The Mono Diet: Not the Whole Foods, Plant-Based Way and Not a Good Idea!

Back in 1997, before I knew what I know now, I went on the Atkins Diet. And I lost weight on that diet. The diet, for those who don't know, is one that is basically built around eating meat and eggs and limiting carbohydrate intake, at the beginning stages, to 20 grams of non-starchy vegetables a day.

In essence, the Atkins diet is a mono-diet, with meat and eggs being the mono food eaten. The non-starchy vegetables, as I understand the diet to be, are there for one reason and one reason only. They provide nutrients that eating meat and eggs alone won't provide, while not interfering with the weight loss benefits of eating from a single food group. Dr. Atkins himself acknowledged in some editions of his book that his (mono) diet was insufficiently balanced from a health perspective, and he compensated for that by adding the non-starchy vegetables and by selling vitamins.

Today, the mono diet is back, but instead of meat and eggs, it is either being touted in the form of potatoes or bananas. Both are foods that can satisfy us and when eaten enough of can be filling. And because the potato diet and the banana diet are based on whole, plant-based foods, they can be tempting diets for someone who follows a whole foods, plant-based way of eating but still wants to lose weight. But while the foods eaten are whole foods and they are plant-based, I do not believe that they adhere to the whole foods, plant-based way of eating advocated by our WFPB doctors. And I believe that following such a diet, particularly without closely being monitored by your doctor, can be dangerous to your health.

Unfortunately, we can do things that are dangerous to our health without realizing that we are doing them. I've run into many people who don't concern themselves about B-12 or DHA or Vitamin D or about the benefits of eating nuts and seaweed. I believe they are damaging their long-term health, but they will argue that they feel fine, have never felt better and their numbers are in a wonderful range. And that can all be true, and yet at the same time, they can be shortening their lifespans by ignoring such essential information or they may be consigning themselves to a future of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

By the same token, I believe that we can do a mono diet and feel great on it and lose weight on it, all while at the same time, possibly damaging our health for the future. And we can kid ourselves about getting sufficient nutrients from such a way of eating. For example, the potato diet, which isn't fully a mono diet because it includes sweet potatoes (which are not potatoes), in order to get primarily Vitamin A, can lead us to think we're getting something we're not. In this case, Vitamin A, for example. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is necessary for good eye health in human beings. Sweet potatoes, carrots and spinach are the primary sources for Vitamin A on a plant-based diet, meaning that if you ate potatoes alone (or bananas alone), you would be missing this important nutrient.

But there's more to the story regarding Vitamin A than just the fact that you need to eat a food like a sweet potato, carrot or spinach to get it. People on the standard American diet get their Vitamin A from different sources. They get their Vitamin A from butter, cheese and eggs. Each of those foods is considerably higher in fat content than are sweet potatoes, carrots or spinach, each of which has virtually no fat content. And dietary fats are necessary for the absorption of Vitamin A within the human body. Vitamin A is one of a few fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins D, E and K being the other fat soluble vitamins). You need to have some dietary fat in order to absorb each of these fat soluble vitamins. Eating a sweet potato alone won't do it. Having a few nuts or an avocado or some olives, or even tofu, with your sweet potato will do it, but then it wouldn't be a mono diet anymore.

The variety of foods that we eat interact with each other in our mouths, stomachs and intestines to provide our bodies with the nutrients we need to stay healthy. By limiting the food we eat to one type or group of food, we limit those interactions. We don't take in all the nutrients that we need to take in, and even if we do, we may not be absorbing them as efficiently as we should be.

Our doctors, while not talking about mono dieting specifically, have all for the most part given advice that is opposite to that of mono dieting.

Take Dr. T Colin Campbell, for example. In his book, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, he talks about the importance of eating a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods. He says that if we eat a sufficient enough quantity of whole, plant-based foods on a daily basis, then we needn't worry about getting all the nutrition from plant-based foods that we need to get. But the keys are 1) to eat enough food each day and 2) to include a wide source of different foods in our diets each day. That is just the opposite of focusing on just one food to eat each day.

Dr. Michael Greger in his book, How Not to Die, uses the whole second half of his book to outline a "Daily Dozen" grouping of foods for us to eat each and every single day. He cites these foods to be eaten daily as being necessary for optimal health levels. Again, this is just the opposite of following the idea of eating just one type of food every day.

And Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn says not only to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods, but to be sure to eat dark, leafy greens at least six times a day. Neither potatoes nor bananas are considered to be in the dark, leafy green vegetable category. So, following a mono diet would not be following a WFPB way of eating as laid down by Dr. Esselstyn either.

To my mind, eating a mono diet is closer to what Dr. Atkins advocated than it is to what our WFPB doctors advocate. And I don't believe that eating a mono diet of potatoes or bananas is even any healthier than an Atkins diet. That's because of the lack of sufficient fats in both potatoes or bananas.

I know that people have touted their success on the potato diet, just as people have touted their success on the Atkins diet. But weight loss isn't everything, especially when it comes at the expense of our health. And good bloodwork numbers can turn out to be a Trojan Horse if we're in fact damaging our health downstream. If we're whole foods, plant-based, then let's eat the whole foods, plant-based way. For me, that means as wide a variety of whole, plant-based foods as I can find, that lines up with Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen, and includes lots and lots of dark, leafy greens like Dr. Esselstyn says to do.

Now, that's a healthy, tasty way to go in my mind.