I’m a bit into woo. Not the “woo” of drunk girls at a bar on a Saturday night, the woo of those who are into more crunchy or alternative techniques for health, wellness, and relaxation. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about modern medicine and a huge supporter of vaccines. However, I love to also try out different ways to improve sleep, health, and focus on top of using tried and true scientific methods. I am not a doctor or an expert, and especially now it’s important to adhere to what medical professionals suggest for our safety and health. However, we all have a bit more time and a bit more stress and maybe some of my favorite “woo” methods may be an enjoyable addition to your routine. I’ll have a post on Wednesdays called Wednesday Woo.
Today's Woo is about Trying a Plant-Based Diet
Since turning 40, my husband’s favorite hobby has become finding ways to reduce inflammation. Inflammation can lead to chronic issues such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more and he has been on a journey to maintain his health and reduce back and knee pain. We began dabbling in seeing how food affected how we felt back when I tried Whole30. We saw by cutting out things like dark liquors we felt better and issues we didn’t even notice disappeared. I ended up cutting out dark liquor, red wine, beer, and most pasta and bread (sticking to “the good stuff” when I dined out) and had less bloating, fewer headaches and body aches. I was happy sticking to eliminating just that, but my husband kept going.
First, it was cow dairy realizing he was a bit intolerant, though he still consumed goat which doesn’t have lactose. Then he cut out eggs and avocado, both which he always had some issue with (as do some of his relatives). Then it was alcohol. And this summer, he went full plant-based. Within a week he was raving about how amazing he felt, how well he slept, how his allergies weren’t as intense, how he could now walk on water (okay maybe not the last but it was annoying to hear all his ravings like eating mushrooms and chickpeas somehow reversed time). I wasn’t sold; I’ve already shared how most natural deodorants don’t work for me while they all seem to work for him… I knew a plant-based diet would be the same.
My husband is the primary grocery shopper and cook; he was cool with our daughter and me eating whatever we wanted but refused to buy or prepare anything that wasn’t plant-based. So while my husband was 100% plant-based and we joined him for plant-based meals at home, our daughter still ate what she liked at friends’ homes and school, and I looked forward to events and outings for work and with friends where I’d indulge in my favorite meats, seafood, and plenty of cheese.
And then we were quarantined. My husband went out and stocked up our fridge and pantry with a variety of plant-based options. My daughter and I decided to try going 100% plant-based and experience this as a family.
Plant-Based vs. Vegan: What is the Difference?
The term “vegan” was created in 1944 by Donald Watson, an English animal rights advocate and founder of The Vegan Society. A vegan is a person who avoids using animals for ethical reasons. T. Colin Campbell, a biochemist who specializes on the effect of nutrition on long-term health, coined the term “plant-based diet” to define a low fat, high fiber, vegetable-based diet that is focused on health.
My Experience Switching to a Plant-Based Diet
The first week sucked. I had dreams about things like cheesesteaks and fondue. I’d open the fridge, and then the pantry, and then the fridge, and then the freezer and just get mad because everything looked so unappetizing. It seemed so complicated to make a meal. Before quarantine, I had a gym meal plan down pat and always had available oatmeal, brown rice, cooked salmon, cooked ground beef, cooked chicken breasts, and plenty of greens. Now I didn’t know what to eat.
In the second week, things improved. My husband made taco night with Beyond Beef, he made pizza with an almond cheese that melted really well. We found new favorites for snacks and meals. The cravings reduced, though a TV commercial with a burger or an Instagram Story with a sizzling steak or runny eggs could get me salivating.
And now it has been two months. I realized that I hardly miss meat, except for the social part. I love sitting at a bar with a great person, sipping a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc and sharing a tray of oysters. Summer is coming, and for a Maryland girl, that means crab feasts, laughing with others while cracking claws and dipping them in vinegar or butter (or both with some extra Old Bay). But these social occasions won’t be happening anytime soon so it’s easier to get by for now. The only craving I’ve had in a long while is when a friend was sharing gorgeous shots of her Italian sub in Instagram stories; in fact just writing this makes me miss that mix of cured meats, spice, cheese, vinegar, and crusty bread.
The Benefits I've Experienced from a Plant-Based Diet
But this post isn’t about my diet, it’s about woo. So let’s get back to the effects of going plant-based for two months straight. Things I have noticed:
- My allergies are better. Along with using a neti pot daily, I’m finding my allergies aren’t really that bad, and I am one who grew up getting allergy shots and dosing myself with Benadryl on top of my Claritin to get through the spring. I get on Zoom calls with friends and they complain about their allergies, and all I am experiencing is the occasional sneeze.
- I am less bloated. I’ve had a few say they’ve noticed my weight loss, but I don’t think I have lost weight, I think I am just less bloated. My stomach used to be firmer, now it looks deflated. I feel less bloated everywhere, not like I weigh fewer pounds but that I am not so… full between my skin and my insides if that makes sense. My clothes fit the same; same bra size, same waistband so it’s not weight, it’s something else.
- I can go longer between meals. When I was on my high-protein, low-refined carb diet, I needed to eat every two hours or I would crash or be ravenously hungry. Now hunger comes on more slowly and crashes don’t happen.
- No heartburn. I have dealt with heartburn, especially when stressed, for a few years now. It reduced greatly when I cut down on alcohol, but I found it disappeared completely when I cut out dairy and red meat. I’ve only had heartburn twice since going mostly plant-based this past summer and not at all since quarantine.
- My skin is happy. I haven’t changed my skincare routine besides the few weeks I tried out a new brand for a campaign, yet my skin feels and looks better. There’s a bit of a glow, it looks more even, fewer breakouts during that time of the month, fewer clogged pores. Also, my undereye bags and darkness is seriously reduced and I’ve noticed the same on my daughter and my husband.
- My knees are happy. And my ankles. And my lower back. These are all parts of me that get achy and I attributed to getting older. I don’t think it was just age, I think it was inflammation.
My Favorite Plant-Based Dairy and Meat Alternatives
For those who are considering going plant-based, I think your choices make a major difference on how successful you are in sticking with it, especially if you’re a meat and cheese lover like myself. Trying to stick just to whole foods – grains and veggies and beans… that’s a good base but having the fun stuff has helped this become not just an experiment but a lifestyle for me and my family. While your diet should not be primarily from these sorts of foods, bits of them make a plant-based diet easier to embrace and more “normal.” Some of the foods that we really love to help this become our new normal:
- Beyond Beef is our favorite meat substitute. It has the simplest ingredient list, isn’t trying too hard to replace reality, and is versatile. We prefer getting the ground for everything from burgers to taco night to a chunky pasta sauce, though we’ve also enjoyed the pre-made patties and the crumble.
- Kite Hill makes good almond milk cream cheese. The everything bagel flavor is our personal favorite and helps hide the fact that vegan cream cheese isn’t a bright white like the normal stuff.
- Field Roast Chao Cheese is the only non-dairy cheese I’ve found tasty enough to eat plain on a cracker. It’s also good for sandwiches. I don’t think it melts well, but it’s a nice topping on a bagel with some everything cream cheese and some sautéed spinach.
- Violife makes a vegan feta and while it’s not crumbly and fabulous like regular feta, it does give that salty creamy texture to salads and other dishes. Their shredded cheddar isn’t half bad either.
- Good Earth is new to us as when we made a grocery delivery order our usual non-dairy cheese wasn’t available. This brand makes a mozzarella that melts really well and has a better flavor than any other mozzarella we’ve tried.
- Tofutti is the only sour cream that isn’t watery and sweet. Seriously, why would brands make vegan sour cream sweet? Ew!
- Follow Your Heart I find makes most of their dairy products sweet, but their tub of shredded parm is quite good. Some pasta, a bit of pesto made without parm but some of this sprinkled on top is pretty phenomenal.
- Daiya makes our favorite ice cream pops; they’re creamy and decadent and the chocolate coating is really rich. Ben & Jerry’s has several non-dairy flavors that are creamy and decadent and dull of yummy things.
- Daiya also makes in our opinion, the best vegan mac and cheese. It’s creamy like Velveeta; we like it better than Annie’s which can start tasting funny after a couple of spoonfuls.
- We use Earth Balance sticks 1:1 for butter in all recipes and haven’t had a single issue.
- Enjoy Life makes good chocolate chips for baking.
- Oatly is our favorite non-dairy milk for everything from cereal to smoothies to lattes to baking.
- For coffee, my favorite is So Delicious’ oat milk vanilla creamer. It’s thick and sweet and creamy and lovely. And it seems to be out of stock everywhere so we’re using Califa Farms Vanilla Better Half and Nut Pods French Vanilla which are both fine, but not as thick and don’t have as obvious as flavor.
- Reddi Whip has a coconut milk whipped cream in the can that is awesome. Sure it tastes a bit coconutty, but it gives you the memories from childhood and perfects a slice of pie.
- We’ve tried a few vegan mayos and a lot are like the vegan sour creams: watery and a bit sweet. We find JUST Mayo to be the best in being thick like traditional mayo and having a bit of a mayonnaise bite.
- Vegan Rob’s Cheddar Puffs are not a dupe for Cheetos but they’re not too shabby, and that’s from someone who gets ill from the smell of nutritional yeast.
I have found these items at Wegmans, Thrive Market, and our local independent organic and traditional grocery stores. I’ve found many chain markets and big box retailers you wouldn’t expect to have such specialty items carry them. Aldi, Target, Costco, even Walmart carry a large percentage of these or similar plant-based items. A perk; we find most of our favorite items are still in stock while friends have a hard time getting meat and some dairy products during this pandemic.
A perk to vegan dairy alternatives is they have a much longer shelf life. I’m writing this while eating pretzels with Tofutti sour cream from a tub we bought two weeks ago; the expiration date on the bottom is March 27, 2021. The bags of shredded cheeses we have expire at the end of September 2020. Sure it will go bad within a couple of weeks of opening the container, but it makes it easier to stock up for fewer grocery trips and many are available through national delivery programs like Thrive Market.
As someone who weight trained, I felt I performed best with meat, produce, and minimal dairy and grains. As someone who admits to having food issues, I never thought me, a cheese lover, could go this long without cheese and not want to cut somebody. I never would have tried this if I wasn’t literally in lockdown without any of these things. I don’t know what will happen when the world opens up, especially when on travel, and how my body will handle meat and dairy after so long or if I’ll even want to try it. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
Please note this isn’t me preaching my food choices. I am not opening up a discussion about ethics in the comments; that discussion can happen on another site. I am also not sharing to discuss weightloss as that is not a focus for me or this blog. Food is a touchy topic, food is personal, food is political, and I know especially now having food choices is a sign of privilege. I am just impressed that this woo that I was so against for so long actually has improved my health and well-being and want to share in case it may help you too!