The purpose of a self-help book is to change your life for the better, hopefully, before it’s too late. Unfortunately, in matters of health, many people seeking medical help are already in crisis and sometimes beyond the point of full recovery.
In Dr. George Guthrie’s new book, “Eat Plants Feel Whole,” he shares stories of people in crisis that recovered without the need for risky medical interventions with guidance from a doctor that could communicate the advantages of lifestyle changes – primarily through diet and exercise. The stories of people that took positive action early enough often verge on the miraculous. In contrast, the accounts of those that did not fully recover remind the reader that there is no better time than now to seek help in getting started on a lifestyle change.
The book begins by explaining how Americans came to depend on what is often called the Standard American Diet – a diet that is typically composed of processed foods and animal protein with very few vegetables and fruits. In fairness to processed foods, the original goal of storing food to avoid a calorie shortfall (possible starvation) was a brilliant idea in its time. Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago when millions immigrated to America to avoid starvation in their home countries. Unfortunately, the convenience and food security gained from shelf stable refined foods came with unintended long term consequences, namely a host of chronic diseases that typically can go undetected for decades. Making matters worse, as people came to depend on these foods, food manufacturers discovered cleaver ways to increase consumption by making these refined foods more tempting – and for some, even addicting. At the same time, work-saving machines were making Americans more sedentary in their home and work activities. Today, with the majority of people overweight and on the way to serious health consequences, what was once considered a wonder of technology is now the reason for most chronic diseases.
To understand what led to an epidemic of chronic disease, one needs to look little further than the remarkable shift in macronutrients and micronutrients that took place as refined foods replaced plant-based whole foods. The point being, not only did the ratio of macronutrients change (fats, protein, and carbohydrates), but also the quantity of micronutrients like zinc, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and chromium. Fortunately, a plant-based whole food diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, seeds, and nuts solves this nutritional problem for most people.
Unfortunately, this simple prescription is not one the food industry is ready to promote due to the economic reality that until food is modified, there is little opportunity for added value that can increase the profits from a sale. To counter a shift toward the simple idea that whole foods are good for us, food advertizing plays upon reductionist thinking that constantly shifts attention from one nutrient to another as the missing miracle nutrient. Unfortunately, promoting the idea that nature has already solved the problem doesn’t fit with the current commercial model of food distribution.
The unsuspecting shopper is also reminded that refined packaged foods often contain large quantities of fructose even when marketed as a health food, organic food, or all-natural. Along with tips like this, the book reminds us that trans fats are only listed on nutrition labels when they are an added ingredient. When naturally occurring, no mention is required. Somewhere between 20% and 50% of trans fats consumed in America now come from ruminant animal products that have bacteria in their stomachs that create trans fats. For these foods, no trans fat warning is required.
The argument for a plant-based whole food diet is further bolstered by the many known problems from food additives. Artificial sweeteners, for example, disrupt the healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in the colon by increasing the bad bacteria at the expense of the good bacteria. This imbalance often leads to weight gain instead of the expected weight loss. On the other hand, eating a high fiber diet, an inherent part of a plant-based whole food diet, allows the good bacteria to thrive.
A discussion of animal protein reminds us that numerous epidemiological studies through the years (prospective and cross-sectional), as well as carefully controlled animal studies, have shown that eating more animal proteins and fats increases health problems including worsening blood sugar control, increased risk of kidney stones, increased bone calcium loss, decreased bone strength, and increased cancer risk.
Also covered in the book are topics on fasting, emotional eating, and blood pressure control. The differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise are also covered, along with a discussion of the benefits of intermittent training vs. high-intensity training. For those interested in calculating their target heart rate, a step by step formula is provided. And for those ready to start cooking healthy foods, quite a few tasty recipes are provided.
The book offers generous recognition to many that pioneered the plant-based whole food diet as an essential part of having good health. A quote from Dr. Michael Greger sums up the essence of what many leaders in nutrition now understand as unassailable, “The typical American diet is the number-one cause of premature death and the number-one cause of disability. In other words, a long and healthy life is largely a matter of choice.” I would add that while it may be a matter of choice, educating the public remains the greatest challenge. To this end, the book points to several training aids.
For those not familiar with the ‘rhythm method of girth control’ or the secret to shortening a dog’s tail, you may have to accept that buying the book is your only hope for these insights. Humor aside, a fluid style of writing makes the book hard to put down. This, along with a well-organized presentation of facts and clinical stories, makes the book suitable for patients interested in learning more about the value of lifestyle changes. I also found the book well supported by peer-reviewed citations.
Should you be looking for more information about lifestyle medicine, the book includes a list of additional books for further study, including 19 cookbooks in case the recipes in the book leave you wanting more. Also included is a list of websites offering more resources along with a list of ten feature films that are sure to help motivate and educate anyone that watches them.
While the concept of lifestyle medicine is not complicated, getting it right can be a challenge. From that standpoint, Dr. Guthrie has done an excellent job of conveying the basics in about 400 pages. If this book happens to be your first one about Lifestyle medicine, expect to have your appetite for more knowledge peeked.
For those generally familiar with the concept of lifestyle medicine and the plant-based whole food diet, in particular, you may wonder if this book holds anything new. Although I’ve probably read at least twenty books by authorities on these topics, I still found Dr. George Guthrie’s book valuable to me as a family practice doctor and a book I would recommend to patients and peers in the medical community.
If wondering why I chose to review this book, it was given to me as a review copy with a request that I read the book and post a review. As you have likely surmised, I found the book a rewarding experience and believe that anyone seeking a better understanding of how lifestyle affects their health will also find the book very useful and enjoyable.
If you found this review helpful, consider giving it a thumbs up at Amazon.com by clicking the ‘Helpful’ button at the end of the review. I’m sure Dr. Guthrie will also appreciate your vote of confidence.
Nancy Neighbors, MD
Need Help Getting Organized for the New Year?
Perhaps what you need is Bullet Journaling that fits your life with Kim Holmes of Bullet Journal Joy. Kim Holmes of www.bulletjournaljoy.com will discuss flexible bullet journaling and how she modifies the bullet journal method to fit her life. All types of planner junkies invited! Join in Sunday, January 12, 2:00pm – 3:00pm at the Madison Public Library Auditorium 2.
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of a Bullet Journal as a tool for helping yourself get organized then read, “Better New Year’s Resolutions.”