Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutrition is the real deal. Why? Because of the simple fact that it is based on a substantial body of NIH-funded, peer-reviewed nutritional science. In a lot of ways, it is really the first time that there has been a comprehensive nutritional paradigm based on peer-reviewed science, and Prof. T. Colin Campbell simply arrived at the conclusion that the Whole Foods, Plant based diet, without added Sugar, Oil, or Salt, is the optimal human nutrition.
With that step there was finally a common anchor for the wide ranging clinical experience with various forms of plant-based nutrition, and this sort of brought an order to the chaos, by establishing the coherent principles for ideal human nutrition.
Whole Foods, Plant-Based, without added Sugar, Oil, or Salt.
That is really how simple it is.
- Whole foods: i.e. minimally processed, cut or cooked, but not processed. I.e. expelling oil or refining sugar, or other forms of extraction separate some nutrients from others and destroy the matrix in which it came. That’s the problem, and not doing it is the solution. Vitamin C is absorbed 265x better from an apple than from supplements. 100% RDA of all known nutrients does not make you healthy, but Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutrition does. Just eat all the colors of the rainbow.
- Plant-based, i.e. go to the source. Eating animal products is moving up the food chain. The animals make protein and tissue from plants anyway, and animal foods come with all kinds of problems: sugar, cholesterol, fat and as a class, they promote tumor growth, whereas plant-based proteins tend to inhibit it.
- The stipulation about no sugar, oil, or salt (#WFPB minus SOS) is almost redundant, since sugar and oil are both examples of processed foods. The no added salt provision addresses the avoidance of all the sneaky ways that additional salt is added to our foods. It means low salt, not so much salt-free if that were even possible, but since you avoid processed foods, that is already a way of avoiding adding lots of salt to your food intake.
- One of the simplest ways to make #WFPB operational for yourself is by means of a self-survey, the 4Leaf Program, which comes in both a monthly, or a daily form, or an online version of the survey. It is essentially a rating system that guides you to improving your food intake. Even at the 1 leaf level, you are a notch above the standard American diet (aka. SAD), and from there you can improve at your own pace.
Sacrificing Nutrition to Convenience
How did we get into this mess? Well, the simple thing is that the food industry generally sells us convenience, fast foods, packaged foods, and so on. It starts with things like white rice and white flour – i.e. foods with all the nutrients stripped out of them. Adding back B1 vitamin (white rice caused a lack of vitamin B1 and beriberi disease), does not solve the problem, for white rice is also implicated in increased risk of colorectal cancer (less fiber), heart disease and diabetes (for white rice has a higher glycemic index). In short., we have been sacrificing nutrition to convenience, and we are now paying the price in the form of an out of control healthcare system.
Partly fashion and popular trends, but increasingly also the food industry, have caused all kinds of confusion in nomenclature, which I would like to clear up. Especially vegan and even “plant-based” are being used to suggest their merits for the environment, but often health claims are implied, often without any merit whatsoever.
Vetegarian: mostly religious, prohibiting animal products
The confusion starts right there. Vegetarianism is rooted in the age-old Vedic concept of Ahimsa, (do no harm) that is widely embraced in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism and correlates with the largest base of vegetarians. In the West, vegetarianism came in part from health concerns, part from ethical concerns, and sometimes religious concerns, such as in the Seventh Day Adventist religion – famously Loma Linda, California is one of the Blue Zones, where life expectancy is about 10 years greater than in the US population at large. I would argue though that the real issue is not even how long you live, but how long you can remain free of all the diseases that are devastating a population that overwhelmingly eats processed foods and animal products. To make matters even more confusing, there are different vegetarian sub-groups, ovo-lacto- (allows dairy), ovo- (allowing eggs, not dairy), lacto-vegetarian (dairy, but not eggs), and by some measures vegan (no animal products at all) is considered a sub-category of vegetarianism, where veganism eliminates all animal products, sometimes even honey and usually goes one step further by including also using no leather, wool. etc. It becomes a lifestyle.
There is a doctor, Scott Stoll, who attempts to make #WFPB nutrition a general Christian issue, by emphasizing how the foundation for that comes from Genesis and the story of the 3rd day of creation:
And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” —Genesis 1:30
The cover text of his book Alive! says: “God provided the proper fuel for our bodies when he created every green plant, seed bearing plant, and fruit on Day 3 of creation. These foods sufficiently feed and fuel the body, optimizing function, the immune system, renewing strength, and providing disease resistance. The growing body of scientific evidence confirms that making a simple shift toward foods that God created not only prevents disease, but also has the power to reverse diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.”
There is also a salient passage in Daniel:
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine … Then Daniel asked … ‘Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.’ … At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.Daniel 1:8, 11–12, 15
The ethical evolution from vegetarianism to veganism is essentially that it becomes more secular and ethical than really religious, and also that the connection is seen that it is about subjugation, not just outright killing. E.g. milk cows eventually become hamburger and belts and shoes.
The bottom line is that vegetarianism and veganism are defined by what you don’t eat, by prohibition of animal products to varying degrees. The sad fact is that while there are many who eat a healthy diet, there are equally many who eat as unhealthy as their omnivore friends and neighbors. I can attest to that, for my vegetarian father thought cheese was a health food, never realizing it is 80% fat and he had his first stroke at age 60 before the second one killed him at age 63. It gives me pause to think I have already survived him by 10% and in relatively good health, no doubt thanks to a #WFPB diet in the last four years. My biometric stats have improved tremendously since I made the switch.
Food Industry co-opts veganism
The biggest problem in consumer perception is that you have to go out of your way to find good information about the Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet, but in the meantime the food industry is poisoning the well, by co-opting things that are not always clearly defined in the public’s mind. As the joke goes, potato chips and beer, or potato chips and soda may be vegan, they do not provide good nutrition.
Usually, if you read labels on products that are marketed as “vegan,” they are vegan only in the sense of not containing animal products, but usually they contain fat, salt, sugar, or refined products that would disqualify them from a Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutrition standpoint. There are some efforts at improved labeling under way (without any guarantee of completeness of this list):
- Plantricious tries to focus on purely labeling of products and certifying restaurants that meet strict Whole Foods, Plant-Based foods, where they define “processing,” as more processed than what you can do in your kitchen. E.g. veggie broth you could make yourself, but Braggs Liquid Aminos goes beyond easy home cooking, so they would regard that as “processed.”
- PlantPure Communities is a not for profit support organization that is associated with PlantPure Nation as a supplier of frozen #WFPB meals. Their definition for their restaurant certification, is a little more lax than Plantricious, but they will insist on no oil, and plant-based food, but won’t demand total absence of refined foods, e.g. they will tolerate white rice.
- WFPB.org, if PlantPure Communitis is a bit more relaxed than Plantricious, WFPB.org goes the extra mile. It insists on certified organic ingredients and also it extends to sustainable cleaning materials etc. So it is more comprehensive about total lifestyle.
So, while the food industry is making the most of the lack of standards, it is using “vegan” or “plant-based” labels to fool the public. Even traditional nutritionists have complained that Beyond Meat is not particularly healthier than what they replace, although it might be better for the planet. The upshot is: read the labels, but hopefully, some relief is on the way from these budding standards organizations. Time will tell.
Read the labels and stick to the simple program
This is the only practical advice, however, I am personally hopeful for one simple reason, the Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet is increasingly supported by doctors, simply because of the results and how speedy they arrive and also how sustainable they are. These doctors will tell their patients to get serious about picking healthy varieties of everything they use, or make it fresh. This is going to have an impact. Assuming you were going to eat anyway, arguably it doesn’t cost you anything either.
One example that also indicates the staying power of this diet, is where Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. says heart disease is a paper tiger that need not exist (because anyone can go on a #WFPB diet): with statins compliance is 50% or less after six months, but according to Dean Ornish, MD, in his book Undo It!, with his lifestyle medicine program, they have a track record of 85-90% compliance after a year. The reasons are simple and obvious: people notice very quickly how it makes them feel better, and they do not have the side effects of their neighbors who are taking the statin drugs.
If you try to switch before you’re in dire straits with your health, initially, you may have a hard time, because old habits are hard to change. What do you mean, I can’t have oil and vinegar dressing? After about a month, your palate changes, and most people won’t go back so easily, or if they do, they soon double back. With vegans and vegetarians it can be harder since those programs are based on what you don’t eat, not what you do eat. Avoidance of animal products does not nutrition make. In the big picture, Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutrition and diet is a subset of the vegan diet. You could consider it the “healthy vegan” option, as opposed to the “junky” vegan option.