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I‘ve recently spent a fair bit of time reviewing the vast number of reviews of clinical research done on the connection between nutrition and health, that have been reported on Michael Greger’s nutritionfacts.org site. Michael is a doctor and a vegan, but he receives no payment for anything he does on the site, and has shown he has no axe to grind, other than to lament the fact that lots of evidence connecting a whole-plant based diet with much better health and with much lower rates of the diseases that cause most deaths in affluent nations, gets ignored because there’s no money in it, and no emphasis on it in medical schools.
Much of this research is small-sample, and some but not all is rigorous, but Michael doesn’t cherry-pick the research he cites, or exaggerate its findings. He does amazing annual reviews of the latest research on the nutrition-health connection, and produces a prodigious volume of short, excellent, factual summaries. You can watch the videos or read the transcripts, whichever you prefer.
I’m reporting on this because I think it’s useful, interesting and compelling — it’s caused me to shift quite a few of my eating habits, and I’m already seeing some benefits. I am not advocating that anyone or everyone should become vegan — every body is different. These are just my notes from the 150 or so videos or transcripts I’ve viewed/read so far, in case they’re of interest to others.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Bottom line: There is overwhelming evidence, and almost no counter-evidence, that a whole-plant based diet is just about the healthiest diet available for most people, and that (unlike just about every other diet out there) it’s lacking in almost none of the essential nutrients needed to live a long and healthy life (though he does recommend even healthy eaters supplement their daily diets with up to 5000 IU vitamin D3 and 2500 mcg vitamin B12). Poor nutrition is also the only highly-plausible explanation for the epidemic of autoimmune and other diseases in affluent nations that are rare to uncommon in nations with very different diets to ours.
- For general health: Eat more of the following: vegan smoothies (use whole fruit not juice), all kinds of berries, raw spinach, bananas, coleslaw, kiwis, nutritional yeast, mushrooms, seeds especially flax seeds (especially good for sensitive skin) and sesame seeds, nuts especially almonds, pecans and walnuts, tea, most spices, beans/legumes, and whole grains. Avoid hydrogenated oils, eggs, poultry and all other meats, including fish (avoid these for a variety of reasons detailed on the site, which includes a comprehensive index by food type). Reduce but do not eliminate consumption of vegetable oils. Reduce or, even better, eliminate dairy products.
- For ulcerative colitis sufferers (I’m one): Diverse whole-plant-based diet is the best way to minimize inflammation. Turmeric (curcumin) is worth adding to tea and other foods daily as a natural anti-inflammatory. Get adequate sun exposure and/or take vitamin D. Eat broccoli and cauliflower especially. Avoid all dairy, and the sulfates in alcohol.
- For fibromyalgia and CFS sufferers (I know many): Diverse whole-plant-based diet is the best way to minimize symptoms. Supplement with at least 6 minutes/day strong exercise or 30 minutes/day walking. Avoid aspartame. For CFS, add 2.5T of cocoa powder a day to your coffee/smoothie.
- The best natural sweeteners: are molasses and date sugar (stevia is OK in moderation no more than twice a day if not adulterated with maltodextrin or other additives). Erythritol is the best non-sugar sweetener — it’s found naturally in grapes and pears but is now manufactured from yeast; it has no calories, causes no tooth decay, and produces no sugar index spike. The only downside is that it may cause you to eat more, so like anything, use in moderation. And avoid erythritol spiked with other substances.
- Non-diary “milk” and “protein” substitutes: Soy and almond milk are better than coconut milk, but not as good as whole soy/almonds. The site has no reviews on hemp milk, which is reportedly as good or better. Tempeh is better for you than tofu or edamame.
- Aromatherapy: Consider orange or lavender aromatherapy for anxiety, mild rosemary aromatherapy for alertness, and lavender aromatherapy for migraines. And if your anxiety is a social anxiety, consider butternut squash seeds (raw or toasted); they seem to alleviate it.
- The best teas: Green tea is better than black and has enormous health benefits; white tea is even better. Bergamot makes Earl Grey the best black tea. Dandelion, chamomile and (in moderation) hibiscus are the best herbal teas. Chai tea is excellent with its five healthy spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger). Adding cocoa powder to tea is good for you; cold steeping your tea is even better. Tea is as good for hydration as water (as an aside, carbonation, without adding anything else, has no effect on the health of water, except perhaps to make people drink more of it).
- Some whole plants that are less good for you: Rice (especially white) is not really that good for you. Neither are potatoes (sweet potatoes, which are unrelated, are excellent). Eat avocados in moderation — naturally occurring persin in them can be hazardous.
- Beware some forms of alternative medicine and nutrition regimes: There is now a large amount of medical evidence that homeopathy is just an expensive placebo, and hence in the long term “useless” (the British Medical Association now agrees). Take care with ayurvedic and other specialized supplements — they are mostly unregulated and often contaminated with lead, mercury and other dangerous metal toxins. Michael is dubious about “paleo” diets in general but these are so varied that it’s hard to generalize; see the paleo category in his index for more explanation on the specifics.
- Raw versus cooked versus frozen versus canned: Carrots and celery are the only vegetables whose nutritional value increases with cooking. Microwaving actually has the least negative effect on nutritional value of most foods; boiling is the worst. Bell peppers are most negatively affected by cooking and are best eaten raw. Chop cruciferous veggies like broccoli at least 40 minutes before cooking (chopping or chewing releases the essential nutrient sulforaphane, but cooking first destroys it), or add a pinch of mustard powder to the cooked veggies if you can’t (see the site for explanation of the chemistry). I know I eat more vegetables if I eat mostly raw vegetables (easier and to me tastes better). Frozen foods, unless preservatives/salt have been added, are actually as nutritious as fresh. Canning can destroy a lot of the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables and contaminate them with liner chemicals, though one exception is beans (but don’t buy beans processed with salt, and don’t rinse away the nutrients in the water the beans are stored in).
- Organic versus conventional: The main advantage of organic and non-GMO produce is that it is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, and the other crap of industrial agriculture. That’s more important in some fruits and veggies (with skins that are eaten or permeable) than others.
- How to make a safe healthy effective natural mouthwash: Place 7 Tbsp green tea (+ peppermint if desired) in 1.5 litres boiling water and steep for 1 hr. Strain and add 1/2 litre water into 2 litre glass bottle; store in fridge. (This specific recipe is from another site, though the ingredients are the same suggested in nutritionfacts.org.)
Again, the above are just my notes from the site; your mileage may differ. And again, I’m not saying a whole-plant-based diet is right for everyone. But it sure has worked for me.