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Plant-Based Nutrition Class Update

July 12, 2012

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, I wanted to tell you that right this very minute, I am cooking beautiful heirloom red calypso beans on the stove. I bought them at Whole Foods in the cute little bag pictured above. I am sorry not to have a photo of my own to show you, but it has been very gray and rainy here lately, so the natural light has not been fantastic for picture-taking. (Not that I mind a little rain after seemingly endless days of 100-degree sun!) This is exactly what they looked like though, so lovely, with pleasing splotches of deep red and white.

So, onto the real point of the post. Y’all, I am loving the first course in my eCornell Plant-Based Nutrition certificate program. The class only started one week ago, and already I feel like I have learned so many new pieces of information beyond what I’ve already read inĀ The China Study and other health books.

The lectures have up-to-date research, the instructor constantly answers questions and provides even more in-depth knowledge, and the other students share articles, perspectives, book recommendations, recipe ideas, blogs, and stories. So far, it has been a great experience. It has sharpened my understanding of how a whole foods plant-based way of eating benefits so many different aspects of our health, and strengthened my resolve to be even more committed to these principles than I have been in the past.

I thought I would share a few of my big “aha” moments thus far with you, in case you too find them interesting! This is a lot of text, so I will put in some pictures of vegetables to break it up for you. :)

1. A big emphasis of the class is that simply being vegan or minimizing animal products is not enough to attain the stellar overall health and reductions in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, and other health problems cited in the China Project and other research. Dr. T. Colin Campbell is adamant that whole foods plant-based is the ideal way of eating.

In other words, we’re talking about filling the fridge and pantry mainly with vegetables, fruits, whole unrefined grains, beans, lentils, peas, and conservative amounts of nuts, seeds, avocados, tofu, and edamame. Whole foods plant-based means not choosing processed and refined ingredients like flours, oils, sugar, additives, preservatives, most packaged products, tofu dogs, protein powder, isolated soy protein, and most frozen vegan burgers, or any animal products (meaning meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs; some plant-based people do eat honey, unlike strict vegans).

The point is that there are lots of processed foods that are technically “vegan,” but those are not what T. Colin Campbell and other researchers and doctors are talking about when they say “plant-based.” Those are not helping you get optimal health or superhero-style protection against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments.

2. Did you know that eating animal protein can interfere with our bodies’ abilities to convert our stores of vitamin D into the supercharged vitamin D that our bodies actually use for various functions, including fighting the diseases named above? Wonder if that is has anything to do with so many people being diagnosed vitamin D-deficient lately?!

3. Since the 1940s, careful, repeated scientific studies have shown that 98% of people need between 8-10% of their calories from protein to meet their bodies’ needs. That is all, only 8-10% of total calories. This number is actually inflated to make sure it covers the majority of people. The science shows the median need to be 5-6% of calories from protein. This is true regardless of whether you are an athlete, man, woman, etc. Conveniently, this is about what we will naturally get if we eat within the whole foods plant-based framework above!

4. If you are wondering what the corresponding figure is for our fat needs, it is 10-12% of total calories. The average American, on the other hand, gets 30-50% of their calories from fat, mainly from animal foods and refined products like oils and processed, packaged items.

5. When analyzing the data from the China Project, Dr. Campbell figured that people who ate mostly whole plant foods would be largely protected from disease even if they incorporated a little bit of animal protein into their diets. However, the scientists found that when animal protein made up just 20% of total protein consumption, they started seeing higher cholesterol and increased cases of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and various other health problems. In other words, getting only 20% of your protein intake (not one-fifth of your total calories, just one-fifth of your protein calories) from animal products seemed to be enough to trigger the wide range of mechanisms leading to disease development.

6. Yes, animal protein can help humans add muscle mass and grow quickly. However, the type of tissue it builds appears not to support long-term health. Human muscle built by consuming animal protein contains significant fat marbling… just like steaks! Yikes!

Now, please know that I am not in any way a nutritional/medical/scientific expert or professional. I don’t even play one on TV! I am simply sharing this here because I find it fascinating, and I am betting that many of you (like me) want to be aware of this kind of information so you can take it into consideration when making choices for you and your family. The above are just some factoids I have gleaned from the first week of the eCornell course, that is all.

If you have any questions that I can address or clarify, we can definitely chat in the comments below. You can also poke around Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s website, or investigate some of the other leading researchers in this area: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. John McDougall, and Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Let me know if you would like to hear or discuss more! Or, if this kind of post bores you, let me know that too! :)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Our Kitchen Inventions July 13, 2012 at 9:44 am

That is such great info for you to share with all of us. I have Dr. Esselstyn’s book, and also the entire “collection” of info from PBS from Dr. Furhman. If you have not seen him on PBS, it is a wonderfully informative show and (even though he is abit “dry”…), he shares a lot of the same info as this. We have been (loosely) following a heavy fruit and veggie intake lately, and it is amazing how good you feel eating that way – even when full from eating, it is not the uncomfortable FULL that you get from other meals.

Glad you are enjoying the class, and can’t wait to hear more!


katie September 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm

definitely not boring. i like learning of the whys behind the reasons. i was one of those that thought plant-based nutrition would include things like tofu dogs. my family eats meat but i do have some guilt about it. i want to incorporate a few vegan meals into our rotation.
nice post.


granolagrits September 15, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Hey Katie, I am so glad you liked it! So glad. I also have always liked knowing the whys behind statements and facts. :) And I definitely think small steps can add up to make a big difference… if you try a vegan meal or two, and find that you like them, then maybe you put them in your rotation more often, or makeover some of your favorite meals into plant-based versions, etc. I definitely did not get to my current perspective overnight for sure! Tons of small steps along the way! Hey, have you ever read the Peas and Thank You blog? She has some good kid-friendly ideas over there!


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