Can better nutrition make a better world?

Recently I picked up a book on the new book shelf at the local library. It was the words “Plant-Based Diet” in small letters with an endorsement from Jay-Z and Beyonce’ that caught my attention.  I couldn’t help but smile.  When icons of pop culture promote healthy living, tens of millions get the message.  So, what precipitated Beyonce’ and Jay-Z’s realization that a plant-based diet offers advantages?  The answer was in the first paragraph of their introduction, “Having children has changed our lives more than anything else.”

The book is “GreenPrint” by Marco Borges, an exercise physiologist and talk show regular although not known nearly so well as Dr. Oz.  While the book includes chapters about plant-based foods, the main message is that what’s best for us nutritionally happens to be what’s also best for the planet.  As for the word Greenprint, it seems to have its origin in land conservation.  However, for his book, Borges defines Greenprint as a measure of the impact of food choices on our weight, overall health, and on our planet.

As defined by Borges, our Greenprint is the positive impact we have on the world through choices of food, especially plant-based meals.  Thus, how a person’s Greenprint grows or shrinks is determined largely by their diet.  To guide you along the Greenprint journey, 22 guidelines are provided.  Each guideline is discussed in a separate chapter.  Among these guidelines are advice for eating more plants, mindfulness, fasting, self-motivation, and changing habits.

Borges suggests tackling plant-based eating by gradually replacing meals until you make the switch to an all plant-based diet.  In particular, he recommends a tiered plan for change. For the first 11 days he suggests eating one plant-based meal a day. For the next 11 days, he suggests having two plant-based meals. On day 22, you go all in with only plant-based food. Of course, if this all seems too much like a marathon diet, just settle back to the level of change you can accommodate.

The idea for 22 days comes from studies about how people make lasting changes that suggest that it takes about 21 days to create a new habit.  So, if you stick with it, in 22 days, you’re on your way to a lifestyle change.  In a separate bestseller, “The 22-Day Revolution”, Borges describes his diet as the plant-based program that will transform your body, your habits, and change your life.  While that’s a bold claim, despite the fact plant-based food can be quite appetizing, most will ultimately need a mentor to stay the course.  Cooking and eating a plant-based diet comes with a learning curve, so knowing what to make and which foods to stock up on can help you transition more smoothly.  With about one-third of the book dedicated to recipes and ideas for transitioning to plant-based foods, there’s plenty to help you get started.

A minor variation on Borges 22 day diet plan is the “21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart Diet” from Dr. Neal Barnard.”  An advantage of Barnard’s diet is that it’s web-based, begins again at the first of every month and comes with an abundance of celebrity endorsements to help keep you motivated.

The idea that a plant-based diet is good for your health and good for the environment has considerable evidence to back up the claim.  Plant-based foods create a far lower environmental footprint, including less greenhouse gas emissions, less need for water, less need for land, less pollution, and less need for energy compared to meat-based diets.  It’s a win-win for people and the planet.  Borges reminds us that if you still believe the secret to health is youth and that getting older, means getting sicker then he begs to differ.  The secret is lifestyle, and especially the food in our diet.

While the ideas Borges presents are timeless gems of wisdom, they may be new to you.  What makes the book worth reading is his understanding of how diet is an integral part of life and his enthusiasm for the subject.  As previously mentioned, Borges has a knack for creating interest in a healthier lifestyle and just might hook you on the advantages of plant-based eating.

With the endorsements Borges receives from pop stars he may have already reached tens of millions.  On a good day, I reach maybe a dozen or so about the health benefits of lifestyle and nutrition.  I have to hand it to Borges.  He’s awakening a generation that plays video games for exercise and lives on burgers, chicken wings, and pizza.

A few takeaways that help put the intent of the book in perspective include the following thoughts:

  • By switching to a plant-based diet, you can reduce your contribution to carbon in the atmosphere more than by driving an electric vehicle that derives its energy from non-carbon sources.
  • The only diet that has shown substantial health benefits increased longevity, and reduces carbon in the atmosphere is a plant-based diet.
  • The longer you stay on a plant-based diet, the better you feel.  Many find, it’s the best medicine they can take.
  • The most significant nutrition deficiency in the American diet isn’t protein. It’s the lack of natural fiber.
  • By increasing dietary fiber to 36 grams a day, most will find themselves consuming 130 calories less per day. In a year that’s about 47,000 fewer calories or a potential weight loss of about 14 pounds.
  • Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are the most effective foods to eat for weight loss due to their combined advantage of natural fiber and high water content.
  • Our body has an amazing ability for detoxifying itself when we eat plant-based whole foods and exercise enough to perspire.
  • For 80% of patients with mild to moderately high blood pressure, diet is better than medications.
  • For success in changing your diet for better health, focus on what you can eat rather than keeping a list of what not to eat.  The key is to eat more plant-based whole foods.
  • Choking down a veggie burger you don’t like won’t help you change habits.  Find the plant-based whole food recipes you do like.

Overall, I call the book a home run.  Although diet is the main focus of the book, all aspects of lifestyle are touched upon.

No one changes their habits without a reason and for tasty alternatives to the Standard American Diet (SAD), Borges offers plenty of appetizing recipes. The recipes that follow are typical of what you will find.  Many recipes involve little or no cooking.  The two recipes shown below are no-cook dishes you can make in 10 minutes.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

Mexican-Inspired Bean Salad

Prep: 10 Minutes (No cooking required)

            This delicious salad is made with a nutritious combination of plant superstars, all mixed together in a citrus dressing and topped with sliced avocado. If sensitive to spicy foods, you can skip the chili powder. If not, for a more authentic Mexican experience, feel free to add minced jalapeños for an added kick, and use cilantro instead of parsley.

  • 1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ⅓ red onion, minced
  • Leaves from ½ bunch parsley or cilantro, minced (about ¾ cup)
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder, or to taste (optional)
  • 1 avocado, sliced

            In a large bowl, combine the black-eyed peas, pinto beans, black beans, and corn. Add the tomatoes, onion, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil (if using), vinegar, salt, pepper, and chili powder (if using). Mix together to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Top with the avocado, season with salt, and pepper, and serve.

Chickpea No-Tuna Salad Sandwich

Prep: 10 Minutes (No cooking required)

            Introducing another family favorite: “no-tuna” salad made with chickpeas. Consider making this a couple of times a week and enjoy it in a sandwich, with sliced carrots and celery sticks, as a dip for whole grain crackers, or in a generous scoop atop a green salad.

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, loose skins discarded
  • 2 tablespoons shredded carrot
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 2 tablespoons vegan mayo
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ⅛ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Lettuce or other greens
  • ½ tomato, sliced
  • 4 slices gluten-free vegan bread

            In a medium bowl, mash the chickpeas with a fork or the bottom of a cup until broken down to a creamy but still slightly chunky consistency. Add the carrot, onion, parsley, mayo, mustard, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

            Divide the lettuce, tomato, and no-tuna salad between 2 slices of the bread, then top each with a second slice of bread and serve.

Published by Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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