Q: What is a whole foods plant-based diet?
A: A whole food plant-based diet is a diet that is based upon the consumption of fruits, vegetables, intact grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and tubers. A WFPB diet also seeks to exclude added fats and oils as well as the consumption of meat, dairy, seafood and eggs. Whole plant foods exclude highly processed and refined foods as well as sugars and artificial foods.
Q : What about protein? What is it and where does it come from? Can I get enough protein on a plant-based diet? What are our protein requirements?
A: Protein is made up of amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids that our bodies do not make and therefore must come from the diet. These essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. The source for all of these amino acids are microorganisms and plants. Animal products are secondary sources of protein because they consume plants and microorganisms. Since all plant based foods have protein, it is nearly impossible to consume enough calories and be deficient in protein on a WFPB diet. Human daily protein requirements are as low as 5% of daily calories. Even with the lower protein plant foods such as white potatoes, the protein content is 8%. This takes the counting calories and protein guess work out of your day. If you eat a WFPB diet you will not be deficient in protein.
Q: Do I need to supplement my WFPB diet?
A: It is now recognized that the only supplement needed on a WFPB diet is vitamin B12. Even those people who follow a diet centered upon meat, dairy, seafood and eggs are now being informed that they as well should supplement their diets with B12. This vitamin comes from bacteria in the soil. In developed countries, we tend to over wash our produce and therefore wash away the beneficial bacteria along with the dirt, which leaves everyone at a bit of a loss in this area. Vitamin B12 is essential for brain health, helps to keep nerve and blood cells functioning properly and plays a role in making DNA.
Q: How a WFPB diet fights the leading causes of death, mortality and morbidity
A: It has been estimated that up to 2/3 of the American population will die from heart disease and cancers. The vast majority of these diseases are attributed to diet and lifestyle. We now know that genetics play only a small role in the development of chronic illnesses and disease, approximately 5-10% of disease is caused by genes. It is important to remember that diseases are hereditary in families because diets are also hereditary. There are two basic types of genes: dictator genes and democratic genes. The dictator genes are what determines your height, skin, hair and eye color for example. Democratic genes are changeable factors that depend largely on the environment such as diet and lifestyle for example. As Dr Esselstyn says, “Genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger.” You can overcome genetics with lifestyle for better or worse. Eating a WFPB diet along with exercise is the only diet in known existence that has been scientifically proven to stop and even reverse chronic diseases that plague Western societies such as obesity, diabetes, cancers, auto-immune diseases and cardiovascular disease.
Q: How can I get started on a whole foods plant-based diet?
A: First, remember why you are changing your diet and lifestyle. Remember that you’re doing this for you . Not everyone in your family has to change as well. Second, get educated and begin the transition slowly. Some people can jump in with both feet and never look back, but most plant-based journeys take time. Gradual transitions can be easier and longer lasting than ‘overnight’ change. Third, sanitize your environment as much as you can. Begin by getting rid of junk and processed foods as well as refined foods. Eliminate animal products at your own pace. Fourth, make a plan and set goals for the transition. Perhaps begin with Meatless Mondays. Then graduate to two days a week eliminating animal products and so on. Remember, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Fifth, employ the ‘crowd out’ method. This involves adding more veggies, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes and tubers so much so that the other unhealthy food is slowly pushed off of the plate and out of your diet. If you focus in on adding healthy and great tasting food vs missing what you’re subtracting, this will help you have a successful transition to this lifestyle. Six, remember the acronym KISS (keep it simple silly). You don’t have to become a gourmet cook to embrace the WFPB lifestyle. Begin with simple, delicious and easy to make recipes. Seven, keep in mind that along with healthy dietary changes, changes also occur in your body and that’s ok. Any discomfort will pass, just like the discomfort you feel when you initially begin to work out. This process can take a few weeks to a few months. Once the body adapts to the healthier you, it’ll be all smooth sailing! Eight, become an excellent label reader and shop on the periphery of the grocery store. Don’t worry if you make mistakes, remember this is not about perfection. Nine, stay strong and keep going even if you have a setback. Finally, community is fundamental. Join a local WFPB group or online so that you have the support you need.