The human body is an intricate system of 100 trillion cells, more complex than the most high-tech machine. To function at peak level, each of these cells requires a vast array of nutrients. Just as critical, cells need energy to function. An effective means to remove waste products of metabolism keeps cells from floundering in their own toxins. Food plays a critical role in meeting these physical needs.
While nature has perfectly designed myriad bodily systems, people often make poor choices about what to eat. When this happens, the body’s ability to function is impaired.
Almost one out of every two deaths in the US is due to heart disease and cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, seven out of ten deaths are due to chronic illness. These maladies are largely preventable, and often can even be reversed, though better diet and other lifestyle choices.
Decades of research show that whole plant foods are highly effective in preventing, and even reversing, chronic illnesses such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Plants are the nutrient factories of the planet, manufacturing most vitamins, all the essential amino acids and fats, and phytochemicals (beneficial nutrients found only in plants). Root systems pull minerals out of soil, while the cell walls of plants comprise the fiber that keeps the human digestive system healthy. Except for Vitamin B12, which is made by bacteria, all the nutrients in animal foods originate in plants.
When whole foods are grouped by average caloric density, there are four main categories:
- Vegetables: 200 calories per liter
- Fruits: 300 calories per liter
- Beans, peas, lentils, and potatoes: 500 to 600 calories per liter
- Whole grains: 1,000 calories per liter
The stomach holds about a liter of food, which is a bit more than a quart. So here’s the math. If the stomach is filled with one quarter vegetables, one quarter fruits, one quarter an equal mixture of beans and potatoes, and one quarter whole grains, the calorie total is 513. This assumes no processed oils are used for cooking.
This fiber-rich, nutrient-dense food satisfies both the appetite and the stomach’s stretch receptors. Cells have the raw material and energy they need. Free-flowing blood vessels carry metabolic waste to the kidneys for excretion. Filling the stomach three times a day with these proportions of whole foods would result in a modest daily caloric intake of a bit over 1,500, ideal for sustainable weight loss.
The other two kinds of whole foods are:
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
Nuts and seeds are calorie-dense and should be limited to a few handfuls a week. However, two tablespoons a day of ground flax seed are ideal for supplying omega-3 fatty acids. Herbs and spices add flavor, aroma, and phytochemicals to food with virtually no downside, and are an integral part of a whole foods, plant-based diet.
This eating plan can be easy to follow with some preparation and planning. Four steps are helpful in getting started.
- Learning about the health benefits of whole foods, plant-based diets from books, movies, the internet, and lectures. The recent film Forks Over Knives is a great place to start, as is the bestseller The China Study.
- Writing down goals for dietary change. Specific goals are easier to work towards (for example, “eating three cups of vegetables every day,” instead of a vague “eat more vegetables.”)
- Finding recipes or modifying existing recipes to be prepared with whole plant foods. Cookbooks that feature such recipes abound. Watch out for recipes with processed oils, though. Usually food can be sautéed in water, vegetable broth, wine, or juice instead of oil or margarine.
- Tracking initial progress by monitoring cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, energy levels, and other measures of soaring health. Improvements are highly encouraging and incentivize further knowledge and progress.
Former President Bill Clinton has shared his success on a whole foods, plant-based diet, serving as a role model for the health enhancements that can be easily achieved.
Janice Stanger, Ph.D., is the author of the whole foods nutrition book The Perfect Formula Diet: How To Lose Weight and Get Healthy Now With Six Kinds of Whole Foods. She was inspired to research plant-based nutrition by her daughters, who stopped eating meat at ages 11 and 13. Janice has a Ph.D. in Human Development and Aging from the University of California, San Francisco and is certified in plant-based nutrition. Learn more about plant-based nutrition and pick up some healthy recipes as her site http://perfectformuladiet.com. You can email Janice through the contact page on this site.