After 50 years of mounting evidence, medical consensus - and public awareness - is growing around the recognition that whole plant-based foods may offer the optimal diet to prevent, reverse, and survive our most dreaded chronic degenerative diseases, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's Disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and many autoimmune conditions.
Why does it work?
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes are high in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants, low in fat and cholesterol-free. These are the foods our bodies thrive on, that support our gut microbiome (the trillions of intestinal microorganisms with whom we live in mutualistic symbiosis), and that help optimize our immune systems. These foods quell systemic inflammation and oxidative stress which start in childhood (some researchers believe in utero), increasing our risks for degenerative illnesses and curtailed lifespans.
These stressors stem from the foods Americans typically eat and love: poultry, fish, dairy, meats, cooking oils, and refined processed snack and prepared foods -- all high in fat, cholesterol, salt, refined sugar and starches, and extremely low in fiber and nutrients. It is not just animal fats that are problematic; so are animal proteins and their metabolites, which is why small changes to decrease consumption of dietary fat or switching from red to white meats and fish are not sufficient to prevent disease.
If we increase our consumption of plants in lieu of animal-based foods, however, our colonies of gut bacteria begin to change within days of dietary change. A diet strong in plants enables the body to repair the endothelial lining of its arteries which impacts all organs and tissues, to turn cancer genes off and immune cells on, to restore insulin sensitivity, to lower blood sugar and A1C levels, to lower blood pressure, to lower our body mass index (BMI), to heal a leaky gut, and much more.
We merely have to get out of the way, that is, to stop impeding our bodies' healthy functioning with foods that provoke inflammation and free-radical damage on the cellular level, and instead provide an ample and diverse array of health-promoting foods for it to draw on. Indeed, plant-based nutrition may be the most powerful medicine we have for treating the underlying causes, not just the symptoms, of chronic diseases, and all without negative side effects or surgical interventions.
After adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet, many conditions improve so significantly and rapidly that we can reduce the number of meds we're on, reduce dosages, and even come off medications -- under medical surveillance of course. We gradually achieve our optimal weight without dieting or deprivation - a delightful side effect! We literally shift our health trajectory very forcefully in the right direction. We now know that the genetic blueprint we inherited is not determinative, merely suggestive. The diet we consume plays an enormous role in whether genes are expressed or suppressed. All this is in our hands.
For an introduction to the impact of whole plants foods on cardiovascular disease, let's start with this 2012 interview with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., Director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute's Cardiovascular Prevention and Reversal Program, whose own work treating and reversing atherosclerosis in severely ill cardiac patients has been groundbreaking:
Click here for Dr. Esselstyn on treating heart disease with diet
Behavioral changes like diet come easier for some than others, and are influenced by our food attachments, habits and addictions, and our immediate social milieu. It doesn't help that advertisers bombard us incessantly with unhealthy food messages or that our groceries are stocked mostly with products that do not support our health. However, the more we can displace damaging foods with whole plants, the more benefits we will reap, even if change is gradual. The first step can be daunting, but it's far easier to do than we might imagine, and a wealth of delicious food options and dishes await!
If you'd like help taking that first step to change your habits and integrate plant-based foods into your meals, call the office to schedule a counseling session. And for direct exposure to how satisfying and easy these meals can be, come to my cooking demos and taste for yourself!
Over the coming months, I'll share with you additional research, articles, and interviews in the emerging arena of plant-based nutrition -- some very recent and exciting. Stay tuned!