate the way I did in high school and on into college, I remember not having enough real energy to even think let alone complete some of the sports activities to the best of my ability. I also remember having blood-sugar imbalances but not knowing that was the case. I didn’t know it at the time, but my body needed more real calories coming from fats and proteins as well as a few quality supplements- sometimes it takes a while to figure things out. Although my upbringing helped to steer me down the path of good nutrition, it still took a lot of tweaking on my part to finally figure out the type of diet I’d need to eat in order to feel alive.