I first heard about the “Engine 2 Diet” through the popular documentary “Forks Over Knives.” I was fascinated that a group of burly fire fighters would take on the challenge of eating a plant-based diet. In my opinion, vegan food is only worth their weight if all-American, meat and potatoes kind of people love it.
“The Engine 2 Diet” (“E2” for short) starts off with a harrowing story of pulling a fellow fire fighter out of the blazes of an apartment building fire, who sustained 3rd degree burns — the worst kind — on 70% of his body, narrowly escaping death. People rarely live if more than 65% of their body is burned.
At first glance, you might think that this is just another vegan book. The thing that makes this book so intriguing is that it is the story of how one firefighter got his fellow fire fighters to eat a plant-based diet — and the astounding drops in their cholesterol and weight. These are meat and potatoes kind of guys. They’re unlikely to give up meat just for their health…the food has to taste good and be filling.
After a quick intro into what the E2 diet is all about (no animal products, no vegetable oils), the author, Rip Esselstyn, covers common plant-based myths, such as:
– Protein deficiency: no documented cases of protein deficiencies if calories are sufficient.
– Calcium deficiency: actually caused by an overabundance of protein (which leaches calcium from the bones).
– Carbs make us fat: Simples carbohydrates — sugar, honey, alcohol and white bread — do make you fat; complex carbohydrates — vegetables, beans, whole grains, fruits — do not.
Rip whole-heartedly believes that our bad diets (filled with animal products and processed junk) are what causes heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s/dementia, and cancer. While I believe that whole, healthful foods have the ability to change your life, it offends me to assume that that is all that it takes. Like many others, I have seen loved ones battle these nasty diseases and it hurts me to think that all they needed to do to avoid the pain and suffering was change their diet. (I find this idea fascinating and plan to do more research.)
Rip includes a fitness regime, advice for being successful (and not quitting when the going gets tough), and information about reading nutritional labels. I found it fascinating to learn to take the calories from fat on the nutrition label divided by the total calories to figure out the percentage of calories that come from fat. (i.e. Total calories: 400, Calories from fat: 200; 200/400=.5, 50% of calories come from fat aka 50% of this food is straight up fat!)
Learning this little trick has opened up my eyes to how much we can easily eat fat. Take 2% milk. It’s only 2% fat, right. Well, it is and it isn’t. The fat is 2% of the milk’s weight, but a whopping 35% of it’s calories come from fat (43 calories from fat/122 total calories). Some others: Big Mac, 47% (252/540); hummus, 77% (54/70); Oreo 40% (16/40); extra virgin olive oil, a whopping 100% (120/120)!
The recipes in the back of the book are easy to cook, with mostly common ingredients. I love the stories that go along with each recipe. It’s like having your buddy, Rip, sharing with you the secret family recipes.
I consider myself a novice cook, so when rating a recipe, I look at three questions:
– Is it easy and quick to prepare?
– Are the ingredients easy to find? This speaks both to the ease of finding an individual ingredient, as well as how many ingredients are needed per recipe. I’m overwhelmed with more than 10 ingredients and usually won’t even bother.
– Is the recipe healthy?
I would rate the recipes in this book 9/10. The food was generally quick and easy to prepare, was delicious, and used common ingredients. My favorites were the Sweet Potato Fries (wash and chop sweet potatoes, bake for 30-40 minutes at 450 degrees) and the E2 Basic Tacos (mashed black beans with chili powder, tortillas, fixings such as lettuce, tomato, salsa, avocado, olives, etc.). My favorite thing about the tacos was the ability to “level up” based on the time available. We’ve made both recipes a couple of times with great success.
A few recipes do include a rare ingredient, such as “frozen vegetarian meat crumbles” (like ground beef crumbles), “liquid aminos” (soy sauce alternative), or silken tofu. We search three supermarkets and our local natural grocer for the tofu, none of whom had it. Low and behold, we found it while visiting family in a rural town in upstate NY, go figure.
We’ve been eating a mostly plant-based diet for the last five weeks. By “mostly,” I mean that we eat 95% plant-based foods at home, with only a cheat here and there. When we’re out at social functions, we don’t expect to keep with the diet — there’s nothing more miserable than sitting in the corner with your carrots and celery while everyone feasts on cinnamon rolls, cookies and cakes. We’ve done that before and quit after four months.
To be more successful this time around, we’re focusing less on what we don’t eat and more on what we do (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, etc.) A couple typical, American meals per month won’t be the death of me. In fact, eating fatty and delicious food not only fulfills the craving, but reminds me of how terrible that food makes me feel (bloated, sluggish, foggy-brained and lazy).
On a plant-based diet, I have more energy and find that my energy sustains throughout the day. I no longer have wasted chunks of the day where I’m just too tired to be productive. I also find that hunger politely shows itself, rather than yelling abusively at me to satisfy it NOW! Since the sense of urgency has subsided, I’m better able to take time to consciously plan out a meal, rather than scarfing down whatever’s in front of my face.
I’d definitely recommend this book if you’re interested in a plant-based diet. Even if you don’t want to be 100% plant-based, most of us admit that we’d like to eat more veggies. Yet, not many of us have the knowledge of how to properly prepare veggies that are delicious and interesting. This book is a great way to learn.
I honestly can’t say enough about the recipes. We tried about 10 so far and all of them have been awesome!
Have you tried eating a plant-based diet? Any recipes you would like to share? Please let me know!
Note: I checked this book out of my local library. All opinions are my own.