The China Study – #4 – A Whole Foods, Plant Based Diet

I think we have established a fairly strong case for deciding to change our lifestyle to a “Whole Foods, ask Plant-Based Diet”.  For those who missed it, you can read the previous posts here:

China Study #1, China Study #2 -Evidence, China Study #3 – Criticisms

It also seems that there are two, equally important parts to this mantra: (i) Whole Foods and (ii) Plant-Based.  Campbell gives myriad evidence that plant based is the way to go, and proceeds to give a bunch of evidence that isolated nutrients (i.e. selenium, lycopene) have little to no effect in isolation – it is the complicated chain of biochemical reactions that make foods “good for you”.

Whole Foods

In trying to come to grips with what foods are going to maximise nutritional and protective benefits, we’ve had to do a bunch of research into how various plant-based foods are made.  For example, it appears that soy milk is made from whole soy beans that are ground with water (and then some brands add some flavour, sweetener or preservatives).  If you seperate out the soy curds, then you get Tofu.  So Tofu is analogous to soy cheese, and is definitely not a “whole food” – you lose the content of the whey when eating it.   So from what we can gather soy milk is closer to a whole food, and probably gives most of the benefits of a whole soy bean.  It is more expensive that cow’s milk, but financial considerations are for another post.

White flour is definitely out, and I have already been using whole wheat flour in much of my cooking during the past several years.  This has just reinforced that I really should be using it for everything.  The secret to baking with whole wheat flour is just to add a little more water to whatever recipe you are making – a couple tbsp per cup depending on what you are making.  Our bread maker already has tons of recipes for whole flour, so we’re good to go.  Ditto whole wheat pasta (price considerations to come).

White sugar is something I struggle over.  Sucrose is as natural a substance as you can find, and is the end result of most metabolic processes in your digestive system anyways.  It is not a whole food, but you can’t eat sugar cane without it being processed – it is too fibrous.  Brown sugar has the molasses left in it, so it is much closer to a whole food as it contains a myriad of other long-chain carbohydrates (i.e. the molasses).  Fruit contains a ton of sugar (grapes are 20% sugar), and most vegetables have naturally occurring sugar.

In the end, I think a small amount for baking or tea is OK – but not sugar pops, carbonated sugar water (i.e. pop), licorice, gummies, etc.  If I’m already throwing a ton of long-chain carbohydrates into the cookies via whole wheat flour, oats, flax, etc. then the sugar is in good company.  Agave Nectar is for people that want to fool themselves into thinking that they’re not using sugar, IMO.  Honey – same thing.  We have no issues using honey for things.

Fruit juice is another conundrum, as most fruit juices don’t contain any of the goodness of the fruit pulp.  You can get orange juice with pulp nowadays for the same price (yay!), and the Sun-Rype Fruit+Veggies seems to have some pulp in it, but it’s still not the same as eating a fruit.  You lose the fiber and other good stuff in the pulp.  I think it’s best to take pulp-y OJ over non-pulp-y apple juice, but all of them are still better than pop. 😉 (and we can’t afford the $4/355 mL bottled juices that are like liquid fruit)

Brown rice has now become a staple, and we are weaning off of white rice.  To be honest, I’ve come to like the flavour of brown rice better anyways.  (we use the brown bastmati from Costco)  And I no longer resent the extra 15 minutes that it takes to cook it – it even seems to keep better in the fridge than white rice and not go off as quickly.

Couscous apparently comes in “white” and “whole wheat” varieties, and I honestly can’t taste the difference.  I have only found whole wheat couscous in one store, however.

Plant-Based Diet

We think it is important to differentiate between a “plant-based diet” and “vegan”.  Vegans are generally conscientious objectors to using animal products at all, including honey, leather, whey, etc. and are usually fairly militant about stamping out all sources of animal “labour” from their lives.

We are removing animal protein for health reasons, which motivates us to make a different decision when faced with something like: do I use margarine or pay 5X the price for “vegan” oil spread?  Do I eat the piece of fish or eat vegan doritos deep-fried in salt and MSG?  Do I obsess about the 10th ingredient on the label being some small animal-based product for food texture/consistency/preservation or do I just get on with my life?  Do I use honey or rail against “bee oppression”? (ignoring the human oppression in harvesting soy, nuts, etc. of course…)

Our motto has become:

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

We will use margarine (which is a non-whole, plant-based product), even though it has whey powder in it.  Nutritionally the whey powder contributes an insignificant amount of calories to the overall whole, and one should limit intake anyways.

We can get a rough guideline for an “upper limit” on animal protein consumption as follows.  Assumptions:

– 1% of total calories for animal protein consumption – 10% of total diet as protein calories (5-6% is all that is needed for normal functioning), and 10% of protein intake from animal sources (based on studies of “traditional” cultures and risk analysis showing benefits even at these low levels of limiting intake – lower than this is still better)

– a 2000-calorie-per-day approximation

– 1 oz of meat contains approximately 7 grams of protein

– 1 gram of protein has about 4 calories in it

This tells us that we should strive for much less than 1 oz of meat or dairy products per day, or less than 5 oz of meat and dairy per week to mimic diets that have demonstrably less “western” diseases than we do.  That’s about 5X1″ cubes of cheese per week, or 1 very small steak, if that’s the only the animal protein we eat.  In this way we justify the “don’t sweat the small stuff” mantra as your whey, anchovie paste and random stuff you have no control over in restaurants will push you up around that range (although probably less if you’re diligent).

When we’re at home we will do what we can to minimise animal protein.  We’ll save the 5oz/week for the time we go to great-grandma’s house and she makes a 1950’s chicken-pot-pie dinner.

But I have been surprised at the options available not only in the supermarkets, but also in restaurants and people’s homes.  I grab a fruit off the counter at people’s houses instead of eating a custard-white flour-sugar-milk-based dessert, and they’re usually OK with it.

But the better you know your facts, the more understanding people seem to be. 😉

Note: You can find all the posts in this series HERE

  2 Replies to “The China Study – #4 – A Whole Foods, Plant Based Diet”

  1. Jen
    September 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I’m glad to see you will be giving yourselves a little flexibility with this big change in lifestyle. Big changes are hard enough to make, especially when done at the same time as other big changes (i.e. baby!!). I’d hate to see you break down in tears at the grocery store over micrograms of ingredients that are hard to avoid, while the kids are demanding your attention. Best of luck to you!

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