Written by Nir Brosh M.D.
So, what do you think Lionel Messi, Bill Clinton and the Roman gladiators have in common?
While at first there seems to be at best a weak connection between a superstar football player, a former US president and the mighty warriors who fought lions and tigers in now ancient arenas, there exists a striking link between them that may surprise us: they all based their nutrition mostly on plants. Whether it is choosing to mostly eat plants during the football season in order to boost athletic performance, to fight and heal a long-lasting heart disease or to enhance muscle prowess and physical endurance, all these quite different reasons, routes and motivations for deciding on a plant-based diet have led to the same nutritional choices.
When looking at the field of nutrition, one might easily get confused. Experts recommend a multitude of methods and researchers may reach and emphasize seemingly contrary conclusions. However, there is some consensus that begins to shine through in the midst of all this confusion. There is mounting evidence that no matter what people’s nutritional style, the more plant-based products they consume, and the least animal products they eat, the better.
The effects of consuming animal products
Let us first take a look at what we currently know about the consumption of animal products. The prominent biochemist and Cornell University Professor Emeritus T. Colin Campbell, together with Chinese scientists and experts from the University of Oxford, conducted research that examined the nutritional habits of residents of rural China and their connection to various diseases.
This seminal and impressive work done in the 1990s, showed that the more animal protein present in the diets of Chinese villagers, the more frequently they developed heart disease and cancer. Ever since, multiple studies on nutrition have proven this connection to be valid. This led to the World Health Organization’s recent declaration that red meat is “a probable carcinogen to humans”, meaning that the evidence is substantial enough to state that it directly causes cancer. But it was not just cancer that was found to be associated with animal products; other very common diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, high levels of cholesterol, hypertension and obesity, were all closely related to consuming meat and other sources of animal protein and fat.
On the other hand, however, there was also some very good news. If you happen to suffer from one of the common diseases of our time, like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension or cancer––or have a genetic predisposition towards one of them––you might want to lend your ears to what follows next.
We have already mentioned that animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and cheese can render you more susceptible to developing these diseases. At the same time, however, eating more veggies and fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, in their natural and unprocessed forms, can protect you from ever developing them in the first place. Moreover, if you already suffer from one of these health problems, a plant-based diet can help you stop their progression and even reverse their course.
A plant-based nutrition is also very relevant and enticing to those of us who “just” want to feel better, and to athletes who want to reach their top form and the highest levels of physical fitness.
The 2018 film “The Game Changers”, produced by director James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tennis Champion Novak Djokovic (amongst others), shows how even a single meal containing animal protein can block blood flow to muscles hampering their function, while a plant-based meal will keep these blood vessels wide open, allowing for top-level physical performance. It is not surprising then to realize that more and more athletes that become aware of this “secret” choose to switch to a plant-based diet.
This explains why Lionel Messi chooses to eat mostly plants during the football season, and why the legendary track and field athlete Carl Lewis chose to switch to a vegan diet after his 30th birthday. Lewis claims that after going plant-based, he felt stronger and faster than ever before, while other athletes normally retire at that age. He also attributes his 100-meter track world record, as well as a personal record of a 29-foot long jump, to his vegan diet.
Reading these facts, you might be wondering to yourself: “But what about protein? Do you get enough protein on a plant-based diet?”
The simple answer is: yes, you do. Plenty of it. For example: a cup of soy milk and a peanut butter sandwich with whole grain bread, will provide more than one quarter of the amount of protein that a man weighing 80 kg needs per day, and almost one half of the protein a woman weighing 70 kg will need. So, you can imagine that getting enough protein is really not an issue here – you just need to have enough calories in your diet and have a variety of foods and you will get enough protein in your food (more on that in a future article). Also, consider the following fact: analyzing the diet of gladiators in ancient Rome, using special biochemical methods that sampled the structure and composition of their bones, it was found they ate mostly lentils, beans and rice. I guess that these mighty warriors fighting with lions in the arena had enough protein in their diets, so it would not be too wild an assumption to claim that we as well, in these rich and abundant times, can get enough of it in our diet as well.
Plant-based is good, whole foods is better
Changing your diet to a plant-based diet has numerous advantages, but if you want to reap even more benefits, you might want to consider having your food in the form of whole foods; that means eating your food that was processed as little as possible.
Eating whole grain rice or wheat instead of the white and more refined alternatives is a good example. Combining real, whole vegetables and fruits in salads, main dishes and in-between meals is another good step. Adding a handful of natural walnuts or almonds and sprinkling ground flax or chia seeds on your morning oats are also wonderful ways to imbue your food with taste, variety and healthful ingredients.
Variety also plays an important role – you want your food to be colorful, fresh and vibrant, like a celebration of the senses, bursting with life-force-enhancing energy. When your food is colorful and bountiful, you also ensure that you are getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and plant chemicals that support your immunity and regeneration and clean your blood and body from unwanted substances and toxins. As you can see, it is a win-win way of eating.
You might be wondering, if a “Whole-Foods-Plant-Based-Nutrition” is not actually a Vegan diet. In some ways it is, in others not quite.
Choosing to follow a vegan diet is a matter of the heart – when one empathizes with the suffering of animals and does not want to take part in it anymore that is normally when one chooses to become vegan. But vegan diet is more about what not to eat – namely, animals and animal products in any form – whereas a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet takes it a step further. While on a vegan diet, one can feast all day and night on pizza, hamburger, French fries and vegan margarine, which is not so healthy in itself. With Whole-Foods-Plant-Based the emphasis is also put on quality, variety and healthful choices. You want your nutrition to contain as much of all the riches and benefits that one can get from the luscious and fertile mother earth as possible. It is a way to eat that emphasizes richness, enhances life and allows for a wide selection of foods. It is about more, not less.
The bottom line
At the present moment you might be eating an omnivorous, semi-vegetarian, vegetarian or almost vegan diet. But no matter what your current habits are, and even if this sounds somewhat distant from your current way of eating, try thinking of it as a good direction to consider. The more plant-based you choose, the better it is for the planet, for the animals and, of course, for yourself.
If you have more questions about the subject contact Dr. Brosh at: