“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
— Author, Michael Pollan
Following this advice might make one a “flexitarian”: A person who eats real (not processed) foods — mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds, nuts, eggs, and dairy — allowing occasional, limited quantities of meat, poultry, and fish. A “lacto-ovo vegetarian” eats real food, mostly plants, but also eats dairy and eggs. If you follow this diet but don’t eat eggs, you are a “lacto-vegetarian.” Finally, if you eat only plant-based products and no animal-based foods, including eggs, dairy, and honey, you are considered a “vegan.”
Many parents might use Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” as a template for preventing overweight and obesity in a family. Daniel J. DeNoon shares a few:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?” Pollan says.
- Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
- Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food,” Pollan says.
Once eating habits and food preferences are established, they can be hard to change. Once a person’s BMI rises to the point of overweight or obesity, habits and preferences must change in order to prevent the well-known adverse physical, psychological, and social outcomes so commonly associated with elevated BMI’s. A new, very small study, published this week in Journal of Pediatrics, may point the way to a palatable and healthy prescription for weight loss. Brie Zeltner notes that when compared to the American Heart Association diet (which allows non-whole grain carbs, low-fat dairy, and moderate amounts of lean meat and fish), a stricter vegan diet showed significantly better results:
After a month, the children in both groups had lost weight and seen improvement in myeloperoxidase (MPO), a blood test that measures inflammation related to heart disease risk. The kids eating the vegan diet, however, also showed significant improvements in systolic blood pressure, body mass index, total cholesterol, total low density lipoprotein (LDL, long referred to as “bad cholesterol”), c-reactive protein (another marker of inflammation), and insulin levels compared to their baseline.
Zeltner looked into the crystal ball with the study’s lead author, who found that “families that participated didn’t feel the food was bland, boring or unappetizing, found it easy to stay on the diet and find options at restaurants, and were satisfied with what they had to eat”:
“It was exciting to see,” Macknin said. “If they can eat like this, the hope is that they can grow into adults who do not have the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. What this is is hope for the future.”
He believes the study provides a good reason to look further into vegan, no-added-fat and plant-based diets as a prescription for preventing future health problems for overweight and obese children and adolescents.
A vegan diet sounds natural and wholesome and even satisfying, but it is not complete in terms of nutrients. Planning and supervision from a doctor and/or registered dietician are important to ensure that caloric needs are met and that important vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron, are supplemented. Still, it’s good to know that you can lose weight, improve your lipid profile, lower your risk of heart disease, and still eat delicious food!