Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Omni Status Update: One Year Post-Vegan

by Kristen Suzanne in food journal, Kristen Suzanne
Kamea when she turned 3 over the summer.

Kamea when she turned three over the summer.

I frequently get asked about my life these days. How is my family faring on our omnivore diet since ending a decade of being vegan (read more about that here and here)? What are we eating? How’s life in general?

Life in general is awesome. :) I’m living a dream life and feeling overflowing gratitude every day. We’ve been traveling a bit, going on lots of play dates, spending extra time with my parents, and we have seen the movie Frozen three times. :)

What are we eating? Has anything changed since my last update? Not much. You can pretty much see what we’ve been eating from my food journals and all of the recipes I post. But, for those who are new here, our diet is higher in fat, moderate for carbs (with some days being lower in carbs), and comprises a ton of high-quality animal products, including:

  • Wild caught fish, usually salmon (including wild caught salmon roe)
  • Grass-fed and pasture-raised meats (including massively nutrient dense organ meats and bone broths) How can I eat organ meats? Well, it’s been a process to find the best way I like them but finally that’s happened. I hide liver in butter-and-brandy-rich pate as well as in cheeseburgers smothered in BBQ sauce like this one. I hide beef heart in stew and enjoy some weird beef tongue in this recipe here (and beef tongue in ratatouille is my new favorite way, recipe coming soon). I am determined to keep my family eating grass fed offal (i.e., organ meats), and so far they’re totally loving them, thankfully, because the nutrition is stellar and unbelievable. These organ meats are the true super foods of the world.
  • Sardines, Oysters (and other shell fish)
  • Pasture-raised organic eggs
  • Organic vegetables
  • A little fruit (usually in the form of berries)
  • Grass-fed butter
  • High-quality oils (grass-fed ghee, high vitamin butter oil, coconut oil, MCT oil)
  • Coffee shakes (yum!)
  • Organic Norwalk cold pressed fresh green juice but the recipe is different from what I used to in the past (no heavy greens like kale, collards, or spinach because when we consume those now they’re cooked). The recipe is usually celery, cucumbers, romaine, cilantro, occasionally parsley and other herbs, and we might have a pint or two every week or so.
  • Supplements These change based on our diet for the week as well as new things I learn every day. I’ll soon share how I make my own liposomal vitamin C.
  • White rice (occasionally)
  • Dark organic fair trade chocolate
  • Raw organic sauerkraut (I love Farmhouse Kraut)
  • Nuts and seeds (sometimes these appear in the form of paleo style treats like my Vanilla Chocolate Chunk Cookies)
  • Dairy products like raw grass-fed organic cheese, grass-fed organic ice cream (not raw, usually Straus brand), and grass-fed organic yogurt (not raw). After some experimentation it seems we tolerate them very well. The ice cream and yogurt make up a very small percentage of our diet and it doesn’t make a regular appearance, but we do have it sometimes. It must be from free range grass fed cows and organic. I go back and forth on dairy… some say it creates inflammation but others say if it’s high quality and tolerated then it can be very nutrient dense.Therefore, we enjoy it at times and other times we abstain for awhile.

As you can imagine, we don’t eat out very much. As much as I love cooking, I do need a break from the kitchen. I make almost everything from scratch, and that’s a lot of time in the kitchen for three meals a day. So on occasion we go out to eat for gluten-free pizza (maybe once every 10 to 14 days) and we also go to Chipotle every couple of weeks. I really don’t care for Chipotle’s crap oils they use on their rice and for cooking, but a girl needs a break from meal prep, ya know? I sure wish there were some options with truly high quality everything. I can find a grass fed burger here in Scottsdale, but the salad it’s served with has junk canola oil on it as an example. Sigh.

In my effort to keep my food prep simple as a busy mom, I rely heavily on my many slow cookers (mini, 6 quarts, 7 quarts, and 8 quarts) and my Kitchen BFF, the great  sous vide. My goodness these are game changing tools in the kitchen for not only making the easiest meals ever, but also the most delicious and healthy. I also try to cook pretty big batches of recipes so that we can eat leftovers for the following day’s lunch (or breakfast). For example, when I make the Liver n Beef Bun-less Cheeseburgers, I cut Kamea’s patty in half so she can have half for dinner and half for breakfast the next day. Here are some more details to give a better picture…

Breakfast

  • Kamea, my three year old, usually has a breakfast where the following rotate and make appearances: pasture raised eggs that are gently scrambled over low heat with organic ghee (and salsa sometimes), wild caught salmon roe, sea spaghetti she eats right out of the bag (I can’t stand the stuff soaked / prepared, but munching on it right from the bag isn’t bad. I keep it in our diet for the minerals), organic berries (sometimes organic banana or apple), organic raw nuts, red / orange / and yellow bell pepper, homemade pasture raised organic chicken liver pate, grass fed beef summer sausage, reputable raw grass fed cheese (I buy 5-Spoke brand at Whole Foods), and occasionally veggies make an appearance in the morning (they’re usually at lunch and dinner). That’s off the top of my head but it’s a pretty solid list of things she eats for breakfast. Oh, and sometimes she has sardines (learn killer ways to make them here but we usually just eat them straight from the can nowadays).
  • Greg is usually asleep while we have breakfast but he has his coffee shake with protein and raw eggs when he wakes up (during our lunch time).
  • Kristen (that’s me)… I usually have a coffee shake or organic tea, and Kamea likes to take a few sips. I also chug down 2 to 3 raw egg yolks or I’ll have wild caught roe if that’s on the menu for the day (we try to have roe 1 to 2 times a week).

Lunch

  • Kamea’s (and my) lunch is usually organic vegetables, avocado, homemade broth, soup, left overs from the night before, Kit’s organic bar, nuts, fruit… you get the idea. If she doesn’t have eggs for breakfast, I might make them at lunch and add a bunch of veggies and herbs. Sardines and low mercury tuna or wild caught smoked sockeye salmon (this brand, SeaBear, is amazing and can be stored in the cupboard – I buy it on Amazon’s Subscribe and Save to save money) are all easy lunches. Again, this is off the top of my head, but it gives you an idea.
  • I make some extra and set it aside for Greg to snack on before dinner.

Dinner

  • We all eat dinner together and it’s usually animal protein (wild caught fish, grass fed beef or bison, organ meat, or pasture raised organic chicken) and veggies. But! I like to have extra fun sometimes so I make gluten free / grain free pancakes topped with grass fed butter and maple syrup for dinner. :) I’ll share my recipe soon.

Like I wrote earlier, sometimes organic grass fed yogurt makes an appearance or gluten free pizza, etc, but the above give the majority of our foods. Our primary beverages are water, tea (usually herbal), and coffee (usually decaf), and I sometimes add Upgraded Collagen to both Kamea’s and mine. Sometimes we have kombucha.

How are we feeling?

It’s been over a year now so I thought I’d reassess and let everyone know. Reassessing is always important no matter what you’re doing whether it’s exercise, diet, supplements, a job, school, anything. Being open-minded and asking questions helps to reassess and decide if things are working as well as they should be. Things change, right? I mean, I was vegan for so long — too long — because I didn’t reassess. What I didn’t realize was that it’s possible to feel well being vegan for a while, depending on where you’re coming from in your diet. But, things can change over time and gradual depletions can occur. It happened to us. Or people age and hormones change. Or people become pregnant, have babies, lactate, and things change. My point is that it’s important to reassess as you live, because what works at one time in your life might not be the same later. Or heck, the world changes. When I went vegan a decade ago, the world was very different regarding animal food options in the quality available and the animal welfare. Now we can buy high quality grass-fed foods online with the click of a button, and we’re seeing gluten-free options in more restaurants every day.

Overall Health and Wellbeing

Over a year since going omnivore, we still feel great. During our time as vegans, especially near the end, Greg was frequently injuring joints when exercising, or heck, he could sneeze and tweak his neck or back. It was getting to be a real nuisance, not only painful, but it kept him out of the gym and he loves to work out. At the time though, I had no idea that our vegan diet could’ve been causing inflammation and that we weren’t getting proper nutrients to build strong bodies. During this past 1+ year as omnivores… no injuries and his strength has increased. Interestingly, that’s with him not even consuming tons of protein like he did as a vegan. There was a long period, while vegan, where he would drink 3 to 4 double (or triple) scoop protein shakes with vegan protein powders. He was able to experience some strength, but it was so much more work than it is now (and that’s with him being older now). With our diet now, he consumes less protein, way fewer shakes which are with grass-fed whey, and he’s feeling strong in the gym. But now it’s not as much work. The absence of injures has also allowed him to be much more consistent (months without missing a workout) and work out harder, pushing more weight and not feeling that he needs to baby his joints. He says it’s like the kinks that he used to attribute to getting older are just not there anymore.

Fertility

Our fertility has improved by way of my hormones and cycle being damn near flawless. My cycle now regularly comes but it sneaks up on me because I rarely experience any PMS. No cramps, no headaches, no zits. I sometimes get a day of being a bit tired before my cycle, but it’s so much easier on me now than it was before when I was vegan. I’ll say that way back years ago, pre-vegan, when I was on a normal diet of wheat, hormone filled meats, veggies, oatmeals, cereals, milk, etc, my cycles were horrible. So much pain. Then, I went vegan and raw, cleaned up my diet and I experienced improvement. But, then I stayed vegan so long, missed out on important nutrients (and became depleted over time) that my periods started getting ridiculous again and painful… tired… pimples. It sucked. Then, I went omnivore in November 2012, by simply adding pasture-raised eggs to my diet and cod liver oil. Holy moly, my cycle changed virtually overnight. Since then, as you know we’ve gone full-on omni and my cycle has been great. I’m still amazed it’s such a breeze.

Greg’s fertility has improved as well, which we quantify based on our DIY semen analysis using a microscope. The analyses are not quite lab quality (they use imaging software to get more accurate numbers), but we have a baseline and can see trends and there’s improvement. I’m not pregnant yet, but we have a solid chance of making it happen naturally. Trouble with that is we’re not getting any younger. I’m turning 38 this year and Greg is in his 40s. We welcome another baby, and Kamea very much wants a sibling, so we’re feeling a bit of pressure to make it happen sooner rather than later. More on that in a future post.

Teeth

I had some terrible experiences with my teeth when I was vegan in spite of eating a diet full of supplements and without junk food. Now I know I was missing important nutrients. This whole year my teeth have been great with the exception of a problem that has reared its head as a result of the root canal I had to have while vegan! However, so far it’s under control with diet and the oral care I use. I have high hopes that I can continue to stay out of the dentist’s chair if I keep my diet in check, which of course I will.

When I look at Kamea’s teeth now versus when she was vegan, it’s a difference, too. We healed what we think was a cavity with nutrition. Her one dental visit we took her to for a checkup after she turned three was that her teeth were in great shape. I’m scared to think of how her teeth could’ve faired had we stayed vegan. And, I’ll say this… people who eat omni can still have teeth problems. It’s the difference of eating super high quality nutrient rich omni foods while cutting grains and junk, too. Teeth need specific nutrients for a healthy mouth.

Skin

My skin has stayed wonderful this whole year as well as my body composition. Goodness what a friggin’ relief. My beauty routine is ridiculously simple (read here) yet my skin looks great, though I’m still fighting the aging that my vegan (and high carb) diet caused. I’m seeing improvements though. Yippee.

The good news is that my skin has its natural healthy tone and is no longer ashy / pale colored. I rarely get a pimple, and if I do, it heals with lightning speed which was something I didn’t do well as a vegan. No wonder since I wasn’t getting zinc that assimilates properly, skin building nutrients like retinol (only available from animal products I learned) and quality omegas and fats, plus more.

Digestion

My digestion continues to feel good. Oh man, the times I was bloated while vegan. Ugh. Now that I’ve cut grains, soy, and wheat out of our diet (except for some white rice as noted above) I don’t get bloated. It really is that simple for me. And, TMI, but I don’t… err … gas? Not an issue this year. I can’t help but laugh at how bad my gas was for the decade I was vegan. It was so bad that it got to the point where I’d just say to Greg, “Don’t breathe” and he’d know. How embarrassing, I can’t believe I’m even telling you all this, but the change was so big and immediate that I think people should know. Gas is not an issue on my high quality omnivore diet with extremely limited grains, no legumes, no soy, and no crap.

Kamea’s Overall Health and Development

Kamea, our 3.5 year old daughter, is thriving. Her body filled out after introducing the foods mentioned above, her color is gorgeous, and her development is great. She looks much healthier than when she was vegan. Oh the relief(!) I feel knowing what I know now, and ever grateful for the changes I made once I opened up my eyes to the life we were living and the vegan “research” I was parroting. The nutrients she was missing – not cool. I thought she was getting enough (of certain nutrients) with nuts, seeds, grains, lentils, beans, etc, but it seems that many of the nutrients in those foods aren’t very bioavailable so she likely was not getting them. I thought if she ate enough beta-carotene from carrots and greens that she’d get enough vitamin A but that’s not true. It converts very little to vitamin A, and in some people not at all, and in children it’s particularly poor. I thought she (and we) could get proper iron, protein, omegas, and zinc from plants, but it doesn’t look like it based on the research I’ve done this year, not to mention the way we felt toward the end of our vegan chapter. These are seriously important nutrients and it was evident we weren’t getting them (or enough of them) from the way we looked and felt, in spite of the supposedly ideal diet we ate of organic whole plant foods (including some gluten and non-gmo soy), home prepared usually, supplements and tonic herbs, super foods, and gallons of green juice.

Damn if I don’t feel frustration and regret, even today, when I look back to pregnancy, nursing, and raising my baby as a vegan. Turns out it wasn’t a good solution for us. I remember back during our time as vegans I posted a picture of Kamea on my blog. Someone wrote in saying how she thought Kamea looked weak and sickly. I was blind to it and offended. This mama bear thought I was doing everything ideal for my child. Her comment about Kamea really bothered me but I blew it off as saying it was poor lighting in the picture. I think back upon that now and I want to cry. I recently looked at videos and pictures of Kamea in her diaper when she was 2. F#*k, she was … err… lean. I chalked it off that our family has lean kids since there were professional sources saying it’s totally safe and healthy raising a vegan child, and anyway, I wasn’t feeding her any junk foods. I was wrong. Now I’m different though. I pay attention better, remain humble, and consistently reassess. I’m willing to make whatever changes are necessary for us to have optimal health.

I’ll be honest though, I feel burned after wearing my rose-tinted vegan glasses for so long that I can’t help but be skeptical of everything I read these days. I suppose that’s a good thing though. Constantly question everything. That being said, if I look at history, biology, genetics, and most importantly the changes in my family’s bodies, then I’m a believer that we’re on the right path.

So there you have it. It’s been over a year since we ended our decade of veganism. We reassess our choices frequently, read as much as we can, experiment and pay attention to our bodies, and we’re doing great. I’ll continue to update on our lives more often.

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