Back in 2008, my dad was diagnosed with MS. This is not a pity post, but you need to start there to understand the driving force behind the family’s epic push to find healthier ways to eat. Around that time, and for most of my childhood, my family had eaten pretty well. We always had a salad and another veggie (usually peas/corn/beans of some kind) at every dinner, we ate a broad variety of foods since my mother enjoyed trying flavors from around the world as a way to keep cooking dinner an exciting prospect, and we were moderately active. I think we always assumed we were about as healthy as we could get.
Then came 2008 and the diagnosis. Nothing changed immediately. My dad has relatively mild MS (or “mild,” in that he’s only slowly losing the mobility of one leg and doesn’t have debilitating flareups), so although he still had his “T-Rex Walk” as we called it–the walk he adopted whenever we’d walked more than a mile and he started getting tired–we didn’t see or make a whole lot of changes.
Fast forward to 2012. Dad’s still progressing slowly, but my parents decide to stop his MS medication, because the depression side-effect of the medication he was on (and the general discomfort of every-other-day shots) was worse than his periodic (and still mild) flareups. The depression really took a toll on him. While I worried about the decision to stop the medication, I can’t say it was a bad decision when observing my dad’s drastic improvement in energy, interest, and proactivity. But not taking the medication did mean they felt more responsible for his health. My mother had read The Wahls Protocol by Dr. Terry Wahls, and so around 2013, they started really upping their vegetable intake (I think Wahls recommends 9 cups or something wild like that).
They’ve since moved away from the Paleo idea, but the vegetable increase stuck because it did have unexpected positive health results (which I won’t go into here in detail, but if you know what Metamucil is for, you get the drift). I lived with them while I was pregnant with the Little Guy during Andy’s final away-rotations in med school, so I got the benefit of eating a lot more vegetables, too. There are some notable perks to predominantly eating vegetables (or even just a lot more than usual). Besides the above mentioned improvement, you also have fewer “hangry” moments (which I was life-long accustomed to) because your blood sugar doesn’t drop off so fast after a meal. Yes, as one first starts eating a lot of veggies, you get crampy and uncomfortable, but if you keep eating veggies rather than stopping (as I used to do in college, thinking I was allergic to the industrial salad dressing, etc.), it actually passes completely.
Then came along the Human Microbiome Project and The Good Gut by Drs. Justin and Erica Sonnenburg. My mom really got into this, and for probably six months it’s all we heard about. (To be fair, I also process by talking, so beware when I get fixated on something!) Also pro-veggie-fiber. During this time, my mother also came across some studies (it may be mentioned in Wahls’ book, too) that suggested that dairy protein may be linked to MS flareups, given the similarities between dairy protein and the myelin sheaths around our nerves (a part of our bodies MS drives our immune system to attack). Then came In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, and most recently The China Study, also supportive of vegetable-based diet and (at least in The China Study) low milk consumption.
*GASPS FOR AIR* So. All this long, long, long documentation of how the heck we get to today: I’m not going vegan, and neither is my family. But we are making a concentrated effort to eat a more vegetable-based diet, and reduce our milk consumption. It’s not an easy process, even coming from a family that has always valued making our own food, healthy-eating, and moderation in all things. I’m definitely not convinced that any specific diet is “the key to all health” because that’s nonsense. That said, eating more veggies has done me no harm, and actually has done me some good, so I’m glad to continue experimenting. We don’t “slip up” and eat meat; we do still eat meat occasionally, particularly if we’re going out to eat (which, honestly, we shouldn’t be doing all that often financially, anyway!). But we’re trying to move towards a lifestyle in which we consume meat/cheese-heavy/sugar-heavy products mostly when celebrating big events (birthdays, holidays, etc.), and rarely in between. We’re not there yet, but I am trying out more vegetarian recipes at home, so periodically, I may post something we found tasty that happens also to be veggie-heavy.
So at least for now, we’re going vegetarian-ish, but with a little wiggle room. :)