Q&A with an Internist and Nutrition Specialist
You are what you eat, as the saying goes. Healthy eating, which promotes weight management and good nutrition, includes a variety of food groups that are chock full of vitamins, fiber, and minerals.
Some people choose to take healthy eating one step further and eliminate animal proteins, dairy, and processed food from their daily meal plan. This way of eating is called a whole food plant-based diet and it focuses on eliminating white or brown sugar, white flour, or processed oils as part of your diet.
David Herzog, MD, an internist at Summit Health follows a whole food plant-based diet and specializes in teaching patients who are interested in the nutritional benefits. He helps us understand what’s involved in this way of eating and how this lifestyle can benefit your health.
Q: What is a whole food plant-based diet?
Dr. Herzog: A whole food plant-based diet is when you do not eat foods that come from animals and instead consume foods found directly in nature with little or no processing. It is centered around eating green leafy vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
For comparison, a vegan diet also eliminates animal products but allows processed foods. Selections like cookies and vegan cheese would be allowed on a vegan diet. These foods, however, would not be found in a plant-based diet because they are processed.
Q: How can a whole food plant-based diet benefit your health?
Dr. Herzog: Some physicians advocate that animal products are the root cause of most diseases including high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. By eliminating animal products many patients can decrease their need for medication, lose weight, and improve their immune system function. In addition, patients often find they have more energy.
Q: What does a plant-based meal day look like? What do you have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Dr. Herzog: My typical meal day includes:
- Breakfast: blueberry pancakes or oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins, half a cantaloupe, and rye toast with jam
- Lunch: chunky vegetable chili or a garden salad with sesame dressing or balsamic vinegar
- Snack: banana, apple, or grapes
- Dinner: lentil soup with crackers, linguine with artichoke hearts and mushrooms, or steamed vegetables and beans with rice and tomato sauce
Q: Will your protein needs be met with plant-based eating?
Dr. Herzog: It’s a fact that all the protein in the world comes from the plant world. The cows that you get your steak from eat only grass or grains that the farmer feeds them. There is more than enough protein in leafy greens, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds to meet or exceed your daily protein requirements.
Q: How many fruits and vegetables should you eat on this diet?
Dr. Herzog: The wonderful thing about the plant-based diet is that there is no limit to how much you can eat because it is so low in fat content.
Q: Does eating only plant-based foods result in weight loss?
Dr. Herzog: The whole food plant-based diet is ideal for people who want to lose 10 to 20 pounds. This way of eating has less fat and calories and makes you feel fuller. As long as you make plant-based eating a permanent lifestyle change, the weight will stay off.
Q: Is it necessary to take supplements with this diet?
Dr. Herzog: If a patient is following a whole food plant-based diet, they will receive all of the vitamins and minerals needed with the possible exception of Vitamin B12. For that reason, I advise many of these patients to take Vitamin B12.
Q: Will I eat too many carbohydrates if I follow a whole food plant-based diet?
Dr. Herzog: Followers of a whole food plant-based diet do not have to worry about consuming too many carbohydrates. The fiber in most plant-based diets helps satisfy the appetite and reduce the tendency to overeat.
Q: What is the best source of healthy fats?
A: Dr. Herzog: The best source of healthy fats are plants such as avocado and nuts. Since nuts have a lot of calories, patients should only consume a small amount each day. For example, a serving of seven almonds can satisfy your daily requirement for healthy fats.
Q: What are the challenges of starting a plant-based diet?
A: Dr. Herzog: The main challenge of starting a plant-based diet is getting used to the diet. Some of the new foods that one will eat may not taste similar to our usual diet. When you make a change to a food item, it may take up to two weeks for the taste buds to get used to the new taste. This happened to me when I switched from whole milk to soy milk.
The other strategy I recommend is starting slowly — try incorporating a plant-based breakfast first. Once you are comfortable with that, work on adding a plant-based lunch, and finally work toward a plant-based dinner.
How Summit Health can help you get started
If you are interested in learning more about whole food plant-based eating, call (914) 848-8590 to make an appointment. Our providers can help guide you through your healthy eating journey and future good health.