Comments on Plant-Based Eating

August 5, 2014 in Fitness, Foodland, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

I was flipping around in media stories and came upon a CNN iReport about a man named Benji Kurtz. It’s a story about a 5’5” tall man who had endured humiliations because of his 278-pound body. Kurtz watched Forks Over Knives on Memorial Day 2013. He was inspired to make the changes ….. yes, big changes to become a vegan (eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (including nuts and seeds). Eventually, he cut out sugar, salt and oils too. Amazing! In one year and one day he lost 100 pounds and 19 pant sizes.

There are some astonishing pieces of information, as I read his story:

  • He found the quick results encouraging. So often people are looking for quick results and they frequently put their trust in a temporary crash diet. Not so for Kurtz, who permanently changed his eating style.
  • His cholesterol went from over 200 to 167; his blood pressure lowered, just like his health insurance rates (lowered 3 times).
  • He mentions that he could ‘taste food’ and had more energy.
  • He felt that he could eat as much as he wanted and didn’t feel deprived.

While the movie Forks Over Knives does not call their plant-based diet a vegan diet that is what the movie promotes. Certainly, a vegan diet can be a healthful, nutritionally adequate diet that may provide benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. A vegan diet needs to be properly planned to maintain health in the long term.  Paying attention to omega-three fatty acids; vitamins D and B-12; iodine, zinc, iron, and possibly calcium and protein are important considerations for a vegan. I would definitely recommend discussing your diet with a Registered Dietitian, if you decide to go on a vegan diet. It is possible and likely to be very healthy on a vegan diet, but having said that it needs to be designed to get certain nutrients usually obtained through the intake of animal products.

You can argue with the method that Kurtz chose, but you can’t argue with the fact that he is surely much healthier now. Looking at weight alone, his disease risk is remarkably lower.

If you go to the webpage to read Kurtz’ story, you will notice in the margins links to other stories of people who lost 100-plus pounds. The main message is that successful people made a serious life-style change. They did not just eat right for a month and get to their goal. Many of the success stories included increasing vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and decreasing sugar, fat (including oil), animal food, processed foods, fast foods and restaurant foods.

I don’t want to spend the time to do an entire review of Forks Over Knives, indeed that job has been thoroughly done (1); (2); (3). But, I do want to underline the concept that I strongly believe in the idea that diet and lifestyle can replace dis-ease and poor health with brimming vitality. Of course, genetics and attitudes are involved, but it is definitely worth your effort to pay attention to diet and lifestyle.

One of my observations is that people so often go on crazy temporary diets to achieve weight loss; certainly making the decision to become a vegan is a much better choice health-wise, especially if it is a well-designed vegan diet. Even if you don’t decide to eat vegan, this change will at one stroke divert you away from the popular low nutrient, processed junk and calorie-dense meats and sweets to healthy, whole plant foods. Whole unprocessed foods, mostly plants, can bring remarkable health improvements.

A person can get results without going to a strict vegan eating-style. If we read what Kurtz did we notice that he eventually cut out all oil. Without doubt, we would expect weight loss; he brought his calories intake down (9 calories for each and every gram of fat/oil he no longer consumed – that spells weight loss.) If you don’t consume any oil at all, you’ll have to be sure your diet will facilitate the metabolism and use of the fat-soluble vitamins. It is possible, but you should have your individual choices assessed to be sure.

As an individual, I would have difficulty with the ‘no fish’ part of no animal products.

Seriously, no fish? But, again, fish is not mandatory to stay healthy; it just my bias to include fish in my diet.

Of course, there is little question on which side of the question I land on as related to the intake of whole plant foods. And it doesn’t seem that I’m alone in encouraging the intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds – most science-based disciplines would not argue against them. But in saying that, I must add that I do not believe that animal foods, both meat and dairy are solely what’s contributing to our health problems. What works for me is the fact that humans have been consuming cheese and animal protein for millennia. We have evolved eating meat and dairy foods. There is, however, a huge body of evidence that eating too much meat and dairy (e.g. The American, or Western eating style) is far from optimal. Even the healthy touted Chinese eating-style includes small bits of animal products. I believe in the good old adage to eat meat sparingly.

Remember, if you’re ever in a starvation situation – go for the animal protein; as it will provide more of the nutrients that your human body needs than a vegetable or piece of fruit (no protein). However, most of us are not currently in a starvation situation; so for many, if not most of us, it would not hurt us to have a meal, a day, or even a week without animal products. And as I have mentioned above, it wouldn’t even hurt to go on a carefully planned vegan-eating plan, if that is your decision – it certainly worked for Mr. Kurtz during his first year; and we hope it will continue to work for him over a long and healthy life.