Recently, I discovered a fantastic podcast called “The Active Vegetarian.” Joe and Zuzana have tailored their show specifically for athletic people who eat plant-based diets. They note that the only difference between the ideal omnivorous diet and the ideal plant-based diet are the protein sources. For optimum health, everyone should be eating a high-vegetable diet bolstered with servings of carbohydrate and proteins.
In the second episode, Joe coined a term that describes some vegetarians perfectly. I’m sure you’ve met one, or perhaps, like me, you’ve even been one–a Starchitarian. This kind of vegetarian diet is based on pasta, bread, potatoes, and empty calories. It is as unhealthy as the Standard American Diet, and is responsible for the myth that plant-based diets will make you sick.
I was a Starchitarian during my last year of college. I started college at 118 pounds, but by the time I was a senior I was up to 124. At the time, I blamed it on “getting older.” What I didn’t realize was that living off peanut butter crackers from the library vending machine was what caused the spike in weight, chronic fatigue, and quasi-anemic symptoms of weakness. Just before I graduated, I eliminated white flour, found my appropriate carbohydrate intake, upped my portions of raw vegetables, and began working out regularly. I noticed a huge difference within weeks. Now, I no longer feel weak or fatigued (I also attribute this to amino acid supplementation), and I’ve dropped down to 114 pounds after eight months of steady exercise and vastly improved diet.
In episode six, Zuzana notes that, “Quite often people think that if they are vegetarians or plant-based eaters then the food they are eating automatically is healthier. But it’s not always like that. As long as the food has been prepared in a factory or in a plant, most likely there is going to be stuff which is not going to benefit your health.”
This is an important point. We aren’t automatically elevated to some plane of dietary perfection just because we apply some kind of label to ourselves like paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan. Startchitarians easily fall into this trap, especially those who are also belligerent about “going vegan.” You aren’t automatically healthier than everyone else just because you don’t eat animal products. You have to put in the effort to eat properly, regardless of what your preferred source of protein is.
If you are relying on Uncle Ben’s from a box, you aren’t any healthier than someone who eats egg McMuffins. Both products provide empty calories from starch, and few useful nutrients. Instead, try sprouted whole grains, raw porridge (it can be heated to 118 degrees), or homemade steel-cut oats.
Like Joe and Zuzane point out, you are going to feel ill if all you are eating is starch. Regardless of your protein persuasion, all of us, whether vegetarian, vegan, or vegivore, need to eat a balanced diet that’s based on living plants, not white sugar and empty carbohydrates.
To check out the Active Vegetarian Podcast, please visit: http://feeds.feedburner.com/activevegetarian.