By: Stefanie Heath
We’ve heard it for years and the research is clear that two of the most important things we can do for our overall well-being is to eat right and stay active. March is celebrated as National Nutrition Month, so what better time to take inventory of our mind, spirit and body then right now.
The moment I made the decision to start eating for my health was after watching the documentary, Forks Over Knives. The movie provided science-based research about how the Standard American Diet (SAD) was literally killing us. It offered example after example of how the SAD was chock-full of saturated fat and cholesterol, which was wreaking havoc on our hearts causing them to work overtime. Most of our commercials are even filled with highly processed foods, and many of them target children. I knew then that I needed to reevaluate my own diet. The research was pointing to one thing – eating a whole food. Plant-based diet is a potent defense against chronic illness.
It didn’t take me long to realize and appreciate that plant-based foods like whole grains, vegetables and legumes are a delicious way to maintain my health. The more I learned about the nutritional benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, the more I found others who would agree. World-renowned cardiologist and former president of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Kim Williams, advocates a plant-based diet for heart health. After becoming a high-risk patient himself, Dr. Williams adopted a plant-based diet and within six weeks his cholesterol score dramatically improved.
Dr. Williams is in good company. A leading healthcare organization, the American Heart Association (AHA), has also encouraged individuals to move towards a more plant-based diet. Nancy Brown, CEO of AHA said, “The American Heart Association recognizes the role of plant-based foods in a healthy dietary pattern, as evidenced by our recommendations that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.”
In addition to their heart-healthy benefits, several plant-based foods contain cancer-fighting properties. For example, walnuts not only provide you with heart-healthy fiber, but they also contain gamma tocopherols, a vitamin that stops the activation of Akt. Akt is the enzyme that nourishes cancer cells. Blueberries also top the chart as potential cancer fighters. A review published in the journal Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry found that blueberries show potential as “effective anti-cancer agents” due to their ability to prevent cancer cells from developing. The American Institute for Cancer Research also recognizes the importance of eating more plants such as beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables as a means to not only help prevent cancer, but aid in cancer survival, too.
The power of plant-based food isn’t limited to disease prevention. Former NFL linebacker David Carter found that it improved his athletic performance. After struggling to recover from football-related injuries, Carter decided to give a plant-based diet a try. It became a no-brainer for him to transition full-time to this way of eating once he discovered he was running faster, recovering quicker and increasing his endurance. Furthermore, he was able to maintain his weight and muscle through the power of plant-based proteins.
In addition to eating healthier and feeling better, there is also evidence to suggest you can potentially live longer. I’ve always been intrigued by centenarians. What kind of lifestyle does one have to live to see a 100th birthday? I was at a nutrition conference listening to a presenting physician when I learned the scientific secret to living for a century. The Blue Zones are five regions in the world that have been identified as having the longest living people. Unlike the SAD diet of greasy and low nutrient foods, the common theme of people who live in Blue Zones is a diet of minimal meat and dairy consumption and high intake of beans, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. It’s truly remarkable to see entire regions embracing the importance of healthy eating habits.
Spring is around the corner, and soon our regional market will be flush with fresh, delicious and local produce. It’s the ideal time to take a look in your refrigerator and Pantry and ask yourself: Are the foods you’re eating hurting you or helping you thrive? Use Nutrition Month as inspiration to discover and experience the foods that will help you flourish in both your mind and body.