Did you know that Bill Clinton went on a plant based diet and was finally able to reverse his heart disease? Did you know that Venus Williams went on a plant based diet to control her autoimmune disease, Sjorgren’s Syndrome? Did you know that Dorothy Hamill, who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, advises women to follow a plant based diet to prevent cancer? What do these celebrities know that you don’t?
There is mounting medical evidence that our common western diseases - heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disease are a direct result of our western diet. The Standard American Diet (SAD), packed with animal products, processed foods, sugar and oil is the problem. Surprised?
You are not alone. Most american people and even most american doctors are not aware of the science supporting a Whole Food Plant Based Diet (WFPB). Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn have published research showing that a WFPB diet treats and reverses advanced coronary heart disease without surgery and with few drugs. Dr. Neal Barnard has published data showing that the WFPB diet works better for reversing diabetes than the American Diabetes Association diet. Dr. John McDougall has shown that a starch based WFPB diet promotes rapid, healthy weight loss.
For most of us, changing eating habits is very hard. You may need to do this gradually. For example, start by making your breakfast a whole food plant based meal - such as oatmeal with fruit and almond milk, or a green smoothie. Then, start adding plant based lunches and dinners. Especially when first transitioning to a new diet, you may want to allow yourself some ‘old favorites’ once or twice a week - so you don’t feel overly stressed and deprived.
Whole foods mean unprocessed foods, such as whole grains, brown rice, seeds, beans and nuts. When we eat processed foods, much of the phytonutrients are processed away. This leaves out good nutrition and also causes abnormal absorption. In other words, a whole grain will be slowly digested and absorbed. A processed grain, such as white flour, will be quickly absorbed and can overwhelm our metabolism - leading to diabetes. The plant part is easy - if it is in the produce department - it is a plant. Broccoli, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, carrots, greens, apples, oranges - the list goes on an on. So much to choose from and explore. Make it fun by trying new recipes and tasting vegetables, grains, beans and fruits that are new to you.
Most people worry about what they are going to miss when they go on a diet. But, when transitioning to a whole food plant based diet - start out with what you already like. Do you like mexican food? Then have beans and rice on a whole grain tortilla with avocado, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. Leave out the sour cream, cheese, meat and oil. Do you like Italian? Fat free tomato sauce with or without some added vegetables such as mushrooms and onions can be served over 100 percent whole wheat pasta. Leave off the parmesan cheese. Sound delicious? It is!
Make a big pot of vegetable soup or vegetarian chili and eat off of it for the whole week. Or freeze some for future use. You are not going to find the whole food plant based diet sitting on the shelf at your grocery store - you will need to do some preparing. But, it doesn’t have to be hard. A baked potato with warm salsa on it works just fine. Or get some frozen vegetables and mix them together in a stir-fry over brown rice. Many people will set aside a few hours on the weekend to prepare food for the week. Make 5 bowls of lentil soup, store in the fridge, and just grab in the morning for lunch at work.
Don’t eat animal products like beef, poultry, pork, fish, eggs, cheese and milk. And especially don’t eat processed meats. This is the hardest for most people who are new to plant based eating. The idea of going a whole day without something from an animal feels very strange. But, once you learn about how beef, chicken, pork, fish, eggs and dairy products are actually causing heart disease, diabetes and cancer - the need to change becomes obvious. One of the biggest worries is, “Where do I get my protein?” Most people are quite surprised to hear that grains and vegetables have protein in them. In fact, it is possible to eat nothing but potatoes and not get protein deficient. Think of the animals that you already know eat nothing but grass - like cows and horses. Their muscles are perfectly strong. So, don’t worry about protein. The processed meats are particularly dangerous because they are strongly associated with cancer. So, please avoid bacon, hot dogs, sausage and other processed meats.
Here is another big surprise. Most people have heard that olive oil is good for one’s health. But, this is not true. Olive oil is pure fat, with minimal good phytonutrients. Why would you pour pure fat on your food? It is very easy to cook without oil. Many vegetables will steam and cook in their own fluid if you cover the pan with a lid. You can add a little bit of water, vegetable stock or wine if you need some moisture. For roasting vegetables, you can do a very quick spritz of vegetable spray to prevent sticking and to help with the wonderful caramelization that makes roasted vegetables so delicious.
Most people have become completely reliant on ready made or nearly ready made foods. The problem with processed foods is that they are packed with sugar, fat and salt. They are full of unrecognizable chemicals and additives. And, for most processed foods - they are addictive. That’s right, addictive. The scientifically studied and carefully crafted combinations of sugar, fat and salt in processed, ready to eat foods are designed to create a ‘hit’ in our dopamine (addiction) receptors in our brains. The taste is just too ‘good’ and too much for most people to resist. The slogan “Betcha can’t eat just one” leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease for too many Americans. It is easy to stop eating a plate of broccoli when you are full, but, very hard to stop eating french fries, chips or cookies. But, by eliminating the processed foods, your body and brain returns to a more natural state of craving whole foods and being satisfied without overeating.
B12 is an essential vitamin and is produced by bacteria, that gets washed away when we wash our vegetables. If you follow a plant based diet. Dont’ forget to take a B12 supplement regularly. Any dose should do. Also, if you are on medications for typical medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, be sure to have your numbers checked quickly after starting a plant based diet. Some people stop needing medications within weeks and can get very sick from low blood pressure and low blood sugar if medications are not reduced or stopped appropriately.
Changing habits is tough. But, if you want to regain or maintain good health, the whole food, plant based diet is absolutely the best way. It can take some getting used to, but, well worth it. Some people jump in feet first and never look back, others take a gradual course of change. There is no wrong way to eat better, unless you give up and fall back into the unhealthy habits that are killing us.
Bottom line, if you want to start living a healthier life, the first step starts with changing your diet. A whole food plant based diet is the healthiest and easiest way to go about doing this. Processed foods and meats wreak havoc on your body, causing terminal medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Keep this advice in mind and start living a healthier life now.
“People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.” ― Wendell Berry
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