Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Optimal Diet

There are numerous ways to discuss (and eat) an optimal diet—the overall health-supporting Mediterranean Diet, the metabolic syndrome-preventing Syndrome X Diet, the hypertension-reducing D.A.S.H. (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet.  These are just a few of the more well-known (the topic of previous and upcoming blogs), but they are all based on the same idea--more plant, less animal food.  While they approach the healthy diet from different perspectives (a healthy culture, resolving metabolic syndrome, reducing hypertension), they really are all quite similar in composition.  The good news is there is not one diet for heart disease, one diet for cancer, one diet for diabetes, etc.  A healthy diet has significant impact on our overall health, and all of the public health organizations reflect that truth in their dietary recommendations.  The American Heart Association, National Cancer Institute, American Diabetes Association, Dietary Guidelines for Americans and others have always had variable but similar recommendations, but in recent years they have all become the same: eat a plant-based monounsaturated fat-rich diet based on whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables with small portions of lean meat, poultry and dairy, generous amounts of fish (3-4x/week) and olive oil to prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, intestinal disease and more.  Also, what always has been, still is, and always will be an optimal diet.  It is not going to change—it is only our rather limited understanding that has been changing over the years. 

The amount of plant food in an optimal diet is significantly higher than the standard American diet (S.A.D.).  Healthy cultures around the world eat a strikingly similar 90% plant:10% animal food diet (in a variety of ways) whereas the typical American diet is based on 70% animal food and only 30% plant.  An optimal plant-based diet is low in animal protein and animal fat, low in processed foods, and high in health-supporting, disease-preventing plant foods with their 900+ discovered (so far) phytochemicals and fiber. 

This may sound extreme to our American meat-loving ears, but around the world people do not think it is normal to die of such long-term degenerative diseases which are the norm in America.  
T. Colin Campbell from Cornell University led the largest nutrition study until its time in the different provinces of China, comparing disease rates in areas where a more traditional diet was retained to those areas which were becoming more “westernized”.  Dr. Campbell concluded that a diet based on more plant food, even up to 90% of calories, was the critical difference between those who experienced high rates of western diseases vs. those who did not.  This confirms what others have noticed around the world--

Healthy cultures around the world eat a strikingly similar diet (in a variety of ways) based on 
90% plant:10% animal food:

                                                            50% whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds
                                                            30% vegetables
                                                            10% fruit
                                                              6% dairy
                                                              4% meat, fowl, fish
I have come up with a pictorial to make it easy to see:

Notice that we are not just “out of balance” in America,


Compare the 90% plant:10% animal food Optimal Diet to the Standard American Diet which gets 70% of its calories from animal foods (meat and dairy).  We have flipped the Optimal Diet triangle upside-down.  Is it any wonder America is experiencing an epidemic of lifestyle diseases?  Notice also that the last 30% of the S.A.D. is made up largely of refined grains instead of whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.  And at the tippy bottom of the triangle are vegetables.  If the only change we made was to eat more vegetables we would come a long way in preventing our lifestyle diseases.  If we just ate more vegetables (like grandma said) we would increase the fiber in our diet (Americans eat only half of the recommended daily intake of fiber), increase antioxidant vitamins and minerals and many other phytochemicals, decrease animal fat, decrease saturated fat, decrease animal protein, and decrease the excessive calories which contribute to an epidemic of obesity in our country.  But if you ask all the people you know how many eat just ONE vegetable a day, about half would say “no”, and many more ask “Don’t McDonald’s french fries count as a vegetable”? 

To start, how about adding an apple a day for a week, then add another plant food next week.  Or pick up a bag of carrots and add a carrot a day.  This really isn't hard to do :)

Diane Preves, M.S., R.D.

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N.E.W. LIFE (Nutrition, Exercise, Wellness for LIFE)Ò copyright 2012

1 comment:

  1. New Diet Taps into Pioneering Plan to Help Dieters Lose 20 Pounds within Only 21 Days!


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