TeachStrong Blog

Ideas to inspire.


"Reductionism" and the confusion around whole food plant-based eating

Ever worried whether you’re eating too many carbs? What about whether you’re getting enough protein? And have you ever worried about whether you’re eating too much fat?

Over the last few decades, concern about these macronutrients has been embedded in our culture. Marketing companies have done a fantastic job of confusing us all and convincing us that their products are essential because they are high or low in one of these elements. This is especially true of the meat and dairy industry. It is because of this confusion that I want to talk to you about what we eat. 

At TeachStrong, we promote a whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet. This simply means eating ingredients that have not been processed, they’re in their natural form. This includes whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and nuts and seeds. These are the ingredients that have consistently been linked to longevity and good health. WFPB diets have been shown to; reduce, halt and even reverse chronic diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers; lower cholesterol; lower blood pressure; aid natural and lasting weight loss (it is in fact the most effective diet to lose weight); and reduce anxiety and stress. It is also one of, if not the most, effective and practical things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment. If you want to know more about these stats (“Believe but verify!”) then scroll down to the bottom of the page to find links to our favourite sources of information. You can also find out more by following us on social media (@teachstrong_)!

So, you’ve heard WFPB is good for the environment and you’ve heard WFPB is good for your health. You might have even heard about the athletes who are shifting the way they eat to a more plant-based diet. Novak Djokovic, Lewis Hamilton, Chris Smalling, as well as endurance athletes, UFC fighters and bodybuilders, are all highlighting the benefits of this diet in helping them recover quicker, feel lighter and improve overall health. But why did I ask you the questions at the start? Because so many people are still confused about the idea of eating more plants and worrying unnecessarily about carbs, protein and fat.

There are two things I want to address in this short article to help eliminate this confusion. First, I want to talk about “reductionism”. This is when so called health experts narrow down their nutrition advice to focus on just one thing i.e. carbs, protein or fat. This confuses us all and for years it confused me. I also used to worry about whether I should eat less carbs if I wanted to get leaner and thought I needed to increase my protein to stay fit. But after hours poring over studies, videos, podcasts, and books it is clear that this is over complicating things. The research shows us that the beauty of a whole foods plant-based diet is that you do not have to worry. If you are eating enough, you will be getting the right amount of carbohydrates, protein and fats.

Why then do we see so much emphasis on these groups, as well as on certain vitamins? Simply put: money. Companies make a lot of money selling the idea that their product is essential because it contains this one magic thing that you need to be healthy and strong. Protein powders, vitamin supplements, “low carb”/”high protein” labels. It’s all nonsense and just a way for someone else to make money out of your confusion. So, my first take away from this article: don’t buy into reductionism!  Eat a varied whole food plant-based diet, don’t worry about macronutrients and don’t count calories. Just enjoy all the amazing benefits this way of eating has to offer.

The second thing we need to address is the confusion around the practicalities of WFPB eating. Worrying about what to cook, how difficult it might be, that it’s expensive, etc. I want everyone reading this to know that eating this way is incredibly straight forward and cheap! One of the easiest ways to incorporate more plants in your diet is just by doing some simple swaps. First, look at meals you already cook and swap out the animals. For example, the tuna salad that I used to take to work is now a chickpea salad, the chicken curry I used to enjoy is now a lentil and broccoli curry. And the beef Bolognese that I used to love is now a mushroom Bolognese. Nowadays there is also a wide variety of meat substitute products that it makes transitioning to eating more plants much easier. Instantly, you’re cutting out foods that have been linked to disease and weight gain and swapping them for foods that are packed with fibre and nutrients and have been linked to longevity and good health. Milk is another easy swap. By choosing a plant-based milk, such as soya or oat, you’ll be consuming something that is so much better for your health and the health of the environment.

Another misconception is that plant-based food is expensive when in reality it is the cheapest food in the supermarket. Oats, rice, pasta, beans and vegetables are all affordable and can be bought in bulk. Of course, if you buy more processed “Vegan” products then that will be more expensive but this is why we only ever talk about a whole foods plant-based diet. Better for health, the environment and better for your bank account.

And finally, when considering a WFPB diet there’s the social pressure to contend with. My advice to anyone that asks me about this is just try it. Ignore the noise from the media and perhaps even friends and family and just give it a go. Within two weeks you will notice the difference. In just that small amount of time changes occur. Because you eliminate ingredients that cause inflammation, blood flow increases to every part of the body. More blood flow to the muscles and heart making you feel more energetic, more blood flow to the brain making your thoughts clearer, you look younger, and finally increased blood flow to your sexual organs too. This is another proven benefit! There are so many people that are thriving on a WFPB diet so I encourage you to talk to them. Find out how they went about it and watch them glow as they describe the changes they felt in their body and mind.

We promote this way of eating because the research shows us that it is the best thing we can do for our body, our mind, and the planet. As an added bonus it is incredibly straight forward and affordable. We will continue to empower teachers and TAs with the tools they need to feel happier and healthier. Make no mistake, shifting your diet to one that is focused around plants will make you think and feel better. Ignore “reductionism” and have confidence that this will be one of the most powerful changes you will make for you, your family and your pupils and it’s so simple!

To conclude, I’d like to share 3 practical tips that you can apply from today:

1) Start with breakfast

Start every day with a plant-powered meal. Our favourite is overnight oats. Get a bowl of oats and maybe some chia seeds, add frozen fruit and then top up with water. Leave overnight in the fridge and in the morning add some nuts.

2) Get more beans

The healthiest populations in the world eat beans every day so why don’t we? Add them wherever you can: salads, soups and curries are a great start.

3) Stick to the 80/20 rule

Ask yourself, “Was it made in nature or made by man?” – 80% of what you eat should be whole foods, natural ingredients. The remaining 20% can be more processed “treats”. If it contains ingredients that you don’t recognise and/or a long list of ingredients, then only eat it 20% of the time.

Give these tips a go this week and let us know how you get on! Share your photos with us @teachstrong_


Links to our favourite sources of information: