Reading Between the Lines

One thing I think everybody agrees on, even among big carnivores, is the idea that eating fruits and vegetables is good for us. Unfortunately, however, I think it's not realized among the general population just how much good for us eating fruits and vegetables can be. Nor is it generally realized that it is in fact possible to have an enjoyable diet consisting solely or at least mostly of plant-based foods.

So, if we all realize that in some way, that eating fruits and vegetables is good for us then why don't we all also understand just how good for us they can be and just how many of them we should eat? Why does the average person still consider vegetables a side item at their average meal and fruit as being something that doesn't show up at all (unless baked or cooked with a lot of added sugar and fat to enhance its taste)? When I used to ask my wife, "What's for dinner?" I never meant what vegetable are we having. I wanted to know what meat we were having. We always had a vegetable, but that was incidental to the whole thing, and it mattered little what vegetable we were in fact having. The funny (or should I say sad?) thing was, we thought we were eating so healthy by adding that vegetable to our meals. And we thought we were doubly healthy when we added a salad out of a bag with gobs of dressing and dried fruit added to it.

So, why didn't we know? The fact is, the information has always been out there. It's just not presented to people in a way that people get. And we all have preconceived notions to overcome when we do read it. For example, you might read that we should eat nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day. I know I did back when I was a meat and potatoes guy. But I dismissed that because with a diet consisting mainly of meat and potatoes for dinner, a sandwich and chips for lunch and bacon and eggs for breakfast, it's really hard to understand how eating nine fruits and vegetables during the day was even possible. I never got the fact that it would be necessary to give up the meat and the sandwiches and the chips and the eggs and the bacon. Instead, I wanted to add the vegetables and fruits to what I was already eating. And that just didn't seem possible. In fact, it wasn't possible. As those of us on a whole food, plant-based diet know, we have to give up the meat and the sandwiches and the chips and the eggs and the bacon in order to make room for the nine plus fruits and vegetables each day.

Not only is that unfathomable to the average person, but it seems extreme too. Especially for a man. Us men are used to seeing women eating "rabbit food" for lunch sometimes, but we were brought up to see meat as almost the backbone of our manliness. We men are the hunters, not the gatherers. For that to work in evolutionary terms, I have to imagine that that's why men even today can seem to salivate over a nice hunk of meat much more so than a woman might. As the hunters in a hunter-gatherer society, salivating over meat is in our nature.

And then there's the untrue things that we've learned and taken to heart. For example, the low carbohydrate myth that has perpetuated so much of our thinking in recent years. If all you've heard for the last twenty years, as I did, that carbs were bad for you and to stay away from starchy foods, then it becomes pretty hard to adopt a diet like the McDougall diet where starch is the centerpiece of the diet. I know that's one of the issues that I had when I got started eating this way.

But the interesting thing I think is the fact that the message is out there. It's just not being proclaimed loudly enough. While health-oriented organizations may suggest eating meats and dairy products, they all seem to acknowledge that eating a plant-based diet is really more healthy. You just have to read between the lines sometimes. Here's a few statements of support that are out there:

  • From the American Cancer Society: Studies that look at people and their habits have linked vegetarian diets with a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and colon cancer.
  • From the American Heart Association: Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer.
  • From the Kaiser Permanente Journal: Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. 
  • And perhaps, this most dynamic statement of all from the scientific report to the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.

So, yes, the information is out there. We just have to sometimes read between the lines. And we need to forget much of what we learned or became accustomed to in the past. But in the end, I think its worth the effort. Don't you?