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The Tea About Plant Based Diets

I’ll be spilling the tea on what exactly is a plant based diet.

We now have a number of celebrities touting vegan and plant based ways of eating. One that comes to mind is Beyonce’ who promoted 22 Days Nutrition; a plant based diet that she attributed to helping her prepare for her epic Homecoming performance at Coachella. Other plant based celebs that come to mind include the amazing musician Lizzo, Ellen Pompeo the Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy, and author of “The Happy Vegan”, Russell Simmons. I think this is fabulous as in our culture, celebrities are influencers of change, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. This definitely falls into the good category and if those folks are encouraging people to eat more healthful diets, then I’m certainly on board with that.

You’ll often hear me remind you that “you are what you eat.” When we consume unhealthy foods, we place ourselves at risk for the development of chronic diseases; we don’t feel as energetic; and believe it or not we even affect our mental health and clarity.

But a proper diet can not only prevent you from developing certain chronic diseases. But it can also help you to improve and reverse some chronic diseases. Plant based ways of eating have been shown to do just that. I have personally witnessed individuals achieve the ability to reduce the number of medications they take for a chronic disease, lower their previously high blood sugar numbers, lower their blood pressure, improve their skin conditions, all by changing what they put on their plate.

Let’s discuss the types of plant based diets as I often have encountered individuals who get overwhelmed and confused by all of the labeling within the plant based community. Think of this in terms of an umbrella.

Let’s start with a Vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet is a way of eating that avoids the consumption of meat and poultry. This would be the top of our umbrella as the other types of plant based diets will fall under this. Within a vegetarian diet one may still consume eggs and dairy products. This is termed Ovolacto vegetarian.

Next there is the Pescatarian diet. A pescatarian diet is a way of eating that avoids the consumption of meat and poultry but allows for the consumption of fish. Some who follow a pescatarian diet may also include the consumption of eggs and dairy products like their ovolacto vegetarian counterparts.

Another line under our umbrella would be a vegan diet. A vegan diet is a way of eating that avoids the consumption of all animal products including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, and honey.

And under the vegan portion of the umbrella is a whole food plant based diet; which is a way of eating that eliminates all animal products, including meat, dairy products, cheese, poultry, fish, and eggs. And, also limits the consumption of processed foods by eliminating oils, sugar and in some cases salt. The focus on this way of eating is to consume food in a state where it's closest to the ground; as it was grown, with minimal alterations to the food.

These labels are important to know so that you gain the most benefits from your way of eating.

Keep in mind that a whole food plant based diet is different from a vegan diet!

As I previously mentioned, a vegan diet eliminates all animal products, including meat, dairy products, cheese, poultry, fish, and eggs.

However, a vegan diet may still include some unhealthy foods that include foods prepared with oil, sugar and excessive amounts of salt as these ingredients are also animal free.

Over my career as a physician, I have met what some may call “junk food vegans”. I have met some plant based vegan eaters, who don’t really like vegetables but avoid animal products because they really love animals.

And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with loving and protecting animals, the significance of our discussion here is for health and wellness promotion.

When I encounter people who are new to plant based eating and I describe this way of eating to them, I like to have them visualize their typical meat and two sides plate as just the side items and not the meat entree. That’s usually a more simple way of thinking about it.

Our Standard American Diet or SAD way of eating is laden with meat, cheese, high fat, highly processed, sugary foods. These foods contribute to many of the preventable diseases I see in my practice including pre-diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis. These foods also prevent some from feeling their best mentally because they contribute to fatigue, sluggishness and brain fog.

There are some vegan junk foods out there like highly processed plant based meats, cheeses, and frozen meals, and you certainly want to limit your consumption of those types of processed foods.

However, studies have shown that even a plant predominant diet is beneficial over consuming the Standard American Diet or SAD way of eating, when it comes to preventing and reversing chronic disease. So don’t let perfection get in the way of you achieving progress.

Now you certainly can get some wholesome, complex and delicious, chef level meals that contain no animal products at all. But initially that is difficult for some people to conceptualize. So keep it simple, and just focus on putting plants on your plate as much as possible. Include plants like dark leafy greens, legumes or beans, root vegetables like potatoes and rutabaga, carrots, tomatoes, and a variety of fruit.

As a physician of color, seeing health disparities in communities of color really hits home for me. Seeing those who look like me suffer from conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and cancer at higher rates than our other citizens who are not people of color, is very concerning.

Let’s look at the facts on this with information from the United States Department of Health and Human Services!

In 2018, non-Hispanic blacks were twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from diabetes.

In 2017, non-Hispanic blacks were 3.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with end stage renal disease as compared to non-Hispanic whites. People of color typically develop renal disease from long standing high blood pressure and diabetes.

From 2014-2018, Black/African American women were just as likely to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, however, they were almost 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic white women.

And get this tea: Black/African Americans have the highest death rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers. Death rates for all major causes of death are higher for Black/African Americans than for non-Hispanic whites, contributing in part to a lower life expectancy for both Black/African American men and women.

And while there are a variety of reasons for this disparity in health condition rates; much of the contributing factors surround nutrition, our access or the lack thereof to proper nutritional guidance and quality nutritional food options in our communities.

So I’m here to educate the masses in hopes that I can convince you to add more plants to your plate.

Let me get you more of this tea…..a whole food plant based diet free of all animal products, including dairy, and free of oils, can lower your blood pressure, lower your blood sugar, reduce your cholesterol, and decrease your risk of certain cancers like colon cancer and breast cancer.

A whole food plant based diet can be helpful in losing weight healthfully;

A whole food plant based diet can reduce gastrointestinal related disorders including reducing heartburn and reflux or GERD;

A whole food plant based diet can strengthen your immune system; and has been shown to be helpful in reducing flares of certain autoimmune diseases.

A whole food plant based diet can improve your sexual health;

and A whole food plant based diet can improve sleep, your energy levels, and your mood.

I personally find this fascinating that just the things that I put on my plate can be like medicine to my body.

Ditch the meat. Ditch the dairy. Ditch the oils. Ditch the sugar. Go for unprocessed foods as much as possible.

Don’t overcomplicate things. Think about what you enjoy. If that’s green beans and peas, eat that. Throw in a whole grain like brown rice, barley or farro, and you have a meal. Like broccoli; eat that. Add some stir fry vegetables, tofu and your favorite sauce; and you have a meal.

You’re busy, but I know you value the health of you and your family, so just keep your eyes on the proverbial prize.

And if you need more personalized guidance, Essence of Health is here to help.

Now, let’s transition over to our Ask The Expert segment.

In our first Ask The Expert segment; our question was submitted by Yvonne. Her question is “What's healthier: Nutmilk, Cowmilks or Soymilk?”

Thanks for submitting this question Yvonne.

Now, let me spill this milk infused tea for you.

Dairy free milk, including soymilk, will be your healthiest option when compared to cow based milk.

Here’s why: cow's milk contains unwanted saturated fat, cholesterol and added sugar. This combination contributes to higher cholesterol and plaques blocking our blood vessels, thereby increasing one’s risk for heart disease. Cows milk also contributes to gastrointestinal discomfort in a number of individuals who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance affects many populations with those of East Asian descent having the highest rates of lactose intolerance, followed by Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Caucasians. Cows milk consumption has also been linked to increasing one’s risk for certain forms of cancer like prostate cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Comparatively, plant based milk, including soymilk provide great sources of vitamins, minerals and healthy fat. You can also easily find plant based milk options that contain no added sugars. Plant based milk can be made from nuts like almonds, cashews, macadamian nuts; or oats; or rice; or peas; or soybeans. All of these foods are naturally cholesterol free so you avoid those plaque building disease promoting effects that cows milk would expose you to.

Depending on your nutritional needs and stage of life; should direct the best plant based milk option for you and your family as some are higher or lower in fat than others, contain higher or lower amounts of protein, and some are more allergen free than others.

But if choosing between dairy versus dairy free; go with plants!

The Essence of Health is in You!

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