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Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018

Better Health: Plant-strong Diet

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The gift you can give yourself for the holidays

It’s that time of the year when those calorie-laden food and drinks are everywhere. There is no need to repeat the year-end indulgent eating when there is so much delicious and nutritious food to partake and serve during the holidays and throughout the year. I must admit that when I first heard about the supposed benefits of eating a diet made up mostly of plants, I was very skeptical. It sounded too good to be true. The health-care providers who recommended a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds claimed it was the one diet that had the track record to improve most of America’s chronic illnesses. They claimed many of their patients were losing weight by eating plenty of delicious, filling food that is loaded with fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants. No special expensive foods, or shakes, or pills. And not only were they losing weight, but they were also improving their cholesterol, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and even coronary disease.

Now that I’ve seen some of these improvements first-hand in patients, I consistently recommend the power of a plant-strong diet. In fact, studies show that the foods we eat are quite possibly the most important predictor of our health. For many of the most common chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, the most powerful clinic may be right in your own kitchen.

The field of lifestyle medicine focuses intensely on teaching and supporting patients to practice daily habits that help to prevent and treat disease. Our bodies have a phenomenal ability to self-heal from all kinds of insults: knitting broken bones together, remodeling heart tissue, killing rebellious cells before they progress to cancer, and improve the response to insulin (a significant part of treating Type 2 diabetes), to name a few.

Many times, if we will stop feeding our bodies food that is inhibiting the healing process and start supplying ourselves fuel that promotes the healing process, the body can get busy and fix some of its own problems. It can be confusing to know exactly what we should be feeding our bodies, with so much nutrition advice coming to us from all sides. A diet like this is naturally high in fiber and rich in important compounds like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. And yes, plants even have protein! In fact, there is really no concern about getting enough protein on a diet that is full of whole, unprocessed plant foods. Studies show that only one in 20 Americans gets the recommended amount of daily fiber. The scientific evidence shows that people who eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains naturally get enough fiber, and tend to have healthier body weights and lower rates of disease than those eating diets low in fiber.

Here are some tips to feed your body a diet that is rich in fiber and antioxidants:

1. Aim to have at least one serving of fruit and/or vegetables at each meal.

2. Eat more vegetables and fiber at your meal by simply decreasing the size of your meat or entrée and increasing the amount of vegetable side dishes. Make the sides the main attraction whether at a meal or cocktail party.

3. Snack only on whole, raw fruits or vegetables between meals.

Strive to eat fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), whole grains, nuts and seeds that are pretty close to how they are found in nature.

So the take-home message is this: If you really want to give yourself and others a gift that will last far beyond the holidays, start doing something that’s been shown to reverse disease and prevent future disease: eat and serve more plants! Once again, your mother was right – eat your veggies.

Jennifer Singh, MD, is director of integrative and lifestyle medicine services at Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, and medical director of the Partners in Wellness clinic. Dr. Singh is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and provides time-efficient plant-based solutions to busy people who want to lose weight and prevent or reverse illness. She is certified by the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine, American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics. Learn more about Dr. Singh at www.jennifersinghmd.com.

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