In Overwhelming Support of a Plant-Based Diet

Two things happened this month that caused me to rethink my diet, supplement regimen, and disease-prevention strategy. First, I read Michael Pollan’s latest book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (Penguin, December 2009), which wasn’t so much surprising as confirming of his stance taken in his other nutritional tomes, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (Penguin, 2009) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin, 2007). In short, Pollan believes the standard American diet is woefully deficient in vegetables–not lean proteins, not low-fat dairy products, not healthy whole grains–and thereby void of important vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. Our dietary shortage of vegetables and other plant-based foods is the reason why rates of “Western” diseases–cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease–are significantly higher today than they were when people ate more plants, say 100, or even 50, years ago.

But what upsets me, a relatively “healthy” eater whose diet is made up of mostly lean animal proteins, couscous, nutty breads from Whole Foods, Greek yogurt, and that must-have weekly bag of wild-rice sesame sticks, is that, in his advocacy of a plant-based diet, Pollan isn’t just talking about a side of broccoli with dinner every night. As he says: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” And by mostly plants, he doesn’t mean mostly chicken and rice, with an accompanying half cup of green beans.

And this is the same point Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat For Health: Lose Weight, Keep It Off, Look Younger, Live Longer (Gift of Health Press, 2008), tried to hammer home during an in-person interview yesterday. To live your best, lose weight, and help prevent cancer and other common “American” diseases, you have to eat micronutrients, found mostly in leafy green vegetables, and not submit your body to a toxic digestive cycle that ebbs between food addictions and empty calories on a tide of animal products, flours, sugars, salts, and other non-plant-based products.

While such a dietary approach may seem restrictive at first, it makes complete sense when you do the reading–or in my case, the listening–and Whole Foods Market is so taken with Fuhrman’s philosophy that the store has installed the doctor’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) in all its markets to teach customers the micronutrient-to-calorie ratio of many common foods. (For example, kale has the highest ANDI rating of 1,000, while chicken breast rings in at a disappointing 27.)

But don’t just take my word on the vegetable imperative: Do the reading yourself. Pollan’s book is 112 short, easy-to read pages. And soon, Whole Foods Market will start selling Dr. Fuhrman’s literature and self-analysis software for a slight $19.99–the package allows consumers to input their daily diet and family history to discover their own micronutrient deficiencies and nutrition-based disease risks. And in the meantime, what do you think: Can we save America’s healthcare crisis if people just simply ate more, or mostly, vegetables?

1 thought on “In Overwhelming Support of a Plant-Based Diet”

  1. To answer your question “Can we save America’s healthcare crisis if people just simply ate more, or mostly, vegetables?” I say yes! Or at least it’s a giant step in the right direction. I think if we are sincere in wanting to make a difference in our healthcare system we must look at the way we run the food industry and see that the choices each and every one of us makes is actually navigating the situation.

    Great post JAM. I’m grateful for pioneers like you and Michael Pollan to be pointing out that there is indeed a healthy and moral alternative to the way that we eat and that is completely doable. We just need to set our sight on the goal- if we really want to change the healthcare system then our choices will reflect that.

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