I am lucky to have met nutritionist Amira Elgan, having had a similar experience of declined health after being a “healthy” vegan. She has many valid points and “the Spartan” diet that she created makes sense. This is her story, if you are vegan, please just give us a chance to hear what she has to say, this is your health we are talking about. Here is what she posted in her “beyond organic vegan” newsletter.
My journey and how after more than two decades of being vegetarian and vegan I had to give it up to reclaim my health.
Published August 29, 2010
By Amira Elgan
I’ve been writing and publishing the Vegetarian Organic Life newsletter since May, 2003. Sharing my ideas, recipes and discoveries with my wonderful readers has been the great joy of my life.
I hope you have enjoyed my newsletter and have gained something of value from my recipes, tips, opinions, observations and advice. But I’m about to take it all to the next level. Will you join me?
I have spent the past two years developing a completely new approach to diet. As you may recall, my husband, Mike, and I spent some time in Greece where we researched and became inspired by the Mediterranean diet, ancient Greek foods and ancient Spartan culture. Since then, Mike and I have been working together on a new diet and lifestyle book called The Spartan Diet.
We call the Spartan Diet the “healthiest diet in history” because it takes everything mankind has learned about food, diet and health from ancient times to today, and — most importantly — brings that knowledge into actual daily practice.
The Spartan Diet is about achieving optimum health for the rest of your life with a total health lifestyle that is sustainable, gratifying and empowering. It’s about transforming yourself to be the healthiest you can possibly be within your own circumstances.
I’ve also always emphasized the best techniques for finding, choosing, buying, storing, cooking, serving and enjoying food that’s both organic and vegetarian. I’ve obsessed over the importance of high-quality ingredients, farm-fresh produce, nutritionally balanced meals — as well as the role of non-dietary health factors such as close relationships, exercise and overall happiness.
The Spartan Diet is the culmination of my search for an optimum diet and a way of life that promotes maximum well being for a lifetime of vibrant health. It’s been developed not with the objective to find one diet for everybody, but a system of principles that enable each person to follow their own individual best diet.
Why the Spartan Diet Goes Beyond Vegetarian Organic
Though I’ve practiced vegetarianism for over two decades, I’ve always promoted the idea that not one diet fits all. And I’ve consistently advocated the idea that the foundation of a healthy diet is education — about yourself, your own health and the foods you eat. Knowledge, after all, is the foundation that empowers us to make wise choices in life and for life.
You may be surprised to learn that the Spartan Diet is actually neutral on the question of vegetarianism. The reason is that many people benefit from eating animal protein including meat, fish and eggs.
It’s important to craft a diet based on your own values, and the Spartan Diet enables you to do that. For example, if you’re passionate about the issues of animal cruelty or the environment, it’s important to live a lifestyle and eat a diet consistent with those values. If you have religious considerations governing food, such as Buddhist veganism, Jewish Kosher Law or Islamic Halal, the Spartan Diet enables you to fully embrace those considerations while eating the healthiest diet possible within your own circumstances.
The Spartan diet supports the fact that everyone is different with different dietary needs due to many factors including health, environmental, socioeconomic, religious, genetic predisposition, and even eating preferences or personal choices. On the Spartan Diet you can choose to be a Spartan omnivore, Spartan vegan, Spartan vegetarian, Spartan pescetarian and even a Spartan raw foodist.
But even for those who choose to eat meat, the Spartan Diet has a great many restrictions on the type and amount of meat to eat. Even for meat eaters, the Spartan Diet is still dominated by plant foods, and plant sources of protein. And, of course, the Spartan Diet is an organic diet.
So is the Spartan Diet vegetarian and organic? Well, if you have decided to be a vegetarian, then yes, it’s a vegetarian diet for you — and, I might add, the healthiest, most complete, balanced and pure vegetarian diet in the world. And it’s an organic diet for everybody.
The diet and the book take inspiration from Classical-Era Sparta. Note that the Spartan Diet is not a re-creation of the actual diet of the Spartans, but a very modern diet inspired not only from Spartan foods but also a wide range of their ideas and practices.
It turns out that the ancient Spartans were probably the healthiest population of people who ever lived anywhere at any time.
Of course, they ate a superior version of what we might now call the “Mediterranean Diet” based on unrefined olive oil, wheat and barley, fresh produce and wild-caught seafood. They preferred wild game (in very small quantities) to domesticated animal meat.
While the Ancient Greek diet was vastly superior to our own, the Spartans ate far better than other Greeks. For example, Spartan men drank only tiny quantities of wine. They ate more fresh produce in greater variety, in part because every male Spartan citizen owned a farm. Unlike other ancient societies, the richest Spartans were banned from indulging in fatty delicacies, while the poorest were spared from nutritional imbalance by mandated food sharing. All Spartans ate the same incredible, fresh, natural food in carefully limited quantities.
Of course, high-quality, balanced diets are obtainable in our own time. What’s truly valuable to us about the Spartan experience is the extensive set of rules and norms they imposed on themselves. For example, ancient Spartans — men, women, boys, girls and even older people — participated in exercise every day, outdoors. The Spartans were famous for eating very small portions of food. They avoided practices that cause people to lose faculties — for example, they didn’t use torches because they wanted to maximize night vision naturally.
And they seem to have entirely avoided a wide range of toxin sources that other Ancient peoples were exposed to. For example, the makeup and perfume used in Ancient Greece was toxic, but Spartan women didn’t use it (sellers of cosmetics were not allowed in the city). They didn’t roast anything. What little meat they ate was boiled.
Above all, the Spartans are the best example from history of a people who solved the larger problem that we have in modern times but that we have not solved: When food is plentiful and leisure time is available, how do you avoid falling into bad health?
We believe the answer for us in our own time is a combination of wisdom from the Ancient Spartans, and latest information from modern science — with a healthy portion of dietary insight and common sense. And that’s what the Spartan Diet does.
My Personal Journey
After eating a mostly vegan diet for the past two decades and always receiving a clean bill of health during my physical checkups every three to five years, my health recently changed.
A few months back, I started increasingly experiencing some noticeable physical discomforts. I was getting migraine headaches, feeling fatigued and had a few dizzy spells. Something wasn’t quite right with me and suspected nutrient deficiency.
I made an appointment to have a physical checkup, which I hadn’t had for a couple of years. I told my new doctor about my symptoms and, being vegan and having a history in the family of anemia and hypothyroidism, I requested my routine blood test including my usual testing of vitamin D, iron and B12 vitamin and thyroid hormone levels.
To my dismay, my suspicions were correct. Test results showed deficiencies of iron and B12 and significant deficiency of vitamin D as well as borderline abnormal thyroid levels. Everything else was perfect including cholesterol levels.
Though not surprising, given how I had been feeling, the news was disheartening. For the first time in two decades, my health was not perfect despite the healthy balanced diet I ate consisting of whole foods with lots of vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts and seeds every day.
If you’re a long-time reader of this newsletter, you are familiar with the fact that I’ve been a strong advocate of getting all your nutrients from whole foods, rather than supplements. Of course, my doctor prescribed me high dosages of vitamin D. Reluctantly I picked up the prescribed vitamins at the pharmacy. It was vitamin D3 made with gelatin and an artificial neurotoxin that causes hyperactivity in children among other things. I decided to pass on the toxic vitamins and look for other solutions.
Needless to say, I focused on eating whole foods that would provide not only vitamin D but also all the other nutrients I was deficient on. The main food sources of vitamin D include eggs and fish, neither of which was part of my diet.
Contrary to popular belief, milk has vitamin D only because it’s fortified with it artificially. And even though many Americans drink a lot of milk, you might be surprised to learn that at least 70 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. The problem is that most people are not tested for vitamin deficiency during their physical checkups.
Studies show that eating whole foods is the best way of getting nutrients. Even the best of supplements are not whole foods and therefore do not provide whole nutrition. Whole foods provide compounds that can never be recreated in labs or preserved and provided in pills. And of course even food-based supplements aren’t fresh foods.
Knowing that optimum nutrition involves getting all your nutrients from whole food sources, I decided it would be best to change my diet. I still don’t eat pasteurized dairy, but now I’m eat mostly a vegan diet along with some organic hand gathered eggs from free range chickens and wild-caught salmon about once per week.
It was definitely a huge deal for me to eat salmon after never eating any animal flesh for over two decades. I’m also taking some occasional supplements that are organic and made from raw whole foods. This is what I would recommend to a client in the same circumstances, and so I’m following my own advice.
Though a vegan diet worked perfectly well for me for over two decades, I will be turning 44 years old in December, and my body is definitely changing. As we age, our bodies degenerate at a molecular level. Nothing works as well as it worked during our teens and twenties. We don’t absorb nutrients as readily as we did when younger. Our skin is not as elastic, our hair turns gray, our eyesight deteriorates and every other bodily function is less than what it used to be.
One benefit of optimum nutrition is to slow these processes to the greatest extent possible. And that’s precisely why proper nourishment at all ages is essential. The latest studies show that deviating from a healthy whole foods diet even for short periods of time has cumulative long term effects on our bodies and overall health.
Anyone that has dined at my home knows the quality of food I eat and how devoted I am to eating a healthy well balanced diet. But no one can defy the laws of nature and the process of aging. However, it is within our power to choose wisely how we eat and live make to sure we age gracefully, vibrantly, healthfully and strongly.
Part 2 of Amira’s story is coming soon!