When my doctor suggested that I watch the movie “Forks Over Knives“, my lackadaisical approach to healthy eating began to change into a more focused move toward a plant-based diet. The movie described the health benefits of eating plants and only plants, and made the claim that most of today’s chronic diseases can be reversed or cured by cutting animal protein completely out of our diets. The movie was compelling, and I encourage everyone to check it out of their local library and see it. (If your local library doesn’t have it, buy it on Amazon for $13.91 and then donate it to the library!) Or, you can watch it for free (if you don’t mind the ads) on Hulu!
After seeing the movie I still needed more information about starting a plant-based diet, so I followed up by reading “The 21-day Weight Loss Kickstart: Boost metabolism, lower cholesterol and dramatically improve your health.” by Neal Barnard, MD. This is a very good introduction for anyone looking for more information on a plant-based diet. It is clearly written, and simple to follow. Even if you don’t want to exactly follow the 21-day diet, the information the book presents will be helpful in getting started toward better health.
Next on my list was “The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that lowers cholesterol and burns away the pounds” by Rip Esselstyn. This is another fine introduction to beginning a plant-based diet, full of easy-to-follow information and recipes. One nice thing about this book is that you can go to the index and look up, for example, “cereals, best brands” or “refrigerator, E2-approved foods for stocking” and get real basic, down-to-earth, specific information to help you get started.
There are also some fine websites and blogs available with good information:
MindBodyGreen – Plant-Based Diet for Beginners
The Mayo Clinic – Vegetarian Diet: How to get the best nutrition (Includes the Vegetarian Food Pyramid)
Vegetarian Times – Vegan Recipes
Physicans Committed to Responsible Medicine – Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
Little by little, these sources answered my questions:
Will we get enough protein? Conventional wisdom tells us that we must get the protein we need from animal products. This is not the case. Whole grains, legumes, soy products and nuts and seeds are primary protein sources in a plant-based diet. The RDA for protein, based upon a person’s weight, averages between 40 and 60 grams per day. We need only 2.5 to 11% of our calories from protein, and that amount is easily supplied by common vegetables. Vegetables average around 22% protein, beans 28%, and grains 13%. Have a look at the chart on this page.
Don’t we need some of the “good” fats, like olive oil and canola oil, and aren’t those healthy, plant-based foods? “Healthy” is a relative term. Olive and canola oils are indeed healthier than butter or other animal fats, but any excess dietary fat contributes to disease, and the process by which these oils are made removes any of the healthy properties that they once contained when they were vegetables. They have little or no nutritional or health benefits. In another post I’ll talk about learning to cook without oil – it’s a process, and I am still working on it. How am I going to make salad dressing? Stay tuned……
Here’s a list of 15 reasons to avoid vegetable oils.
Don’t we need calcium to avoid osteoporosis as we age? Dairy products are not the main sources of calcium. The PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) website explains, “The most healthful calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes, or “greens and beans” for short. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients. ….Beans are humble foods, and you might not know that they are loaded with calcium. There is more than 100 milligrams of calcium in a plate of baked beans. If you prefer chickpeas, tofu, or other bean or bean products, you will find plenty of calcium there, as well.”
Will we become anemic from lack of iron? Again, common knowledge tells us that iron is supplied mostly from animal products, and again, this is not the case. Many plant foods are great sources of iron, especially leafy green vegetables and beans. There is also iron in whole grains, and many grain products are fortified with iron. Matt Ruscigno’s article, “What every vegetarian needs to know about iron” explains this very well.
Health-Alicious-Ness.com has a list of fruits and vegetables high in iron.
So, I’m feeling pretty certain that we can live healthfully without meat, seafood and dairy. I’ll add more resources to this post as I come across them. There is always more to learn!