Sunday, June 15, 2008

Plant-Based Diet

I firmly believe that the standard American diet, rich in meat, fish and dairy is the primary cause of our poor health as a nation. The nation will not convert to a vegan diet, but the closer individuals come to a diet very rich in starches, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables the healthier we will be. Good solid research supports this conclusion. Unfortunately very few physicians promote a high nutrition plant-based diet. As individuals we need to take this responsibility into our own hands.

There is no research that I am aware that shows that small quantities of meat and dairy are detrimental to health, if a diet is most plant-based. It is possible to have an unhealthy vegetarian diet just as it is possible to have an unhealthy omnivorous diet. An omnivore diet can be healthy if meat and dairy are kept to a small percentage of total foods consumed. In my case, I choose to eliminate all animal foods in part because I am not good at moderation. With smoking..many years ago I had to quit cold turkey. The same with diet. when I recognized that meat, fish and dairy did not contribute to good health I quit cold turkey. This has worked for me. Others have a healthy diet that is mostly plant-based, but not entirely. By the way, I think a small quantity of meat would be a few ounces per week, not per day.

My diet is low fat plant-based, which I believe to be the healthiest. The adjustment period to this diet can be difficult, but the effort is well worth it. I eat avocados, nuts, and olives in moderation. These are very healthy foods. They are high in fat and can cause weight gain, however, even in vegans if consumed in large quantities. I have had a hard time controlling my weight as I have gotten older (I am 66), even as a vegetarian. It has only been since I have adopted the low fat entirely plant-based diet that my weight is under control. I have had to eliminate all added oils (even the so called good oils) to achieve that result. So I get a two-fer -- good health (so far) and weight control. Well worth it in my opinion.

With regards to good and bad fats...I don't entirely buy this distinction. Research has not satisfactorily demonstrated to me that olive and safflower oils are healthy. The Mediterranean Diet is somewhat healthy I think in spite of olive oil because it is rich in plant based foods. We get all the fat we need from whole foods. The plaque that forms in our arteries comes from all types of oils, especially animal based fats, but not entirely.

What we are talking about is breaking bad food habits (ingrained in us by our culture) and adopting new healthier ones. Running against cultural food norms is not easy. We are also talking about separating marketing hype from research, not an easy thing to do. The meat, dairy and fish industries spend a lot of money on promotion.

I started out being very committed to finding the healthiest diet. I was motivated by what happened to my father. He died of a heart attack at age 53 due to a sedentary life style and poor eating habits. It took me many years to arrive at my current set of dietary beliefs. In recent years I have reinforced my commitment to a plant-based diet by learning more about the detrimental effects on the environment from animal food processing (yes, including fish farming). I am also very sympathetic to the opponents of animal cruelty, which is a huge issue with meat processing.

So here we get a three-for -- good health -- becoming a friend of the environment -- and becoming a friend to animals. Not bad.

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