Can I shun the meat?
The new generation might be more familiar with House of Wagyu but the “millenniors” (seniors with millennial hearts and spirits) would be more familiar with Melo’s, the first restaurant in the Philippines to specialize in Certified Angus Beef, way back in 1987.
Fast forward to 32 years later, Carmelo “Melo” Santiago, as he is called by his friends, is still regarded as one of the experts. So, during his birthday dinner last week at his home, I had to have a bite of the steak he was serving. After all, a food writer needs to find out and taste what the country’s steak pioneer serves in his own home, right?
Philippine Stock Exchange chair and former Finance Secretary Jose “Titoy” Pardo, one of Melo’s guests, was quick to notice my plate of steak and said, laughing in kind admonition, “Margaux, I read your column where you said that you are now on a plant-based diet. I will take your photo because that is evidence you are not following it.” Uh-oh, busted! My consuelo de amor is the confirmation that he reads the Inquirer Business. But having been caught red-handed, I may have to go to confession to Fr. Anton Pascual of Caritas, who convinced me to stop eating meat.
Lest the good secretary think I subscribe to fake news, please allow me to elaborate further on this mission for healthy living involving the so-called “plant-based diet” using information I also just learned recently myself.
Plant-based is not vegan
Here’s the good news: going on a plant-based diet does not mean you must stop eating meat. Hallelujah! I just learned about this recently, after my feature about Corner Tree Cafe and a list of vegan restaurants was shared to a vegan community group and it was pointed out by a snooty reader that I did not know the difference between a vegan and a plant-based diet.
I am grateful for the enlightenment from Ms. Snooty, though, because that changes the entire perspective of going on a plant-based diet from exacting to encouraging. I am happy to know that one can still eat steak while at the same time be on a plant-based diet.
Here is the definition of a plant-based diet according to an article on the Harvard website:
“Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan, and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.” (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760)
Apparently, there are many ways to go on a plant-based diet. Another Harvard article encourages you to choose; it may or may not be a vegan or even a vegetarian diet. “What is the right plant-based diet for you? You don’t need to go full vegetarian or vegan (avoiding all animal products, even eggs and dairy) to get the best heart health benefits. The focus should be on eating more of the right plants, avoiding the wrong kind, eliminating unhealthy foods and moderating your intake of healthier animal products,” says an article in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch (https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-right-plant-based-diet-for-you).
Health coach Arla Salcedo, who goes by the name of Plant-based Pilipina (you can find her on Instagram @plantbasedpilipina), says that this diet is just a “theme” of putting plant food on your plate first and animal-based food second or not at all. “I like to specify and say vegetables first because eating more vegetables is the one thing all fad diets have in common,” she explains. “Plus, the research is full of evidence that eating more vegetables is the best thing you can do in terms of diet.”
She says this is a more back-to-basics approach to wellness. She offers this practical tip: Always ask if the restaurant can change your side of fries, mashed potatoes or rice to veggies.
Vegan is not necessarily healthy
Wellness enthusiast and naturopathic medicine student Tyler Jean who goes by the name of @functional.foods on Instagram also emphasizes that a vegan diet is not necessarily a healthy diet if your “food” is comprised of processed ingredients and “fake meat.”
“Just because something is labeled ‘vegan,’ it does not mean it is a healthy choice,” he explains. “If you look at the research on the health benefits of a vegan diet, the research is not based on soy imitation meats or processed grain and sugar-laden sweet treats. Oreos and a Coke, and french fries are all vegan … ”
What is more important, he says, is to eat whole foods (without necessarily giving up meat). “A truly vegan diet celebrates nutrient-dense whole foods that are made up of whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and herbs.”
So a steak dinner can still be healthy as long as a sizeable amount of your plate also has plants. “No matter how you slice and dice it, the foundation for all human diets should be centered around plants, especially vegetables,” Jean emphasizes. The usual steak dinner would have only mashed potatoes on the side; but for a plant-based or plant-focused steak dinner, by adding a lot of veggies on the side, you could have a balanced meal that includes fiber, greens, fat and protein. Just make sure that the fiber and greens make up the majority of your plate.
He learned this while going through the struggles of being vegan himself. “While I don’t eat meat every day, I have found that my body is more balanced when I include some high quality animal protein compared to when I was strict vegan,” he confesses.
But he offers these tips, which you can find on his page @functional.foods: (1) When it comes to animal products, consider the source. (2) Choose quality over quantity (so no all-you-can-eat steaks) (3) We are all unique individuals and therefore have different goals and needs. What works for one may not work for another. (4) Always aim to include fiber, greens, fat and protein in every meal. (5) You can’t eat enough vegetables and we need a lot more of them.
Happiness is a meal
Remember though, that wellness is not just about eating healthy. Arla has this to add: “Food on your plate is only secondary. Your relationships, career, physical activity and spirituality contribute to your well-being, too.”
“Most of the time, people turn to food for comfort or just focus on reaching a certain number on the scale. We (health coaches) are trained to look at all areas of a person’s life and see how they’re all connected. For example, if you’re always craving for sugar, it might be because you need more sweetness in your life, like you feel isolated, stressed, etc.” she adds.
So remember this tip from @plantbasedpilipina: the primary food is your overall well-being while food on the plate is only “secondary food.” Interesting that it all goes back to the wisdom in the Bible: Man cannot live on bread alone.
Now for my plant-based wellness meal this Sunday, I’ll have a hefty serving of the Gospel for my appetizer, a huge bowl of chopsuey for my main course with a six-ounce Melo’s Angus steak on the side, please. Then maybe a little tikoy to end the meal because Chinese New Year’s Eve is tomorrow.
Here’s to healthy living in the Year of the Pig!
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