Since I work in climate tech and work out a lot, people have asked what I eat and how that impacts my energy levels, how much protein I’m getting, and what the effects of my food choices have on the planet. I am mostly plant-based, but I do eat fish, chicken, and on the very rare occasion, red meat. I made these choices because that’s what makes my body feel good. I’m not a dietician so don’t take this as medical advice–consult a registered dietician for your nutritional needs.

This post isn’t about trying to convert anyone to being plant based, but rather, to provide a first-hand, data-driven approach so you can make the right decisions for your body. Everyone’s body is different, how we process food is different, and how you choose to fuel it is up to you. Or, if you prefer to eat just for pleasure most of the time, and you aren’t trying to optimize for health, that’s totally up to you and I’m not here to judge. Also, I’m not paid for anything I link to in this post, so this is truly how I live my life–I’m not influential enough for that. πŸ˜‚

πŸ₯— Why I’m mostly plant based

For me, eating mostly plant based means better health: Plant-based diets have more fiber, lower inflammation, and tend to also be lower in calories. I love the taste of cheese, butter, and ice cream, and I am not lactose intolerant, but it tends to make me break out in acne, so I dramatically reduce how much of it I eat. Depending on where I am in my monthly cycle, sometimes I crave meat, so I eat chicken or fish, which tastes delicious when I’m eating it, but I dislike how it tends to leaves me with bad breath the next day (and smellier πŸ’©, is this 🚽 TMI?) If you are mostly plant based for a while, various smells will disappear and you will start to notice when you do smell after eating meat, because you are what you eat. Red meat, especially beef in large quantities, gives me a stomach ache, probably due to my lack of stomach enzymes to digest it since I eat it so rarely.

I generally follow Tom Brady’s low inflammation diet and lifestyle (low alcohol consumption, lots of hydration and sleep), which obviously has worked for him because of his longevity and 23 seasons in the NFL, but I’m not as strict as he is (I like my tomatoes and nightshades.)

For those who switch to a plant based diet, you need to go slowly–if you switch everything you eat right away, you are going to get diarrhea, bloating, and stomach aches. Your stomach’s digestive enzymes need time to adapt, and similar to my other post on rapid changes, really quick changes just don’t work for your body or your habits. For example, I don’t eat bread anymore because it has low nutritional value (low in vitamins, fiber, and protein), but I slowly phased it out by eating fewer wheat products and eating bread less frequently before stopping it entirely. Now, after a couple of years of not eating bread, if I do eat wheat bread, I’ll feel really tired, bloated, and in the worst case scenarios if I eat too much, I also get a stomach ache. This is because my body has adjusted to not being able to digest it.

People have asked me “How do you get your abs so defined?” You can have a very strong core, but to have visible abs, it’s 2 things: A lot of crunches and a low-inflammation diet. Many people don’t have visible abs, even though they have strong abs, simply because they are too bloated from the dairy, meat, sugar, fake sugar, and carbs in a typical American diet.

Picture taken at around 6pm after winning the Equinox planking challenge (10 minutes and 7 seconds,) so my core has been engaged (this makes them more visible) but I’m also more hydrated and have eaten (makes them less visible). When you see Instagram influencers with their very visible abs, they are often times taking the picture in the morning (before eating food or drinking water) and using oils or lighting to help make them more visible. Nobody looks like this all the time.

πŸ₯œ Protein

Usually, the first thing anyone asks me when they find out I’m mostly plant-based is: “How do you get your protein?” You can calculate how much protein you need. Since we are so bad at estimating how much protein and calories are in the food we eat anyways, a quick way to guesstimate is to take your weight in pounds and divide it by two. If you weigh 120 pounds, divide that by two, you get 60. Aim for 60 grams of protein every day. Meats are considered high-quality, complete proteins, but you can find high-quality proteins in plants as well. My favorite ones are: Peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and quinoa (although peanut butter causes inflammation, so I have to control myself because I could literally eat it by the spoonfuls). You do have to eat more plant-based foods (measured in volume and calories) to get the same amount of protein as meat-based foods though. About twice or three meals a week, I eat plain non-fat yogurt, chicken, and fish, and I eat eggs pretty much every day. I did a series of blood tests on May 1, 2023, and my hemoglobin levels came out to be 12.8 g/dL (the standard range from Stanford Health was 11.7 to 15.7; hemoglobin (Hb) is the protein contained in red blood cells that is responsible for delivery of oxygen to the tissues, and if it’s too low, you can feel tired and become anemic.) While my range is normal, and my doctors at both Sutter Health and Stanford Health said I am not anemic (I have done blood tests twice at different times, and at different clinics,) my hemoglobin levels are a bit on the lower end, so eating clean protein is something that I pay attention to.

Watercolor is courtesy of the very talented Nicole Kelner (Instagram: @mindfulnicole)

πŸ₯› Environmental Impact of Dairy vs. Plant-based Milks

There are benefits of cow’s milk that you can’t get from plant-based milks (e.g. protein in cow’s milk tends to be higher) and vice versa; one type of milk might be more appropriate for someone at different points of their lives (e.g. children versus adults.) My favorite brand of plant-based milk is Three Trees Almond milk because it doesn’t contain any binders (like gums), fillers, or sugar, which critics of plant-based milks often say is the reason why its less healthy than cow’s milk. If you live near high-quality farmer’s markets, you can often get freshly pressed almond milk, which is my ultimate favorite, but it’s very expensive. Oat milk has emerged as a top leader in plant-based milks because it foams easily and is sweeter (here is an article that compares nutritional value). For example, Blue Bottle switched to oat milk as their default, instead of requiring patrons to ask for oat milk as a substitute for cow’s milk. However, many oat milks have added sugar, and even when they don’t, small amounts of sugar is a byproduct of oat milk production, such as in the 3-ingredient Califia Farms brand (but I’m not concerned about this byproduct sugar).

From a purely environmental impact standpoint:

“Cow’s milk has significantly higher impacts than the plant-based alternatives across all metrics. It causes around three times as much greenhouse gas emissions; uses around ten times as much land; two to twenty times as much freshwater; and creates much higher levels of eutrophication”

(Hannah Ritchie, Our World in Data, January 19, 2022)

Almond milk is often times criticized as being a poor dairy milk substitute due to its high water use requirements in drought-stricken California, but still consumes less freshwater than cow’s milk.

πŸ₯© Environmental Impact of Meat

It doesn’t matter where it is produced, the range of greenhouse gas emissions related to meat and dairy production (per 100 grams of food) is always higher than that of plant-based food.

“Plant-based protein sources – tofu, beans, peas and nuts – have the lowest carbon footprint. This is certainly true when you compare average emissions. But it’s still true when you compare the extremes: there’s not much overlap in emissions between the worst producers of plant proteins, and the best producers of meat and dairy” (Hannah Ritchie, Our World in Data, February 4, 2020)
You may have heard a lot about methane (a type of greenhouse gas) in beef production, and the reason why it’s talked about so much is because it is 25 times stronger at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. It has a strong impact on warming in the short-term but it also decays fast. This is in contrast to carbon dioxide, which can persist in the atmosphere for many centuries. Methane therefore has a high impact on warming in the short term, but a low impact in the long run. (Hannah Ritchie, Our World in Data, March 10, 2020)

πŸš› Eating Local?

Eating local doesn’t have as much of an environmental impact because transportation isn’t as big of a part of the food’s emissions. However, food that hasn’t traveled very far and is picked when it’s as ripe as possible simply tastes better, so you might as well eat local, especially if you live in an area that produces a lot of great food (here is a tool to help you find what’s in season locally). Many brands that tout sustainable packaging or shipping offsets also shouldn’t be trusted (they do it for marketing to get you to feel good about buying more, when the best impact on emissions is to not purchase the item.)

“Transport is a small contributor to emissions. For most food products, it accounts for less than 10%, and it’s much smaller for the largest GHG emitters. In beef from beef herds, it’s 0.5%.” (Hannah Ritchie, Our World in Data, January 24, 2020)

πŸ₯£ Getting enough vitamin B12 and iron

This blog post isn’t specifically about how to eat a well-balanced vegan or vegetarian diet, but I did want to mention that those who choose to eat mostly plants should consider checking nutrition labels for foods that are fortified with B12 or take a B12 supplement. B12 is an essential vitamin that can only be found naturally in animal products and without enough of it, you can become anemic. Non-heme iron can be found in vegetables and legumes but heme iron, which is more easily absorbed, can only be found in meat products. It’s for these reasons that I am not a strict vegan or vegetarian: I listen to my body, and I eat more plants than animal products, most of the time, but I get my vitamin B12, iron, and protein from meat and dairy I eat on occasion.

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