The one thing everyone can do for better health

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Eat more plant foods. It’s that simple.

It doesn’t matter what kind of diet you eat. If you eat more fruits and vegetables (especially vegetables), you are doing something good for your health.

Did you know that the current USDA recommendation is for 5-9 servings per day? They recommend you fill half of every plate of food you eat with fruits and vegetables. I bet most people would have a hard time saying that they apply this guideline.

Unless something miraculous has happened in the past few years, I would be right. The CDC released results regarding fruit and vegetable consumption across the United States from 2000-2009, and they were quite pitiful:

  • In 2009, an estimated 32.5% of U.S. adults consumed fruit two or more times per day”
  • “The percentage of adults who consumed vegetables three or more times per day was 26.3%”

This is the Standard American Diet, folks. Only about ¼ – ⅓ of us are getting in 5 servings per day.

Why is the recommendation to consume more fruits and veggies?

Cancer Prevention

The World Cancer Research Fund International published a 500+ page paper on their findings in conjunction with the American Institute for Cancer Research. For those who aren’t into reading research papers, they also have a page of cancer prevention recommendations that outline recommendations for activity levels and healthy weight. They also recommend reducing meat, salt and processed food consumption and avoiding alcohol. In the plant foods section, it states “Eat mostly foods of plant origin.”

American Dietetic Association

Their 2009 position paper states: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

Among the diseases mentioned is Type 2 Diabetes. Also mentioned are causes of cardiovascular disease including hypertension, reduced saturated fat and cholesterol intake, and higher BMI, all of which is found less frequently in those who eat a plant-based diet. The paper also states that vegetarians are less likely to die from ischemic heart disease (AKA coronary artery disease).

Medicare covers the use of plant-based diets for the treatment of heart disease

Medicare covers only 3 programs that qualify under the Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. This is strictly outlined (as shown in the link). Each qualifying program must have demonstrated that it can improve or reverse the indicators of heart disease.

Two of those programs use a plant-based diet.

The Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease

This plan uses primarily whole plant foods, but includes non-fat dairy and egg whites. The diet excludes meat, poultry and fish. Limits  on sugar, alcohol, fat and caffeine. A modified version of this diet to make it vegan was eaten to treat former President Bill Clinton’s health problems.

The Pritikin Program

Whole plant foods are also a staple of this diet. Also recommended is avoidance of foods high in saturated fat, organ meats, processed meats, and those high in cholesterol.

Benson-Henry Institute Cardiac Wellness Program

The website for this program is not entirely clear about what it entails, but it appears to include mind-body wellness techniques and nutrition counseling. This program is the newest to qualify for coverage; it was just approved in 2014.

Nobody is saying it’s healthy to eat fewer plants and more “other foods” like dairy, eggs or red meat. Actually, the American Egg Board, the National Dairy Council and the beef industry are probably saying those things, but their statements are motivated by money, not evidence-based research. They also have a bad habit of bribing researchers to skew results in their favor.

Notice that there is no consensus paper saying that eating steak or bacon is a cure for anything. Or that eating fewer plant foods makes you healthier.

What you can do

  • Do as the USDA suggests and make half of the food on your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Eat more vegetables than fruit. I try to limit my fruit intake to 2-3 servings per day
  • Make plant foods the first part of your meal. That way you will feel more full and have less room for the other, less healthy foods that are on your plate
  • Eat plants in their most natural form. Frying them in oil, covering them in salt or cheese or eating them in the form of chips just so you can tolerate them is not ideal
  • Stop thinking of them as just sides and appetizers. Look for recipes where plant foods are the main ingredients
  • Make sure you always have some on hand. Even if they are frozen or in a jar (or BPA-free can), that’s better than not having them at all

If you want more information about how eating mostly plants can positively affect your health, my favorite source is, a non-profit website run by Dr. Michael Greger. His articles and videos are based on systematic reviews of peer-reviewed literature. He uses a scientific, evidence-based approach to nutrition and offers all the information free as a public service, and no funding by any industry organizations.

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