The first time I was introduced to a plant-based diet was my senior year of high school when my AP Composition teacher had us watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. I don’t remember much about the documentary now, but I do remember seeing these dramatic transformations of over-weight and obese people slim down dramatically by only switching their diets to plant-based. One case that still sticks with me all these years later was an obese man who was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. He realized that it was a long, expensive road ahead of him to keep buying and injecting himself with insulin. Determined to change, he switched to a plant-based diet, lost a lot of weight, got rid of his diabetes, and was no longer even considered at risk for diabetes.
Because I was so inspired by the documentary and the accompanying newspaper and journal articles we had to analyze, I decided I would go vegan for a week. The cafeteria wasn’t very vegan-friendly and I was a picky, vegetable-hating eater, so I ended up eating a lot of bagels. I felt terrible. Not only was I loading up on carbs, but I was also secretly poisoning myself because I had yet to be diagnosed as celiac. My freshman year of college I told my friends the story of how I tried to be vegan for a week, and they never let me forget it. It was the running joke that me, the good Midwesterner and lover of all things bread and cheese, went vegan for a week. How unthinkable.
Since then, I have learned a lot about my body and nutrition. After finding out that I can’t have gluten, or even a trace of gluten, food became something I needed to think about all the time. Eating out became really difficult and I was forced to make most meals for myself. It was a kind of a crummy hand of cards to be dealt, but I wanted to be able to thrive on a gluten free diet. So, the past couple years, I have dived right in to documentaries, books, studies, and articles all on what makes our bodies feel and perform their best. I’ve been maintaining a (mostly) plant-based diet for a little over a year now, which confuses my high school friends to no end. I thought trying out a plant-based diet would only last a couple weeks and die off into a joke like it did in high school, but I’m eating more than just bagels this time, I have had more energy and felt better than I have in a long time.
More than anything, I have become a firm believer that the best way to cure a disease is just to prevent it through your lifestyle choices. Sure, there is a lot out there you can’t control that can kill you, but things like diet and exercise are fully in your hands.
One of the most informative books I’ve read on the topic is the one I just finished, How Not to Die by Gene Stone and Michael Greger, and I could not recommend it more. It’s definitely a thick book because it contains chapters on the best way to prevent the common killers in America, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and diabetes. I’ll save you a bit of reading time and go ahead and tell you that the common denominator is PLANTS. Over and over again, the answer to how can we best protect ourselves from disease is to not only increase our plant intake, but to decrease (or preferably eliminate) our animal intake.
But aren’t these diseases just part of our genetic makeup? Yes, they can be, but it infuriates me beyond belief that there are doctors out there who preach that our genes are our genes and there is nothing we can do to change it. “Your family history does not have to become your personal destiny. Just because you’re born with bad genes doesn’t mean you can’t effectively turn them off…Even if you’re born with high-risk genes, you have tremendous control of your medical destiny” (Greger and Stone, 20). Taking care of yourself is the best way to prevent a certain gene from being triggered. It’s also the best way to prevent the telomeres on the end of your DNA, or the little shoestring-tip like protection, from fraying and causing damage and mutation to your DNA. A huge issue we are facing today is the business of hospitals. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies make little to no money on the prevention of disease, but sure do make a pretty penny treating diseases through the millions of dollars spent on hospital stays, surgeries, and drugs every single day.
I definitely recommend that you read the book for yourself, but in the meantime, here are my top health take-always from this book that I am basically begging my family and friends to pay attention to at this point. If I call my mom to nag her about her and my dad’s flax intake one more time, she may just hang up on me.
What to Add to Your Diet everyday for a healthy heart, brain, and for prevention of cancer:
- 1/4-1 teaspoon of turmeric
- Broccoli and Kale (or another cruciferous vegetable)
- 1 tablespoon of ground flax
- Green tea
- Herbs and spices
- Whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds
- Getting your vitamins and minerals through whole, plant-based foods is so much better than taking them in supplement form. Supplements can damage the liver, and most time we end up peeing out anything that would be beneficial. Fats, proteins, fibers, and other aspects of the whole food help the body absorb and use the vitamins. An exception to this is B12, which is good to take a supplement on a plant-based diet, and Vitamin D because most Americans are extremely deficient.
- Look for deeper colors in your food. A general rule of thumb that the darker colored a plant is, the more antioxidants it contains. For example, red cabbage is better than green cabbage, and a deeper red tomato has more antioxidants than the paler tomato.
- Your taste buds change. Sugar and salt are in EVERYTHING, and we are addicted to them as a result. The good news is that our body is able to change based on what we are eating. Weaning out the bad for the good will change your taste buds until you are not just tolerating kale, but craving it!
- White meats aren’t better than red meats, and in fact, are sometimes even worse.
- Exercise is so important. At the bare minimum, try to take a walk for at least 30 minutes a day.
I’m wishing you the best of health and a long, happy life ahead of you. Now get to the grocery store!