The concept behind the plant-based food guidance system, “Meals matter: Take your pick!” presented in this chapter, is a system for adding healthy foods to your current dietary pattern. At some point after adopting enough healthy habits, the new habits eventually crowd out the less healthy habits. This food guidance is directed to both the 5% of the population who is highly motivated and readily adopts positive habits without complaining and the 95% who is more resistant to making changes.
The first group is an elite group known as the “5% club.” The remaining 95% of the population often prefers to cling to their poor habits for a variety of reasons. This group usually requires a major motivating event at which point, they may proceed with small baby steps to make changes which may or may not make much of a difference in their health outcomes. Regardless of which group you are in, as positive internal and external changes occur, motivation to continue making changes, improves. Drastic changes begat drastic results but small steps also move you forward and are sometimes easier on you and your family.
This new system of diet modification primarily targets individual foods and small groups of foods with similar positive properties and a proven track record. There are 6 frequency categories and 48 recommendations. The 6 frequency categories are:
1. changes you make at every meal;
2. changes you make once or twice every day;
3. changes you make 4 to 6 times per week;
4. changes you make 2 to 3 times per week;
5. changes you make 1 time per week; and
6. changes you make 0 to 3 times per month.
For example, a highly motivated person could choose to eat raw food at every meal or add leafy greens or even brown rice to every meal and it would provide almost immediate and positive benefits. A busy, motivated person could choose to add one or more plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis such as eating a handful of walnuts once a day or adding flax seeds to their morning bowl of oatmeal. Eating an apple a day is another great daily habit! Apples contain pectin, a type of soluble fiber. Pectin is not absorbed in the small intestine but when it reaches the large intestine, one or more of 500 healthy bacteria present in the large intestine, break down pectin turning it into a fuel for energy production within the colon. Adding a handful of Brazil nuts once per week is associated with positive heart and thyroid benefits.
Keep your current dietary pattern but adopt one or more healthy habits. Choose a frequency and from that category, add one or more healthy options to your current dietary pattern. This system takes away the frustration of food categories, counting calories, and deciphering the appropriate amounts, and transfers the focus to healthy foods. The ultimate goal is to shift some good choices into your current dietary pattern. As you choose more positive habits, some of the less healthy food choices should decrease in frequency and a new, healthier dietary pattern may emerge. This takes time, but it is more likely to be a permanent change if you see and feel the benefits of your new habits.
Some of the recommended changes are tangential and provide value in various ways. For example, learning how to identify and consume edible wild plants may not have a scientifically “proven” basis but it may be a valuable acquired skill. Just the time it takes to research, forage and learn about edible wild plants may introduce you to a new group of friends, an outdoor hobby, and a “survival” skill if it is ever needed. It feels good to know you will not die because you thought you were eating wild carrots and it was poisonous hemlock. Learning how to incorporate edible flowers into your diet may lead to planting a flower garden and spending more time outdoors. Maybe you want to grow your own apples. Leverage one good habit with another one which becomes your passion.
Several options are not strictly related to food. Two of the categories are water consumption and supplements. Fasting is the third non-food category but it is 100% health related. One of the weekly to monthly or even yearly options is a water only 24-72 hour fast. Regular and intermittent fasting (e.g., limiting food intake to an 8 hour window to allow the body to go into a mild ketosis) forces a powerful biological reset, allowing the microvilli and villi of the small intestine to return to their “functional” sizes as well as promoting weight (fat) loss.
A near continuously utilized (i.e., frequent meals and snacks) gut may eventually become swollen and edematous. When this occurs, the gut loses its absorptive capacity, especially at the microvilli level. The microvilli are small “fingers” of the gut wall that cover larger villi or “fingers” of the small intestine. The microvilli and villi increase the absorptive capacity of the small intestine to about the size of a tennis court. This allows the gut to extract most of the nutrients from consumed food. When the microvilli and villi become swollen and edematous, the absorptive capacity is compromised. This allows for the absorption of larger compounds which are normally not absorbed until they are more completely broken down, contributing to food sensitivities, allergies and other complaints.
Another fasting-related benefit is weight loss. There are 3 ways to lose fat: 1. breathe it out (via vigorous exercise and kcalorie restriction), 2. pee it out (via ketosis), or 3. cut it out (via plastic surgeon). Breathing out fat breathes it out 1 carbon at a time in the form of CO2. However, fasting, the most rapid way to achieve ketosis, allows one to pee out fat in 2, 3 and even 4 carbon fragments, known as “ketones.” Fasting one day per week or even intermittent fasting on two or three non-consecutive days per week allows one to restore normal gut functions and achieve rapid weight loss. Not everyone can fast for 24-72 hours on a weekly or even monthly basis. It is important to check with your physician before beginning a fasting routine.
Reverse engineering the USDAs dietary guidance for the last 80 years and landing on new territory may be necessary to achieve true health and wellness. It is critical we begin to understand we have been deceived, probably not intentionally, but as a type of collateral damage on our way to modernity. If you are 80 to 100 years old, you have lived through several significant time periods. You have seen the victory farms of the WW2 era to swanky backyard gardens with their designer raised beds, fancy greenhouses, and chicken coops built for a king. You have also gone from small corner markets to grocery stores with thousands of highly processed, modified, chemical-laden products available, full of sugar, added fat, and other additives to meet the most discriminating and hedonistic tastes. How do we return to a simpler era of whole foods, prepared using healthful methods? How do we get back to the basics after we have eaten like royalty and we are addicted to convenience and highly processed foods? If we stay on this trajectory, where does it lead us? Can we afford to get fatter, accumulate more blockages in our arteries? How long can we afford to pop a pill to treat our type 2 diabetes? Does it bother you when your young children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? What does it matter if we walk around with a few extra pounds?
You may be surprised by how much better you feel as you begin to make meaningful changes to your current dietary pattern. For example, in my opinion, the single best thing a person can do for their health is to consume a green smoothie every day. This accomplishes complex biochemistry with far reaching effects. It is a great way to add important ingredients such as walnuts, yogurt, ground up supplements, fresh greens, herbs, spices, enzyme-containing fresh pineapple, vitamin E sources, supplements, etc. If you have the time, go to YouTube and watch Sergei Boutenko’s video on the 30-day Green Smoothie Challenge. It provides recipes and good information to motivate your choices.
Use the opportunity of each meal to maximize your health. Every time you eat a healthy meal you are placing your health in the positive column. Every time you implement one or more aspects of a healthy lifestyle, you are placing your health in the positive column. Every meal matters and every lifestyle habit, counts. Learn about the best choices available to you. As you add the good stuff, hopefully it begins to crowd out the bad stuff and the bad habits which have held you hostage for years.
I hope this new system is not as overwhelming as it may initially appear. Once you understand the variable is one food or one habit in a proscribed frequency, you can choose one or more categories and add that positive habit to your current dietary and lifestyle patterns. Each person will choose a different route. It is all about establishing a healthy dietary pattern for you and your family. Even family members are going to choose different options. This does not negate your current dietary pattern or lifestyle but it allows you to move forward with one or more positive changes. Make each meal matter: Take your pick, is designed with you in mind. You are the target and hopefully you are ready to make your meals matter. Hopefully you are ready to make some good choices to restore your health and to wildly pursue the best person you can be. Build a better you, whether you are age 1 to 92! It’s never too late to change direction and choose life!
The epigenetics of our lifestyle, how we choose to think, the level of happiness we grasp, the level of frontal lobe function we exhibit (i.e., empathy), the level of cognitive biases we tolerate, the distortions we accept, the degree to which we align our beliefs to Scripture (the highest level of scientific philosophy), the approach we take to relating to our best friend, Jesus, etc. – all these matter. But for now, this chapter is about a new approach to dietary guidance as well as a graphic devoted to lifestyle and epigenetic factors. It is about having choices – lots of choices. It is about making each meal matter and your lifestyle count.
Just one bad meal combined with multiple toxic exposures, including psychological distress, can be a problem. One bad lifestyle habit may be dooming your long-term health. Make each meal and lifestyle habit matter. Make them work to your advantage. Tackle the toxic elements of your lifestyle by adopting positive elements to eventually crowd out the bad ones. Start today. Walk with God down this pathway to maximize and energize your positive choices. Don’t worry if something healthy and positive is not on the following graphics. You can add it! This system is flexible and open.