The Real Food Fight

Just as we who eat whole food, plant-based believe our diet has the healthiest benefits and we have the studies to back us up on that, there are also those who eat Paleo diets and believe they are eating the healthiest diet and they have some studies (not nearly as many as we have or conducted to the extent that our studies have been conducted) that support their belief. And even though a WFPB diet has tremendous health benefits, most dietitians will recommend diets like the Mediterranean or the DASH diets to their patients. And they have studies to back their beliefs up as well.

I believe that the studies supporting the whole food, plant-based way of eating are substantial and compelling. They are, in my mind, more compelling than are the studies supporting the Paleo, Mediterranean or DASH diets. But at the same time, I don't believe that we should discount those who follow the Paleo, Mediterranean, DASH or other well thought-out diets. Following any of those is, I believe healthier than following the standard American diet.

The most damage to our health, to our children and grandchildren's health, to the environment, to the climate, to medical insurance rates, to our national budget and to animal welfare comes not from those diets. While yes, those diets include meat and oils, which we know to be less than optimal for good health, there is a far bigger culprit that affects all of us, even those of us who eat WFPB; it affects us every time we pay a health insurance premium or face another threat from climate change or pay our taxes, etc. etc.

What is that? I'll let Dr. Joel Kahn explain because I have to admit this is not an original idea. It came from reading the current issue of Health Science Magazine, a publication of the National Health Association. But I realized that what he said is not only absolutely correct, but I think it's essential that we think it over so that we demonize the right parties, not our fellow friends who are also trying to be nutritionally and environmentally conscious. He said, "Instead of attacking the adherents to the Paleo diet, I wish we could, instead, unify around the real enemy, which is 55 years of fast food, processed foods, gas station food, vending food and unfortunately, often hospital food. All of these foods are dangerously high in salt, oil, sugar...."

When I read that, I thought, Yes, that is the real enemy. When I'm traveling or meeting someone in a restaurant or going to a party or looking for a snack while watching football with friends or seeking something quick and easy to make in the grocery store, I don't have much trouble being a vegan. It's easy to leave out the meat and the cheese. There's always something I can eat that meets that criteria. But as I've written many times, we're not just vegans. Going out to a restaurant or looking for something to snack on while watching football or grabbing something quickly at the airport while traveling can be next to impossible if you don't carry your own food. The reason is, there's very little offered in that regard that doesn't contain too much salt, sugar and fat. Sure, some products might go for low or no fat, but then they load the product up with sugar. Or vice versa.

And those are the foods that from my unscientific observations, most Americans eat. And of course, over the last 55 years, we've seen most Americans putting on more and more weight and it seems like there's more heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases than there ever have been. I was watching To Kill a Mockingbird recently, a movie from the 50s. It was amazing to see. Everybody in the movie was thin. Everybody. Based on today's world, it didn't look natural. And yet back at that time, being thin was the natural state of our bodies.

But this growth in what gets termed as junk foods has also correlated with growth in the cost of health care and health insurance. I believe it's affecting the health of all of us. It limits our choices when we are outside the house and away from the food that we prepare for ourselves. That's the hard thing. As I said, eating vegan is usually pretty easy. It's avoiding the excess salt, sugar and fat (primarily oils) that becomes really difficult.

I agree with Dr. Kahn. We should recognize what we have in common with the Paleo dieters and the Mediterranean dieters and the DASH dieters. The real threat to our health, our children and grandchildren's health, the environment and the budget (both national and personal) is not as much with those diets as it is with the food industry and the non-food products they tend to produce.