Eating a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet is the best medicine for the chronic diseases that are common in our culture.
This may seem like a lofty claim. Making these changes in our diet could really eliminate the most prevalent, debilitating diseases we suffer from?
If you step back for a minute, it does make a lot of sense. If you allow yourself to look at health objectively without emotions getting in the way, it makes so much sense. See if my experiences and perceptions are at all similar to yours.
Growing up, I heard that vegetarians were healthier than people who ate meat. There seemed to be a general consensus that vegans (those eating no animal products at all) were probably the healthiest. Somehow though, I made it to age forty without anyone explaining a plant-based diet to me, or making a case for its benefits. This may have been because it seemed complicated and only undertaken by “health nuts”, fervent animal rights activists or devoted environmentalists.
This all changed for me when I watched the Forks Over Knives documentary. I came to understand that a plant-based diet is neither rare nor complicated. On the contrary, people have been eating variations on the whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet for millennia around the world. This diet helps people stay trim, active and chronic disease-free. (Here we’re talking about lifestyle-related diseases common in wealthy countries, like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and erectile dysfunction.) It really is the best medicine.
No need to combine proteins
The goods news is that there’s no need for complicated protein combinations. This is a myth of decades past that has thankfully been disproved. Just know that if you are getting enough calories through WFPB foods, you are getting enough protein. It’s that simple.
It treats the cause
The WFPB diet targets the common lifestyle diseases in an incredibly effective way. Making smart food choices can prevent these diseases and often halt or reverse them. This is because it treats the causes rather than simply treating the symptoms. For this reason, it is almost always more effective than pills you would be prescribed for these diseases.
For a good summary of how the WFPB diet can prevent or reverse chronic disease, my go-to reference is Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health, the companion to the Forks Over Knives documentary.
So let’s dive in and find out why the whole food, plant-based diet is the best medicine.
The Best Prescription is Plants
Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. I feel like there’s a perception that it is simply beyond people’s control. They blame it on their genes. It may be true that your relatives had high blood pressure or cholesterol, but what they ate was likely the primary cause.
What people are eating is the problem
We seem to all understand that eating burgers and fries makes things worse. We also understand that minimally processed fruits, vegetables, legumes and other complex starches make things better. Somehow though, people don’t seem convinced. I perceive that many older people see themselves as sitting ducks, waiting to hear that they have this irreversible condition called heart disease. They expect that it will require medication for the rest of their lives and possibly risky surgery as a last-ditch attempt to save them.
In the strongest terms that I can convey to you, please know that these “options” are far from the only solution. On the contrary, we are largely in control of the direction our heart health takes simply through the food choices we make.
The heart isn’t wearing out; arteries are clogging
Our hearts do not wear out as we get older; our blood vessels get clogged as a result of certain foods that we eat. These foods are meat (including chicken and fish), dairy, eggs and oils. This happens when the delicate cells lining the arteries, known as the endothelium, become inflamed and sticky, like Velcro. This when plaque starts to build up inside.
These greasy, fatty deposits narrow the arteries throughout the body, causing high blood pressure. Clots can then break off and completely close an artery to blood flow. This deprives the tissues on the other side of the clot of oxygen. By closing off arteries, cardiac arrest can occur.
Surgery and meds do not address the root cause
Most people figure that stents and bypass surgery are the best solution. However, heart surgery is risky, bringing with it a host of possible complications, like depression, hemorrhage, cognitive decline and death. While in the short term these procedures may save lives, they do not prevent the recurrence of future heart attacks. They do not prolong the person’s life in the long run. Furthermore, stents and bypasses themselves can become blocked over time. This is because we are not addressing the root cause.
Let’s talk about why it’s happening
There is a tendency to avoid talking about how the plaque got into the arteries in the first place. There is even less talk about using natural means to reverse this condition. What we hear is, “arteries become clogged as people get older.” When we say that, we are not taking responsibility for this condition. This is where I get excited. This is where I jump up and tell you we can reverse heart disease, and that the first changes in the body take place almost immediately.
“Heart disease is a food-borne illness”
The Velcro can turn back to Teflon, and blood flow can be restored. How do you do this? You eat a whole food, plant-based diet. You avoid the worst irritants of the endothelium: animal-based foods with their fat and cholesterol, as well as oils. As Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. says, “Heart disease is a food-borne illness.”
Heal your arteries with plants
The next step is to give your body the medicine it’s craving: plants. Minimally processed plant foods “improve the health of your arteries and reverse the progression of heart disease.”
Heart disease won’t stand a chance
When you take away the foods that have been damaging the inside of the arteries three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner), the number one killer of women and men doesn’t stand a chance. The WFPB diet can bring you hope when you thought all hope was lost. It is the best medicine, and it is that powerful.
Just as with heart disease, plaque can build up in the arteries that lead to the brain. Clots can break off, lodge and cause obstructions. As a result, blood fails to reach certain areas of the brain, depriving it of oxygen and causing permanent impairment or death in some cases. The WFPB diet significantly reduces the risk of stroke.
Cancer is the number two killer in the United States; however, people eating a plant-based diet have significantly lower rates of cancer than the general population.
From the Forks Over Knives companion: “While an individual may be genetically susceptible to cancer, diet and lifestyle choices play a much larger role in whether or not a person will develop it. Some components of food, like animal protein, are powerful cancer promoters…on the other hand, plant-based foods are filled with nutrients like phytochemicals and antioxidants that fight cancer. Eating these foods can help your body repair mutated cells…reducing your risk of developing cancer.”
In the same way, obesity and type II diabetes are the evil twins that occur as a result of a constant attack on the body for decades with animal products, like meat, eggs and dairy.
As type II diabetes progresses the body can suffer from a number of grave consequences as a result of high glucose levels, such as diabetic retinopathy (damage to the eyes which can cause blindness) and diabetic neuropathy (a nerve disorder which can cause pain and numbness).
As Dr. Neal Barnard writes in his Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs, “Normally, insulin attaches to receptors on the cell’s surface and signals the cell membrane to allow glucose to enter. However, if fat, called intramyocellular lipid, accumulates inside the cell, it interferes with insulin’s intracellular signaling process…Luckily, evidence shows that diet changes can reduce the amount of fat inside the cell.”
We can reverse diabetes with a plant-based diet
However, a reduction or ideally the elimination of animal products from the diet causes an almost immediate effect on glucose level, without even requiring weight loss (though most people eating the WFPB diet usually experience weight loss). Simply taking away the irritating factor (the fat found in animal products) can allow the body to self-correct to better regulate glucose levels. Therefore, a reversal of diabetes is achievable for many people through the whole food, plant-based diet.
Alzheimer’s is another disease with close ties to animal product consumption and atherosclerosis. From the Forks Over Knives companion: “Alzheimer’s is another manifestation of poor cardiovascular health. Studies show that even moderately high cholesterol levels in people in their forties can significantly increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.”
While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s at present, we can largely prevent the disease with the whole food, plant-based diet.
The best medicine: summing up
According to Dr. Esselstyn, “When people learn to eat plant-based to eliminate heart disease it could inaugurate a seismic revolution in health. Other diseases that resolve include obesity, hypertension, stroke, heart attacks, gall stones, diverticulitis, asthma, osteoporosis, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and a marked decrease in the common western cancers of breast, prostate, colon, endometrial, ovarian, and pancreatic.”
The whole food, plant-based diet many, many times can prevent these diseases of affluence, and usually stall or reverse them. It marshals the forces of nature beyond our current understanding to turn things around for us in a fundamental way.
Does that not sound powerful? It is truly the best medicine that we have at our disposal every day. We simply need to choose to take it.
Resources for using this “prescription”
To learn more about why the whole food, plant-based diet is the best medicine, grab a copy of Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health: The How-To Companion to the Landmark Documentary Forks Over Knives, edited by Gene Stone.
Make sure to watch the Forks Over Knives documentary. This documentary came to me at the beginning of my plant-based journey and it is my privilege to share it with you now.
For more on reversing diabetes, look for Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs.
For lots more great plant-based books, cookbooks and films, please check out my Plant-Based in Real Life Resources.