If you can finish this advertising jingle — “When it says Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s on the label, label, label, you will...” — you are most likely a baby boomer and can remember canned mush posing as vegetables that you could not even get the dog to eat.
So, while eating trendy vegetables feels kind of cool, have you ever considered eating a mostly plant-based diet? As a dyed-in-the-leather carnivore, I can’t say it is something I have ever considered, but I can’t ignore this compelling information.
There is evidence that heart disease and diabetes can be preventable and even reversible with whole foods plant-based diets. Imagine how empowered we can become in a world of uncertainty, especially when it comes to our own health care and disease prevention.
Persuasive data to support this regimen is based on research by Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zone.” Buettner set out to find the longest-lived people on earth and learn the secrets of their lifestyle. He found distinct regions with the highest life expectancy, or with the highest proportions of people who reach age 100. They are the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan.
Buettner assembled a team of researchers to find common denominators among all the regions. Eating a plant-based diet was among one of nine of the common denominators. They eat meat, but only as a condiment or for a celebration. Nothing they eat has a plastic wrapper. Overwhelmingly, daily beans and greens are what all the blue zone inhabitants ate in a variety of forms.
The whole foods plant-based program is based on two basic rules: Eat whole foods instead of highly processed foods, and eat mostly plant foods (90+ percent of calories).
If I am giving you food for thought, you are probably wondering what constitutes a whole food plant-based diet. Based on “The Whole Foods Diet” by John Mackey, Dr. Alona Pulde and Dr. Matthew Lederman, to be a skillful eater there are eight essential food groups that you should eat as often as you can. They are:
Whole grains and starchy vegetables: yams, corn, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat.
Beans and other legumes: dried or cooked beans, peas, lentils.
Berries: every color and kind as well as cherries, grapes, currants and cranberries.
Other fruits: apples, bananas, peaches, citrus, melons, mangoes, papayas, etc.
Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, radishes, cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, artichokes.
Leafy greens: watercress, Swiss chard, spinach, romaine.
Nonstarchy vegetables: zucchini, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, etc.
Nuts and seeds: walnuts, cashews, flaxseeds, chia seeds.
Avocados and olives are technically fruits. The authors separate them from fruits because if weight loss is a goal, they should be eaten in moderation.
This list is just a start. There are no shortages of cookbooks for inspiration when embarking upon a plant-based lifestyle. If this looks scary to you, I am with you. It’s new and very different from the way most Americans eat. The good news is you can start slow and without radically changing absolutely everything you know. You could try a plant-based meal, or start one to two days out of every week. I am here to say that even if you just cut out the processed food, you would be doing something very positive for your health.
The experts agree that it may take 30 to 90 days for your tastebuds to get used to eating real food compared with the sensory overload of candy bars, movie popcorn, hot dogs, etc. Junk food with its high content of fat, sugar and salt light up the pleasure receptors of the brain, akin to opioids.
Many of our aging loved ones who resist are more likely the ones who need to clean up their diets the most. You can help by being a good role model. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Easing into nutritional change is often a good strategy.
So just maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks. I was the kid stuffing my vegetables into my napkin so that I could go outside to play after dinner. Now, I’m eating Brussels sprouts. I am opening my mind to new possibilities, especially as I learn more about the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. Now, If only there was a way to fend off the bacon police. JN
Bob Roth is the managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions.