My Week as a Nutritarian

healthy-lettuce-wraps These lettuce wraps are what I had for lunch the other day. Yep, all of them, just for me. Then, about two hours later, I ate again – this time, it was a barley black bean dish. The rest of the day was similar, consisting of many meals constructed entirely from unprocessed, whole plant foods. This was my week of eating Nutritarian.

I not entirely sure that Dr. Joel Fuhrman coined the term “nutritarian”, but that’s where I first encountered it, on his web site. The premise is not unique to Dr. Fuhrman, though. Many doctors, dietitians and other health professionals have been espousing a diet that is truly whole foods and plant based for quite some time. I just like the term a whole lot better than “vegan” and I like the strict whole foods philosophy behind it.

If you’re wondering what a Nutritarian diet is, let me just tell you what it is not. There are no processed foods in this diet, including flour (so no breads, pizza, pasta, baked goods, tortillas, etc.), oil (yep, not even the supposedly healthy olive, canola, flax and coconut oils) sugar in any form (yep, not even honey), and it also shuns alcohol, caffeine and any added salt. If, like me, you are wondering what’s left that you can eat, let me give you a one-day run-down of what I ate:

– Rolled oats with blueberries, dried apricots, chia seeds, walnuts and almond milk*
– Kale/chard/berry/banana/chia/pea protein* smoothie
– 1/2 serving Almonds, 1/2 serving dried apricots
– 1/4 cup black beans and 4 olives
– Large salad of greens/tomatoes/1/2 cup chickpeas/1/4 avocado/red onion/lemon juice
– 1 medjool date
– 1/2 serving sunflower seeds**
– 1 portion vegan meatloaf* with 1/2 T soy sauce* **
– .4 oz dark chocolate*
– Bib lettuce burritos: 1 cup black beans/1/4 cup brown rice/1 small bell pepper/1/6 red onion/1/2 T jalapeƱo minced/2 garlic cloves/1/8 tsp kosher salt*, wrapped in bib lettuce
– 1 cup chopped pineapple
– 1 medjool date

Items with * were “cheat” items, because they were processed. The meatloaf was leftover from dinner the night before and was made with a small amount of tofu and salt, otherwise it would have actually been allowed.

Items with ** had added salt. I decided to allow myself up to 1500 mg of sodium per day, and on most days, I didn’t reach that level.

So, how did I feel? Honestly, great. My energy levels were as high as I can remember them being for months, despite having one of the worst weeks of sleep in months (due to non-diet related factors beyond my control). I was full all the time, and had a hard time getting in enough calories each day because the food is so nutrient dense and so light in calories. I didn’t miss beer, which I thought would be awful trying to live without, and I weaned myself from a highly-caffeinated two cups of coffee each morning to a brew that was 2/3 decaf.

I did find that I needed the protein supplement in my morning smoothie every day in order to hit my desired range of 80 -100 grams of protein per day, which I wanted because I’m trying to keep or build a little muscle while training for a marathon, but it would have been easy to hit the normal 60-70 grams of protein my body actually needs for normal function without the protein powder.

Cravings? Oddly, I had NONE the entire week until Saturday. I suspect it was because I knew the diet was ending on Sunday, so I started allowing myself to think about my usual “favorites,” bread, Toasted Oatmeal Flakes, and beer. The whole rest of the week, I didn’t feel deprived at all. There was tons of chocolate around the house and enough flour and other ingredients on hand for me to bake 200 loaves of bread, but I didn’t think about it. Apart from eating about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate over the whole week, the only sweet things I had were dried apricots, pineapple and dates.

Would I keep this diet up indefinitely? I think it would be difficult unless my spouse were on board (she was out of town this week). Certainly, eating out becomes a futile endeavor at all but the snob-snobbiest of health-food places. I will definitely keep some parts of the diet in, though. Like a whole-grain and fruit breakfast. I found that I only craved my usual junky cereal in the evening (Saturday and Sunday only) and I looked forward to a healthier breakfast each morning.

I will also try to cut out entirely the vegan meat substitutes I often eat, usually out of convenience. I may occasionally have tofu or tempeh, but processed veggie burgers and fake chicken nuggets have no place in my diet going forward.

While I didn’t miss bread or pasta much at all, I am sure that once it’s around again when my wife returns home from her trip, I’ll eat some. That being said, I won’t plan meals around those things any more, and will opt instead for healthier whole-grain dishes.

The toughest part for me was the salt – which is why I made the exception, and the plant milks – which I feel are necessary for jazzing up the oatmeal and other breakfast grains. I know I could make my own, and then it would be (by my standards at least) more of a whole food, but I’m not quite that ambitious. Yet.

I like doing things like this every once in awhile – try an extreme diet or workout program – just to see what sticks. It’s also interesting to watch my own reaction to the process. How will I battle a craving, how will I motivate myself to finish a tough workout, that sort of thing.

It’s this short-term, extreme leap-frogging approach that has helped me get as fit and healthy as I am today. My diet and exercise regimens are a far cry from where they were ten years ago, and I didn’t just wake up one morning and change it all. Testing my boundaries and looking at the process in a curious, scientific sort of way has led me to where I am today. I can’t wait to see where I am ten years from now!

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