Continuing with my health theme, I just finished a short book by vegan Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier called, Thrive: A guide to optimal health & performance through plant-based whole foods. I first saw Brazier interviewed on a local news show (he’s from Vancouver) where he explained how he reduced and repaired his own physiological stress with proper diet. This caught my attention because the stress that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome puts on the body is quite similar to the stress elite athletes put themselves through. I am talking about things like microscopic muscle tears, excessive lactic acid production, adrenal burnout, and immune system dysfunction, all of which are major problems for athletes as well as people with CFS. The causes of these stresses may be different, but even symptomatic relief would be, well, a relief.
Brazier became a vegan as a teenager and had to seek plant-based means to improve his athletic performance. Over the years he gradually developed a diet which greatly improved his ability to train and his race results. This diet was based on whole plant foods with some important (whole food) supplements, and he also developed an easily digested meal replacement blender drink that he could take while training and racing. The latter has been made commercially available as a powder (“Vega“), and I’ve been taking the delicious concoction for the last month or so. It is an extremely convenient way to get complete, digestible, whole food nutrients, which is very important for someone who often lacks the energy to cook (and digest!) proper food. It also has a better nutritional balance than “energy bars,” which are often packed with sugars and always lacking in good fats.
As far as the cost benefit analysis goes, Vega is about $4.50 a serving, which is two mugs full. Personally I find half a serving quite filling, but YMMV. And note, this is real food, a government approved meal replacement, not a supplement, so it shouldn’t be an extra cost. It makes a good (and tasty) replacement for those easy but expensive and un-nutritious snack foods we all rely on when too busy or tired to cook. Brazier also gives a recipe for making the drink yourself at home, though I don’t know if it would cost any less than the prepared version because some of the ingredients are expensive at the retail level.
Getting back to the book… Brazier briefly describes how the foods we eat can induce or repair different kinds of physiological stress, which foods to avoid, and which foods are especially good for repairing stress caused by work, athletic training, emotional stress, pollution, or the occasional slice of pizza. His conclusion is basically the same as that in the last health book I reviewed: eat whole plant foods, and not much else. His list of “must eats” (my phrase not his) is compact, so I will reproduce it here:
- Whole Grains: High quality carbohydrates. Best choices are amaranth, quinoa, millet, wild rice, brown rice, and buckwheat (all are alkaline and gluten-free).
- Dark leafy green vegetables: Alkalizing, reduce lactic acid buildup (and just generally good for you)
- Legumes (especially yellow split peas): Rich source of protein, fibre, B vitamins
- Soy & Tofu: High quality, digestible protein
- Hemp foods: “Finest source of raw protein in nature.”
- Raw nuts and seeds: Especially flax, best plant source of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids; Sesame seeds, rich source of absorbable calcium (for muscle health); Pumpkin seeds, rich source of iron.
- Berries (especially blueberries): Antioxidants.
- Chlorella: Complete, digestible protein, detoxifier, rich source of vitamins (including B12) and minerals, almost a complete diet in itself (according to NASA).
- Maca: Adrenal adaptogen (nourishes and balances adrenal glands, whether under- or over-active).
- Ginger: Anti-inflammatory, digestive aid.
- Enzymes & Probiotics (intestinal bacteria): Improve digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Stevia: Non-glycemic sweetener, blood sugar regulator.
As I learned from Nutritional Immunology, many of these foods also have other amazing qualities that make them practically medicinal. And of course a complete diet would include other vegetables (he didn’t even mention broccoli!). He leans towards eating raw foods, but from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective that isn’t going to be suitable for everyone’s digestive system (although taking enzymes and probiotics might help that). In fact one of the best traditional Chinese health tonics is a thin rice porridge that’s been cooked for several hours, called congee. I’m also not as much of a vegan as Brazier. Chicken broth is an easily digestible and very nourishing food that I sometimes take, especially in winter. And since I read that fish oil has been found to improve memory in people with CFS (about the only treatment of any kind that has been scientifically determined to consistently benefit people with CFS), I have been taking salmon oil capsules, which has indeed significantly improved my memory (though it’s still not 100%). I don’t see a problem with eating modest amounts of wild or humanely raised organic animal products for medical reasons, but I certainly respect Brazier’s commitment to competing at the elite level without resorting to animal foods.
I should note that I read the first edition of Thrive, which is the only one the library had. The second edition is apparently much expanded, and he will soon be publishing a cookbook. For a taste of his cooking (or non-cooking, as the case may be), here is his recipe for a “Nutrient-rich Shake” (and let’s hope I’m not violating copyright here):
3 cups water
1 banana (electrolytes)
1/2 cup blueberries (antioxidants)
1/2 pear (natural sugar, fibre)
1 tablespoon hemp oil (essential fatty acids)
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (omega 3, fibre)
2 tablespoons hemp protein (complete protein)
1 teaspoon gelatinized maca powder (sterols, alkaloids, glucosinolates)
1 teaspoon chlorella powder (vitamin B12, chlorophyll, nucleic acids)
250mg dairy-free probiotics (good bacteria)
Optional: tablespoon of raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds; raw carob powder; tablespoon of pea protein concentrate; raw broccoli (ok, I made that one up, just checking to see if you’re still awake).
Just blenderize everything and enjoy the pleasantly smug feeling of eating super healthy food!
And while you’re sipping your shake, check out the Grocery Store Wars, where noble organic vegetables fight the evils of multinational genetically-engineered agribusiness. My favourite character? Chewbroccoli, of course!