A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, also commonly referred to as a whole food plant-based diet, is the only diet to clinically reverse the chronic diseases, such as heart disease, certain types of cancers, diabetes, etc., brought on by the western diet. If you enjoy geeking out on the science, below is a list of 10 randomized controlled and meta-analyses of randomized controlled studies on the benefits of whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, whole wheat, farro, barley, etc), a key component of a whole food plant based diet. Go have some oatmeal!
A meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials found that consuming whole grains can significantly reduce fasting insulin levels, an important risk factor for type 2 diabetes. (Reynolds et al., 2020)
A randomized controlled trial involving overweight and obese adults found that those who consumed whole grains had a significant reduction in body weight and BMI compared to those who consumed refined grains. (Katcher et al., 2008)
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 45 randomized controlled trials found that whole grain consumption was associated with significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. (Mellen et al., 2008)
A randomized controlled trial involving postmenopausal women found that consuming whole grains was associated with improvements in insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. (Jonnalagadda et al., 2011)
A meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials found that whole grain consumption was associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that is associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (Liu et al., 2015)
A randomized controlled trial involving overweight and obese adults found that those who consumed whole grains had a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure compared to those who consumed refined grains. (Pol et al., 2013)
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials found that whole grain consumption was associated with improvements in endothelial function, a measure of blood vessel health that is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. (Kelly et al., 2010)
A randomized controlled trial involving overweight and obese adults found that those who consumed whole grains had a significant reduction in markers of systemic inflammation compared to those who consumed refined grains. (Karl et al., 2014)
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials found that whole grain consumption was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack. (Aune et al., 2016)
A randomized controlled trial involving overweight and obese adults found that those who consumed whole grains had a significant reduction in fasting glucose levels compared to those who consumed refined grains. (Reynolds et al., 2019)
One of the obstacles to succeeding on a whole food plant based diet is the mistaken thought that you cannot have yummy without old school staples like butter and eggs. Well, there are lots of great cookbooks to draw on for that occasional indulgence that are still healthy and won’t fill you with toxins, animal hormones, saturated fat, excess protein, and all of the baggage of consuming animal products. Plus for the planet, too! Here is a great list to explore:
“The China Study Cookbook” by LeAnne Campbell – A cookbook featuring over 120 whole food plant-based recipes based on the research from “The China Study.”
When a charismatic cardiologist posts lectures on the benefits of fasting, it catches my attention. Dr. Pradip Jamnadas has done some studying between his demanding cardiology practice and understands the biology of what happens to the body when we fast. He easily explains the chemical processes that our bodies shift into when fasting to activate numerous genes that start repairing us from a biological perspective, from activating a gene to reduce inflammation to another that directly repairs damaged DNA, to another that recycles damaged cells, to setting the stage for producing stem cells and growing new brain cells. It really is fascinating and corroborated by the science.
These mechanisms developed in our species over the course of 100000 generations from early paleolithic times. A daunting number of generations when compared to both the agricultural developments in the last few hundred years and the industrial developments in the last few generations.
However much knowledge Dr. Jamnadas demonstrates on the science of fasting, there are abundant holes in his knowledge around the practice of fasting and the optimal diet for humans to express a healthy biology that are now accepted at the core of nutritional science and diet and advocated by the voices of many doctors and researchers who have devoted their lives to studying clinical nutrition and healthy populations of the past (as there are few left now as the west encroaches on them). For one, Dr. Jamnadas places the blame on carbohydrates for modern obesity and insulin problems. His solution is to stop eating all carbohydrates, the restriction of which in study after study has been associated with an increase in all causes of mortality. This is not a solution.
All carbohydrates are not created equally – some are grown in factories and some are grown. While processed carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates, like refined sugar and wheat, are unhealthful, and contribute to chronic lifestyle induced diseases (obesity, cancer, heart disease), whole complex carbohydrates and starches, like legumes, potatoes, oats, are the opposite: healthy and the core component in the diets of the longest lived populations on the planet. It is the western diet, high in meats, animal fats (dairy/meat), and these processed foods that are at the root cause of the insulin problem.
The framework for understanding how animal fat cripples our body’s insulin sensitivity is explained at length by many who have studied it, Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Michael Greger. Dietary fat blocks the uptake of glucose into the cell by blocking the insulin receptors. More insulin is needed and the system of getting energy into the muscle cells becomes dysfunctional. More insulin is produced, more fat is gained. The solution is to eat a low fat plant-based diet. Not a “low-fat” diet (around 30% total calories) as touted by the American Diabetes Association which is inadequate and not truly low-fat. But, a low-fat diet (<10% of total calories) mimicking those of the longest lived populations that do not suffer from obesity or chronic lifestyle induced diseases (heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes, etc.). And one that actually has clinical studies supporting its role in the reversal of these diseases. A simple diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and starches easily achieves this with unrestricted eating.
Dr. Jamnadas also explains that the paleo period as the time we hunted and ate meat giving us an edge evolutionarily but there are now several new scientific discoveries that have essentially negated the effect of meat on our evolution. Brain growth is now attributed to our consumption of fibrous carbohydrates. We ate starch from roots and plants. This is what provided our brains with the enormous amounts of glucose they now rely on. Meat was hunted but the gathering was where it was all at. And while fasting is miraculous, whole food plant based diets are also miraculous. It is the only diet that, much like fasting, reverses most lifestyle induced diseases. It is the only diet where you actively heal. Every other diet falls short, Mediterranean, Dash, or induces harm, Keto, Atkins, Paleo, etc…
It is also counter intuitive to recommend eating meat when Dr. Jamnadas both understands how little protein we actually need and that all food contains protein. A diet of fruits, vegetables, and starches (whole grains, legumes, potatoes, etc.) meets our protein needs without the need to have a chunk of flesh, a scoop of processed powder, or the mammary excretion of another mammal. Low protein diets are associated with longevity.
The last item to point out is the sketchy recommendation to break a fast with bone broth. Bone broth may be the latest craze but it does not make it a healthy food choice. Bones store minerals but they also store heavy metals and toxins. Chicken bone broth exceeds acceptable levels of compounds such as arsenic and lead. Yes, even that organic and supposedly uncaged bird is full of heavy metal. If you want to hear about the benefits of fasting, Dr. Jamnadas’s lectures are fascinating because he is so passionate about the discovery of how fasting can heal. But if you want to truly reap the benefits of a true fast (with no coffee/tea/broth/salt/etc.) and to use it as a stepping stone to a whole food plant based diet, read the books or watch the lectures of those doctors who have extensive clinical practice in the realm of fasting for health like Dr. Alan Goldhammer, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and Dr. Michael Klapper.
A few years ago, I did a five day water fast. I weaned myself from coffee beforehand, and then just did it. I drank distilled water for five days. I did a little write up of it here but what I remember most vividly was how my sense of smell and taste became so intense that when I did break the fast with a banana, it was the best taste I had ever experienced.
If you are already following a healthy whole food plant-based diet, one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and starches, preferably without oil, added salt or sugar, you are doing great. However, if you’re like me, where I fall into a routine of roughly the same breakfast (variations of oats and berries), lunch (large raw salad, some whole grains and legumes, a few dates), and dinner (similar to lunch most of the time), you will inevitably experience some palate boredom. Which can be ok if you are busy and are eating nourishing foods. Not everything has to be a party in your mouth. But, in the gastronomical wasteland that most of us live in, processed quasi-healthy foods, not to mention simply unhealthy foods, that are calorie dense are easily available. And, biologically, we are drawn to them. Which could explain my love for Nana Joe’s granola. Sister Pizza’s vegan pizza, or Good Earth’s burritos. If you are unfortunately eating an unhealthy hyper-processed, high fat, animal laden and calorie dense diet with loads of salt, sugar, and oils, where an apple tastes like a ball of water, a reset could really help open your awareness. So, if you are increasingly drawn to indulge or indulge with every single meal, consider a palate reset with a short fast. It does not take long.
It’s simple. Have your breakfast and tea and then drink water for the rest of the day. Go at least 24 hours with nothing but water. You might have a crappy night but biologically, it will be ok. Evolutionarily, we are not meant to be in a constantly fed state. And, our bodies do expend a lot of energy digesting (though a lot less energy if you are not consuming toxic foods like meat and dairy and oils). Why not give your body a rest, reset your palate so that your usual healthy food remains delicious, and detox from the processed food so that it encroaches less on your healthy lifestyle?
Treats are great but if you think you should have a treat every single day, you are likely sabotaging yourself in terms of long-term health gains.
Almost 700,000 in the United States people died from heart disease in 2020. Not counting the exceptional death toll in 2020-2021 caused by Covid 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Heart disease is a lifestyle-induced disease. Meaning that the choices you make on a day to day basis will determine whether you develop the disease or not. Diets high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, refined foods, processed foods (white flour, white sugar, oil, etc.), and alcohol are the drivers of heart disease. That really translates into red meat, processed meat (sausages, prosciutto, jerky, etc.), chicken, fish, pork, eggs, cheese, milk or any other lactation derived product, candy, ice cream, soda, pastries, cakes, fast food, refined oil, etc., all staples of the western diet. Though smoking also increases the risk, diet is at the heart of the matter.
In 2017, almost 7% of the US population over 20 had cardiovascular disease and close to 72 million people went to the hospital for a heart-related problem. That number represents 1 in 5 people in the US. In 2018, 30 million people in the US were diagnosed with heart disease. Every year almost one million people in the US have a heart attack. And, alarmingly, by the age of 10, most children in this country have already begun to accumulate fatty streaks in their arteries. Ponder that and its implications on the quality of life that cardiovascular disease imparts. You may not die now from heart disease but what will a day in your life be like with it?
With clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), delivering oxygen to your brain is taxing, moving is a chore, exercise is more difficult, living is difficult. Your body is not functioning optimally. Complications and co-morbidities arise. You’ll likely spend time in the environment of hospitals and doctor offices. The medicines and procedures prescribed to alleviate and manage the symptoms of heart disease have a myriad of side effects which in turn require more medicines with side effects to remedy. This can complicate and exacerbate other health issues. Pills are very expensive bandaids for wounds requiring stitches. In short, from the day cardiovascular begins to the point where the disease requires “management” to the point where it manifests as heart failure, heart attack, stroke, or death, is an extended period in life where your body is not functioning optimally, where you will not feel your best, where your life is impacted negatively until the end point. When you are diagnosed is the point at which your pharmaceutical slavery is likely to begin. And, doctors are ready with an arsenal of medications and procedures to prescribe, from statins, to blood thinners, to beta-blockers, to ACE inhibitors, to stents, all doing very little to solve the underlying cause of the disease.
The period from management to manifestation is where public policy (USDA/FDA) and aggressive marketing and lobbying efforts from Big Ag and Big Pharma keep you in the gray, keep you “managed” in a state of slightly slower rate of physical decline with a metaphorical IV to your bank account. Public policy continues to tiptoe around the influence of Big Ag and Big Pharma shackling those suffering from chronic lifestyle induced conditions to permanent pharmaceutical enslavement – an existence where you will be required to purchase and ingest medications for the rest of your life to relieve symptoms, without resolving the underlying cause of your illness. With the cost of caring for heart disease and its related conditions in the hundreds of billions of dollars, from a financial perspective, it is hard to see the status quo changing.
The medical system has aligned with the interests of Big Pharma and Big Ag to grant them a place in deciding your fate: not knowing how you ended up with heart disease, confused and misinformed about any action you can take to both alleviate and cure your disease, and now dependent on your doctor, who likely has received no guidance on preventative nutrition, and drugs for the rest of your life.
This brings us to two studies every person (cardiologist and primary care physician included) should read: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s study on preventative care for heart disease and Dr. Dean Ornish’s Lifestyle Interventian Trial. They both show that in interventional randomized controlled trials that a low fat (around 10% or less of total kcal) whole food plant based diet (a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains) halts and reverses the course of cardiovascular disease. A whole food plant based diet also quickly frees you from pharmaceutical slavery and from the suffering that comes with it. With little cost and research, it is easy to implement.
Though modern medicine can miraculously remove a tumor, fuse a disk, or set a bone, it would be unusual and yet, so simple and effective, to get a prescription for preventative nutrition and the proper support to implement it. This could cost very little and could yield, miraculously, a cure. No prescription pad needed. What if there were a financial incentive to cure instead of treat the patient?
The question, “What is the risk of me getting heart disease or what is my risk of death from heart disease?” remains an abstract, distant, and difficult one to answer until you are diagnosed. Even if you can connect the dots between diet and disease, nobody does the math in their heads. Cardiovascular disease doesn’t just appear, cardiovascular disease develops. If your diet looks like the western diet or you habitually consume foods rich in saturated fat and cholesterol (animals), you are likely developing cardiovascular disease. You shouldn’t wait for a heart attack or stroke to inform you or for your primary care doctor to effectively guide you out of the gray.
As evidence rolls in for the health benefits of adopting a whole food plant-based diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds), the case for dropping animal products (meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs) from our diets becomes compelling. Science continues to tease out the numerous mechanisms as to why the consumption of animal products is unhealthful and disease-promoting. Whether it is from saturated fat, cholesterol, TMAO, heme iron, nitrosamines, hormonal contamination, bacterial contamination, or the way each of these factors interact as a whole with our biology, the public gets mixed information due to roadblocks set up by aggressive marketing, lobbying campaigns, industry funded “science”, and, in some cases, the FDA, much in the way the tobacco industries attempted to cloud the relationship between smoking and lung cancer decades ago. Now, smoking has taken second place to poor diet in the leading cause of disease. Here are some facts about meat consumption to consider before your next meal.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists the consumption of red and processed meats as carcinogenic.
Red meat contains many harmful compounds in addition to saturated fat that include arachidonic acid (highly inflammatory omega 6 fatty acid), methionine (promotes cancer growth), trans-fatty acids (aka “trans-fats”), endogenous hormones like IGF-1 (promotes tumor growth), exogenous hormonal growth promoters, antibiotics, man-made contaminants (fertilizers, pcbs, pesticides), and formaldehyde, among others.
Red meat contains bovine pathogens such as E. Coli and bovine spongiform encephalopathy which can lead to serious and life-threatening bacterial and viral infections.
Steroid hormones in meat and dairy products are complicit in the risk factors for various cancers in humans.
The digestion of meat raises Trimethylamine N-Oxide (TMAO) levels in blood dramatically. High TMAO blood levels are associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. It is also associated with a dysfunctional microbiota.
Controlled trials by Dr. Dean Ornish at the Preventative Medicine Research Institute led to an inverse relationship between health outcomes and the consumption of animal products (red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy).
Reversal of coronary heart disease was achieved by eliminating meat, dairy, fish, and oil from patients’ diets during a clinical trial at the Cleveland Clinic by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.
In metabolic ward studies, interventional studies, and randomized clinical trials, an increase in saturated fat from dietary sources (meat, dairy, eggs) led to an increase in LDL cholesterol. High LDL levels are a primary indicator of coronary heart disease.
There is a strong correlation between diets high in dietary cholesterol (meat, eggs, dairy) and elevated risks of stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung, breast, testicular, kidney, and bladder cancers.
The water footprint of producing red meat is devastating our environment. It takes approximately 1800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef (roughly 30 gallons/1 g of protein) whereas it takes approximately 500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of chickpeas (roughly 5 gallons/1g of protein). A pound of potatoes only takes 34 gallons.
If there were a Dr. Michael Greger action figure, there would be one in my kitchen. I discovered his www.nutrtionfacts.org years ago and then read his How Not to Die and more recently his How Not to Diet. The nearly 5000 citations from carefully scrutinized science studies and publications is enough to make you giddy with science.
And, yes, there is a whole section on Keto diets and what the science says. I’ve encouraged all my friends who have tried keto to watch the keto video series on nutrtionfacts.org and to read his How Not to Diet. I’ve also encouraged friends to read these books if they simply want some evidence-based guidance to maximize their health.
There is a better path for health and for those wanting to reach a healthy weight. A few of the studies that stood out from his books have showed that low-carb diets increased mortality from ALL causes. The longest lived populations around the world eat high carbohydrate diets centered around whole foods: sweet potatoes, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, etc… There is often a confusion in the fitness industry where all carbohydrate = bad. Processed carbohydrates like white flour, white bread, white rice, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, are indeed unhealthful foods – high in calories and lacking any nutritive value. But whole grains, rich in fiber, minerals, nutrients, and protein, are a different matter all together. Which is perhaps why they lower your risks of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and chronic inflammation.
Simply following a whole food plant based diet led to the most profound health changes I’ve experienced: from a better mood and energy to better athletic performance to better sleep. What I fuel my body with is making me healthier and not mortgaging my health for short term optics.
So, after years of eating a whole food plant based diet, I thought I’d share what a typical lunch looks like. I tend to run or workout before a late lunch so it is the largest meal in volume but perhaps not in calories (though there are plenty). I aim to get as many raw vegetables of as many varieties and colors as I can. Before rinsing and throwing everything into my salad bowl I had a handful of strawberries that were sitting on the counter and ate a few handfuls of baby arugula because it would not fit. In the bowl you’ll see some sprouts (a mix), carrots, red cabbage, broccolini, a red and yellow pepper, and an heirloom navel orange. By the end of this meal I will have had 10-12 servings of veggies and about 7-8 servings of fruit (including what I had at breakfast). This way, anything at dinner is a bonus!
I’ll also try to include some lightly steamed dark leafy greens with some spices. In the smaller bowl you’ll see some purple and green kale with granulated garlic, chipotle powder, oregano, and a splash of apple cider vinegar below a pile of black beans with salsa. Typically, I’d also have a pile of quinoa or millet or some whole grain but I was too hungry to wait for that to cook and the fridge didn’t have leftovers. I’ll get them at dinner. After all of this, I’ll grab a date or two and a few walnuts.
Maybe the next post will have a picture of breakfast!
Switching to a plant-based diet from a western or fatty animal-heavy diet to lose weight, unlike other diets, is a healthy choice. A healthy plant-based diet aligns perfectly with optimal health, reversing many chronic lifestyle induced diseases and maladies, and as a side benefit, weight will come off. All plant-based diets are not created equal though.
The healthiest for chronic health issues is an sos (salt oil sugar free) whole food plant based diet (wfpb). A wfpb diet consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, starches, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. There is a spectrum though. Sos wfpb is the healthiest diet. Even if you include a sprinkle of salt and sugar with it, it is still healthier than anything else. Add a little oil and it’s slightly less healthy, add vegan junk food (french fries are vegan) and fake processed meats and it becomes a lot less healthy, and real dairy and eggs and it becomes dramatically unhealthy, etc…
If you are having trouble losing weight on your current plant-based diet, try this for a month:
Make sure you are eating sos wfpb meals and food.
Drop out all sources of concentrated fats and calories (no nuts and seeds or avocados or breads)
Drink a large glass of water upon waking and more throughout the day but don’t over hydrate.
Eat more and a lot of raw fruits and vegetables.
Eat very high water content foods (cucumbers, carrots, kale, arugula, romaine, melons, eggplant, apples, berries, celery). They will fill you up, you can gnaw all day, and you will be sated.
Have a large satiating breakfast (oatmeal, berries, bananas).
Eat a lot of whole grains and potatoes.
Stop eating a few hours before bedtime. A good cutoff is 8:00.
Do a bit of bodyweight resistance exercises (body squats, lunges, pushups, planks, etc).
Drink tea (skip the milks).
Have a weekly dose of B12 or if you are older than 60 consult nutrionfacts.org for the correct recommendations.
Do not count calories or waste your time with macros.
Your tastebuds will acclimate. I find that the tastier the food, the more my appetite grows. Keep it simple. You’ll appreciate the taste fo fruits and the subtleties of vegetables more. You’ll feel great.
New York Times’ Gretchen Reynold just summarized a study which found that hyperglycemia blunts gains from exercise. Hyperglycemia happens for many reasons but primarily from insulin resistance. Saturated fat (and high fat diets) contribute to insulin resistance by impairing your cells’ ability to absorb glucose for energy. Simply stated, by eliminating saturated fat, processed food, sugar, and other concentrated sources of fat (oils), your cells will return to functioning the way they are supposed to.
The study pointed out that the diets comprised of high quality carbohydrates (i.e. fruit, whole grains, and starches) were the ones that led to higher gains. Sugar and fat = decreased gains from exercise. Fruit and whole grain = gains from exercise.
It’s worth noting that high fat diets also impair endothelial function and that low carbohydrate diets are linked to all cause mortality.
Stick to high levels of fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and starches. White potatoes are awesome. Do not eat fat.
Dr. Michael Greger’s Nutrition Facts website has a sliver of videos and articles highlighting high standard clinical studies on nutrition and athletic performance. If you are a nutrition junkie with a running addiction, this series of videos is a valuable resource for your athletic and health pursuits.
Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables has been clinically proven to boost recovery by attenuating creatine kinase activity post-workout. Specifically, eating lots of spinach and possibly other high nitrate leafies (arugula, beets) and dark berries (and juices from tart cherries and purple grapes) blunts delayed onset muscle soreness dramatically enough that it supports that anecdotal plant-based athlete claim that hard training is possible sooner after a demanding workout.
While a quick recovery is great, the benefits of eating dark leafy greens and berries comes with a broad host of health and athletic benefits. For one, time to exhaustion is prolonged and strength is enhanced. All this, plus the anti-inflammatory and disease- fighting properties attributed to high levels of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, make dark leafy greens and berries an essential tool for athletes.