Plant Based Nutrition

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Blue Zone Diets

There is a lot of confusion over what is good for humans to eat. But most experts agree that natural whole foods, including lots of veggies and some fruit is the best diet for us humans. Most healthy diets have a lot of leafy greens and other veggies when the season allows for them.

Blue Zones are places where people routinely live to be 100 or older. They eat a plant-based diet with very small amounts of animal products. Everything they eat is fresh, local, natural, and pesticide free. The majority of their calories come from starchy, filling carbohydrate plant foods like potatoes, yams, or a staple grain like rice, wheat or corn.

They eat seasonal fresh fruits, leafy greens and only eat animal products about 4 to 6 times a month, used for flavoring like a condiment on top of their regular plant foods. They wouldn’t think of eating a big slab of meat 3 times a day.

They also tend to have better air and water conditions than the average person, and soil that is still fairly rich in minerals so they don’t need any supplements or medications.

Blue zone people don’t need to go to doctors or rush to the gym to exercise because they are moderately physically active throughout their day gardening or herding animals or strolling long distances.

They have stresses just like we do but they also have tight-knit, long term relationships with groups of friends and family that all live locally.

They are connected to a place and to their ancestral land. They are pretty content and know what to expect out of life and what their role is in the community.

Finances and weather and crop yield may be unpredictable but family and community are not.

Having a sense of place, a connection to the land and ancestors and a close community of people ready to help out is also part of their healthy lifestyle.

How much Fat, protein and carbohydrate is good for humans?

In “first world” culture there are debates over whether humans should eat meat, fish, grains, dairy, starches, fruits, sugars, fats, or proteins, and how much of each type of nutrient.

Another confusing thing is that a diet seems to work for one person while the same diet does not work for another person.

On person feels great on a high-starch low-fat diet and loses a lot of weight the first month, while another person does not lose a single pound and feels like crap.

One person eats a high protein paleo diet and feels great while someone else eating the exact same diet feels terrible.

Vegan diets and raw foods diets and paleo diets and keto diets all work really well for some people for some amount of time.

Paleo or Ancestral diet experts insist that it is natural and healthy to eat lots of red meat, eggs and some fish 3 times a day plus a nice high-fat high protein snack or two. They tend to use lots of eggs, bacon, and other high cholesterol foods and lots of animal fats, and very few starchy veggies or grains. They are probably trying to avoid leaky gut problems caused by grains but tubers can be filling and satisfying and full of nutrients.

I find this high meat diet baffling because studies have shown that blue zone optimal diets have meat as a condiment and only on special occasions a few times per month.

Starch is the foundation of the healthiest human diet. according to many long term studies.

We have evolved to eat cooked starches. We are the only primate that has a predominance of ptyalin in our saliva for breaking down starchy foods. Other primates rely on leafy greens for their main source of calories.

Vegan diet experts say that no animal products at all should ever be eaten and that we should take a B12 supplement instead because of the difficulty in finding sources of animal products that are truly untainted. They often also recommend taking an algae-based EFA supplement instead of fish oil because it is hard to get truly untainted fish oil and the environmental factor for all animal foods is way too costly.

 Evidence shows that eating more than a tiny amount of animal products leads to health problems in humans. Dr. McDougall and T. Collin Campbell who wrote The China Study, suggest a high starch vegan diet or close to a vegan diet, low in fats and oils.

Take out the junk food and any new diet seems amazing at first

Often people start to feel better and lose weight right after starting any kind of new diet. This is because they have taken out many refined junk foods that were hurting them and are eating a healthier more nutrient-rich diet on any new eating regime.

Another big reason diets fail for people is that many people have one or more hidden food intolerances. The symptoms will often change as puberty comes on and again in adulthood so people don’t know it’s the same food causing different symptoms at different ages.

Just because a food doesn’t send us into anaphylactic shock, like a peanut allergy, or shell fish allergy, doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting us. Food intolerance can cause foggy brain, or depression, or acne, or many other symptoms.

But if we are eating a food we don’t tolerate well every day from early childhood without a break we don’t make the connection.

So if you are lucky enough to go on a diet that happens to leave out one or more foods that you used to eat that were making you fat or bloated or weak or sick you will think that this new diet is  the greatest thing since  sliced bread!

On the other hand, if you go on a diet that serves a lot of a specific food or foods you do not tolerate well you will think it’s the worst diet ever invented!

Want to find out more about food intolerance?

It is not as rare as you might think it is. Modern lifestyles have left us with weaker immune systems than our ancestors because of our chemical laden modern world and because we eat a diet low in nutrients from an early age. The same foods can affect you in different ways over a life time so it is hard to detect unless you know what to look for. Dr. Keith Mumby came up with an easy protocol you can do on your own to find out what may be making you break out in hives or act like a crazy person after Sunday dinner every week!

So what is the best diet for humans?

It is going to be individual but a predominantly plant based diet will work best for most humans. You may base your diet on starchy plants with greens and beans and some meats.

Or you may find you can tolerate some grains. Or you may decide not to eat any animal products at all and choose to supplement Vitamin D,  B12 and an EPA DHA supplement, all of which can be found in vegan versions.

Or you might find that a higher portion of fat works well for you, or that some dairy is fine for you. Find out what food intolerances you have and then put together the optimal all natural diet for yourself. Once you get used to eating whole foods they begin to taste great and you forget you ever liked processed foods. But at first the new foods may not taste great. it could take a month or two for the taste buds and gut flora to get with the program and stop craving the old junk foods.

As Michael Pollen says; “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” I would add, try to get pesticide-free food when you can and eat food in as close to its whole form as is possible. For instance, eat olives instead of olive oil, nuts instead of nut oils and nut butters, eat steel cut oats instead of rolled instant oats. Stay away from bleached flour and refined foods as much as possible.

Other Considerations

Leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, SIBO, GERD can make it so that you cannot eat a lot of high fiber plant based foods until you have healed your gut.

Specific carbohydrate diet 

Glycemic index

The Lectin debate

Gluten intolerance 

Methylation issues

Supplementation pros and cons

One problem I have with some of the experts like the Blue Zone website and Dr. McDougall, and some of the Paleo experts is that they say you don’t need supplements except for perhaps B12.

Reasons most people need to supplement

  • With our soil as damaged and compromised as it is we are not getting the full spectrum of nutrients from our food.
  • Urban lifestyles do not supply us with fresh well water that is full of minerals.
  • Food is shipped long distances  and loses nutrients by the time it reaches us..
  • We simply cannot get everything we need from our food and water supply anymore.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman suggests B12, EPA and DHA and vitamin D especially for vegans. This doesn’t mean we should over do it with supplements. More isn’t always better.