Brent Lockridge, CNP
Transitioning to a WFPB Diety
The benefits of adopting the whole food plant-based (WFPB) lifestyle are irrefutable. The consumption of foods as grown in nature, that are nutrient dense, but calorically sparse, is the optimal diet for human health and vitality. Here are a few tips for implementing this lifestyle.
Start where you are today
To be successful at transitioning to plant based eating it is best to start where you are today. The key to getting off on the right foot is slowly but steadily adding more plant-based foods into your diet.
Initially only restrict foods that are known to be unhealthy, these include sugary drinks, cheese and dairy products, highly processed packaged foods, processed meats, and poor-quality cooking oils. Swap some of your favourite “not so healthy” food for a healthy alternative. For instance, you could use avocado instead of butter, tofu instead of chicken, and black bean burgers instead of beef. In order to make healthier plant-based choices, have dates instead of white sugar, make whole grain instead of white flour spaghetti and have fruit as a snack etc. Increase the amount of healthy ingredients in your meals until you’ve crowded out the less healthy options.
Think of eating on a spectrum, with the standard North American diet on one end, and a complete WFPB diet on the other. As you transition to this way of eating you will move along this spectrum toward more whole and plant-based foods, and away from processed, packaged, and animal foods.
The media, advertisements, and self-proclaimed specialists are doing a great job in confusing people and leading you away from the simple truth: eating whole plant-based foods is the kindest, healthiest and overall best thing you can do for yourself, others and the whole world. Prepare yourself with knowledge so you don’t have to question your new lifestyle time and again!
Buy or rent books like Reverse and Prevent Heart Disease, by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall, or Whole, by Colin Campbell Ph.D. There are also amazing documentaries like Forks over Knives, Food Inc. or Hungry for Change. This will also motivate you and makes you remember why you’re doing this. Don’t be discouraged by people who will label your new food choices as “extreme”, remind that it is much less extreme than taking side effect laden medications for the rest of your life.
Find Supporting Resources
Daily guidance is at our fingertips in the digital age. I strongly recommend to clients who are undertaking this lifestyle change to seek out an app from nutritionfacts.org, called the Daily Dozen. This app is an invaluable tool for the WFPB rookie. A simple check box system allows you to track your daily foods to insure you are getting all the nutritious foods a WFPB diet has to offer. It is also a great information resource, for example it will provide a list of foods under a certain category, such as whole grains, and offers videos to provide more information.
If you think you need a little more guidance you can download the Evidence Based Eating Guide from the nutrtionfacts.org website, it is a handy guide to answer many of the questions you might have. Another option is the free “21 Day Kickstart” program from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. It provides guidance, encouragement and recipes that are sent to you every day for 21 days to get off on the right foot.
If you just need some recipes to get you going you can try two excellent WFPB recipe apps that offer up some wonderful recipes. The first is the Forks Over Knives Recipe app, the second is Dr. McDougall’s Recipe app, you can’t go wrong with either, they are each available for just $7 in the app store, a bargain!
Label Reading 101
Be sceptical of the claims posted on the front of food packages, they can be very misleading. A bread may be advertised as whole grain, but unless “whole grains” is listed as one of the first ingredients on the Nutrition Label, then it’s probably made with refined flour. Look for whole grains with 3-6 grams of fiber per serving.
The sodium content, per serving, of a packaged food should not exceed the number of calories per serving. For example, if a food has 100 calories per serving, it should have less than 100mg of sodium in that serving.
Fat per serving should be less than 20%. Limit saturated fat from animal products and eliminate any hydrogenated fats in packaged foods (you will have to look for the word hydrogenated in the ingredients list).
A Word About Digestion
As our genus (homo) has evolved over last 3 million years we have had some very close companions that play a key role in our health. It is now well known that we carry about 39 trillion microbes (collectively our microbiome) in our body. These microbes are mostly beneficial to our health, or we would not have gotten this far.
Approximately 38 trillion of these microbes are in our digestive tract, and among other tasks, such as strengthening our immune system, these tiny microbes play a key part in breaking down the foods we eat.
So, here’s the issue; in the last 200 years, and more specifically in the last 75 years, our foods have changed considerably when compared to what our ancestors (and our microbe’s ancestors) consumed. The plant-based foods that we evolved with were fiber rich whole plant foods, and the nutrient these microbes thrive on is fiber (fiber is only available in plants). if there is one massive shortfall in the modern diet of highly processed foods and animal products, it is the lack of fiber. In fact, only 5% of North Americans get the minimum daily recommended amount of fiber in their diet.
This really wreaks havoc on the strength and diversity of our microbes, and ultimately impairs our ability to digest the health promoting fiber rich foods that we need. Many individuals who have grown up eating low fiber (read: low plant food), highly processed and animal rich diets, may struggle when they switch to a plant-based diet. This is because they have neglected to feed their microbes the fiber they require to thrive and carry out their duties. This is one of the primary causes of the proliferation of digestive tract diseases, such as crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, that we see emerging in our fiber starved population.
What does all this mean? Well, when we return to a diet rich in fiber, and our microbial companions are a depleted bunch, digestion of these foods tends to be sluggish, and uncomfortable. The message here is “take your time” reintroducing these foods that may cause slight digestion issues, your body just needs time to adapt. Certain legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, known as FODMAPS are high in fiber, and when your gut microbiome is compromised some experience gut discomfort, then give up on these healthy foods. The key is to introduce these foods slowly, and in smaller portions. This will train your gut back to digestive health and allow you to easily digest and assimilate these foods.
The health benefits of a WFPB diet will benefit everyone. The sooner you get started, the faster you will experience the benefits.