Some Notes on a Plant-Based Diet

A few weeks ago, I made an offhand mention that I had switched to a plant-based diet due to medical concerns. Over the next week, I received a lot of questions about it. Why? What was it like? How was it working? Was it saving us money? Was it having positive health effects?

I considered using some of them in a mailbag, but instead I decided to write a full post about it after I had a month or so to reflect on it and see how it was going.

This past summer, I signed up for an additional term life insurance policy because I didn’t feel like I had enough life insurance to cover the future of three children – the arrival of a third child and the calculations I made afterwards convinced me that if something happened to me, Sarah and our three children would have problems with just my currently-existing policies.

In the process, I had thorough blood work done and it was almost entirely fine. I only had two numbers that were outside the normal range and only one was significantly outside the normal range, so I was easily approved.

However, I personally wanted to know more about those outlying numbers, so I got an appointment with my doctor, who ran a bunch of additional blood tests and a few other tests as well.

After looking at a lot of my numbers, I met with my doctor and a dietician, who basically said that I had several options with regards to my health. If I kept doing everything as I was doing, I would probably have some health concerns later in life. On the other hand, if I made some changes – and they laid out a bunch of options – I would significantly improve my chance of strong health until late in my life.

As I thought about the options, I asked myself whether it was really important to me to eat certain foods. “How many years of good health is it worth for me to give up food X?” I realized that, when I thought of it in that context and in relation to watching my kids grow up and do whatever life has in store for them, I didn’t really have to add too much good health to my life to make it worth some significant dietary changes.

So, for now (I’m doing a six month trial), I’ve chosen to eat a mostly plant-based diet.

What’s the diet like?
Basically, with regards to any food I eat, I ask myself if it contains animals or animal products. If it does, I pass. If it doesn’t, I eat it to my heart’s content.

The one exception to this is that I occasionally eat fish or, rarely, seafood, for the particular fatty acids that come from them.

I’m not paranoid about it. If I accidentally ingest something that has a bit of animal protein in it, I don’t freak out or anything.

In essence, what I’m doing is identical to what Bill Clinton is doing. See this interview:

I also take vitamin supplements and I drink protein shakes for breakfast most days.

It’s actually pretty easy to follow that rule of thumb. I can eat out at most places. There’s a ton of food to prepare at home. There are even some convenience foods that work well with this.

Are you doing this for social/ethical/environmental reasons?
No. I’m doing it for my health.

Such issues are so clouded by people’s perspectives, corporate profits, and so on that I have a hard time believing absolutely in the ethics or environmental benefits of any diet outside of simply growing your own vegetables.

Can you possibly be enjoying it?
Yes, actually.

Because of this, I’ve been forced to try a lot of different foods simply to add variety in my diet and, along the way, I’ve found a lot of things that I enjoy eating.

The biggest trick is to just liberally use spices. Amp up the spices and herbs in things and they become wonderfully tasty and rich.

For example, I found a wonderful barley soup recipe that we’ve had three times in the last month. I absolutely love it – each time, I experiment with it and each time, it’s delicious. It’s filling and savory and fills the house with great aromas.

Another example: I usually have a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack in order to quell my appetite and keep me from being really hungry at lunch or supper. These snacks have become two things – either fruit or a Larabar. What’s a Larabar? Delicious. I would have never found them if I wasn’t exploring new foods.

Are there health benefits? Are you losing weight?
It’s really hard to know what the impact has been on my blood numbers this early. However, I have seen two things.

First, I seem to have a ton of energy at times. I’m sleeping about an hour less and I find myself doing things like cleaning house at 11 PM – something you would have almost never seen me doing that late.

Second, I’ve lost ten pounds in about five weeks without a significant change in exercise level.

Is it saving money?
So far, it seems to be.

First of all, our whole family is eating a lot more vegetables and fruits. The other members of my family aren’t going the whole nine yards, but our amount of meat intake has gone down.

Thus, our diet often centers around whatever vegetables happen to be on deep discount at the grocery store that week. We check the flyers for a few stores, identify the vegetables and fruits on sale, and make meals utilizing them.

One week, we had ginger in a lot of things. Another week, it was zucchini. Whatever is on sale is what we use.

As a result, our average grocery bill per week has gone down about $20, which is certainly worth noting.

In short, I’m happy with it. The first week was the hard part – now that it’s passed, I’m not strongly craving the foods I can’t have.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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