We Are What We Eat

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The enthusiasm that Christine and Garry Welsh have for their new vegan diet is contagious.

We are never going to switch back, said Garry, 49. The food is delicious, varied and energizing. And with those words Garry and Christine launch into why they changed what was already a pretty healthy lifestyle for an even healthier one. As vegans, they eat no meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy products or eggs. We used to eat a lot of steak and chicken, said Garry, a business consultant in Windermere who advises companies struggling with their financial performance. l'll never do that again.

Garry and Christine have always tried to eat sensibly, and they work hard to stay in shape. Garry is training for an Ironman triathlon, which involves a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and capped off with a marathon (26.2-mile run). Christine, 53, is an avid golfer who has run a series of 5Ks and is training for her third half-marathon this fall. A good nutrition plan is essential for their active lives.

Christine, a nonsmoker who was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer, got the idea for the vegan diet after attending a motivational seminar in November. They talked about fitness and nutrition, said Christine, who lost about a third of her right lung after surgery at the AdventHealth Cancer Institute.  They talked about meat and things we aren't educated on. They didn't say not to eat meat, but they gave you the information for you to research and make your own decisions.

So that's what she did.

I did a lot of reading, said Christine, who has passed all of her checkups since the surgery. Everything I was told there I found out from other research. Once considered little more than a fad, vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more popular among mainstream Americans.

A 2011 poll by Harris Interactive for Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) found that 33 percent of American adults are eating vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time. Five percent said they never eat meat, fish, seafood or poultry while about half of that group are completely vegan. VRG is a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about vegetarianism and other issues related to health and nutrition. Eating smarter, whether that means cutting out sweets and soft drinks, adding more whole grains and vegetables or reducing red meat, is a staple of AdventHealth's Healthy 100. Being mindful of what, and how much, we eat is essential to living a longer and better quality of life.

Christine said coming up with vegan dishes and finding the right ingredients was time-consuming in the beginning. Now that she is more experienced, the meals are much easier to make. She also found a helpful free app from Whole Foods Market that has a variety of vegan recipes and tells where to find the ingredients. Publix has a similar free app.

It was a godsend, she said of the app. Breakfast at the Welsh home usually consists of a fresh fruit smoothie made with almond milk, flax seeds, and vegan protein powder, followed with a slice of whole grain bread topped with peanut or almond butter. Lunch might consist of a wrap with a special vegan spread or all-natural protein bars that Christine makes from scratch. Typical dinners include shepherd's pie with lots of vegetables and lentils instead of meat; meatballs or burgers made of black beans with a quinoa salad; vegetable curries or chili made with red and green peppers and tofu. Once a week they cook pizza made with vegan cheese and dough on the outdoor grill. That's a treat, Garry said.

Although Garry was in above-average shape before switching diets, he has lost 22 pounds since going vegan. And his cholesterol level, already good, has been cut in half. He said the diet helps him recover faster from hard workouts and has increased his energy.

I noticed a phenomenal difference from the beginning, he said. the leanest I've been since I met Christine 25 years ago. Secondly, I've always had a good level of energy. But now it's relentless. Going vegan certainly isn't for everyone, but making slight dietary modifications can make a difference in how you feel. What have you said Bye-bye to?

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