Forget everything you think you know about vegetarian diets.
A lot of what you and I think we know about meatless eating is misguided or just plain wrong.
It turns out that a vegetarian meal plan may be just what the doctor ordered to help you slim down and get healthier. And don't just take our word for it.
Diet-to-Go offers a deliciously effective 5-week Vegetarian Low-Fat meal plan that can help you eat great while you lose weight. But there are scores of researchers who've discovered the amazing health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.
Meet Rip Esselstyn, a firefighter in Austin, Texas, who just so happens to be a former world-class triathlete and the son of a renowned heart doctor. A few years back Rip created a plant-based healthy eating plan to whip his fellow firefighters into better shape.
It sickens him to hear so many people spouting myths about a vegetarian diet.
"I can't believe all the incredible things I hear about diet and nutrition, spoken by people who don't have a clue but who talk as if they did," says Rip, creator of the Engine 2 Diet.
"We're eating too many refined foods and animal foods. Heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, hypertension... they're different manifestations of the same thing.
"We have been culturally duped and brainwashed that we need protein from animal sources. Many of the largest animals get their protein from leafy greens!"
Okay Rip, so what are the dirty dozen myths about a vegetarian diet?
Myth 1: You can't get enough protein eating a plant-based diet.
Reality: Not only will you get all the protein you need, for the first time in your life you won't suffer from an excess of it. Ample amounts of protein are thriving in whole, natural plant-based foods. For example, spinach is 51% protein; mushrooms, 35%; beans, 26%; oatmeal, 16%; whole wheat pasta, 15%; corn, 12%; and potatoes, 11%.
Look around you and tell me the last time you saw someone who was hospitalized for a protein deficiency. Or look around in nature, where you will notice that the largest and strongest animals, such as elephants, gorillas, hippos, and bison, are all plant eaters.
Myth 2: Plant proteins aren't complete proteins.
Reality: Plant proteins are as complete as complete can be. The myth that they're not, or are of a lesser quality than animal proteins, dates back to experiments performed on rats in the early 1900s. Forget the fact that rats aren't humans, have different nutritional requirements, and need more protein than humans to support their furry little bodies.
The meat, dairy, and egg industries have marketed the hell out of this ancient research, and even in the year 2010 most every Dick, Tom, and Jane thinks the only way to get complete protein is through meat, eggs or dairy.
In reality, proteins are composed of chains of roughly 20 different amino acids. Of those, eight are found outside our body and must be absorbed from our food. These eight are the "essential" amino acids. The remaining acids are "nonessential" because they can be synthesized by our bodies themselves.
Myth 3: Carbohydrates make us fat.
Reality: Some carbs do, but good carbs don't. Most trendy diets claim that all carbohydrates are bad guys, yet of the three macronutrients that provide calories in our diet (carbs, protein, and fat), carbohydrates are the body's primary fuel source. They're responsible for managing your heart rate, digestion, breathing, exercising, walking and thinking.
Roughly 70% of your daily calories should come from good (complex) carbohydrates. The ones to avoid are called simple carbs.
Simple carbohydrates include table sugar, molasses, honey, alcohol, white bread, white pasta, white rice, fried chips, sugary cereals, fruit juices, candy, and milk. Most simple carbs are nutritionally empty because they have been tinkered with by humans, stripped of their fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They are digested quickly by the body and cause a sharp spike in your blood sugar levels.
If you consume, whole, good, natural carbs, you will enjoy more consistent energy throughout the day without gaining extra pounds.
Myth 4: You can't get enough calcium eating a plant-based diet.
Reality: A diverse, plant-based diet is one of the best available sources of calcium - and lets you avoid the deleterious effects associated with dairy products.
Great sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, oranges, kidney beans, lima beans, whole grains, Swiss chard, lentils, raisins, broccoli, kale, celery, tofu and romaine lettuce.
Myth 5: You can't get enough fat eating a plant-based diet.
Reality: Trace amounts of fat are present in all fruits, vegetables and other plant foods. Strawberries are 5% fat; bell peppers, 6%; broccoli, 8%; spinach, 11%; and soybeans, 41%. Several high-fat plant foods contain in excess of 80% fat, including certain nuts and seeds, as well as avocados, olives and coconuts.
By eating a delicious, plant-happy diet, you will consume roughly 9 to 15% of your total calories from fat, which is ideal. Getting your fat from plant-based foods means you will be consuming healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as opposed to dangerous saturated fats. You will be able to eat more food than you ever dreamed of without gaining weight, and feel wonderful.
Myth 6: You can't be a competitive athlete and eat plants.
Reality: Tell that to Tony Gonzalez, the 247-pound NFL tight end. For health reasons, Tony changed his diet after signing a five-year contract extension, making him the league's highest paid tight end, and went on to break the NFL record for receptions by a tight end in 2008.
Or tell that to Ruth Heidrich, who in 1982 was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and cured herself by eating a low-fat, plant-strong diet. She has since won more than one thousand triathlons. Or tell Salim Stoudamire, the plant-eating NBA point guard, who says that by the fourth quarter, when most players are starting to fade, he's picking it up a notch.
Or tell Martina Navratilova, the world's winningest tennis player, who serves up plant-based foods exclusively. Or tell plant-devourer Dave Scott, my hero and six-time winner of the famed Hawaii Ironman triathlon.
Myth 7: By eating only plant-based foods, you'll miss key nutrients.
Reality: You'll be stockpiling away the nutrients like never before, improving your health, and reversing disease. If you were to hold a triathlon based on the quantity of nutrients in each food, plants would cross the finish line and get a massage before meat, dairy, and eggs even had a chance to get off the bicycle.
Calorie for calorie, the most nutrient-dense foods are plants, not animals. After all, plants are the mother source of all calories and all nutrients for all creatures, whereas animal-based foods are essentially plant foods recycled into an unhealthy package.
Myth 8: If eating only plant-based food, your energy will be low.
Reality: Your energy levels will be more constant and consistent than at any other point in your life. Think of high-fiber and nutrient-heavy plant foods as the big logs in the fireplace that burn for hours. Think of low-fiber and nutrient-light foods such as simple carbohydrates as wads of newspaper that go up in a flash.
When you're eating plant-strong, you won't have the energy peaks and valleys of the past, and if you so choose, you won't even need coffee to get your butt and mind in gear in the mornings. You'll awake feeling refreshed, even-keeled, and excited about charging forward into your day.
Myth 9: A plant-based diet is bad for children and pregnant mothers.
Reality: By the age of two (once off mother's milk), every child is ready for a plant-strong diet. Even renowned expert Dr. Benjamin Spock recommends the practice in the latest edition of his classic bestselling book, Baby and Child Care. If you start them young, your kids will develop a palate that appreciates the subtleties of plant foods and will gain the healthy rewards that accompany this diet as they grow.
Pregnant women, meanwhile, can get all the vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that both they and their babies need to be healthy and well. My wife, Jill, ate an all-plant-based diet throughout her pregnancy with no morning sickness and no complications. She later gave birth to our very healthy eight-pound, seven-ounce baby, Kole, the little love of our lives.
Myth 10: Everyone needs to take fish oil supplements to ensure they're getting essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Reality: There are numerous ways to get essential omega-3 fatty acids without subjecting yourself to the potential risks of fish oils - which, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, are highly unstable molecules that can break down and release dangerous, disease-causing free radicals.
People are under the false assumption that taking a fish oil supplement will negate the effects of all the cheese, meat and processed foods they throw down their throats. But fish oil is no panacea. It can actually raise total and LDL cholesterol levels, increases your chance of a hemorrhagic stroke, and suppresses the immune system. Instead of taking fish oil, rely on ground flaxseed meal, walnuts, soybeans, and green leafy vegetables, all of which contain plenty of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Myth 11: Real men don't eat plants.
Reality: The fat and cholesterol in animal products clogs up the arteries traveling not only to the heart and head but also to the extremities, including the penis, where they can cause PAD (peripheral arterial disease) and impotence, which research shows may be an early sign of heart disease.
So, men, there is a better way, and it doesn't involve taking Viagra, Cialis or Levitra. It involves eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.
Myth 12: Eating plant-based foods is joyless.
Reality: Plant-based foods are delicious and satisfying. The longer you're on a plant-based diet, the more your palate will change. Think about milk, for instance. Since it's well known that whole milk is not good for you, you've probably cut back to 2% or skim. At first, I bet that skim milk tasted like water. Then you became accustomed to it so when you tried whole milk again, it tasted like liquid paint. Your palate had changed.
It's the same with adding oil to your foods. Foods taste better without being dunked in butter, drenched in margarine, or saturated with sour cream. Plant-based foods are absolutely glorious in their sublimeness. Without all the extra fat and processed flavors drowning them out, you'll finally get to taste nuances you might never have noticed: the tang of a ripe red bell pepper, the zest of a cara cara orange, or the zing of a plate of lacinato kale with roasted garlic - foods bursting with flavors all their own.
Thanks for those delicious insights, Rip!