Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Powering good nutrition with plant-based foods

Choose plants instead of pills. Such is the nutrition-based health strategy for members of the Eating Real Food Society in Abilene, which started about a year ago. ERFS promotes eating only plant-based foods that are whole and unprocessed. They avoid any foods that are from animals, including dairy and eggs. The food plan is along the lines of vegan, with a stronger “line in the sand” about not eating processed foods. For example, home-cooked dried beans instead of canned and olives instead of olive oil. Why? “Because there is so much in animal foods that is destructive to your health,” said Marsha Carter, an organizer of the group. She is a registered nurse who operates Abilene Nutrition to educate others on how to eat to support optimal health.

“Animals are produced in a way that is stressful to them, and we eat those stress hormones,” she said. She listed cardiac disease, compromised immune system and cancer as some of the consequences of an unhealthy diet. “Medicine is good for emergency care but is a dismal failure in chronic care,” Carter said. Members of ERFS enjoy a diverse diet full of flavor, as indicated by their potluck in March to celebrate the students who completed a five-week class taught by Carter. The class covers the scientific research that shows which foods support good health compared to those that compromise health. A new class starts May 11.

The colorful spread of homemade dishes and store-bought veggie and fruit trays included a kale and quinoa salad, a mango and avocado salad, soup, chili and desserts, such as one featuring oats, almonds, dried cherries and cacao nibs. Many of the members shared their recipes. Karin Richardson, who also helped organize the group, said she always has a bowl of fresh-cut carrots, radishes and other salad fixings in her refrigerator ready for a quick, easy meal. Richardson started following a plant-based diet in earnest about a year ago. “I’ve now gotten to where I don’t eat other things because I don’t feel good when I do. Eating this way, I feel good,” Richardson said. Since switching to a whole-plant diet, member Susan Condry said she has eliminated many of the 65 supplements she was taking daily. And, she has seen her cholesterol and blood pressure numbers improve. Carter is not strident when talking about nutrition. She simply wants to share the science-based information she has gleaned through the years. She cites scientific studies and recommends the book “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and his son Thomas M. Campbell, who are featured in the documentary film “PlantPure Nation.” “There are physicians all over the world who teach their patients how to eat this way. And they see them get better,” Carter said. That focus on the science is what drew Condry to the eating plan. “She (Carter) looks at scientific studies and who sponsors them,” Condry said. When people consult with Carter about pursuing a food plan for better health, she often provides transitional strategies.

For example, ideally dried beans should be cooked at home, but canned is better than selecting animal proteins. “Dry beans are cheaper and you know exactly what’s in them,” Carter said. he more food is processed, the more it losses its nutritional value. “To put something in a can and put it on a shelf, you have to take out the nutrients because they will break down. Processed foods have oils and other additives you don’t want," Carter said. "Canned tomatoes are not the same as the tomatoes in the produce department.” Part of Carter’s class involves strategies for making preparation of fresh and minimally processed foods an easy part of a daily routine, such as cooking dry beans in a digital electric pressure cooker or InstaPot. “I recognize that people don’t always eat this way. But when they stray and feel bad, I want them to know why,” Carter said.

Sometimes the journey is an amusing one. “Some people don’t realize that fish is meat. They’ll tell me they are vegetarian, and I’ll ask them, ‘So where do you get your omega-3 fatty acids?’ They’ll tell me fish,” Carter said with a laugh. She instead recommends freshly ground organic golden flaxseed for omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health, reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis, among other benefits. “I would like them to eat healthy so they can reduce their health problems and their health risks,” Carter said. “My heart is in education.”

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