A Green Light for Healthful Eating: Is 2015 the Year for Preventive Medicine?

Posted on by Neal Barnard, MD, FACC

farmers-marketThe Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages consumers to follow a plant-based template to reach and maintain optimal health. This method of healthful eating is the easiest way to increase consumption of vitamins and minerals that we often fall short on. A plant-based model also serves as a guide for how to curb intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt. How do we get there? First, let’s start an open dialogue with patients, family, and friends about foods to favor: nutrient-dense, plant-based varieties. Here is a list of dietary staples that fit in with almost every age group, budget, and season. Whole Grains Steel-cut oats, brown rice, quinoa, and pasta are naturally low on the glycemic index scale and provide a healthful source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium. Due to their high fiber content, whole grains help reduce the risk of early death from chronic disease. Whole grains double as a prebiotic and work with probiotics, such as kimchi and tempeh, to help stabilize insulin, turn off ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” and strengthen the immune system. Instead of thinking “low carb,” go for whole grain. Beans Chock full of fiber, beans rank high on the satiety scale. This versatile group includes black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans, and soybeans. Portable and palatable, beans are one of my personal favorites. Soup, chili, curries, low-fat bean dips, salads, and burrito bowls are a few ways to enjoy this folate-packed, magnesium-rich food. Leafy Greens Mustard greens, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, and spinach score highest on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scale, and for good reason. This powerhouse vegetable group contains a vast amount of nutrients in relation to calorie density. Use raw leafy greens in a salad, as a sandwich wrap, or blend in a smoothie. Create interactive names, such as Game-Winning Greens or Green Monster Smoothie, to help children consume a few extra servings. Red, Orange, and Green Fruits and Vegetables Leafy greens aren’t the only powerhouse (and carotenoid-packed) vegetables. Red peppers, carrots, and sweet potatoes provide ample amounts of beta-carotene, which help support a strong immune system. Based on population studies, sweet potatoes are strongly associated with cognitive function in old age. Plus, women who consume 3 to 6 milligrams of beta-carotene a day – the equivalent of one sweet potato, six baby carrots, or one cup of diced cantaloupe – reduce their risk of breast cancer by 19%. Spices and Bold Flavors Just one-half teaspoon of cinnamon each day lowers blood sugar by 18 to 29%. Other spices, such as turmeric, have the ability to alleviate topical pain. Allyl sulfides, which you’ll find in crushed garlic, destroy cancer cells. The next time you feel the need to reach for salt or oil, opt for a few of your favorite spices instead. The more plant-based meals you add to your diet, the better results you’ll see in the long run. Test-drive this approach yourself and I guarantee you’ll see results: low blood pressure, improved cholesterol, stable blood sugar, and a reduced risk for almost every form of chronic disease. Photo from here, with thanks.