Rethinking Food as Medicine

Empowering Individuals, Protecting the Planet

The Western diet is now the number one cause of death in the United States (1) and our current agrichemical intensive agricultural system is a leading cause of climate change (2).

Over the past 100-200 years the Western diet has changed dramatically. As a result of industrialization the Western diet has become increasingly more processed. Rather than eating food that was directly raised on the land, much of the food today includes significant processing of these agricultural products into something that can be mass produced with lengthy shelf lives to ease greater distribution. Most of these agricultural products have no resemblance to the source from which they arise. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans are now consuming 63% of their calories from such food sources (3), whereas most of these food products did not even exist 100 years ago. The cost of such transition in food production and consumption has been tremendous, including declining human health and severe environmental degradation.

Plant-Based Lifestyle Traverse City (PBLTC) is a volunteer organization that aims to educate and empower individuals in making healthier food choices that protect, restore and maintain human and environmental health. Building upon the growing knowledge in culinary medicine that food is medicine and that regenerative agriculture creates food as medicine, we believe that a whole food, plant-based lifestyle creates a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our community.

Research continues to demonstrate that a whole food, plant-based lifestyle supports human health and beneficially impacts planetary health. We strive to create a supportive environment that allows individuals to explore whole plant-based foods while becoming more informed of the benefits in consuming a mostly whole plant-based diet. The success of PBLTC has been our inclusion of all individuals, regardless of their dietary preferences, who are interested in reclaiming control over their health and wellbeing and willing to explore the positive impact that dietary choices have on both human and planetary health. Our goal is not to prescribe a specific dietary plan, a ‘one size fits all’ plan, but rather provide a community that supports each individual as they pursue a healthier eating pattern.

As medical director of PBLTC, I feel it is essential to help individuals rediscover a healthier relationship to the foods we eat and the source from which they originate. Afterall, human health is only as good as the soil from which food arises.

Benefits of Whole Plant-Based Foods

  • Improved human health
  • Enhanced animal welfare
  • Improved planetary health
  • More sustainable diet despite increasing population pressures

When it comes to dietary patterns, there is far more hype and confusion than needs to be. Below is a list of the common eating patterns. I have purposefully not included therapeutic diets, like the ketogenic diet, as these dietary patterns are not recommended as a lifestyle eating pattern. I have also avoided adding in sensationalized diets written about in social media or popularized by diet books.

Most diets are defined by what they exclude, however, the plant-based diet is defined more by what it includes.

Omnivore: No exclusions. Food is consumed based on individual preferences.

Mediterranean: A plant-centered diet that allows small amounts of chicken, dairy products, eggs, and red meat, once or twice a month. Fish and olive oil are encouraged. Fat is not restricted.

Vegetarian: Below are a list of vegetarian style diets.

  • Lacto-vegetarian: Excludes eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry and includes dairy products.
  • Ovo-vegetarian: Excludes meat, seafood, poultry and dairy products and includes eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Excludes meat, seafood, and poultry and includes eggs and dairy products.
  • Pescatarian: Excludes eggs, meat, poultry and includes seafood. Many also include eggs and dairy products.
  • Vegan: Does not eat or use any animal products, especially meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Does not require consumption of whole foods or restrict fat, oils, refined sugar or processed foods.
  • Raw food, vegan: Same exclusions as veganism as well as the exclusion of all foods cooked at temperatures greater than 118˚F.
  • Plant-based: Excludes meat, seafood, poultry eggs, and dairy products but does not restrict fat, oils, refined sugar or processed plant foods.
  • Whole food, plant-based: Encourages plant foods in their whole form, especially vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and seeds and nuts (in smaller amounts). For maximal health benefits this diet limits or eliminates animal products. Saturated fat is restricted, and processed foods are avoided.

Our food is only as healthy as the soil from which it originates regardless of dietary pattern.

Food, whether plant or animal, is only as healthy as the soil from which it feeds. The vast majority of the micronutrients and minerals our body needs originate from the soil where food is grown; food that either feeds us directly or the livestock from which animal foods are sourced. Our commodity crops and land have been decimated by an intensive agrichemical monoculture farming practice. These farming practices have resulted in the loss of one-third our soil in just the past 40 years, which is 100 times faster than soil can be formed. The end result is nutrient depleted soils and food, rapid water run-off, rather than retention, and loss of carbon sequestration with increased greenhouse gas emissions, all which impair human and planetary health.

Fortunately, regenerative farmers and nutritionally informed health care providers are waking up to the cries of our people and the environment. As individuals we need to take an active role in choosing foods that nourish us and benefit the global community, including the environment. Regenerative farmers are actively engaging in farming practices that restore rather than deplete soil health optimizing crop nutrient density and resiliency. Practices like no tillage, crop rotation, crop diversity, and cover crops all play an important role in optimizing soil health while reducing the dependency on harmful agrichemical support. Improved soil health means less need for intensive agrichemical support and greater nutrient density. The result will be improved food quality while simultaneously mitigating the environmental pressures through enhanced carbon sequestration, diverse and nutrient dense soil biomass, and reduction in water run-off and water irrigation.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.

Hippocrates

I welcome you to join us at a future PBLTC event to learn more about what you can do to protect, restore and maintain your health as well as the health of the planet.

Resources:

  1. The US Burden of Disease Collaborators. The state of US health, 1990-2016 burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors among US states. JAMA. 2018;319:1444-1472.
  2. World Resources Institute, https://cait.wri.org.
  3. https://www.healthyschoolfood.org/docs/color_pie_chart.pdf
  4. Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. Perm J. 2013;17(2):61-66.