Moving Toward a Whole-Foods Plant-Based Diet for Health
By Michael R. Prochoda, MD
What’s the best diet for overall health? We are constantly bombarded with “expert” advice on what we should be eating and what vitamins or supplements we should be taking. In this whirlwind of information and marketing, it’s very easy to become confused and discouraged about what constitutes a healthy diet.
There is little debate in the nutritional and medical literature that the current world-wide obesity epidemic is largely due to the overconsumption of calorically-dense foods. And this has led to many lifestyle-related health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, stroke, gout, and some inflammatory diseases. Our modern diets are disabling us and shortening our lives.
Fortunately, the solution is rather simple, but not necessarily easy. A return to a more natural, whole-foods, plant-based diet is what’s required. This may sound like a tough-sell and difficult to maintain, but once you choose this path, it becomes easier over time. Your tastes will adjust rather quickly once you make a definitive change in your diet.
Moving towards a whole-foods plant-based diet, means increasing the consumption of nutritionally-dense fruits, whole-grains, nuts, seeds, tubers, and vegetables; and decreasing the consumption of calorically-dense foods (sugars, processed starches, oils and fats, fatty meats, and most dairy). You can do this by avoiding processed foods as much as possible and preparing your own meals.
At the grocery store, almost everything which is not in the produce, meat, or dairy aisle has something added to it by food scientists, in order to make it more irresistible (and less healthy). My rule is to almost exclusively shop the perimeter – the produce, meat, and dairy sections of the grocery store – where the whole foods can be found. The middle aisles are where they keep the heavily-processed items. Another tip is to make a grocery list and stick to it (except for frequently-bought foods which happen to be on sale). It is also a good idea to not grocery shop when you’re hungry.
Plan what’s on hand
If it’s not in your pantry, we won’t eat it. That’s why you won’t find any soft drinks, potato or tortilla chips, cookies, candy, or other processed snack foods in our home. I know that when I’m hungry, I’ll reach for anything available, so we keep a generous supply of a variety of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and cut vegetables available.
I encourage you to give it a try. After only a few months you’ll be amazed at how your taste buds adapt. Snack chips will taste greasy and over-salted, and soft drinks will be sickeningly sweet. You’ll instead find the whole fruits and nuts on your countertop enticing.
For breakfast, consider a fruit and vegetable smoothie, or steel-cut whole oats made with fruit and nuts, instead of doughnuts, bagels, or bacon and eggs. Try a big fresh salad or a sandwich made with hummus, vegetables, and greens on a whole grain bun for lunch instead of processed meats and cheese with mayo on white bread. For dinner, prepare home-made soups, stews, braises, casseroles, stir-fries, crock-pot meals, and bakes, rather than microwaving a factory-made frozen dinner.
We will often prepare two or three fresh dinners in bulk on the weekend, and then reheat them during the week when time is short. The internet has hundreds of recipe websites for people interested in cooking whole foods.
Making wise choices at restaurants is also important. I’ve been surprised by how accommodating most restaurants have been when requested to leave certain ingredients out, or when asked to prepare something in a more healthful manner. They want our return business.
Make gradual changes
To stay on course for the long haul, I suggest you make these changes slowly. Begin by no longer buying processed snack foods and soft drinks. Replace these with fresh and dried fruits, nuts, fresh cut vegetables, and home-brewed herbal teas. Then try a couple home-prepared meals per week (without meat and cheese being the main ingredients). Gradually increase the number of meals you prepare and also consider making some completely meat and dairy-free. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to a much healthier diet and a better future!
Michael R. Prochoda, MD
Dr. Prochoda is board certified in ophthalmology and has been seeing patients in Estes Park since 1994. He received his Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.