As a clinical dietitian, I am not surrounded by a huge support system for plant-based eating. The idea of “good health” includes the ice age Food Pyramid, encompassing a well-rounded diet with lean meats, fruits, vegetables, carbs (making only half of your grains whole), and at least 3 servings of dairy. I have preached this for many years after it was ingrained into our heads during undergrad for Food and Nutrition. Although I truly do cherish my degree and credentials, I am left pondering on why I was never introduced to plant-based nutrition as an option for treating and preventing chronic disease. Research dates back to the 1970′s with the work of Colin T. Campbell and into the 80′s with The China Study, followed by other great physicians (not to name them all) such as Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn in reversing heart disease, and more recently Dr. Neal Barnard with PCRM. Needless to say, there has been substantial evidence behind this movement.
So why do I sometimes feel like a lone soldier standing at the forefront of a huge upward battle? Answers date back to the depression in the 1930′s when malnutrition was prevalent. U.S food policies were directed toward eliminating nutrient deficiencies. For the undernourished less-fortunate people at that time, the addition of meat and dairy made a huge difference with their health status. Children noticeably began to grow faster with more animal products. As a result, the government started subsidizing farmers for increased production of these foods.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and society is still suffering from malnutrition however this time from over-eating. Disease rates including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer are sky-rocketing. Our fast-paced lives has left us depending on fast-food and sugary sodas and energy drinks. We dump billions of dollars into finding cures for these diseases and medications to cover the symptoms. Pharmaceutical companies are becoming richer and richer, while our overall health as a country is declining. The time is now to stop placing a bandaid on the problem and dig a little deeper! It makes perfect sense, what we put into our bodies should have a dramatic effect on our health. Hippocrates said it best when he exclaimed “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. Almost every week I hear about someone new being cured from terrible dis-eases through a whole-foods plant based diet. Although I do support the need for conventional medicine (recent advances in medicine/surgery are astounding), I truly believe that combining it with the adoption of this lifestyle can change our future and the world around us.
We are living in exciting times, our society as a whole has overcome great obstacles. And the way I see it, this is just another one. When my future children are in the classroom, my vision is for this time to be in the history books of when we decided to dust ourselves off, open our eyes, and take control of our health. So my mission is to inform not only the public, but also the medical community. As a Food for Life instructor, I hope to integrate the program into hospitals, doctor’s offices, and colleges. I am grateful for the several dietitians who have already taken this stance and who have inspired me to move forward. I can feel that we are headed in the right direction, towards a huge breakthrough. It’s only a matter of time until plant-based nutrition spreads through the country like the latest fad diet or fashion trend, only this one will stick around for years to come.