A (mostly) Plant-Based Protein Diet

Last night, I tried a fully vegan tasting menu at La Desalpe restaurant in Crans-Montana in collaboration with Summit Clinic. It was an immersive experience into the plant kingdom that everyone should try once in their life. Hint: you don't have to be a vegan. It's all about exploring alternatives, and here is why you should book a plant-based experience near you.

Vegan, Keto, or Clean Eating?

The vegan vs ketogenic debate has been ongoing for decades. As is the case with most scientific research, it's possible to use data to prove any side of the argument. Vegan and keto diets are extreme opposites of the spectrum: both can be efficient as a short-term solution (under the guidance of a medical nutritionist) but long-term, any extremisms in food consumption can cause long-term damage to our bodies. Even extremisms in "clean eating"  can be the root of food intolerances and trigger emotional eating patterns. Balance and variety are always a good approach, so personally, I always took a varied approach to my food:

  • Eating for function and health, but also pleasure (hello mental health and happy hormones!)

  • Adding as much variety as possible

  • Focusing on home-made and whole foods

  • Reducing sugars and processed foods

  • Prioritising ethically-sourced protein 

Problematics of Vegan Diets

Before I took the nutrition module as part of the NASM certification (National Academy of Sports Medicine), proteins and meal times had me confused. It was challenging for me to understand how plant proteins can measure up to animal proteins. Especially with the challenges surrounding the downsides of veganism which include:

  • Cases of immune deficiencies 

  • Reduction in mental and physical performance

  • Processed food vegan products, sugar and gluten-based vegan diets can increase fat gains

  • Over farming of products such as quinoa and tofu, causing a depletion of natural resources and wildlife*

  • Many vegan products are highly processed and contain synthetic (chemical) ingredients

  • Osteoporosis and nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B-12

  • Triggering of hormonal fluctuations

*soy and quinoa plantations have also been responsible for growing trends in deforestation and life loss of endangered animal species

I have several personal acquaintances who have suffered long-term health complications from switching to a fully vegan diet, and stepping away from veganism seems to be a growing trend in Hollywood.

Problematics of Paleo & Keto

Before you think I'm here to scaremonger against veganism, there may be even more reasons to steer away from keto and paleo-style diets:

  • Ethics, increased farming causing increased suffering and poor conditions for livestock and continued pressure to lower prices within the farming industry

  • Health implications leading to liver damage, kidney stones, and obesity just to name a few

  • Increased body inflammation which can lead to disease

  • Increased levels of 'bad' cholesterol

But I know plenty of people who thrive being a vegan!
But I know plenty of people who thrive on being on a keto diet.
Paleo is the way our bodies are biologically designed to eat!
Five small meals a day is better for you!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

...and while all of these statements can be true, they are NOT mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as the perfect diet to suit us all because digestion is so relative to each individual. Intermittent fasting is something that really works for me, but will NOT work for someone else with a different lifestyle, blood type or metabolism. Paleo, keto or veganism are some extreme types of diets that some people swear by and others condemn.

Combining Plant Proteins

Biological diversity is not just limited to physical features: it also affects our gut flora, our tolerance to certain foods and our performance requirements. On top of this, we need to consider the accumulation of toxins over time. These have a significant impact on our tolerance levels, as I recently discovered through personal experience.

Having had a relatively good diet throughout my life (I mean balanced, not fully orthodox!) as a fitness professional, I know the importance of proteins as part of a balanced diet is key. I was also keen to discover that mixing plant proteins was an essential part of a plant-based diet. Whereas a plant protein alone does not have the same qualities as an omnivore-based diet, the key is COMBINING plant proteins to create a complete protein combination.

For example, beans and rice combination have the same complete proteins as meat. In normal human-speak this means that if our body needed the colour "purple" (complete proteins) we need to mix red and blue together (partial proteins) for our body to get the purple.

While I was experimenting with a more varied approach to cooking with plants to supplement my fibre intake, something pretty spectacular happened. Before taking the NASM module, I had been suffering from bloating and digestive disturbances for about two years. As digestion had started to become my Achilles heel, I was adamant about getting the issue solved and I turned to Dr. Zana Fijan at Summit Clinic, a Doctor in cellular Biology and Nutrition who specialises in using Bioresonance and Chinese medicine. It was through her guidance and testing that I found out that the source of my problem, was in fact, an excess of ANIMAL PROTEINS (despite staying within the daily recommended protein intake). In fact, what I misunderstood wasn't the total amount of proteins: it was the SOURCE of the proteins which was causing issues and developing intolerances. 

Shifting to a (mostly) Plant-Based diet

Thankfully, now armed with a new understanding of plant-based proteins I was able to re-adjust my diet to find peace in my gut biome again, and bloating is a worry of the past for me. WHAT CHANGES HAVE I MADE to shift to a more sustainable, (almost) plant-based diet?

  • MIX proteins rather than relying on animal proteins and limited to one type of unsustainable sources of protein alone (i.e., also reducing quinoa and soy-based products). 

  • Researching plant protein combinations and sources

  • Switching to buckwheat and spelt flours for baking to supplement complete protein and fibre intake: I now bake one large batch of buckwheat protein bread per week and store slices in the freezer for daily usage. 

  • Reducing my animal proteins to 5% of my dietary intake, favouring ethically-sourced eggs, dairy products, fish, poultry or meat. Keeping a minimal amount of ethically-sourced animal protein is still something I am implementing. I still want to ensure my approach to nutrition stays varied, and intuitive to my body's needs and that my digestive system remains robust and tolerant.

Since switching to a (mostly) plant-based diet and reducing my animal protein intake, I have to admit that I feel my best. In the last six months, I have felt stronger, my immune system is positively booming and my athletic performance is peaking. Occasionally, I will need a small portion of fish or meat if I feel my concentration lagging: usually no more than once a week.

What Should I Do to Optimise My Diet?

Should everyone take this specific approach? ABSOLUTELY NOT! This is what works in my specific case, and I have made changes to suit my body, my environment, my personal ethics and by tuning into my body's needs. Here is how to approach your food consumption instead:

  1. Test, don't guess! Your nutrition criteria are based on your OWN body, environment, sustainable sources of food and your personal ethics. Holistic methods for testing your tolerances include:

  2. DNA testing kits (blood or saliva)

  3. An elimination diet with a QUALIFIED medical nutritionist

  4. Intolerance and Bioresonance tests with a qualified practitioner

  5. Research both sides of any argument before making your food choices. Remember, research is always somewhat biased. 

  6. Nature gives you everything you need. We have evolved to thrive alongside nature. Unless a doctor has specified your need for a particular nutritional supplement, you can find everything you need in nature with a balanced approach to nutrition. Keep it simple: focus on whole foods and keep a variety of colours in your refrigerator. 

  7. Follow recommended guidelines and learn to listen to your body. Experimenting with different approaches to diet plans can be helpful, but stay mindful of any extremes and aggressive marketing practices.

NOTE: In this article, I address the protein component of each of these diets using my particular story as an example. Keep in mind that nutrition is an incredibly complex topic with so many more variables than macronutrients alone! 

Yours in fitness & wellness,

Jessica Zoo Christensen

Jessica Christensen - Writer & Academy Director

Jessica is a holistic sports science & training specialist and industry innovator in the sports, fitness, and wellbeing education sector. With over 15 years of experience, her studies include NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Harvard Medical School HMX Physiology, L4 Advanced Anatomy & Physiology, Evolutionary Biology, Philosophy of Science, TQUK L3 Award in Education, with continuing studies in evolutionary biology and sports science USCCE Accredited Program Director.

Back to blog