Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why a Plant-Based, Whole Foods Diet?

Let's first get one thing straight.  What does a plant-based, whole foods diet look like?
  1. Eating whole grains instead of processed, refined grains whenever possible
  2. Eating fruits, vegetables, and beans, especially in the raw (it's recommended that for optimal vitamin absorption and nutritional value, 51% or more of your diet should be consumed raw).
  3. Not eating snacks, meals, or condiments that are highly processed.  Look at the ingredients before looking at anything else on the package.  If it doesn't grow in the ground or on a tree or a vine (i.e. it came from a lab), it is not a plant-based, whole food.  Beware especially of high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils
  4. Not eating (or if your like me, eating an extremely limited amount) of animal products, including dairy.

But why go through all that trouble?  Can't I just look at the nutrition facts for the fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and calories?  The package said "low-fat."

  1. Processed foods are not as filling.  About 500 calories of whole foods will fill your stomach, sending signals to your brain that you are full.  The same amount of calories in processed foods fill only a small fraction of your stomach, sending signals to your brain that you are still hungry and require more food.  When your body thinks you need to eat more, it doesn't care if the package said "low fat" or "sugar free" it just thinks that you will not survive without more food.  As an animal with instincts, you actually have very little control over not eating when these signals are being sent to the brain--all the willpower in the world may not stop you.  This is why processed foods are often to blame for the rise of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.  They trick your brain into thinking that this highly processed food is nutritionally valuable because of its rich taste.  We humans are still a hunter-gatherer species, but we are no longer hunting and gathering; however, our bodies don't know that.  Our bodies assume that if it is easy to get and elicits pleasure, it must be good for you; this is why our ancestors liked foods like mangoes or avocados.  Any hunter-gatherer is programmed to think that a bag of Doritos must be nutritious.
  2. Processed foods, even ones marketed as "low-fat" or "sugar-free" or "high in fiber" or "great source of calcium," lack essential nutrients.  In fact, many of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that were once in the ingredients of that can of Chef Boyardee (because hey, the can says it's equivalent to a serving of vegetables) are completely lost once they've been pumped full of chemicals.  Not to mention, many of the chemicals used in processed foods are known to have carcinogenic properties (i.e. nutrasweet, off of which I'm slowly weening myself) and are linked to certain types of cancer, specifically breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.  
  3. Processed foods often contain trans-fat, which puts you at risk for a high LDL cholesterol level (that's the bad one), type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  
  4. And because these foods lack nutritional value, they do not provide the energy your body is meant to receive from food; thus, you feel tired and sluggish and have a slow metabolism, which you're likely to remedy with a can of soda or energy drink.
But what's wrong with lean meats and dairy?  Don't I need meat for protein and dairy for calcium?
  1. Meat, eggs, and dairy products are high in cholesterol and fat.  No plant food in the world contains cholesterol--not one bit.  Fat and cholesterol clog arteries causing cardiovascular diseases.  People following a plant-based diet have 2.5 times fewer cardiac events, including heart attack and stroke.  According to the renowned Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (a favorite of mine), the average vegan has a cholesterol level of 133, the average vegetarian has a cholesterol level of 161, and the average meat-eater has a cholesterol level of 210.  Many professionals in the field of nutrition argue that if everyone adopted a plant-based diet, cardiovascular disease could be completely eliminated, as in cease to exist.
  2. As for the protein argument, a wealth of plant-based foods contain protein.  Soy, spirulina, cocoa, quinoa, pinto beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lentils are just a few plant-based foods that are as high, if not higher, in protein than meat products.  While dairy products can provide protein, it is rich with casein, which has been linked to constipation, leading to gastrointestinal diseases.  Interestingly, casein is such a strong polymer that it is often used to make plastic.  Casein is also a histamine that creates an undue amount of mucus in the body.  
  3. As for the calcium argument, would you say that cows have big bones?  In case you're not sure, the answer is yes, they do.  From where do you think the calcium comes to support those massive bones?  Grass.  While dairy products can make bones stronger in the short-term, in the long-term they actually erode bone-producing cells, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis.  In a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk.  According to author Russell Eaton, "Dairy milk does increase bone density, but it comes at a terrible price.  The latest research is showing that far from protecting bones, milk actually increases the risk of osteoporosis by eroding bone-making cells.  Also, people with osteoporosis have a much higher risk of heart disease and cancer, and the evidence is pointing at milk as the common factor."  
  4. Furthermore, dairy poses an increased risk of cancer because consuming it causes an increased production of a hormone called "insulin-like growth factor" (IGF-1).  Higher levels of IGF-1 cause higher levels of estrogen in women and testosterone in men, and abnormal levels are responsible for most breast and prostate cancers.

    Okay, this goes against everything I've learned from the time I was a child.  I want to know more.

    So glad you asked.  Check out the following websites, films, and books:

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