Climbing Health Care: The Vegan Diet
I wanted to ask you about your diet and nutrition. I just started reading this book called “The China Study” and it basically focuses on a vegan diet for lifelong health and to help avoid cancer. I have read that you are a vegan, and you obviously climb ridiculously strong.
Do you have any advice for a woman climber who is considering the vegan diet? I am already a vegetarian, but I use a lot of dairy to supplement my protein needs.
Thanks so much. I think you are so awesome!
Thanks for writing! I have been vegan for about 7 years now. Originally I was looking for the most effective fuel for sports, weight management and health. I systematically tried several different eating systems, reading books first and then following them for six months each. At the time, not many people were proponents of veganism for athletics, so it was last on my list, and much to my surprise, blew all the other eating systems away with results.
Then, as I learned more about factory farming, I felt unable to contribute to a system that victimizes animals with my consumer choices. I want to take care of helpless creatures, not hurt them. In this country, there is a huge problem with animal torture because of money-saving factory farming systems. Animals raised in factory farms live unnatural and wretched lives, and anything you eat which you have not personally seen being raised is very likely to come from that system. I strongly believe this is unhealthy for everyone, physically and spiritually.
So being vegan takes care of both.
A lot of people ask “how do you get enough protein and calcium?” As I understand it, most Americans ingest far more protein than the body can actually process. You’ll get about a million different answers for how much protein one needs per day. An average sized person probably should eat about 30-50 grams per day, according to people who study these things (at least, this is the average I can come up with, based on the many different studies I’ve seen on it). To put that into perspective, a half cup of tofu has 20 grams of protein and a 6 oz steak has 42 grams. Keep in mind that everything, including grains and vegetables, has a few grams of protein in it. So if you just eat a normal, healthy, whole foods diet, you get more than enough protein every day. I don’t even pay attention to it myself, and I get plenty.
I was amazed when I learned that calcium from dairy does not always absorb into your system as well as calcium from greens and legumes, like brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens and Swiss chard. It can be inaccurate to say how much calcium is IN a dairy product. It may be in there, but it doesn’t necessarily stay in you. Calcium from dark greens and beans (and tofu too) actually puts more calcium in you, where you want it.
Interestingly, after I fractured my pelvis a while ago, I was craving tofu and sauteed greens every day, even more than usual. I healed really fast.
I noticed that when I cut out junk food, refined sugar and processed foods from my diet, my tastes became much simpler and more in tune with what my body actually needs. Usually when I crave a specific food, it’s something like brown rice or tomatoes, so I know it’s something I need to eat. Eating a simple, whole foods diet guarantees better health.
The one thing the vegan diet lacks, and this is a fairly recent issue, is B vitamins. Apparently these used to be more present in soil, and because of lack of refrigeration in days past, people also ate more fermented foods which were not as sterilized in the way things are now, and this also offered more B vitamins. Again, the Bs you get with supplements are generally better processed by your body than much of the Bs you get from animal products (often present due to contamination in slaughterhouses. ugh). I eat nutritional yeast, which is delicious, and has a lot of Bs.
It’s pretty established now that the vegan diet is the best way to stay healthy in the longterm. Avoiding mass produced animal products is the single biggest thing you can do right now to reduce your environmental impact. It is also a very inexpensive way to eat. You can research all this in about five minutes with a google search.
I think it’s great you are looking for the best way to fuel your body and take care of yourself. Just like climbing gear, the better you take care of your body, the better it will function.
Also, striving to be compassionate and to help more than you harm is very healthy for you and for our society. Even if you choose to eat animal products, make the effort to find foods that have been produced without forcing animals to live unnatural, painful lives–for example, fish that lived freely in oceans and streams, or milk and eggs from animals that live in a comfortable, traditional pastoral situation.
The science is all very interesting, and you could study it forever, but I feel sure that helping those who are easily exploited and practicing kindness is the best thing you can do for your health. The health benefits of vegan choices seem to support that.