A Plant Based Diet – What Does it Mean? What Are We Really Saying?

Have you heard this term, a “Plant Based Diet”?

It’s being used in ever more ways these days, fueled by the every expanding interest in eating more nutrient rich foods, and nutrient rich diets which are plant based.

In our last post T Colin Campbell, who was on Larry King Live in the segment titled “Is Meat Safe”, used the term “Plant Based Diet” as he took part in a panel to discuss the safety of eating meat.

This post is about a plant based diet, and what it really means, particularly when making the point that is it’s not safe to be eating meat based diets. Not just because of potential contamination, but because meat based diets are not health promoting or good for the environment.

First a little insight:

Clearly the trend is away from meat-based diets, and toward plant based, nutrient rich diets.

Why, because animal products are nutrient poor!

Of course, not if you listen to the meat industry pundits or the Nutrient Rich Food Coalition funded largely by the beef and dairy board (both Associations who are desperate  to have their products be known as nutrient rich); or, you have such a limited definition of “nutrient rich” that you think a food simply is Nutrient Rich because it is rich in a single or series of nutrients from one or two nutrient categories. (it’s not)

We ended that last post by my saying – “In my next post I’m going to share what I think the argument Dr Campbell should have been making and what I think Dr Campbell needs to delve into next time he gets this opportunity.”

So, let’s get into it.

In the segment, Dr Campbell makes one mistake that I see plant based diet advocates make all the time.

The Chef was right, “people like animal foods”. I even like animal foods; I was brought up on them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a healthy part of peoples diets “in significant quantities(key words here). Just because a food may taste good and offer up some nutritional value does not mean it should be eaten in significant quantities, let alone as the base of your diet.

To make the point in an extreme way, if Krispy Kreme donuts were injected with vitamin C would it make sense to eat more of them? No.

But Plant Based Diet advocates (of which I am one) think it’s all or nothing, and promote vegan and vegetarian diets (which I support for the most part) as the definition of plant based diet and they fight that fight amongst an entire population that is largely eating animal products, likes them, has a vested interest in them (just listen to the CNN panelists) and is slow to change.

I fought that fight for years, until I realized that it’s not the best way to promote a plant based, nutrient rich diet. Suggesting that the meat industry just close shop is not the way to win friends and influence people on a mass scale and help people start making the change to a nutrient rich diet.

I understand where Dr Campbell was coming from on this, but I feel his case for eating a plant based diet could have been made based on the basic evidence of The China Study, about the detriments of animal protein and the nutrient profiles of foods alone and that, that would have been even more powerful.

First, a  “Plant Based Diet” is a plant “based” diet.

Last time I checked, ‘based’ meant something that provides the foundation for… in this case your diet. And plants need to be a  very hearty base of your diet. As The China Study – the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted- reveals (amongst thousands more, easily accessible studies, let alone common sense) without a shadow of a doubt… we need to be eating a predominantly plant- based, nutrient rich diet, upwards of 90% or more if we are going to be healthy.

The reason is, plants are where all the nutrients come from, including protein. Yes, protein!

A plant based nutrient rich diet means you are getting all the nutrients (healthy promoting protein, real food carbohydrate, essential fat, water, fiber, vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, enzymes etc) that you need to function and perform well, from ALL the nutrient categories and you don’t get what you don’t need (saturated fat, cholesterol etc). This is is what defines a Nutrient Rich whole food!

Chicken for example, doesn’t meet (meat) that quality standard, even if raised organically.

  • Almost No water,
  • No fiber
  • Almost no carbs
  • No phytochemicals
  • No Enzymes
  • Yes, some vitamins and minerals
  • Fat is mainly saturated
  • Protein is not health promoting (causes rapid growth, rapid aging, more hormonal response, greater stimulation (coffee effect), gives off lots of toxic metabolites (even if it’s organic)…

Now why would you want to “base” your diet on meat, including chicken and fish? A meat based diet is a nutrient poor diet, rich in some nutrients, but as a whole food… nutrient poor.

Wouldn’t you want to “base” your diet on nutrient rich foods first, and then if you want to eat nutrient poor foods, you eat them in smaller quantities?

Of course!

That’s the simple argument and one to get excited about!

A plant-based, Nutrient Rich diet promotes your health, takes into consideration taste and far more than protein, weight loss or dietary convenience alone to create an ideal diet which can include small amounts of animal products and still be health promoting.

You can eat small amounts of nutrient poor foods and still be eating a nutrient rich diet on a total dietary intakes basis. What constitutes “small amounts” is up for debate, but The China Study does the best job at giving us the data. I for one, eat less than 5% of my diet from animal foods and at times, will go months without eating any!

Telling people not to eat meat though is not the way to reduce the consumption of animal products which IS the objective here.

John Robbins, Author of Diet for a New America (1990) stated that a reduction in animal product consumption of a mere 10% world wide would ensure that no one in the world went hungry, simply because land resources would be better used to produce plant foods. That alone should prompt everyone on the face of the earth to consume at least 10% less animal foods and add to their base of plant foods.

Small amounts of animal products, less than 10%, are usually fine (check with your health care practitioner) when your diet is 90% Nutrient Rich whole foods based in greens, beans, fruits, raw nuts and seeds and whole grains.

Even DrFuhrman is on board with this formula and he’s the leading advocate for nutritional excellence in the world!

So why aren’t we fighting a battle we can win? Why don’t we send a message that people can digest, and take to new levels of success!

Suggesting that we eliminate the meat industry is not the way!

Remember, as Dr Campbell also said, (and I paraphrase) “the transition to a plant based diet does not and is not going to happen overnight”, but suggesting that we damn the meat industry isn’t making the right argument. Those people are putting kids through school too, and they are friends, so the mere suggestion is going to cause ridicule.

Its the economy stupid! ~Al Gore.

Clearly most of the CNN panel, were making their living from vested interests in nutrient poor nutrition (the nutritionist), production of animal foods (the pundit), the preparation of “great tasting” animal foods (the chef), or was not yet educated enough to make a stronger argument (the newbie vegetarian).

If there had been a hospital industry rep on the panel, they would have been promoting the American Heart Associations recommendations – consume  only 30% of calories from fat (animal fat), because their philosophy is also based on nutrient poor nutrition which inevitably and predictably fills hospital beds because it basically promotes a meat based diet.

If there had been a representative from the Dole company they would have been promoting fruits and vegetables, and staid out of the argument. After all they source most of the nutrient rich foods we eat.

Only those people who are truly advocates for health and are progressive in learning nutrient rich nutrition are going to be fully on board with a plant based diet; but for the sake of success, we need to get our definition straight on what it means to being eating “Plant Based” and make the process consumable.

We need to be eating a plant based diet with a goal of at least 80-90% or more nutrient rich foods. You can take it as far as you want, but this objective would truly change the health of the world and everyone in it!

I think we need to stop making the wrong argument, and start sending the message to eat more nutrient rich foods every day and then explain why. The China Study supports what basic nutrient profiles show us and that is –  it’s not how much we eat, but the qualities of the foods we eat that makes the difference.

We also need need to get aware that there are health promoting forms of protein (plant based) and those that you can survive on and also enjoy, that also happen to promote disease – protein from a meat based diet.

A 90% nutrient rich plant-based diet with smaller amounts of nutrient poor animal products (if you eat them) and even smaller amounts of nutrient barren refined foods (if you eat them at all),  is the ideal way to look at the argument.

But we don’t have to say, don’t eat animal products or refined books. At the end of the day, that’s up to people themselves. After all, people are going to do what they choose to.

Let me know your thoughts.

John Allen Mollenhauer

3 thoughts on “A Plant Based Diet – What Does it Mean? What Are We Really Saying?”

  1. Hi Jim,

    This is all good news new, I am very happy to hear about your dietary changes. You are doing it the right way. Keep learning, keep improving and most of all, keep enjoying the the food!

    I'll share you method for cooking northern beans in an upcoming blog post!

    John Allen

  2. Hi JAM,

    Good article. I made a decision in early June of this year to stop drinking cokes. As time passed and as I began reading health related articles I began changing my diet. My wife is Philippino and she listens to what I share with her. Then she cooks that way. As you said," Remember, as Dr Campbell also said, (and I paraphrase) “the transition to a plant based diet does not and is not going to happen overnight”. Therefore, every week we make adjustments in our diet. Here's a handy shortcut in cooking northern beans. I wash them first. Then I bring to a boil and put a lid on and remove from heat. Soak for an hour. Then I wash them. In an electric 6 quart pressure cooker I cook on high pressure for one minute. Wait until pressure drops. That's it. They are tender and delicious. This is my story relating to plant based foods. I forgot to mention; we are using less meat as time pases. I'm sure no more than 10%.




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