Wednesday, December 18, 2013

10 Steps To Mastering A Plant Based Diet - Ben Greenfield guest post!

10 Steps To Mastering A Plant Based Diet

It’s a common question. Can we get by eating plants as a sole source of fuel?

As we swim and thrash through ocean chop, hammer bike cranks for hours on end, repeatedly pound on pavement, and hoist weights at the gym, do we actually need the animal-based foods to maintain and restore our precious nutrients – or can we get all our performance and recovery needs from plants alone?

In a blog article on my site entitled “How To Be Extremely Active And Eat A Plant-Based Diet Without Destroying Your Body”, I dig into the omnivore vs. herbivore debate, lay out the argument of both sides and reveal the diet regimen of a variety of plant-based athletes from ultraman Rich Roll to aging endurance athlete Dr. Bill Misner.

But the purpose of this article is not to argue for or against a plant-based diet, but to instead to give you 10 ways to master a plant-based diet in a way that ensures you ensure that you avoid body and brain damage, especially if you want to combine a plant-based diet with high amounts of physical activity.

After all – it can be incredibly simple to eat a plant-based diet in a manner that leaves gaping nutritional holes, such as not eating a wide variety of colors in whole plant food, not eating enough calories, and not supplementing with vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals or micronutrients that are notoriously missing from a plant-based diet.

Technically, on a plant-based diet, you can also gorge on soy ice cream, licorice, Twinkies, Taco Bell salads, and Domino’s Pizza all day long and call yourself a vegetarian.  You can stuff your face with chemical-laden, processed meals like fast food french fries, potato chips, and “fake meat” products like veggie sausages, bacon & burgers all day long, and still technically call yourself a vegan.

So here are my top 10 strategies you need to include if you decide to go plant-based:

  1. Eat real food. Avoid plant-based Frankenfoods such as fake meats, textured vegetable proteins and processed soy products. Soy is a biggie. Soy contains digestive irritants and digestive enzyme inhibitors such as lectins, phytates and protease inhibitors. Granted, most of these compounds can be rendered relatively harmless through fermenting soy and consuming it in forms such as miso, natto and tempeh – but you should avoid popular unfermented, processed foods such as soy milk and tofu. Soy also contains high levels of goitrogens, which are compounds that inhibit the thyroid’s ability to utilize iodine correctly. This could lead to hypothyroid problems if you have a high soy consumption. Finally, soy contains plant estrogens in the form of isoflavones which can raise your estrogen levels and lower your testosterone levels. So women with estrogen dominance or men and women with testosterone deficiencies shouldn’t be including soy in their diet.
  2. Avoid high intake of inflammatory omega-6 vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, or margarine. Instead, use coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil or macadamia nut oil. At the same time, increase omega-3 fatty acid intake from readily absorbable algae-based DHA supplements such as spirulina and chlorella and get some omega-3 based ALA from things like ground chia seeds, hemp seeds, or flax seeds.
  3. Supplement with vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is critical for a healthy heart and skeletal system and is notoriously deficient in a plant-based diet. I highly recommend a vitamin K2 supplement, consumed at about 100mcg per day, along with generous amounts of natto (which incidentally goes well with avocado, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil for a nice breakfast). Natto is very easy to make once you get a starter batch from your local Asian grocery store.
  4. Supplement with Vitamin D3. If you want to keep your bones and teeth strong, and give yourself adequate hormone and steroid precursors, I recommend about 35IU of Vitamin D3 per pound of body weight. This could be tough if you’re a strict vegan, because most supplemental vitamin D3 is derived from wool, and most vegan versions contain vitamin D2which is a far less potent form. Garden of Life Vitamin D3 is one of the few vegan D3 brands out there. If you’re eating this much Vitamin D3 you must avoid toxicity by ensuring you balance the Vitamin D with intake of both Vitamin K and Vitamin A. Otherwise, it can do more damage than good.
  5. Get Vitamin A. Vitamin A is crucial for healthy bone tissue, vision and hormones, but plants only contain beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, but at a very inefficient rate. You need to focus on enhancing this absorption as much as possible by eating beta-carotene rich foods with fatty meals (i.e. have your beta-carotene rich foods with olive oil or avocado), and getting adequate iron and zinc, which help you convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A. Cooking beta-carotene rich foods also helps to increase absorption. Beta-carotene can be found in concentrated amounts in a variety of foods including sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, fresh thyme, cantaloupe, romaine lettuce and broccoli.
  6. Properly prepare grains, legumes, or nuts. As you learned in point #1, fermentation can render soy more digestible. Similarly, you can neutralize many of the anti-nutrients and mineral binding compounds in grains, legumes and nuts by learning how to properly soak and (if desired) sprout and ferment them. Here is a useful soak time chart for most grains, legumes and nuts. The bigger the legume, nut or grain, the longer soak time it typically needs.
  7. Maximize iron absorption. Non-heme iron is the form found in plant foods, and it’s less bioavailable than the heme iron in meat. But you can increase iron absorption from plant-based foods when you consume them in the presence of Vitamin C (similar to consuming beta-carotene rich foods with oily foods). Combining foods such as swiss chard, spinach, beet greens, lentils, beans, and quinoa with  foods high in Vitamin C like tomatoes, bell peppers, lemon juice, strawberries, oranges, papaya, kiwis, pineapple, or grapefruit. You should also moderate tea or coffee consumption, since these both reduce iron absorption.
  8. Use iodine. Plant-based diets are notoriously iodine deficient. Sea vegetables such as nori, kelp and dulse are the best natural, plant-based sources of iodine. At the website Main Coast Sea Vegetables, you can find many iodine sources that you can easily read about or order. Also consider taking supplemental iodine in a form that is readily used by your thyroid, such as a daily dose of liquid nascent iodine, at about 6mg per day.
  9. Take vitamin B12. Nearly every study conducted on vegans show much higher rates of B12 deficiency than omnivores, with elevated homocysteine as a result (homocysteine increases blood clotting and raises your risk of heart disease). So I recommend that if you’re eating a plant-based diet, you consume a highly absorbable liposomal Vitamin B12, at about 10mcg per day.
  10. Supplement with taurine. Taurine is an amino acid found only in animal foods, and it is crucial for brain development, healthy blood pressure, blood glucose stability, fighting free radicals and protecting your vision. Your body can make it’s own taurine from a combination of other amino acids, but as you can read in this study, this can be very hard for vegan athletes to pull off in adequate volume. There are vegan taurine sources out there such as NOW Foods Vegan Taurine Powder (a much healthier alternative to Red Bull), and I recommend using 1 gram per day.
My personal diet includes many, many plants – topped with a high amount of natural fats such as avocadoes, olives, olive oil, nuts and seeds. While I also eat animal-based foods, I would instantly implement every step above were I to ever switch to a plant-based diet and want to ensure my body recovered as quickly as possible and was ideally optimized for workout. If you have questions, comments or feedback, I’ll be happy to reply!

Author Ben Greenfield is currently writing a book about how to be healthy on the outside and healthy on the inside. You can learn more at

Who is Ben Greenfield?

Ben Greenfield is a coach, author, speaker, ex-bodybuilder and Ironman triathlete. His science-based approach to discovering a potent balance between health and performance has revolutionized the way thousands of athletes and exercise enthusiasts around the world live, train and eat. Ben now works with athletes, CEO’s and soccer moms from around the world to achieve amazing feats of physical endurance without destroying their body in the process.

In 2008, Ben was voted by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as the America’s top personal trainer. He holds a Master’s degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics from University of Idaho, and is also a certified sports nutritionist (C-ISSN) and strength and conditioning coach (CSCS). He has over a decade of experience training professional, collegiate and recreational athletes from all sports how to be healthy on the inside and healthy on the outside – and also coaches people of all ages and from all backgrounds for performance, fat loss, nutrition, lifestyle management and wellness.

In addition to being the head coach and nutritionist for Pacific Elite Fitness and the Rock Star Triathlete Academy, Ben is a consultant for WellnessFX, host of the Get-Fit Guy and podcasts on iTunes, author of over a dozen programs and books for optimizing health and performance, and owner of, the world’s top endurance sports entertainment website. Ben also trains and mentors physicians, personal trainers and physical therapists from around the globe via his mastermind Superhuman Coach Network at

If you’d like to learn more about Ben visit this page. He consults virtually and in-person with people from all over the world via his office in Spokane, Washington, where he lives with his wife and twin boys, and now travels around the world competing in triathlons and teaching advanced human performance and nutrition concepts.

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