Plamen Iontchev is a Bulgarian nuclear physicist who’s been living in Tokyo for a few years. I met him at my first meetup in Kiba park. He is one of the most regular members, attending almost all the meetings, and also started a Meetup group called Team Vegan, centered around hiking, running and the like among vegans. With such an original profile, I was certain Plamen’s story would be more than interesting. Our two hours talk did not disappoint!
This episode starts with Plamen’s self introduction, followed by his life in Bulgaria and how he came to live an active and plant-based lifestyle, how he became pescitarian for ‘health’ reasons (and a warning from us about how fish is not that healthy after all), Plamen’s discussions with his daughter who had just turned vegan, which circumstances saw him go vegetarian, how reconnecting with calves made him take the last step toward veganism, Plamen discovering the reality of the egg industry and then me taking the time to point out that a balanced vegan diet is healthy, before adding some information about calf rearing and egg production, what brought Plamen to search for other vegans, and then stumbling on the Tokyo Vegan Meetup, how his eating habits and social life changed (for the better) after becoming vegan, what he knows about how it was being vegan in Sofia when his daughter went plant-based, me leading a discussion about vegan activism and whether it’s optional or mandatory, Plamen’s experience of the vegan scene in Vienna, how we position ourselves regarding leather or same-ish items, Plamen learning about to what extent veganism can be healthy, how he came to live in Japan, his experience being vegan in Tokyo, what hiking and running brought to his life, Plamen’s unusual cholesterol levels and what he did about it, and finally some rapid fire questions.
Before jumping in, a last few words about the ‘Atkins diet’ that helped Plamen address his cholesterol problem, and whether doing it vegan or not sounds possible to me. Short answer: maybe, but not with the four foods brought up by Plamen (sauerkraut, tofu, seitan and mushrooms). And in any case, I strongly recommend not going on an Atkins diet, period. More details at the end of the podcast and in the show notes.
And now, without further due, I give you Plamen Iontchev.
- 0:03:00s - Plamen’s self introduction
- 0:05:50s - His life in Bulgaria and how he came to a plant-based + exercise lifestyle
0:15:25s - Pescitarian for ‘health’ reasons - how fish is not that healthy after all
0:17:05s - Plamen’s discussions with his just turned vegan daughter
0:22:05s - Going vegetarian
0:23:50s - Reconnecting with calves and going vegan
0:29:30s - Discovering the reality of the egg industry
0:30:20s - Me taking the time to point out that a balanced vegan diet is healthy, then adding some information about calf rearing and egg production
- 0:39:20s - Searching for other vegans… and stumbling on the Tokyo Vegan Meetup
- 0:48:45s - How Plamen’s eating habits and social life changed (for the better) after becoming vegan
- 0:55:30s - Being vegan in Sofia when Plamen’s daughter went plant-based
- 0:56:25s - Vegan activism: optional or mandatory? Where to draw the/your ethical baseline, and why?
- 1:06:15s - Plamen’s experience of the vegan scene in Vienna
- 1:09:15s - Vegans and leather (or same-ish items), or how we vegans often see the glass half empty…
- 1:17:05s - Plamen learning about to what extent veganism can be healthy
- 1:21:40s - Plamen’s path to Japan
- 1:24:20s - Being vegan in Tokyo when Plamen arrived here
- 1:29:00s - What hiking and running brought to Plamen
- 1:33:50s - Plamen’s unusual cholesterol levels and what he did about it
- 1:45:10s - Back to running!
- 1:54:50s - Rapid fire questions & Tokyo Team Vegan
During our conversation, Plamen explained to me how he was able to address his high cholesterol problem with a ‘vegan’ Atkins diet he devised himself. First, about the Atkins diet itself. This is what the official website tells us:
“The Atkins Diet is designed to "flip the body's metabolic switch" from burning carbs to burning fat.”
And here are the macros they give for the two of their three diet plans; the only two ones that are ketogenic.
Atkins 20 (original) = 60-70% fat, 20-30% prot, 5-10% carbs
Atkins 40 = 55-65% fat, 20-30% prot, 10-15% carbs
Both are very high in fat. Now, let’s have a look at the nutrients of sauerkraut, seitan, tofu and mushroom.
Sauerkraut (100gr carbs 4.3 / 0.9 prot / 0.1 fat / 19 cal)
Seitan (100gr carbs 14 / 75 prot / 1.9 fat / 370 cal)
Tofu (100gr carbs 2.1 / 10.3 prot / 5.3 fat / 76 cal)
Mushrooms (white 100gr 3.3 carbs / 3.1 prot / 0.3 fat / 22 cal)
First conclusion: all four foods contain close to no fat; the fattiest one being tofu with 5%. So in order to get even 55% of daily calories from those 4 foods, you would need to eat an insane amount of tofu, much more than the carbs you are allowed on such a diet.
Second conclusion: three out of those four foods are mostly water and fiber, which means they have a very, very low caloric density. Even eating seitan only, you would need to way too many carbs for what an Atkins diet is supposed to be.
Final conclusion: I don’t see how the math would magically work for one to be on an Atkins diet while eating only those four foods. Even a super restrictive seitan only 1000 calories per day diet - which is only half of what an adult male needs to sustain himself one day; obviously not sustainable for two months - would mean you have to eat a little more than 42 grams of carbs. And that is without eating anything else, which means you would lack a lot of other very important nutrients, vitamins and minerals… which Plamen told us he supplemented. I have copied an additional detailed account of his experience he sent me after I reached out to him about this quite unusual outro. Here is his reply related to his ‘Atkins’ diet:
“My secret with this vegan ‘Atkins’ diet was not the calorie intake. Actually if you are overweight you have a lot of calories stored as fat in your body and this is the whole point to get rid of them by burning it. I thought that the reason that you may end in ER is not the calories but the other micronutrients like vitamins and minerals that you stop taking when you go in this crazy diet. I was fully aware of the danger and was taking daily from multivitamins about 4 daily doses each day. Much more than normal so to check deficiencies even if there is low absorption. Also controlling my BMI not to get below 23. In that way I was fully ok from a health standpoint. Just some unpleasant feelings since your body becomes not vegan for this period, meaning you start eating your own flesh (mostly fat). But the moment you eat some carbs you get so pleasant feeling but weight stop going down. Anyway I don't recommend my diet to anyone but I think I almost did the limit of the rate by which the body weight can be reduced - about 1kg/week.”
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether his diet could have been labelled as ‘Atkins’ or not. What matters is that he solved his cholesterol problem without suffering serious health consequences following his extremely restrictive 2 months diet. That being said, I’ll repeat what I said in the introduction of this podcast: I strongly recommend avoiding any such restrictive diets, whether people call them ketogenic, Atkins or Paleo.
Introduction BGM: "Corporate Japan" by Birocratic (http://birocratic.lnk.to/allYL)
Additional notes and links
- Tokyo Vegan Meetup: https://www.meetup.com/fr-FR/vegan-389/
- Vegan Tokyo: https://vegantokyo.org/
- ciplantgo Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ciplantgo/