This article is written by Tracy Yemma, Registered Dietitian and owner of Energy Center Nutrition in Massachusetts.
Can a whole food plant based diet can prevent or reverse many of the ailments Western society is currently experiencing such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure?
That is the claim of the Lee Fulkerson directed movie Forks Over Knives.
The movie reviews and provides an exhaustive analysis of several studies making the following claim: societies that adopt a meat-based diet developed more disease (high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity) than those who choose plant based diets.
The movie suggests “meat = bad” and “plants = good” and that a vegan diet (no animal product at all including eggs, dairy or fish) is the way to go.
While I agree that a plant-based diet is effective (compared to diets full of processed foods), the message is simplistic; becoming a vegan is unrealistic for many people. You can however, gradually decrease the amount of animal products you eat on a weekly basis, without taking them out of your diet completely.
If interested, you can learn how to cook with less meat in a way that is pleasing to the palate and enjoyable to eat. You might consult a book, the internet or a dietitian or health coach for suggestions.
While most of us can benefit from adding more fruits and vegetables to our diet, animal products do provide us with essential minerals like iron and calcium. Certain populations (lactating and pregnant women, active growing males) need calcium, iron, B vitamins, zinc, and a certain number of calories to maintain sound health. With an all plant-based diet, certain populations may need to take supplements to get those essential nutrients.
Our meat consumption has increased over the years and our sugar consumption has tripled. The movie didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the effect of sugar consumption on the increase in obesity and diabetes.
What can you do?
We need to view food as fuel and medicine and not a hobby or a pastime. Here are a few tips to eating more healthfully at home.
- Rely less on processed foods and more on preparing foods at home. Make the time.
- Eat meals as a family. When families eat meals together daily, the children are better adjusted and do better in school.
- Include more fruits and grains. You may not be able to go entirely meat free, but you can increase your fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption. Consider limiting meats to 3-4 oz. per meal a few times per week and incorporating more vegetarian options: vegetarian chili, whole wheat pasta with olive oil and broccoli and garlic, butternut squash or tomato soup with a side salad, etc.
- Use unrefined grains high in fiber such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, bread with >3 grams of fiber per slice.
- Consider buying hormone and antibiotic free animal products (meat, chicken, eggs, dairy) and wild fish. Check the “dirty dozen’ list of produce that is updated annually to see which produce you should go out of your way for to buy organic.
Overall, the move provided insights and thought provoking information. I recommend it to those with an interest in learning more about how food affects our health and well-being.
Your turn: Have you seen the movie? What did you think?
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About the Author
Tracy Yemma is a registered dietitian and owner of Energy Center Nutrition in Norwell, MA. She specializes in working with clients who want to lose weight, manage diabetes, and reduce high blood pressure. When she’s not working Tracy enjoys cooking, reading, traveling and running. Find Energy Center Nutrition on Facebook.