All you need to know about eating healthy, in one sentence
Let’s cut through all the conflicting diet and health information out there and get to the bottom of things:
When it comes to nourishing our bodies, nature knows best.
And what does nature provide? A variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, all designed to help our bodies thrive.
Leading nutritional experts and their groundbreaking studies confirm what our instincts already know: Whole plant foods are here on the earth to nourish and sustain mankind and help us live and function at our very best, free from disease and discomfort. They contain all the essential vitamins and nutrients as well as all of the nutritional components our bodies need to thrive: carbohydrates, fats, and yes, even protein. And, they contain none of the harmful substances that are so prevalent in the Standard American Diet — the substances that are slowly killing us one bite at a time.
Doctors are finding that those who eat a more whole food, plant-based diet are not only incredibly healthy, they’re preventing and even reversing in themselves the biggest threats to human health today: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, autoimmune disease, organ failure, and on and on. These experts have discovered that the health issues we’ve accepted as the normal effects of aging are entirely optional. The fountain of youth exists! And it’s all found in the garden.
What are plant-based foods?
When many people hear “plant-based,” they often think of piles upon piles of leafy greens. In actuality, a plant-based diet is not solely based on vegetables — and you don’t have to go completely vegan or even vegetarian. A whole-foods, plant-based diet is made up of a variety of foods found in nature, including grains like rice, wheat, and quinoa. These foods are best for us and their nutrients more readily available when minimally processed and kept as close to their natural state as possible, but they don’t have all have to be eaten raw. Plant-based foods form the ingredients for some of your favorite dishes — soups, breads, burritos, you name it.
When made from scratch instead of consumed in processed packages that are packed full of sugar, fat, salt, and chemical additives and preservatives, your favorites become some of the healthiest foods you can eat. All it takes is a little slicing, dicing, blending, and sauteing, and voila! Nature’s most delicious offerings become your new family favorites.
What’s in the Whole-Foods, Plant-Based diet?
Health and nutrition experts Alona Pulde, MD and Matthew Lederman, MD define a whole-foods, plant-based diet as being “centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.” Read more about my take on a whole-foods, plant-based diet here.
Here’s a look at what comprises the categories of plant-based foods:
- Fruit such as mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, etc.
- Vegetables such as lettuce, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, etc.
- Tubers and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yams, yucca, winter squash, corn, green peas, etc.
- Whole grains such as millet, quinoa, barley, rice, whole wheat, oats, etc.
- Legumes such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, cannellini beans, black beans, etc.
- Nuts and seeds like cashews, almonds, and walnuts and chia, flax, sunflower, and sesame seeds.
What’s not in the Whole-Foods, Plant-Based diet?
In addition to reducing or eliminating animal foods, which overtax our systems and contribute to heart disease, liver and kidney failure, weight gain, and many more troubling conditions, the whole-food, plant-based diet does not include addictive foods like sugar, processed fats, and excess salt. Many practitioners advise against other harmful and addictive substances like coffee, caffeinated beverages like tea and soda, and alcohol. Those who follow these guidelines are not only healthier, but their freedom from food-based addictions is liberating and allows them to truly enjoy healthy, wholesome foods without cravings or withdrawals.
For more information on how to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, visit the Food Matters website for videos, DVDs, books, products, and more.
How do you eat the Whole-Foods, Plant-Based way?
The science behind the whole-foods, plant-based diet is actually very complex, but you don’t have to learn and understand it all to make it work for you. Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet is really very easy and can be simplified into these basic steps:
- Fill your diet with whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit;
- Reduce or eliminate animal foods like meat, dairy, and eggs; and
- Eliminate sugar and processed foods and cook from scratch.
In my forthcoming eGuide on nutrition I’ll teach you why it’s so important to fill your diet with healthy starches and carbohydrates, in addition to telling you how the low-carb craze got started and why it seems to work (when in actuality it only succeeds at starving and malnourishing you). In the meantime, you can educate yourself by watching the fantastic documentary “Forks Over Knives” (now streaming on Netflix), reading a few articles from the field’s leading researchers, or just taking my word on it. Also be sure to keep up with my blog for research, tips, how-to’s, and recipes to help you make the switch.
Are you freaked out about protein just a little bit? Totally normal. It’s probably the biggest concern when people switch from the Standard American Diet to any kind of a plant-based diet. To ease your fears, read this post: Everything you know about protein is wrong.
The Healthy Little Changes Philosophy
Beyond just nourishing our bodies, food plays an important social and emotional role in our lives. Humans thrive on community. We love getting together with friends and family, and enjoying great food is a large part of social gatherings. We all have a need to fit in; no one wants to be “that weird friend” that nobody can feed or go out to eat with, and we certainly don’t want our children to be perceived that way. On an emotional level, food is comforting, pleasing to the senses, and immensely enjoyable. If we take the pleasure out of eating, we’re leaving those emotional needs unmet. These factors contribute to a lot of our hangups with food and can often lead to the tug-of-war of cravings, addictions, binges, and eating disorders, distorting the role food plays in our lives and destroying our health and happiness.
The good news is, you don’t have to fully commit to a 100 percent plant-based lifestyle overnight, or even get to 100 percent and stay there. The Healthy Little Changes approach emphasizes progress, not perfection, and the philosophy is this:
By shifting the bulk of your diet from unhealthy, nutrient-deficient foods to healthy, whole-foods, plant-powered meals, you can start feeling good right away and work toward building a lifestyle that’s sustainable for you.
You don’t have to overhaul every aspect of your life at once, and you certainly aren’t required to achieve perfection and maintain it at all times. You can forgive the imperfections in your diet and be ready and willing to shift the balance of what you eat from unhealthy, emotionally-charged convenience foods to healthy, nourishing, delicious whole-food, plant-based dishes that leave you feeling comforted, satisfied, and proud of your choices. Because I also believe this:
Once you understand how food restores and creates perfect health — and learn to eliminate those foods that literally destroy us from the inside out — you can be empowered to make better choices, and love them.
For more information on a whole-foods, plant-based diet, follow Healthy Little Changes by email by clicking on the box above and keep up on my blog to receive the news, tips, and recipe recommendations. A thorough, step-by-step eGuide to the whole-foods, plant-based life is coming soon!
Ready for the next step?
Move on to my primer on easy meal planning. Then it’s on to step 3, taking charge of your family’s nutrition and getting everyone on board. Finally, be sure to browse my recipe recommendations as well as the blog for more knowledge and inspiration.