Everything in between

Trying to eat healthy can get tricky sometimes…

That’s what I learned throughout the years and this is what I get asked by people when I tell them I’m a pescatarian.

I have been a pescatarian for over 20 years and it hasn’t always been easy. I’m originally from Brazil where meat plays a huge part in the culture, the cuisine and socializing. You’ve probably heard (or even been to) a typically Brazilian rodizio restaurant, where you basically sit at a table and the waiters will bring to you a variety of meat on skewers. Those restaurants are indeed very popular all over Brazil and they are making it big among the US, Australian and now in the Kiwi consumers.

I stopped eating red meat at 13, then gradually stopped eating chicken and other types of meat except for fish. I was vegan for two years when I was at university; then again throughout most of 2016. Giving up on fish, however, is harder for me because I do like the flavor.

Quitting animal protein altogether may also bring health risks too if you don’t sufficiently supplement the proteins in your plant-based diet.

My mom has rheumatic arthritis, which makes me highly at risk of developing the same condition. A regular intake of Omega-3 (antioxidants) increases the chances of getting the disease or speeding up the process if you’re already prone, like I am.

About six months into veganism I began to feel really sore joints, especially in my hands. I’d wake up with clenched fists for no apparent reason. I couldn’t blame lack of exercise because I was regularly working out at a nearby gym. I was taking flaxseed oil daily and also eating vegetables, fruit and nuts to make up for the absolute removal of animal protein from my diet.

Whether it was pure “power of suggestion” (my family constant concern for my diet) or that I was actually in the early stages of arthritis I will never know – I never ran any blood tests, although I know you should consult a nutritionist and have blood tests every time there’s a change in your diet; especially as extreme as going vegan.

It is not my intent to criticize veganism. I am solely speaking from my own experience. But as soon as about a month into being a pescatarian again, the pain in my joints reduced drastically. Nowadays, they are practically nil.

So, how do you keep your ideals (to reduce meat consumption) and your health at the same time? In my case, I believe it’s easy to maintain good levels of essential nutrients, vitamins and amino-acids by eating fish once a week. But we as humans need essential fatty acids and other nutrients, proteins and vitamins every day. It’s not like my body will store for one week the Omega-3 I obtained on that Saturday I had fish for lunch!

Even though I stopped being a vegan at the start of 2017, I advocate the lifestyle and have a great respect for those brave people, because it’s not easy: vegan/vegetarian meals are usually more expensive and more difficult to come by. Surely it depends on where you live. Take it from me: the most difficult period I had to keep my vegan diet was when I was working full-time at a rural university. The only café on campus had no vegan options. Period. If I wanted to eat solely plant-based meals, I’d either have to bring them in a lunch box from home or I’d have to drive to the nearby town, cutting my lunch break at least 15 minutes short.

In order to have as much of a healthy lifestyle that I can by mostly eating plant-based food, I have raw nuts, among other food types. Raw nuts are rich in minerals (Calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc) and essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6 (crucial for the good functioning of the brain and heart). However, some nuts are better (more nutritional) than others. According to Dr. Libby’s article (Just how good for your health are nuts, Northern Outlook, 11/10/17), almonds contain too much Omega-6, which can have the adverse effect of increasing inflammation in your body. Too bad, right? Almond milk and other almond-based products are definitely taking off as a flavorsome option to dairy since they are relatively cheap than most vegan/dairy-free products.

Dr. Libby recommends walnuts as they are rich in fatty acid Omega-3, an excellent antioxidant that is great or your hair, skin and brain.

Brazil nuts are also Dr. Libby’s (and my) favorite. It’s rich in selenium, which is extremely important to maintain the good functioning of your thyroid gland. Selenium is also essential for our daily metabolism and brain health. Although there are studies that show that too much selenium can be toxic[1], these studies were based on people taking selenium supplements and not from eating “too many Brazil nuts”. Dr. Libby, however, recommends just two to four Brazil nuts a day to meet our daily requirements.

Naturally, you must also consume fruit and vegetables in order to meet your daily need for nutrients. Nevertheless, I personally find that this concern increases ten-fold when one decides to mainly have plant-based food in their diet. That also depends on body weight and metabolism levels; whether you are an athlete, or exercise at a gym 3 to 4 times a week, for example.

Eating healthy can get tricky sometimes, but it’s not impossible! As it is with pretty much anything in life, it takes persistence, learning and dedication.

Healthy eating CAN be happy eating too!

 

Dr. Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker (drlibby.com)

REFERENCES

[1] Robinson MF. Selenium in human nutrition in New Zealand. Nutr Rev 1989;47:99-107.

Antioxidants’ role in chronic disease prevention still uncertain; huge doses considered risky. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference. Media release, 10 April 2000. http://www.nationalacademies.org/news

Selenium. In Trace elements in human nutrition and health, Geneva: World Health Organisation, 1996, p.105-122.

Clark RF, Strukle E, Williams SR, Manoguerra AS. Selenium poisoning from a nutritional supplement. JAMA 1996;275:1087-8.

 

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