Doctor’s Tip: The healthiest way to eat, summarized
June 19, 2017
More than 2,000 years ago Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food." However, medical school is mainly about pills and procedures.
It wasn't until late in my career that I learned about the power of plant-based nutrition, when, about five years ago, a nurse practitioner suggested that my wife and I read "The China Study." We found the information so compelling we immediately adopted a plant-based, whole food, no-added-oil lifestyle (a better term than "diet") with avoidance of salt and sugar. Our health improved, we felt great, and I started telling my patients about it.
Those who followed it 100 percent had amazing results, better than with any pills or combination of pills I had put them on in the past. This is the only diet that along with regular exercise has been shown to prevent and reverse obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, many inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis — and to prevent dementia and many forms of cancer.
Several months ago, a series of these health tip columns reviewed what not to eat and why. And a subsequent series explained what we should eat every day and why, based on the daily dozen in Dr. Michael Greger's book "How Not to Die." Today's column will summarize what plant-based nutrition is, and next week's column will discuss the science that supports it.
If you want optimal health, don't eat:
• Meat, including poultry.
• Dairy, including cheese, yogurt and butter.
• Seafood including fish.
• Oils of any kind, including olive and coconut oil (stir fry with water, veggie broth or wine; if a baking recipe calls for oil, substitute ground flaxseed or unsweetened apple sauce).
• Processed food such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, white flour tortillas.
• Sugar (read food labels, see what the serving size is, see how much sugar is in a serving and know that 4 grams of sugar is teaspoon). Avoid artificial sweeteners and food colorings.
• Salt (instead of sodium chloride use spices; assuming you don't have chronic kidney disease use potassium chloride found in the salt section of the grocery store).
• Fruit juices, soda, sugar and salt-laden sports drinks (unless you are running a marathon).
• Vitamins, pills and supplements other than those mentioned below.
At least as important is what you do eat every day, because only plants provide fiber, antioxidants and other cancer-fighting phytonutrients (phyto means plant); and only plants feed health-promoting gut bacteria (microbiome).
• A variety of vegetables should compose at least half of what you eat every day, including leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower and kale. At least some of these should be eaten raw.
• Foods with intense color such as greens, red cabbage, red onions, peppers and yams are particularly loaded with antioxidants. There are exceptions to this rule such as mushrooms and cauliflower, which are not intensely colored but are still contain lots of antioxidants and phytonutrients.
• Legumes (all beans, including soybeans, lentils, garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) should be consumed daily (your body gets used to them after about two weeks and bloating and gassiness resolves).
• Eat whole grains, such as black or red or brown rice versus white rice; multigrain pasta; steel-cut oats rather than cereal from a box. To see if something you're buying at the grocery store really has whole grains, look at the food label and the ratio of total carbs: fiber should be 5:1 or less (multiply the number for fiber by 5 and if that number is greater than the number for total carbs, that product has lots of fiber and whole grains).
• Eat herbs and spices every day, especially ¼ to 1 teaspoon of turmeric (food with intense flavor also has a lot of antioxidants and other phytonutrients).
• Eat fruit, including citrus fruit plus non-citrus fruit every day. Consider berries for dessert or on your cereal (again, intense color is important).
• Consume a handful of unsalted, raw nuts a day. Walnuts have the best ratio of healthy to unhealthy fats, followed by almonds and pecans.
• Because you won't be getting omega-3 by eating seafood, you need to consume 1 or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed every day. One way to eat it is to put it on your cereal.
• Sprinkle unsalted pumpkin and sunflower seeds on your salad every day.
• B12 supplement 1,000 mcg. daily.
• Vitamin D at least 1,000 units daily.
• Consider 250 mg. a day of vegan, algae-derived omega-3 daily, to be on the safe side since your body has to convert the nuts, flax, chia to omega-3 and for genetic reasons some of us may not convert enough.
For more detailed information read Dr. Greger's book "How Not to Die." The second half of the book is about what we should be eating every day, and he includes the quantity you should eat of each of his daily dozen. He also explains why these things should be part of our daily diet.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.