Plant-Based Diet Saves Lives

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

A plant-based diet focuses on whole, unrefined, or minimally processed plants, such as organic fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, seeds, nuts and legumes. It excludes or minimizes animal protein, such as meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs. This diet also exclude highly refined or processed foods like bleached flour, refined sugars and oil.

It’s very interesting that a vegetarian or vegan diet is often frown upon in the medical setting. I get lots of consults from concern pediatricians and parents.

A plant-based or vegan diet is almost synonymous as starvation or malnutrition or a cover for an eating disorder in teenagers.

Pediatricians freak out if parents is vegan, and the child is at eminent risk of malnutrition. Parents freak out if their child wants to be vegan. The consult is either for me to educate the family of a proper vegan diet or the parents want me to pursuede their child to change their mind.

Despite all the things we’re taught in school about risk of protein deficiency, iron deficiency, calcium deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency in a vegan diet, I have never, in my professional life, see a vegan or vegetarian with any of these deficiencies.

I’ve seen iron deficiency in women, children and teenagers who eats a regular American diet. I’ve seen protein deficiency, calcium deficiency and calcium deficiency in very sick children who eats a regular American diet.

Interesting…

How Does the Plant-based Diet Work?

To understand how the plant-based diet works, we need to first understand the chemistry of the human body.

Human Body Chemistry

Don’t worry…I’m not going to pull out my organic chemistry or biochemistry hat and start lecture.

What I want to get to is that the human body is a giant water bag filled with interacting elements. The human body is kept alive and functioning by thousands of chemical reactions. Every single one of these reactions requires a “catalyst” to make the reaction happens.

And coincidently, these catalysts are minerals and vitamins found in lots of fruits and vegetables that God made for us.

So in order for the human body to function well to include staying focus, having energy, fight diseases, etc, we need all our chemical reactions to work at their best, which requires lots of minerals and vitamins.

Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables also plays significant role in our body functions. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals and speed the healing process.

The living body is a dynamic structure where cells are constantly dying and being replaced with new ones. With proper nutrition (or ingredients) our body can build better replacement cells and tissues that works even better than the last.

And there’s something to say about “cravings”. We have always been right about cravings. It’s our body’s way to tell us that some important ingredients are missing. But we have been tackling cravings wrong all this time.

We’ve been told to drink water when you have a craving. Or try to figure the texture (crunchy, gooey) or taste (sweet or salty) of the food that you crave, and find the food with the right texture or taste to curb the cravings.

In fact, what our body is really craving for are nutrients. Vital nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, to facilitate life-supporting chemical reactions.

That’s the point we’ve been missing.

When your body is well-nourished, your cravings will stop. You can look at cravings as thirst or hunger. You need hydration when you’re thirsty, energy from food when you’re hungry, and nutrients when you have cravings.

Look at the United States, you think we’re a well-informed and well-fed nation. But look at our spending on healthcare, and statistics of people dying from lifestyle diseases, such as heart diseases, cancers, obesity, diabetes, etc.

The Healthcare costs well-exceeds the GPD. will eventually bankrupt this country. And 1.2 million deaths that could have been prevented.

Leading Causes of Death in US

All these are diseases of malnutrition (or overnutrition) and nutrient-deficiencies.

What About the Nutrients in Animal Protein? 

It’s true that animal protein does provide all 20 essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) in one source. However, it turns out animal protein is not the best or only source of protein or amino acid, or calcium, iron, zinc, etc.

High intake of animal protein (to include dairy and eggs) are associated with increased risk of certain cancers and chronic conditions.

According to the China Study, dairy products are not even a good source of calcium as we’ve been told by the Dairy Council.

It’s a big fat lie to get us drink loads of milk and eats tons of cheese so dairy farmers to make money.

In fact, the milk protein in dairy products increase risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia, and certain types of cancer. Studies have also shown that countries with the most dairy consumption also have the highest incidence of osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Red meat, as we know, increases risk of cardiac disease due to the oxidative effects of iron.

Despite the fact that plant protein is consider “incomplete”, it is the best source of protein. The human body does have 20 essential amino acids that we just can’t create on our own, and we need to acquire these essential amino acid from food that we eat. We’ve been told for decades that animal protein is ‘the best” source of protein because it provides ALL 20 essential amino acids. However, our body does not care where these amino acids come from.

Consuming animal protein to acquire these amino acids comes with a price – carcinogens, hormones, antibiotics, free radicals, etc. Therefore, animal protein should be consumed sparingly, such as once a week.

In Dr. Weston’s book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, he discovered that native cultural diets that are free from modernized western influence has the most profound physical outcome, and that these native people consume a plant-based diet composed of mostly food found in their native environment and animal protein are consumed about only once a week.

Assuming you’re eating a wholesome plant-based diet with a variety of unprocessed fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds and whole grains, you’re guaranteed to have all your essential amino acids complete.

Keep reading: Benefits of a Plant Based Diet

The Fruits and Vegetables Story…

Fruits and vegetables feeds your body and mind

This is the fruits and vegetables story I tell kids all the time, especially the picky ones. Make sure they’re old enough to understand. Most of the time, I’d see the light bulb light up in their eyes.

Here’s my late night commercial sales pitch for fruits and vegetables…

You know why you need to eat fruits and vegetables?

Our body is a giant bag of tissues made up of living cells…37.2 TRILLION living cells in each of us to be exact.

Wow…that’s a lot of household to take care of.

These living cells are what’s keeping us alive and human.

Within each of these cells, there are hundreds and thousands of biochemical reaction happening every single seconds whether you’re running, sitting, walking, sleeping, etc.

These biochemical reactions must go on in order for our body to survive.

However, each of these biochemical reactions can only happen in the presence of either a vitamin or minerals or both. Missing any of these components, these reactions may not happen.

You know where the best sources of these vital vitamins and minerals?

Yes…fruits and vegetables!

You know how fruits and vegetables come in all different shades and color?

fruits and vegetables color wheel

What gives fruits and vegetables their pretty colors are what we call “antioxidants”. These are special cleaners for our body because our body cannot make many of them on our own.

Think of your body like a house. If you keeping bring stuff in your house everything and not clean or take out the trash, what would your house look like?

Same here with your body…if you eat junk food everyday and not have any fruits and vegetables to help clean, what would your body ends up like.

That’s why God created fruits and vegetables for human beings.

When you eat the right kind of food, meaning a lots of fruits and vegetables, you’ll have enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidant to make sure the biochemical reactions in your body function properly.

When all the biochemical reactions are function properly, that means, all your organs include your brain will function properly too. You’ll have more energy, run faster, focus and concentrate better in class, and feels happier and better mood too.

How to Start Eating More Fruits and Vegetables?

Follow a Plant-based Diet

Benefits of a Plant Based Diet





 

Watch Rip Esselstyn’s (author of Engine 2 Diet) TEDTalk on how the Plant Strong Diet improved the health of his fire house.

 

By the way, Rip Esselstyn is the son of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who was trained as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and at St. George’s Hospital in London. Dr. Esselstyn has been associated with the Cleveland Clinic since 1968. He was studying about how a plant-based diet can reverse chronic diseases, such as heart diseases, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, etc.

No kidding…we have cures for these common killers already?! Pharmaceutical companies are not advertising it. Doctors are not believing it, because they’re trained to prescribe medications.

Anyway, watch “Forks Over Knives” documentary in Netflix, and you’ll know who Dr. Esselstyn is and what the China Study discover.

BENEFITS OF A PLANT BASED DIET

Lower Oxidative Stress & Inflammation

Studies show that high intake of whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, tea, coffee, red wine and olive oil, decreases levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, which are associated with the development of chronic disease. (Nutrition, 2004 and JACC, 2006)

In the Adventist Health Study II, a vegetarian diet was linked to lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, a marker of inflammation. (Ethn Dis, 2011)

Healthy Gut/Immune System

Increasing evidence fiber-rich, plant-based diet promotes healthy gut microbiota, linked to immune support and digestive health.

EPIC study found lower rate of hospital admissions and risk of death from diverticular disease among vegetarians. (BMJ, 2011)

Brain Protection

Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress lead to development of Alzheimer’s. Adherence to Mediterranean, plant-based diet linked with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (Archives Neurology, 2009)

I recently attended a nutrition conference called “The Pharmacy in Your Kitchen” presented by Dr. Michael Lara, who is a neuropsychiatrist. There was a lot of great information about “medical food” that are used for treating many conditions. One of the things that I learn is that the ADHD brain and Alzheimer’s brain behave very similarly. Dr. Lara explains that ADHD and Alzheimer’s is like diabetes of the brain cells. Because the brain cells are not able to use glucose efficiently for energy similar in diabetes where tissue cells are not able to use glucose. The alternative source of energy, fat, which bypass the defects, seems to work very well in patients with ADHD and Alzheimer’s.

The fat of interest is short-chain fatty acid in coconut oil, specifically caprylic acid.

Environmental Working Group

All meat is not created equal. Lamb, beef, pork and cheese generate the most greenhouse gases. They also tend to be high in fat and have the worst environmental impacts. Meat and dairy products requires large amount of pesticides, chemical fertilizer, fuel, feed and water and generates greenhouse gases, toxic manure and other pollutants that contaminate our air and water.

Challenges of a Plant based Diet

  • Misperceptions, such as getting adequate protein and calcium intake.
  • More food preparation required.
  • Lack of cooking skills regarding beans, whole grains, tofu.
  • Unfamiliarity with new foods, such as tofu, tempeh (Indonesian fermented soy), seitan.
  • Meeting nutritional needs.

Developing and Planning a Plant based Eating Style

Include more whole plant foods, such as plant proteins:

  • Legumes (beans, lentils, and peas)
  • Whole Soy Foods (tofu, tempeh, soy milk)
  • Nuts and Nut Butters (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, macadamias, Brazil nuts, peanuts)
  • Seeds and Seed Butters (sunflower, sesame, hemp, chia, pumpkin seeds) walnut, hemp and chia good source omega-3 FA.
  • Whole grains (quinoa, wheat berries, oats, brown rice) can be good protein source (up to 11 g protein per cup, i.e. Kamut)
  • Vegetables, such as peas, spinach, and broccoli (can contain up to 6 g protein per cup)
  • Plant proteins, such as legumes, nuts and seeds, are excellent “protein packages”—packed with fiber, micronutrients, phytochemicals.

Calcium

  • If no dairy, choose total of two servings per day of calcium-fortified foods, such as plant-based milk alternatives, tofu, or orange juice.
  • Choose more dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Calcium supplement to meet daily calcium needs.

Related article: Non-Dairy  Calcium Food Sources that Will Surprise You

Vitamin D

Available in foods, such as most fish, fish eggs, eggs and mushrooms.

Also, ten minutes of sunlight exposure a day.

Consume vitamin-D-fortified foods, such as soy milk and orange juice, and consider a vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin B12

Available only in animal foods: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

Also available in nutritional yeasts and fortified products, such as cereal and soy milk.

Vegans should take a vitamin B12 supplement daily.

How to Start Plant Based Eating Style

Start the day right. Go veggie at breakfast or fruits and veggie smoothie.

Join the Meatless Monday bandwagon.

Shop for plants first. Instead of planning your menu around meat, plan it around plants.

If you eat meat, use it as a seasoning. Cut down on animal food intake while pushing plants by using meat as a flavoring in dishes instead of main event. Idea from indigenous diet. Great ways to reduce meat intake, but not completely giving up.

Create a plant-based pantry list. Many plant based foods like beans and whole grains are shelf-stable, convenient, and economical.

Get cooking! Plan at least one night a week to try a new vegetarian recipe. Do it with Meatless Monday night.

Keep it simple. Not every meal has to involve cookbooks and cutting boards; it can be as easy as black bean burritos, vegetarian chili, or hummus pita sandwich.

Try ethnic flair. Some cultures know how to do vegetarian meals right!

Convert your favorite dishes. Turn your favorite meat-based recipes veggie for an easy dinner solution. New family favorite.

Dust off your slow-cooker. Just throw in veggies, herbs, vegetable broth, canned tomatoes, whole grains, and dried beans; then turn the dial on.

Try plant-based dairy products. Try more plant-based alternatives for milk, yogurt, and cheese. Popular as there are many alternative choices available.

Think “yes”. Don’t dwell on what you can’t have, think about what you can have! There are thousands of choices.

Helpful tips

1. Puree, chop, or dice vegetables into smaller pieces to hide them in dishes and stuffed foods to increase taste and nutrition without the family noticing.

2. I recommend green smoothies as a way to include vegetables in diet. The chlorophyll in green vegetables and spirulina are particularly cleansing.  For convenience and cost, use frozen vegetables and add juice.

Here’s my recipe: 1-2 handful of frozen mixed greens or fresh spring salad mix, frozen strawberries, frozen mango, frozen acai, 1 tbsp spirulina, 1 tbsp chia seed, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tbsp raw honey and water. Since I use frozen fruits and veggies, I don’t add ice. Blend until smoothie. I found that the VitaMix is indeed the best blender. Because when I first started making my smoothie with the chased or flaxseed, the smoothie was grainy and I would choke on the seeds. Then, my mom bought a VitaMix for $400. I was like why does a stupid blender cost so much. When I made my first SMOOTHie (real smooth smoothie) that’s not grainy, I agree that’s $400 well-spent.

3. Warn patients that not all meat-free vegan foods (especially the packaged products) are healthy. Many are highly processed food with little nutrients. Focus on wholesome natural food made the way God intend for human consumption.

4. I always recommend my patients to eat fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack. And the portion of food from fruits and/or veggies must be greater that the starch and protein. This way you’ll be should to have a plant-based meal or snack every time.

5. Add veggies to your traditional recipes. Try adding a can of pumpkin puree to your favorite chili recipe. You can’t taste the pumpkin at all, but it boosts the nutrient profile and gives it a fabulous texture! Be creative, make homemade veggie noodles in place of traditional grain noodles. You’ll reduce your carbs intake and increase your veggie intake – killing 2 birds with one shot.

 


 

6. Buy in bulk. Purchase more when there is a good deal or when something is especially delicious. Most fruits and vegetables keep well in the freezer and then you will always have them on hand. I buy my gluten-free pasta by cases from Amazon.com. It’s a lot cheaper than buying from local grocery stores.

7. Be adventurous and try different spices and herbs! Every day is a mini food adventure trying new foods and flavors while becoming healthier.

8. On Sunday afternoons, turn on some good music and invest an hour to chop up veggies and prepare “food for the week”…This way you have “ready to go” options to get you through the week for lunches, meals and side dishes!

9. No time to slice fresh veggies for a salad? Add frozen peas or frozen mixed veggies instead. They will be defrosted by lunch and ready to top with your favorite dressing.

10. Start your grocery store trip in the produce isle. Only shop on the outside of the store. This helps eliminate most processed foods and helps your cart contain fresh foods. Fruits and vegetables should fill up the bottom of your cart.

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Essential amino acids in plant-based diet:
Complement plant food. Plant protein always missing a few amino acid (soy, spinach and quinoa). New idea is the amino acid intake throughout the day, not focus in a meal. Plant protein with lower digestibility, thus recommend increasing intake about.

Allergy to soy, nut, legumes, peanut:
Consider if true food intolerances. May introduce dairy product to meet protein needs.

 

Watch these amazing documentaries to learn more…

Food Matters

Fork Over Knives