Our family was motivated to move to a plant based diet almost completely due to environmental reasons (which I hope you will read about in a separate section). We knew enough about nutrition to be confident that we did not need to worry about “getting enough” of this or that nutrient. Our short answer to people who ask how do we get enough protein or some other nutrient is to point out that whatever benefits humans get from eating animals, they themselves get from plants!
But our environmental motivation will not move everyone–as honest friends have admitted to us! We wanted to be a bit more educated about the nutritional benefits (or concerns) of our diet if we wanted to encourage those whose main concerns are health. Wading through all the information on the best diet is not easy, though. There are so many conflicting claims. So much of the “research” is funded by industry that has a financial interest in the outcome, and it is often hard to even discover who is behind most studies.
The past 50 years have brought a dramatic rise of preventable diseases and obesity. There are many reasons for that. Much of the problem, of course, is due to the high levels of sugar, salt, and fat found in processed foods and a move toward a sedentary lifestyle. But there is a growing consensus that the many servings of meat and dairy we eat each day, along with the low amount of fruits and vegetables is also a significant part of the problem, and at best is not contributing to improved health. Even if we eat lean, low fat, raw milk, or products from organically grown, grass fed animals it does not solve the main problem that meat and dairy contain no fiber, are high in saturated fat, lack many essential vitamins and have been associated with preventable diseases.
You can find countless articles, blogs, websites, “Dr. So and So’s proven diet”, and books that claim that meat and dairy is fine for our diet and should be part of almost every meal. But be very careful with such advice as the results can be harmful. The best way to navigate dietary advice and claims is to stick to studies from peer reviewed journals on nutrition, published research at public health departments at universities, and a variety of recognized institutions that closely follow these studies, such as the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the American Dietetic Association, the American Cancer Association, the World Health Organization, the US Dietary Guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control.
The drumbeat for a plant based diet is growing stronger by the day. My healthcare insurance company (Kaiser Permante, the largest HMO in the country) endorsed a plant based diet in 2013, encouraging their physicians to recommend it to all their patients, especially those who have diseases. Kaiser has a strong influence in the healthcare community, and could potentially be helping lead the way towards a plant-based revolution in healthcare. Their reasoning is worth noting:
“Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.
Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods.”