Doctor’s Tip: Best strategy for improving your diet
Last week’s column was about the evidence supporting a plant-based, unprocessed food diet with no salt, sugar or added salt as the healthiest diet. Let’s say you want to go on this diet to improve your current and future health, and/or because a plant-based diet is better for the planet. Is it best to go cold turkey or to transition gradually?
To get people to quit smoking, success is unlikely when smokers say they’re going to cut back gradually. They are most apt to quit if they make a commitment to stop smoking on a certain date, get all the cigarettes out of their house and car, and go “cold turkey.” This also applies to alcohol, drug and food addictions.
In order to understand food addictions, you need to know about dopamine — a “feel good” neurotransmitter produced in the pleasure center of the brain. The level of dopamine increases with exposure to addictive substances such as alcohol, nicotine, narcotics and certain foods. With time, tolerance develops, so that more and more of the addictive substance is required to produce the same feel-good response. People on the Standard American Diet — the cause of most of our chronic diseases — are addicted to salt, sugar and fat (the latter often in the form of added oil). Big Food understands this and is shameless about adding these addictive substances to their products — including food for young children. The restaurant industry — particularly fast food outlets — cater to food addictions.
A diet based on animal products causes inflammation, whereas a plant-based diet is anti-inflammatory. For this and other reasons, people always feel better after several days on a plant-based diet — in particular they have more energy, their mood improves, and their aches and pains go away. If you just go part of the way towards a plant-based diet, you maintain your food addictions and your toxic hunger — caused by food addictions and swings in insulin levels rather than need for calories. Moreover, you don’t achieve the benefit of feeling better.
It takes 10–14 days to get over addictions to salt, sugar and fat/oil. Then, your tastes buds change and you lose your taste for the things you shouldn’t be eating. You begin to appreciate the more subtle tastes of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. In order to stick with a plant-based diet, the food must be tasty. A few helpful cookbooks are: “Oh She Glows” (some of the recipes call for oil, but you can substitute ground flaxseed and/or unsweetened apple sauce), “Isa Does it,” “Thug Kitchen,” “Forks Over Knives Cookbook,” “Simply Delicious,” “How Not to Die Cookbook,” and “Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen.”
If you want to improve your current or future health by improving your diet, it’s best to first learn about the power of unhealthy food to cause disease, and of healthy food to prevent, treat and reverse disease. A good place to start is to watch the documentary “Forks Over Knives,” available on You Tube and Netflix. Then read “How Not to Diet,” by Dr. Michael Greger (just read the sections in the first half that apply to you, then read the whole second half about what we should be eating every day and why). Finally, set a date to start the transition, get all of the food you should avoid out of your house, and go for it!
Some people are able to make the transition to a plant-based diet on their own, but many need support. There is now a network from Rifle to Aspen consisting of a few health care providers and other people who are available for support. Pam McGrogan, M.D. at Grand River in Rifle, is board certified in family medicine and lifestyle medicine, and is a facilitator for CHIP — an international organization that offers a 12-week program with proven results, that helps people transition to a plant-based diet. In Glenwood, Ardis Hoffman offers plant-based cooking classes and lifestyle coaching including grocery store tours — 970-340-9009. In Carbondale, I do free consultations by appointment (379-5718) and also offer a free PowerPoint presentation promoting plant-based nutrition the first Monday of the Month, at 7 p.m. at the Third Street Center. Peter Goldstein of Hippocrates Docs in Carbondale has developed a 12-week program called My Health My Priority to help people who are struggling with improving their diet. Another option in Carbondale is the plant-based potluck on the fourth Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center. Shelly Wythe (817-279-2630) in Basalt is a chef who offers fresh, tasty, plant-based meals once a week, which she delivers — all for $10. In Aspen, Kim Scheuer M.D. has a lifestyle medicine practice.
Retired physician Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is author of new book “Enjoy Optimal Health, 98 Health Tips From a Family Doctor,” available on Amazon and in local bookstores. Profits go towards an endowment to the University of Colorado School of Medicine to add prevention and nutrition to the curriculum. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention, diabetes reversal, nutrition, and other health issues. Call 379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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