The American Association for Cancer Research says that at least half of all cancer deaths are preventable, provided we don’t smoke, exercise, use sunscreen, keep a normal weight, eat a healthy diet, etc. That seems pretty straightforward, does’nt it? But what exactly does a “healthy diet” look like? The short answer is that it’s a little complicated. The research isn’t black and white, but we do know that eating a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods has significant health benefits.
When did figuring out how to eat well become so complicated? René Descartes, the great 17th Century French philosopher, is famed for his dictum “I think, therefore I am.” He apparently understood how the body and mind can influence each other. Descartes proposed that the mind and body were two separate and distinct entities, but like everything else in the world, the body could only be sensed because there was a mind to sense it and that for us to understand the passions of the soul, its functions have to be differentiated from those of the body. Learning to eat and live well is a decision, a choice we must learn to make every day, at every meal, and with every mouthful—the mind influencing the body’s desires. People who do this well learn to eat with their heads—the mental part of living well.
I’ve been a vegetarian most of my adult life, but I can’t say I’ve always been a healthy eater. My journey to healthier eating has been a gradual process. Although my knowledge base of nutrition and health has broadened over the years, I’m still learning. And for me, I find it’s a never ending process. As I grow older my body changes, my metabolism slows down, and I continually have to work hard to maintain a pleasing (to me) weight to stay healthy. Some years have been easier than others but, quite frankly, it’s damn hard for many of us to maintain a stable, healthy weight, despite all the self-inflicted deprivation we bring upon ourselves. Crazy fad diets? I’ve been there! The more sensible approach, I’ve learned, involves a balanced and healthy relationship between food and life, that is, eating a healthy diet and developing a healthy lifestyle.
I don’t mean to sound preachy—if I were a better writer, this would sound more like an ongoing conversation because I’m genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts on diet and lifestyle—but, even the medical community has paid more attention to the importance of lifestyle as the field of what is known as Lifestyle Medicine—lifestyle as treatment, not just prevention—is growing exponentially. We often think of advances in medicine as expensive state-of-the-art technologies, but what we’re learning is that changes to one’s diet and lifestyle can make powerful and significant improvements to our health. New research suggests that a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet can possibly prevent, halt or even reverse heart disease and diabetes. And, we can’t ignore what we’ve already learned from centenarians living in Blue Zones—a WFPB diet plays a significant role in one’s longevity, health and happiness. More about it here.
So what does a WFPB diet mean anyway? Well it’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and tubers. It does not necessarily mean a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, a WFPB diet either excludes or minimizes animal proteins including meat, dairy products, and eggs, as well as processed and refined foods such as bleached flour, refined sugar and oils. In other words, a WFPB diet is one that incorporates more plants, regardless of the diet you choose to follow.
I haven’t adopted a strictly plant-based diet (yet), but these days I find that whole and plant-based foods are what I’m more interested in eating and providing for my family, especially my little guy who is still discovering the beauty, depth and flavor of a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Over the next month I’ll challenge myself to try a mindful WFPB diet during our Healthy Lifestyle Challenge. It seems the more I learn about nutrition, the more confidence I have that adding whole and plant-based foods to one’s diet is a good thing—for both mind and body. Tell me, what do you think about diet and lifestyle?
Quinoa and Edamame Salad
A friend sent me this simple recipe packed with lots of nutrition and flavor. Easy to make, tasty and full of good-for-you whole and plant-based foods too!
1 cup of uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups edamame, shelled
1 cup red grapes, sliced in half
1/3 cup red onion, diced small
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
1 yellow bell pepper, diced small
1/2 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins (or mix half and half)
1/3 cup almonds (or cashews), toasted (slivered or sliced almonds would work here too)
2/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and freshly pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
Make the vinaigrette by whisking all ingredients together and set aside. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Allow to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl combine cooled quinoa with the remaining ingredients. Add vinaigrette. Toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning.