07/18/2014 05:34 EDT | Updated 09/17/2014 05:59 EDT

How I Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet


We've all heard the expression "You are what you eat." Increasingly, that's the case with the North American diet. Over consumption of highly processed foods and eating for stimulation instead of nourishment is taking its toll on our collective health.

It's time to make a change and start eating with purpose to live well.

At the age of 15, I got serious about fitness, gradually increasing my running and cycling and then adding swimming to the list. I became a serious triathlete after high school and spent my entire life training. It became important to maximize the nourishment and energy I could acquire from food so my body could recover more quickly from all the physical activity. That's when I realized that a plant-based diet is the most efficient way to eat.

I developed the Thrive Diet with the idea of efficiency in mind. The Thrive Diet is an approach to eating that maximizes the health benefits of food, reduces stress and increases energy without stimulants. And it's simple if you follow three logical steps:

Eat foods for high-net-gain nutrition. The goal is to invest as little digestive energy as possible to get the most value for the food we eat. Highly processed foods require more digestive energy. Natural, unrefined food takes less energy to digest, so the best approach is to shift carbohydrate intake from refined pastas and breads to fruits and pseudograins (like quinoa or wild rice).

Choose alkaline forming foods. Based on a diet of highly processed foods and stimulants, many people have a higher acid level in their bodies, which can leave them feeling tired, bloated and weak. Alkaline helps blood neutralize acid, so eating foods rich in chlorophyll and minerals, like lemons, grapefruits, mangoes, asparagus, beets and broccoli, can help achieve pH balance.

Acquire energy through nourishment not stimulation. It's more tempting than ever to eat foods that are high in refined sugar or to drink coffee to get short-term energy. The ensuing energy crash is what I call biological debt. Focus instead on nutrient dense, whole foods -- choose nuts over chips, fruit or vegetable juice over pop.

The Thrive approach is about knowing what foods to choose at your grocery or health food store. If you stock your pantry with the best foods, making the switch to a plant-based, whole foods diet will be that much easier.

In my most recent book, The Thrive Energy Cookbook, I've included a food pyramid that will help you select the right foods. Here are some ideas to get you started on a healthy, plant-based diet, including how much of each type of food the average person should consume each day.

The Thrive grocery list includes:

Fibrous vegetables (45 per cent of daily consumption): Asparagus, beets, carrots, chard, zucchini, beet greens, collards, dandelion greens, even sea vegetables like dulse or nori.

Fruits (20 per cent of daily consumption): Berries, bananas, and grapes

Proteins (20 per cent of your daily consumption): Legumes (beans, lentils, peas), seeds (hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds), pseudograins (amaranth, quinoa, wild rice)

Fats (10 per cent of daily consumption): nuts, avocado, unrefined oils (coconut oil)

Starches and grains (5 per cent of daily consumption): brown rice, potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes

Consider gradually introducing more of these foods into your diet and see how you feel. The more you can steer away from processed foods and meats and toward whole, plant based foods, the better you'll feel and the more you're likely to see the results. Combine this with regular exercise and you'll be Thriving in no time.

A former professional Ironman triathlete, Brendan is a two-time Canadian 50k ultra marathon champion, the creator of the award-winning VEGA line of whole food nutritional products, and the bestselling author of The Thrive Diet and The Thrive Cookbook. One of the foremost authorities on plant-based nutrition, Brendan will be presenting at the canfitpro Consumer Fitness + Wellness Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Saturday, August 9 at 2:30 p.m.


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