[Note: This article was originally written in 2010 for my old “Nutritional Health and Lifestyle Medicine” website which originated in the Fall of 2008).]
One of the primary themes of this website– perhaps the primary theme —is the extraordinary health-benefits of a predominantly whole-foods, plant-based diet.” You may rightly wonder why I qualify it in that manner–why do I say predominantly!?
According to T. Colin Campbell, in The China Study, the benefits of reducing our intake of animal-based foods may continue “even when the percentage declines from 10% to 0% of calories”, but, he acknowledges that “this has not been absolutely proven.” However, he goes on to say, “certainly it is true that most of the health benefits are realized at very low but non-zero levels of animal-based foods” (242). As such, if we continue to consume animal products, we must decide how much is too much.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman suggests that an “otherwise micronutrient-rich diet” may get up to 15% of its calories from animal products and still be healthful. To play it safe, however he recommends that people limit animal products to 10% of their calorie intake–and even less if they have heart disease (Eat For Health, Vol. 1, page 169ff). As we consider this question, it is important to remember that it it isn’t just that meat & dairy consumption can be detrimental to our health, it’s also a matter of how many fruits and vegetables get pushed off our plate in the process! Dr. Furhman concludes:
“The bottom line is that to live in the most health-promoting way, you must eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and beans with some seeds and nuts, but you do not have to exclude all animal products” (170).
When all is said and done, Dr. Fuhrman is fine with 1 – 3 servings of animal products per week (meat and/or dairy). Continuing to emphasize that the salad is the main dish, he recommends that those who choose to eat meat use it as condiment or flavoring– or perhaps a small side dish –not as the main course!
If we are speaking strictly in terms of health, then, the question remains which health-promoting diet is easiest for us to stick to–one which excludes all animal products or one which permits a few servings of animal products per week? T. Colin Campbell suggest that eliminating all meat and dairy is easier, arguing that in the long run we will feel less deprived. He compares any effort to merely reduce our consumption of animal products to a smoker who tries to “cut down” (“The China Study” 244). But many people feel otherwise–especially when they first begin to change their eating habits. And a very small percentage of people, Dr. Fuhrman observes, do not thrive on a totally vegetarian diet (Eat For Health 168). For them, a few small servings of animal products each week is definitely a plus.
So, what is a predominantly whole-foods, plant-based diet? What does “predominantly” really mean?
- predominant – prevailing: most frequent or common;
- predominant – overriding: having superior power and influence;
It seems to me that, to start with, a predominantly whole-foods, plant-based diet might include as much as 1 serving of meat or dairy per day–compared with the Standard American Diet, that’s a big reduction and should result in substantial health benefits! To achieve optimal health and weight-loss, however, these foods should make up no more than 10% of our calories–3 or fewer servings per week, according to Dr. Fuhrman. Whether or not you choose to eliminate all animal products from your diet, I do think Dr. Campbell is right about one thing–it is important not to focus on this limitation!
Think, instead, of the vast variety of fresh, wholesome foods that are available to us in well-stocked produce department! Compared to such variety, the Standard American Diet is really pretty boring–mostly a lot of processed foods made out of refined flour, corn, and soybeans, together with meat & dairy products from animals that are fed those same foods, and all topped off with copious amounts of sugar and salt… In contrast, a predominantly whole-foods, plant-based diet offers so much more!
Originally Posted under “Nutritional Health”
By Wayne Ferguson, Feb 18, 2010.