Why I am neither vegan nor paleo

My involvement with a vegetable farm has spillover effects: hours spent on documentaries about America’s dysfunctional food systems, youtube-ing lectures on nutrition, reading article after article to attempt to find answers.

Answers to what? Well, the obvious. What is the best diet? Not the lose 30kg in one month fad diet, but the healthy, live forever kind. Fad diets have one thing in common. They propound a single food/behaviour that will magically melt your kilos away. Think weird exotic berries, or do sit ups only at 7am everyday. I am not discussing those here because no. Just no.

So what should we be eating as the ultimate healthy daily diet? Low fat? Low carb? Low protein? This basic question led me down many paths. Of which, my answer is — there is no one answer.

It seems incredulous, but it’s true. All diets basically tell you to minimise one food group, be it fat, carb or protein. Vegan cuts out animal protein. Paleo cuts out grain carbs. Atkins cuts out all carbs, including fruit carbs. And low fat is low fat.

I had to try these out for myself. So my fiancé and I did 3 weeks vegan, 3 weeks paleo.

We are fortunate in that both of us are in good health. We were just curious to find out if there were any discernible side effects, or to put it simply, which made us feel better?

The vegan experiment

The obvious plus for us is that veggies are cheaper than meat here in Singapore. We switched our grains to whole grains. Cutting out meat meant eating a whole lot more beans. The bean bloat I experienced daily was highly uncomfortable. I read that it was normal and would go away after a while, but it didn’t for me. But cutting back on the beans meant I was hungry. I did increase my veggie and grain intake, but the increased grain intake just didn’t sit well with me. After a while, it felt like I was like eating cardboard.

Energy levels were high and the highlight of my athletic accomplishment was that I did a 7.5km run without planning to. I thought I would just head out for 3 or maximum 5km, but I felt so good that I just kept going. I’m not a regular jogger by the way, more of a spontaneous one.

I didn’t miss meat, although I acknowledged that this would be socially challenging to sustain, especially when I went on a short trip with my parents and their friends shortly after, and my dad simply would not let me avoid dim sum.

It was around this time that my fiancé read about paleo and it made perfect sense to him. Also, he grew up on bacon and eggs, so perhaps he was predisposed towards this diet.

The paleo experiment

The whole grain pasta and brown rice we’d bought were pushed into the deepest recesses of our cupboards. Out with the grains, in with the meat. Our veggie intake was similar to when we were on the vegan diet, meaning a lot.

The obvious plus was bacon and eggs. But meat is expensive here, especially quality meat. We realised it would not be that affordable. Eating more meat than I normally would also made me feel like a hypocrite. I’d committed to the fact that raising livestock was one of the top pollutants, even more than all modes of transportation combined. And all the inhumane practices of conventional animal husbandry I’d read about? Ugh.

My body also didn’t like all that meat, especially beef.

Energy levels were high in a different way. I felt stronger. My 5km running pace was one full minute faster (per km) than when I was vegan. Yes it could be because I was more used to running then, but it was merely two weeks apart. And I hadn’t been pushing myself much more. It was the same route and frankly, I thought I was going at roughly the same pace.

Conclusion

From the headline, you already know how this goes.

After 6 weeks, my biggest takeaway was this: I could read my body much better. My experiments made me mindful of every food choice. I was much more attuned to what my body wanted.

Now, I eat much less meat, and even more veggies. I stay away from too much beans. I eat less carbs too. Overall both my fiancé and I separately came to the same conclusion that we actually eat less now, because we are more mindful about what we put into our mouths. Processed food especially makes my body sluggish. It’s like pouring toxic sludge. But occasionally the body likes sludge. Ha!

So yes we still eat Tim Tams.

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