Source: Web exclusive: July 2009
It’s no secret that plant foods are good for you. Whether it’s cruciferous vegetables preventing cancer or cherries fighting cholesterol, study after study appears in the news touting the benefits of fruits and vegetables in staying healthy and preventing chronic disease. And many Canadians are taking these recommendations to heart, increasing their consumption of plant foods as part of their regular diet.
But a diet that’s 100 percent made up of plant foods, most of them raw? To most of us, it sounds difficult, and extreme. But to Brendan Brazier, author of Thrive Diet and Thrive Fitness and creator of Vega, a company that creates whole-food supplements, raw and vegan is normal. Not only has he been eating that way since he was a teenager, but he’s built a career as a professional triathlete on nothing but plant foods.
Lately, Brazier has shifted his focus to Vega, to his books and to promoting good, healthy food to North Americans. Best Health spoke to him about how he got started and where he’s going.
Best Health: How did you get started with a vegan diet?
Brendan Brazier: It started off when I was 15 and I just wanted to be a good athlete. I didn’t care what I ate, if it would make me a better athlete. I learned that it’s not just about the training. It has to do with the rate of recovery. I started learning about nutrition for my lifestyle.
BH: How was your diet evolved since you first made the switch?
BB: Once I switched to a plant-based whole food diet it hasn’t changed a lot. I’ve included more raw than I started off doing initially. I’d say I eat 80 or 85 percent raw. When I’m on the road I don’t have the time or facility to prepare the food that’s in the meal plan, so I graze even more. I’m fortunate that I’m at a lot of health food stores a lot of the time, so I can get good food. Pretty much a big salad every night when I’m on the road, out of ease and simplicity.
BH: How often do you use trendier ingredients, like açai berries or pomegranate?
BB: I think açai is great, but personally I only buy it when blueberries are out of season. I like to buy what’s in season for where I am. I wouldn’t buy açai when blueberries are growing 20 km away, for example. When they’re not in season I’ll try things like açai. I think it’s just another good whole food that can be added to a broad range of whole foods.
BH: I find I crave a lot of raw foods in hot weather, but cooked on chilly days. Do you find it hard to eat raw in the winter?
BB: When I first started eating largely raw I found it a bit hard in the winter’in Vancouver, it was raining for months on end. But after going through a couple more springs and summers of eating raw, when winter came I developed the desire to eat less cooked foods. I wasn’t forcing myself to eat raw, I just ate whatever I felt like if it was whole, plant-based foods.
BH: A completely vegan diet is extremely difficult’and not necessarily desirable’for many people. How should the average person incorporate more plant-based foods without having to make major changes?
BB: I think it’s important to transition slowly. Some people will never eat 100 percent Thrive Diet, but one snack a day makes a huge difference. The meal plan is there for people who want structure and want a meal plan but you don’t have to follow it exactly to get good results.
I think one of the best ways is thinking of it as including new foods as opposed to removing old ones. One thing I’ve found to be effective is breakfast’it’s not such an emotional meal for people. Often people just grab something quick on their way out. A lot of people have had no intention of completely changing their diet, but they feel so good and their energy is even after changing their breakfast. If you can have that good breakfast that tastes good, blended fruit’people like smoothies’then they’re interested to see what else can improve in their life. Their sleep quality gets a bit better, it interests and encourages them to do a bit more. They often take charge at that point just because they feel it.
BH: I know some people complain of always being hungry when they’re not eating meat or dairy. How do you deal with hunger?
BB: When I first switched to a plant-based diet I was constantly hungry and didn’t have good energy levels. I was eating too many refined carbs’pasta, rice, potatoes’that initially feel filling but don’t stay with you. I switched from that to more nutrient-dense foods. Things like leafy greens, salads, a lot of the superfoods that I mention in the book, are much more nutrient-dense and therefore will nourish your body, which will trigger the hunger to be turned off.
BH: How did you get started with Vega?
BB: It started off in 2004. I had been making a blended drink for myself since I was about 15, then I partnered with Charles [Chang, of Sequel Naturals] in 2004 and brought out a replica of that, which became Vega Complete Whole Food Optimizer. From there we created energy bars and we just launched Vega Sport, a sport line that came out last month. It’s a pre-workout drink. Sprouted brown rice is the main ingredient, along with organic palm nectar. For immediate and sustained energy, yerba mate and green tea. Rhodiolo’helps dilate blood vessels. Devil’s claw helps numb the pain a little bit. Turmeric and ginger help reduce inflamation. Kombucha culture. All these different ingredients that help boost athletic performance. It’s a powder you mix with water.
BH: And what’s in store for the future?
BB: I’d like to continue the sport line. I’d like to do healthy whole food energy gels, because there’s nothing out there now, using recipes for similar gels to what’s in Thrive Fitness. Also, I’d like to get Vega out to more people. I’d like to develop smoothies that are in mass market. Only 4 percent of Canadian shop in health food stores. It’s not just athletic performance or for active people but for anyone who wants to achieve more.
I also recently created Thrivein30.com. It’s a free program that I set up’you can go there, sign up with your email address and you’ll get three emails a week for four weeks, comprised of the main topics in Thrive Diet and Thrive Fitness. It includes both video and text segments. I created that in an effort to help get this out to more people. I know not everyone’s going to read the book. I’ve got some feedback from people that they can’t get others to read the book. It’s another way of spreading the message to another group of people. It’s saying you can get all the information you need to apply it and spread the message. It’s trying to help people apply the information from what they probably already know. It’s simple but I think it can be effective if people are open to the information and trying it.
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