Comments on a healthy diet

The array of opinions regarding what we eat can be overwhelming. In addition there are many with vested interests in keeping the waters muddied so to speak so that it becomes all too hard for anyone to reach a consensus opinion.  Margaret Mead a famous sociologist commented that it is easier to change someone’s religion than to change their diet.

Despite this there is overwhelming scientific information that points to the health benefits of moving towards a whole foods plant based diet. The Adventist health study identified health benefits moving from a omnivorous diet towards a whole food plant based diet.

The five groups identified were:

  1. NON vegetarian – included regular meat in diet
  2. Semi- vegetarian- > one meal of meat each week
  3. Pesco-vegetarian – seafood but no meat
  4. Lacto-ovo vegetarian – includes dairy and eggs
  5. Total vegetarian- no animal products (vegan)

It is appropriate to comment that what you don’t eat does not make the diet “good”. The term “whole foods plant based” is chosen in preference to “Vegan” as the latter has been used primarily to indicate the absence of animal products only and is used by those promoting animal rights and ecological benefits.  While both of these are worth causes it is worth noting that beer and chips are vegan but not very healthy.

So what steps can be taken to improve our health through our diet?  For some it is things like avoiding processed meats which have been classed Class 1  Carcinogens ( as is smoking). Another step may be to reduce the amount of animal products and increase the amount of plant foods. The Mediterranean diet works on this principle; meat is a condiment or flavouring. It is moving step wise by doubling the “good” and halving the “ bad”.  The reduction in animal fats including cheese is an excellent choice and the removal of caloried drinks is important.

I have observed after conducting 6 CHIP programs that those who make dramatic dietary changes report dramatic changes in their feeling of wellbeing. It is worth noting that our tastebuds change after 21 days and cravings greatly diminish. We can tiptoe in or dive in so to speak.

On the positive score it is noteworthy that only 5 % of the Australian population regularly has all three recommendations of 5 serves of vegetables, 2 serves of fruit and 150 minutes of exercise each week.  This is a good starting point.  There is evidence that doubling these minimums has positive health outcomes. In fact it has been shown that eaten whole, there is no level at which fruit is harmful.

There are other suggestions I would make:

  1. Eat a rainbow. Foods from different colour groups; green, yellow etc
  2. Eat as much variety of foods as possible. We could aim to have 30 different foods each day; for example multigrains where appropriate, Variety in fruit (possibly fruit salads) large range of vegetables, mixed raw nuts and bean mixes.
  3. Eat beans and nuts. Both have positive health benefits.
  4. Eat food with minimal processing. This means FOOD AS GROWN. If it has a package it may not be as good for you.
  5. Steaming rather than frying is better. Apart from the oil added for frying high temperatures are detrimental to some vitamins etc. More raw food is desirable.
  6. Eat less salt.  At a population level we eat twice as much as desirable. Bread and processed tomato products are worth watching.
  7. Avoid added sugar. Fruit is fine and can be used for its sweetness if desired.

 There is a lot of confusion about eating grains.  While it is acknowledged that some people have sensitivities to gluten it has been shown that avoidance of gluten causes adverse health outcomes; both heart disease and gut health. Our bowel microbiota require lots of fibre and resistant starches for their health and ours.

Apart from  the above suggestions if you wish to be more prescriptive I would commend to you Dr Michael Greger’s daily dozen.  His very scientific analysis can be found online; and there is a free APP for his daily dozen is available. His daily dozen is:

  1. Three serves of beans; any of the myriads of legumes
  2. One serve of berries; strawberries, blueberries, blackberries etc
  3. Three serves of other fruit
  4. One serve of cruciferous vegetables- eg broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
  5. Two serves of greens. (More is better)
  6. Two serves of other vegetables
  7. One tablespoon of ground Flaxseeds (Linseed)
  8. 30 grams of nuts/seeds
  9. Include turmeric and other spices
  10. Three serves of whole grains
  11. Five schooners of water
  12. Exercise. There are benefits noted out to 120 minutes.

With the adoption of a plant based diet it is necessary to supplement with vitamin B12. (Only bacteria make vitamin B12; our animal friends eat unwashed food for theirs). Remember to get some sunshine for vitamin D (it has other benefits as well in small quantites).

While you may not agree with everything I have said, I hope to trigger some interest and debate but I would commend to you a Whole Foods, Plant Based Diet.

Dr Peter Romero

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