We all watched in awe as Beyoncé danced, stomped and twirled back and forth across the stage during her historic performance at Coachella back in April. The two-hour, jam-packed performance positioned the superstar singer as an athlete more so than an entertainer. After giving birth to twins less than a year before, many wondered how the mother-of-three pulled off intense choreography while delivering pitch-perfect vocals. Well, perhaps the answer to her boost in stamina and endurance can be found in her vegan diet.
Just weeks before her headlining set in the California desert, Beyoncé challenged her Instagram followers to join her on the 22-day vegan challenge. In a post showcasing her Coachella rehearsals, the Houston-bred artist touted the plant-based meal planner she and husband Jay-Z co-founded with their personal trainer, Marco Borges. The vegan venture, officially called 22 Days Nutrition, was founded on Borges’ theory that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. So, by day 22, incorporating more healthy, plant-based foods in your diet should be a normal routine.
The best-selling author of The 22-Day Revolution: The Plant-Based Program That Will Transform Your Body, Reset Your Habits, and Change Your Life recently sat down with ESSENCE to discuss all things vegan, including common myths. Borges even detailed why it’s essential for us to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, even if we don’t have the resources, time or stamina as Queen Bey.
Having grown up in a Cuban household in Miami, it goes without saying that Borges feasted on a delicious assortment of meats as a kid. So much so, it’s hard to imagine how he finally made the switch to a plant-based diet. But that’s exactly what he did nearly 14 years ago, and the certified exercise physiologist says he never looked back.
“I grew up on tons of steak, pork and chicken,” Borges tells ESSENCE. “But very early on in my life I knew something was off. Everyone in my family suffered from some kind of ailment, whether it was heart disease, diabetes or hypertension. I knew something had to change, and I decided to become a doctor. Fast forward, I became obsessed with performance–how the body functions and how we fuel ourselves. A couple of semesters before graduating with a degree in biology, I realized that medicine was too reactive. We wait for people to get sick and then we treat the symptoms, but we never truly treat the underlying causes. I pivoted and started to focus on preventative medicine instead.”
This change in direction led Borges down a path to helping others, including the Everything Is Love hip-hop couple. Because, for the nutrition coach and chef, going vegan or plant-based isn’t a trend or a fad. It’s the only way, he says, to a healthy future.
“It’s [plant-based diet] the future of sustainability and health care,” says Borges. “The healthiest diet for us and for the sustainability of this planet is a plant-based diet. It’s the only diet in the world that’s been proven to prevent, arrest and, in many cases, revert heart disease. It’s far too common for minorities to suffer from heart disease, even though the disease is absolutely preventable. The solution lies on the tip of our forks.”
The data is alarming, considering Black Americans are at a greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease and have a higher rate of diabetic complications than white Americans. Yet, still, some people are hesitant to follow in the footsteps of Borges and Beyoncé, believing they don’t have the time or money to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. But Borges suggests nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he’s quick to dispel the notion that going vegan is costly, bland and void of adequate protein.
“The reality is the most expensive items at the supermarket are the meat, seafood and dairy products, not the vegetables, fruits, greens and beans,” explains Borges. “It’s more economical to switch to a plant-based diet than to continue eating animal-based foods and proteins.”
As far as the food being boring and bland, Borges argues it’s anything but.
“When you tell people you’re going vegan, they think you’re just chewing on grass all day,” jokes Borges. “But there’s so much food to choose from that you wind up eating many different types of foods when you go plant-based. Most people eat the same kinds of foods for breakfast and lunch. However, when you adopt a plant-based diet, there’s so many types of greens, beans, legumes, seeds, vegetables and fruits that your world just opens up to all the possibilities. You realize it’s just an explosion of flavor waiting for you.”
If you’re worried that eliminating all animal proteins, foods and byproducts from your diet will reduce your protein intake, don’t be. Borges says it’s fiber, not protein, we should be concerned about.
“There’s protein in everything,” says Borges. “What we should be obsessed with, however, is fiber. We’re actually consuming twice the amount of protein that we should be consuming. The research has pointed towards the fact that the greater amount of protein you consume, the greater your risk for developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The more protein from plants you eat, the lower your risk factors. All plant-based foods contain at least 14 percent of protein. We don’t have a protein deficiency. We have a fiber deficiency, and you can only find fiber in plant sources, not meat.”
Think you don’t have time to whip up nutrient-dense, plant-based meals? Think again. The 22-Day Nutrition meal planner can aid the average busy woman and, according to Borges, the meal planner actually gives people “the opportunity to create foods that are delicious and flavorful.” Not only that, Borges adds that these foods also help to improve digestion and sleeping habits, as well as increase your mood and energy levels.
“When you talk about soul food, the core of soul food infuses these beautiful spices and herbs working together beautifully to create really delicious dishes,” says Borges. “We need to find that again. We’ve grown too accustomed to relegating and handing agency of our health over to someone else.”
But it’s Borges’ hope that through his meal planner, the 22-Day Revolution Cookbook and his follow-up, The Greenprint, which will be hitting shelves on January 8, 2019, that we feel more empowered to take back control of our life and health by eating more plant-based foods.