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What is the Healthiest Diet for Humans?
Q: Dear HWP, I’ve been trying to eat healthier, but don’t know exactly what foods are good for health. What is the healthiest diet according to science? Sincerely, Aspiring Healthy Eater
A: Dear Aspiring,
Firstly, congratulations on setting good and loving intentions for yourself to eat healthier. Finding the healthiest diet for you is a fantastic step towards achieving a life of wellness. This is great to hear and here’s to your health goals! Secondly, I can sympathize with your confusion over what food are good for the health. Ask google, a health magazine, your mom, your doctor, and your friend and you are likely to get a variety of contradictory advice. Luckily, the science on diet and human health has a steady and straightforward conclusion for you. A whole foods plant-based diet has been shown to be optimal for human health, disease prevention, and longevity. Here’s why:
The Human Body Is Designed for a PlantBased Diet
In school most people learn about the very basics of biology and the food chain by learning to identify carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores. Humans are lumped in the omnivore category along with bears and skunks who both kill and eat other animals and eat significant amounts of plants as well. Humans position as a animal-killing and eating omnivore is further validated by school history classes that paint “prehistoric” humans as primarily hunters who dwelled in caves, carried long spears, and hunted large animals to feed their families. Because of this narrative, Many people are under an illusion that human beings are by nature designed to consume the flesh, milk, and other parts of other animals. The truth is there is another category of eating that humans belong to but many people have never heard of. Humans are biologically frugivores, like all other primates.
Meat, Dairy, Eggs, and Processed Foods Make People Sick
Study after study has shown a positive correlation between consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs and development of obesity, heart disease cancer, and other disease. While critics will point out that correlation does not equal causation, this correlation is shown over and over and in people consuming a plant based diet, we find the reverse. We also see testimony after testimony from people who have reversed their degenerative disease and reclaimed their health with a vegan or raw food diet. (For this series we have collected over 350 of these healing stories and are adding new stories to our database every day.)
Whole Foods Plant Based Diet Reduces Risk of Disease
The data supporting the health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet can be found at nearly every level and perspective. Vegan diets have been shown to help in maintaining a healthy weight, are linked to healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy blood pressure, produce healthier guts, reduce stress and anxiety, protect against heart disease and cancer, and protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Another way to see the connection between food and disease is to look at the diets and disease rates of large populations for evidence. The graph below shows the percentage of calories from unrefined plant foods that a country’s population consumes as well as the rate of heart disease and cancer in that country. The resulting double bar graph paints a strong picture that adds further evidence to the case for our natural optimal diet.
Besides reducing the risk of disease, a whole foods plant based diet has been shown to reverse and heal numerous ailments. In the Healing With Plants master database is well over 350 such testimonies of people curing numerous autoimmune disease, various types of cancer, skin conditions, diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory conditions simply by eating more fruits and plant foods.
“Evidence suggests that one third of the more than 500,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year can be attributed to diet and physical activity habits, with another third due to cigarette smoking. Although genetic inheritance influences the risk of and cancer arises from genetic mutations in cells, most of the variation in cancer risk across populations and among individuals is due to factors that are not inherited.”
“Eat a variety of healthful foods, with an emphasis on plant sources.
- Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
- Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains and sugars.
- Limit consumption of red meats, especially those high in fat and processed.
- Choose foods that help maintain a healthful weight.”
The American Heart Association’s Dietary Guidelines also emphasize the importance of a plant-rich diet for preventing heart disease. They say:
“The AHA (American Heart Association) strongly endorses the consumption of diets that include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the day, both as meals and snacks. Fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients and fiber and relatively low in calories and hence have a high nutrient density. Dietary patterns characterized by a high intake of fruits and vegetables are associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. Habitually consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables (especially those that are dark green, deep orange, or yellow) helps ensure adequate intakes of micronutrients normally present in this food group.”
The AHA acknowledges that excess weight is directly linked to developing heart disease and an important principle of maintaining a healthy weight is to consume enough dietary fiber. Whole plant foods are rich in dietary fiber and fill up the volume of the stomach triggering a full and satisfied feeling that regulates healthy eating.
Plants Have All the Nutrients Humans Need to Thrive
A common objection to a plant based diet is concern over inadequate nutrition, but this concern is not founded in science. Rather, observed nutritional deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans are attributed to diets high in unhealthy processed foods and low in nutrient-rich whole fresh plant foods. Still, the food industry, specifically the meat and dairy industries, have worked hard to maintain the myth that meat and dairy are essential for nutrition. They market their products as good for, and even essential for, you health. But simple nutrition facts reveal that plant foods are the most nutrient-rich and healthiest food choices.
Plant foods gnerally contain all five macronutrients – protein, fat, carbohydrates, water, and fiber in varying amounts. Plant foods also are the most nutrient-dense food choices containing large amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that help protect the body from illness. A common misconception is that animal products are needed to provide adequate nutrition but this is false. There are numerous examples of people living healthy as vegans, on high-raw, and fully-raw diets for most or all of their lives. Some older people who have practiced a whole food plant based diet for many years are living testimony of the age-defying and health-promoting diet. Some of the world’s top performing athletes and body-builders compete and thrive on a vegan diet.
I have not consumed meat in 21 years and have been largely vegan for that time and strictly vegan for the last three years. I have been through two pregnancies and have two happy healthy children who are thriving on a plant-based diet. Like many others practicing this diet I can say our family doesn’t experience sickness like we used to when we included our neighbors’ eggs and some processed foods in our diet.
This Diet is Backed by Professionals
While modern schooling from primary school all the way through medical school contains a noticeable lack of nutrition education, the professionals who have dedicated their careers to the subject are mostly in agreement. The American Dietetic Association states:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Even the United States Dietary Guidelines includes this statement supporting a plant based diet as healthy for humans,
″Vegetarian diets can be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients.”
The USDA has also come out with a Healthy Eating for Vegetarians guide. If only they went a step further with stronger language recommending a plant-based diet and warning against the dangers of meat and dairy consumption. But individual doctors and health practitioners are stepping out of the box more with strong endorsements for a whole foods plant-based diet.
Dr. Kim Williams, president of the American College of Cardiology says he became vegan after doing the research. Now a plant-based diet is his number one prescription for reversing and preventing heart disease. In an interview with the New York Times he says after his own experience with diet and throughly reviewing the best science available,
“I recommend a plant-based diet because I know it’s going to lower their blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity and decrease their cholesterol,”
Dr. Michael Greger has dedicated his professional career to staying on top of the latest nutrition research and relating this important information to the public. His perspective as a doctor and nutrition researcher is that the healthiest diet is made of whole plant foods. He writes:
“The balance of scientific evidence suggests that the healthiest way to eat is a vitamin B12-fortified diet of whole plant foods. For optimum nutrition, we should be sure to include in our daily diet not only an array of whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, and as many vegetables as we can eat, but also specifically dark green leafy vegetables, berries, and white (or green) tea.” – Michael Greger MD
While many doctors have not spent the time studying nutrition, there is a growing number who have taken up a passion for uncovering the truth in nutrition studies. These doctors, nutritionists, and scientists are helping dismantle food industry propaganda so that the simple truth can reach people – humans are designed to thrive on plants.
Reya Steele is a holistic health journalist and nutrition educator. She has experimented with various forms of a plant based diet for over 20 years ultimately leading her to adopt a high-raw whole foods vegan diet for her family.
Healing With Plants is a health education channel/website providing you with the research, inspiration, and recipes to heal with plants. Subscribe to Healing With Plants on YouTube and follow us on social media to stay plugged into the good news.
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