Eating Living, Plant Rich Nutrition
One of the secrets to a healthier life is to embrace plant rich nutrition, full of living and anti-inflammatory foods, mainly un-cooked; a living plant-based diet, raw and vegan as much as possible.
Eat mostly vegetables, fruits (low-glycemic index fruits, especially if concerned about cancer and type-2 Diabetes), sprouted or germinated whole grains and beans (if possible), sprouted seeds and nuts.
There is a lot of information on Plant-Rich, Living, Raw and Vegan. So, let’s analyze some of the science behind our recommendations.
Plant-Rich is different from just plant-based. It means plant foods are the basis of your nutrition, but also that you choose healthy, nutritious, fresh and living plant foods. Many plant-based diets are not healthy, because they focus so much on simple carbohydrates, processed grains and flours, even sugar and alcohol. All of that can be considered plant-based…
So, let’s make no mistake, Plant-Rich means plentiful vegetables, fruits and other natural, whole and unprocessed plant foods, full of antioxidants and essential nutrients, that help reduce oxidative stress and prevent free radical damage. These whole plant foods are loaded with fiber and healthy fats. A diverse and healthy plant-rich diet is also high in anti-inflammatory foods, and has been shown to reduce markers of inflammation, helping you to stay healthy, fight inflammation and stop the progression of chronic disease1.
Why Living and Raw?
Living means the freshest produce possible and unprocessed foods. These include the super nutritious and vibrant microgreens and sprouts, that are still growing when going to your plate, or just freshly picked.
Raw or uncooked (or minimally processed) for maximum preservation of nutrients and enzymes and to prevent oxidation of foods (which happens even when you just cut them). The vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body in balance so that your immune system can function at its best. And the best way to get the full range of essential nutrients is to eat whole, unprocessed, or minimally processed foods. Cooking and food processing methods lead to nutrient losses, mainly essential vitamins and minerals.
The table below compares the typical maximum nutrient losses for common food processing methods in a compilation made by Nutrition Data2 of the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors (2003)3.
- Almost every food preparation process reduces the amount of nutrients in food.
- Greatest nutrient loss happens when foods are exposed to high levels of heat, light, and/or oxygen.
- The “wash out” of nutrients also happens when fluids are used during cooking or preparation (for example, most vitamins can migrate to the boiling water). If you keep/ eat the liquid, you still benefit from some of the nutrients.
- Similar losses also occur when you broil, roast, or fry in oil, and then drain off the drippings.
- Vitamin C losses are very high in any processing: drying 80% – cooking 50% – cooking + draining 75%.
- B Vitamins also display high nutrient losses and potassium losses are close to 70% when you cook and drain.
The nutritional effects of food processing are undeniable, and therefore a balanced and healthy diet should be based on raw vegetables and fruits, preserving the maximum content of vitamins and minerals.
Why should you be concerned about the preservation of Vitamins and Minerals?
Vitamins are essential for our immune system and their immune-boosting role has been widely studied and documented. A recent paper, from 2021, details the importance of the vitamins D, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids for our immune system and also the possible benefits related to the recent coronavirus4. Eating a diet rich in raw vegetables and fruits, preserving the abundant vitamins and minerals present in those foods, is the best natural way to support our immune system, not just from infections but also as a preventative measure against chronic illnesses.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains also contain healthful plant compounds like polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, tannins, and carotenoids with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic effects. These plant compounds are rich in phytochemicals that have many health benefits. For example, flavanols, a common polyphenol, decrease endothelial dysfunction, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and modulate energy metabolism. Common polyphenols in the diet are flavanols (cocoa, tea, apples, broad beans), flavanones (hesperidin in citrus fruit), hydroxycinnamates (coffee, many fruits), flavonols (quercetin in onions, apples and tea) and anthocyanins (berries) 5.
Another great benefit of plants is fiber! Completely absent in animal products and present in all unprocessed plants, fiber is positively related with the health of the microbiome. The microbiome is essential for nutrient absorption, to help fight inflammation and infection and to strengthen the immune system. Fiber is also associated with decreased cancer risk, namely colorectal and breast cancer6,7.
Plant-based eating and chronic disease
A 2017 comprehensive meta-analysis reported a significant protective effect of a vegetarian diet versus the incidence and/or mortality from ischemic heart disease (-25%) and incidence from total cancer (-8%) and the vegan diet was the one that conferred a more significant reduction risk of incidence from total cancer (-15%)8.
Other studies have shown a strong association between intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts with a lower risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease overall, total cancer, and all-cause mortality, particularly cardiovascular mortality9,10,11. Whole-grain and nut consumption was inversely associated with mortality from respiratory disease, infections, and diabetes9.
An interesting observation is that stronger correlations were found between blood concentrations of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, carotenoids and vitamin E, and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality than for dietary intake, which highlights the importance of plant-rich nutrition, high in antioxidant agents9.
Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
A high consumption of predominantly plant-based foods, such as fruit and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, has been associated with a significantly lower risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. The protective effects of these foods are likely mediated through their multiple beneficial nutrients, including mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, and plant protein12,13,14,15,16.
Overweight, Obesity and Associated Diseases
Whole plant-rich nutrition helps with weight loss and/or maintaining a healthy weight. The increased intake of whole vegetables and fruits may influence weight through a variety of mechanisms including a reduction in eating rate, providing satisfying, low energy density, low glycemic load or low-fat content foods, and a high dietary fiber17. The good news is that weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight is also associated with positive health factors, such as reduced hepatocellular and intramyocellular fat and increased insulin sensitivity and postprandial metabolism18.
Healthy weight and body composition are among the most important factors to reduce the risk for obesity and associated diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cancer. Excessive weight increases inflammation and causes hormonal imbalances, and overweight or obese people have been identified at higher risks for at least 12 different cancers including colorectal, esophageal, kidney, pancreatic, breast, ovarian and endometrial19,20,21.
Plant-based nutrition also has been shown to reduce the risk for diabetes, some mental health illnesses, and improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels and even contribute to bone health and sports performance.
Benefits of healthful plant-rich eating:
- Healthful plant‐based diets, higher in nutrient‐dense plant foods and lower in refined carbohydrates and animal foods, are associated with prevention of cardiovascular disease: lower risk of coronary artery disease and stroke16,22. Also correlated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality and all‐cause mortality23.
- Plant compounds like polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, tannins, and carotenoids have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic effects5.
- Diets high in polyphenol foods, mainly fruits and vegetables (such as apples, berries, citrus fruit, plums, broccoli, cocoa, tea and coffee) protect against developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes5.
- Plant-based diets have been shown to convey nutritional benefits, in particular increased fiber, beta carotene, vitamin K and C, folate, magnesium, and potassium intake24.
- Vegan diets, if well designed, are useful in the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease25.
- Dietary fiber can play a role in reducing the risk and preventing certain cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer6,7,26.
- Healthy plant-based diets rich in vegetables and whole grains and limited in refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and total meat, are associated with lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol27,28.
- Increased fruit and vegetable intake may contribute to weight loss and maintenance17,28.
- Decreased risk, prevention and management of type-2 diabetes29,30.
- May be favorable for chronic kidney disease and benefit bone health31,32.
- May improve cardiovascular safety and sports performance1.
- It has also been shown to improve brain health, energy levels, and increase mood33. **
- The Mediterranean diet has been studied extensively and its health benefits published widely. What researchers have now found out is that a “green Mediterranean diet”, further enriched with green plant-based foods and lower meat intake, seems to amplify the beneficial cardiometabolic effects of the “standard” Mediterranean diet34.
Julieanna Hever, author of “Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide” has summed up some of the benefits associated with plant-based diets such as lowering overall and ischemic heart disease mortality; supporting sustainable weight management; reducing medication needs; lowering the risk for most chronic diseases; decreasing the incidence and severity of high-risk conditions, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia; and even possibly reversing advanced coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes35.
According to the same author, below are some of the advantages of the nutrients found in plant foods35:
- Phytochemicals and fibers, only sourced through plants and completely absent in animal foods, are the two categories of nutrients considered most health promoting and disease fighting.
- Phytochemicals present in plants, such as carotenoids, glucosinolates, and flavonoids, perform multiple functions beneficial for human health: antioxidation, neutralizing free radicals, anti-inflammation, cancer activity reduction via several mechanisms, including inhibiting tumor growth, detoxifying carcinogens, retarding cell growth, and preventing cancer formation, immunity enhancement, protection against certain diseases, such as osteoporosis, some cancers, CVD, macular degeneration, and cataracts, optimization of serum cholesterol.
- Fibers, acting through a multitude of mechanisms, strongly support the immune, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems. Fiber is present in whole plants, however estimates indicate that more than 90% of US adults and children do not get the minimum recommended dietary fiber35.
How should my plate look like?
Make your plate diverse, colorful, and healthful with dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, colorful vegetables, sprouted seeds, nuts, beans (mung, adzuki, lentils) and grains (oats, buckwheat), microgreens, seaweeds, mushrooms, healthy fats like seeds, nuts, coconuts, olives and avocados, and small amounts of low sugar fruits, like berries!
Juicing is another great way of ingesting an enormous amount of nutrients, ensuring high nutrient delivery with no burden on digestion. We recommend you have at least one organic freshly pressed green juice a day and you can follow our delicious recipe!
Nurturing yourself with rich and diverse plant-based foods will ensure you get plenty key components, essential to life and health, such as enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber.
How much should you eat?
Usually when one eats mainly raw whole plant foods, with high content of nutrients and fiber, there will be the tendency to feel “full” soon, without being overly full or indulging. Most people will intuitively know when it is enough. This is hard to sense when you are eating unhealthy foods, such as chips and cookies, because those are designed to be addicting and highly devoid of nutrients. This means that you always have the tendency to eat more and more, not feeling satisfied. And although eventually your body will be “full of food” it will also be “empty of nutrients”.
However, for many, especially when transitioning, it may be hard to tap into this intuition, so a good rule of thumb is eating until you are half full, or up to 70% full. Eat slowly and mindfully, savor the food, chew it very well. Take breaks. Put your fork or spoon down. Avoid eating fast because that will make it easier to eat too much.
What about animal products?
What research shows is that you should eat less animal products to reduce your cancer risk and all-cause and cause specific mortality36,37,38.
At An Oasis of Healing our patients eat a whole food plant-rich, mostly raw vegan nutrition plan, which is a nutrient rich approach. We strongly advocate and recommend our patients to follow a similar nutrition program for the majority of the time. However, depending on individual characteristics, and physiological and medical conditions, there might be the need to sometimes “supplement” with some animal products. If that is advisable, then we recommend small amounts of the best sourced animal products possible, such as wild caught fish (smaller fish tend to have less toxicants) or organic eggs, from free range chickens.
Prepare Your Own Food
This sometimes can be hard or sound hard, or even impossible. We are always on the clock, always running, needing to go here and there, do this and that. But it is essential that you start preparing, at least, some of your meals.
Every time you eat out or buy packaged meals, you are unknowingly exposing your body to many unhealthy microorganisms, toxic compounds and highly processed unhealthy “foods”. There are GMO ingredients, hormones, pesticides, packaging contaminations, highly hazardous cooking oils, hidden sugars, preservatives, colorings, additives for color, flavor, or texture… The list goes on and on.
There is only one answer, and it is quite simple: the only way to know for sure the quality of what you are eating is to buy it and prepare it yourself.
Last but not least:
Choose a pleasant environment
Be present when you eat
Chew your food slowly and thoroughly
Be grateful for your food
These are small steps that will help enhance digestion and increase nutrient absorption, so that you can reap all the physical and mental benefits of the highly nutritional plant foods you are eating!
- Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, Kahleova H, Levin SM, Neabore S, Batts TC. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients. 2019; 11(1):130. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11010130
- https://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/processing, accessed 25 April 2021.
- https://data.nal.usda.gov/dataset/usda-table-nutrient-retention-factors-release-6-2007, accessed 25 April 2021.
- Shakoor H, Feehan J, Al Dhaheri AS, Ali HI, Platat C, Ismail LC, Apostolopoulos V, Stojanovska L. Immune-boosting role of vitamins D, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids: Could they help against COVID-19? Maturitas. 2021 Jan;143:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.08.003. Epub 2020 Aug 9. PMID: 33308613; PMCID: PMC7415215.
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Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.