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Benefits of a Plant-based Diet (podcast)

All plant-based diets are healthy, but which one is right for you?

Dolly Doctor, MD, internal medicine, discusses benefits of plant-based diets in this podcast episode of San Diego Health.

Dr. Dolly Doctor, Primary Care, Scripps Coastal Medical Center

All plant-based diets are healthy, but which one is right for you?

“Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.” How many times did you hear that growing up? Turns out, mom was right. The evidence showing the health benefits of a plant-based diet is piling up. But what exactly does “plant-based” mean?

True plant-based diets consist of mainly things that grow in the ground and exclude processed foods. There are several types, ranging from vegan, meaning no animal products of any kind, to semi-vegetarian, where the person sticks to fruits, veggies, and whole grains most of the time, but occasionally indulges in poultry, fish or eggs. There’s really a plant-based diet for everybody.

In this episode of San Diego Health, host Susan Taylor is joined by Dolly Doctor, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas who specializes in weight management. They discuss the various types of plant-based diets, why it’s not necessary for humans to eat meat, what you should consider before starting a plant-based diet and what a meal plan typically looks like for Dr. Doctor, a semi-vegetarian herself.

With many Americans suffering from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, it’s surprising more people don’t make the switch to healthy plant-based diets, which have been shown to slow down or even reverse the progression of these diseases. Plant-based diets (even those that include a small amount of meat) are great for weight loss too, Dr. Doctor says, although calories still count. The only downside of plant-based diets is that they lack vitamin B12, but a multivitamin or supplement should make up for it.

Listen to the episode on the health advantages of a plant-based diet

Listen to the episode on the health advantages of a plant-based diet

Podcast highlights

What is a plant-based diet? (0:56)

It is the intake of whole plant-based foods, which are grown in the soil, and minimizing the intake of processed, animal-based products.

A vegetarian diet means there is no animal meat in that diet. Anything that has a face or a mother, we should not eat that. That includes cow meat. I can include dairy products including milk, cheese and ice cream and eggs.

Lacto-vegetarian is where we can drink dairy with the vegetarian diet. That's the commonest diet in India. All the vegetarians drink milk and they don't eat meat. They eat a vegetarian diet only.

A macrobiotic diet means more grains, legumes. It has some seaweed in there and brown rice. And it's more like a vegetarian diet.

Semi-vegetarian is somebody like me who sticks with a vegetarian diet, but depending on the circumstances would eat a little white meat like chicken, would eat some eggs, but try to avoid the yellows.

Which is the best plant-based diet? (2:37)

The best diet that we humans are made for is a plain vegetarian diet. We are not cats and we are not animals that are supposed to eat meat. We do belong to the animal kingdom. We are humans, homo sapiens. The vegetarian diet is a diet where there is nothing that is not grown from the ground that we should eat. So things like legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, some seeds and nuts are all we should be eating in our diet to be healthy.

What are examples of plant-based meals? (3:26)

You should eat romaine lettuce, which is a little bit better than plain lettuce. But the best is spinach and collard greens and kale.

For breakfast, I can eat a couple of slices of toast, whole wheat, whole grain toast or oats, steel-cut oats. I would have to cook them. Or plain oats, soak them in almond milk. Put fruit on it. Put some nuts on it, and a pinch of sugar for the kids. And that is a healthy meal with fiber.

With lunch, I would eat a burrito, a whole grain tortilla filled with black beans and pico de gallo (tomatoes, onions, peppers), and spicing on it. And you can have salad on the side.

And then for dinner, we would have something similar, but it would be with lentils.

What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet? (5:13)

We have 300 million people in the US, but we have 100 million people who are hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) and diabetic. We have 70 million people who have high blood pressure. All these diseases could have been stalled. And now we know with a plant-based diet, they can be reversed also.

So if I need a bypass and I have been eating processed meats and dairy products and poultry all my life, if I change to a plant-based diet, studies have shown that it reverses disease. Also they have shown in studies that coronary artery disease can be reversed if you use a plant-based diet. Diabetes is very easy to reverse.

The morsel of food that you eat can lead you to health. It can be used as medicine, or it can lead you to disease. We do not realize this when we are young, when we are in our 20s and 30s. But as we get older and the diseases start, like blood pressure, diabetes, cancers show up in the family, we realize that had we followed a proper diet, we could have prevented this disease for many years. We all are going to go somehow, but we don't want it to happen in our 50s, 60s and 70s. We want it later in life.

Can you lose weight from a plant-based diet? (8:10)

It is the mainstay of losing weight. I'm board certified in bariatric medicine and the first thing we tell patients — because all of them are not vegetarian; they do eat meat — we say three ounces of meat a day. That's the first thing I tell them. And after they get accustomed to that, I tell them let's get off the meats. Meat is anything that's alive, like I said, it has a face or mother. Even eggs, cheese, and peanut butter are considered animal-based, and they are very high in calories. You have to control your calories. A calorie is a calorie.

Can you get sufficient protein from a plant-based diet? (9:12)

That's a myth that protein comes only in the form of animal products. Yes, all the essential amino acids are there in all the meats, the nine essential amino acids. With lentils, they might not all be there, but when you mix lentils and legumes — mix the brown rice and the wheat and the quinoa — you get all the amino acids.

Just eating a plant-based diet — for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — you get enough protein; you get enough essential amino acids, the building blocks of your body.

You do realize that elephants, cows, giraffes and horses don't eat meat and they have the best strength and the best musculature They are huge and muscular. They live off plants. We can live off plants.

Are there any risks to plant-based diets? (10:30)

None at all, but one thing you have to consider is that there is no B12 in plant-based diets. It only comes from animal. And B12 is very important for our nerve development, for the brain development. So that's the only supplement you have to take.

There is no contraindication to a plant-based diet. We are born to be plant-based diet eaters, but we have changed our life because we live in the Northern Hemisphere in the Western world. It's cold in the winters. We cannot grow plants, so we turn to meat. And we have stuck with it because it is convenient to store it in the refrigerators.

What about plant-based diets for kids and seniors? (11:23)

Kids and teenagers are growing. They need a lot of protein. And as I said, in a plant-based diet — if different kinds of lentils and legumes are mixed together — it gives a complete protein to the teenagers.

They do need a variety in their diet, and they can only follow what their parents teach them. So if the parents are vegetarian and they follow a plant-based diet and the kids follow it, they are going to grow as healthy as any kid who is based in the Western world on a non-vegetarian diet. In fact, children on vegetarian-based diets are healthier. They are slimmer. They grow into older people looking much younger than the non-vegetarian eaters. It is age-defying, the vegetarian diet. It has longevity. It gives a lot of energy.

As for older adults, we want to live longer when we hit our 70s. When we are retired, that is the time I think it's more practical to really go on a plant-based diet because it does ward off some diseases that can bring you to your demise faster, such as atherosclerosis, strokes and heart attacks. The main things we die of are strokes, heart attacks and cancer. To prevent the clogging of the arteries, we have to stop eating animal-derived proteins.

What should you consider before starting a plant-based diet? (15:46)

The person has to be receptive to a plant-based diet. It is not easy. Unless they are highly educated in dietary factors or unless they have seen an adverse outcome in their health, people are not receptive to a plant-based diet because it is not easy to access all the time. It is not easy to make. Unlike meat, which you can put on the grill, plant-based diets need a little more work. You have to wash the leaves. You have to soak the lentils. You have to put a pan on the cooktop and cook it. You can do some of it in the microwave, but it doesn't come out as good as when you cook it on the cooktop.

So there's nothing to consider for a plant-based diet except the patient's education and understanding for better health. We all want to live long. Everybody wishes they could discover the fountain of youth and longevity. And plant-based diet is one way to prolong our life and quality of life.