This is a list of frequently asked questions regarding whole-food plant nutrition and the health benefits that are associated. For each question/topic, a series of educational resources are provided, mostly in video format.
- What are whole foods anyway?!
- Why low-fat whole-food plant nutrition?
(more commonly known as “whole-food plant-based” or WFPB)
- Why low-fat and no oil?
- Why is sugar not a health food?
- Why is salt a problem?
1) What is a whole food and what is not?
As the name indicates, a food that is whole or integral.
Whole foods means edible foods that look like something you’ve brought from the garden, and that have not been refined, extracted, isolated. Sometimes, minimal processing, like for wholemeal pasta, only changes the presentation of the initial whole food but does not remove any nutrition from it through refining.
Why the distinction is tremendously important from a health standpoint will be explained in later sections.
- A sunflower seed is a whole food, and sunflower oil pressed from the sunflower seeds and heavily refined is not a whole food. The high fat content is a concern too, even with whole food fats.
- A beetroot is a whole food, and the sugar extracted and refined from beetroot is not a whole food.
- Corn seeds from a corn cob are a whole food, but high-fructose corn syrup and corn starch are heavily processed extracts so those are not whole foods.
- Whole-meal wheat flour directly obtained from grinding whole wheat grains is a whole food, so are wheat grains. Wheat bran or regular wheat flour are not whole because they refined, meaning they are only part of the wheat seed.
For a more thorough guide of what is a whole food and what is not, check this article.
Ok, now that you get it. Why is the distinction important? Excellent question! A lot of it is covered below. You should be able to understand when you watch the fundamentals in Part 2.
2) Basic knowledge about low-fat whole food plant nutrition
Documentary Eating You Alive (absolute must-watch)
Documentary Forks over Knives (must watch) , sorry for this one I only have the trailer, you’ll have to check your Netflix, look for DVD at your library, or rent it on Amazon Prime or other Video-on-demand websites.
Documentary Plant-pure Nation
Full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llQ7V9Jv5a0
3) Why “no oil!” ?
Any oil is a processed food, squeezed out of a high-fat whole-food (avocado, nuts, olives, soy beans, canola seeds, etc…) or from the high-fat part of a whole food (rice bran, etc). Of all processed foods, oil (and other pure or extracted fats) are of particularly major concern. Oil is not only empty calories (no nutrition) and high in calories (contributing to overweight, obesity and metabolic disease), but the main concern it is that all oils and extracted fats are pro-actively harmful in the human body in many ways.
All oil? Yes. Even olive, coconut, canola or <you name it> oil? Yes. Even the extra virgin organic stuff? Yes. Even just “a little bit”? Yes. Are you sure? Yes, absolutely, this has been known to genuine science for decades.
How is oil harmful? Besides turning potentially healthy plant-based dishes into an undesirably high-fat meal, all oils cause inflammation in the arteries. Oil leads to stiff arteries (arteries are supposed to dilate nicely when needed). The build-up of plaque gradually clogs arteries and blood vessels. This process actually starts in the womb of mothers eating a high-fat, oil-and-animal-containing diet. By age 10 many kids in modern societies show early signs of cardiovascular disease.
Oil harms blood flow in a number of ways.
1) Healthy arteries expand when needed to increase blood flow, arteries on oil and fat are stiff and therefore thin, not helping to increase blood flow 2) Unhealthy arteries don’t allow blood to glide fast over their inner surface, imagine driving on an uneven road full of with pot holes and speed bumps 3) On top of that, our blood after a high-fat meal becomes thick and sludgy until the next meal. 4) In the long run of doing that, arteries get clogged, passage becomes narrow.
Sludgy blood, sticking to artery walls, in stiff/thin arteries, that become even thinner overtime because of plaque blockage.
Vital things like oxygen, white blood cells (immune system), blood glucose (energy), protein and virtually all nutrients flow ridiculously slowly and don’t get where they need to be nearly as fast and efficiently as they normally should.
This state of poor cardiovascular health manifests day to day through fatigue, poor physical performance, erectile dysfunction and poor vaginal lubrication in women, poor libido in both men and women, poor recovery after exercise, poor mental state, reduced cognitive performance etc.
In the longer run, plaque build-up causes heart attacks and strokes. This kills 1 in 3 Kiwis, when not suddenly, often after decades of meds, a stunted lifestyle and the depression that goes with it. Plaque build-up also contributes greatly to the onset of dementia where various parts of the brain stop receiving proper blood flow. Additionally, oils throw out of balance the quantity and ratios of omega-3 vs. omega 6 fats we’re supposed to eat. All plant foods which you don’t suspect to have fats in them (oats, kale, kumara, etc) have more than enough healthy fats, enough of (the anti-inflammatory – good) omega-3, and not too much of the “harmful” (pro-inflammatory – bad) omega-6. Supplementing with omega-3 oil or fish oil is not only unnecessary, but there’s evidence suggesting it may be harmful.
I hope by now it’s clear that “heart-healthy oils” is as rare as a “fun heart attack” or a “real unicorn.” In other words, there is no such thing.
The good news are, this can be avoided easily with well-planned low-fat, whole food plant-based nutrition. This eliminates oil since it’s about foods that are whole (unprocessed).
There is an abundant life away from oil, it’s easy and fun to discover how to prepare food without oil…You’ll notice the difference in terms of how you feel after eating…and the bonus is: oil-free kitchens are so much easier/faster to clean!
Make Yourself Heart Attack Proof – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYTf0z_zVs0
4) Why is sugar not a health food?
What we’ll agree to call “sugar” is the processed sweetening product resulting from the extraction of a sweet liquid from a whole plant. With animal foods this would include honey. In spite of confusing efforts to distinguish between “refined sugars” and other sugars, it’s important to keep in mind that all extracted sugar, is refined processed sugar – all leading to similar problems whether it’s maple, agave, syrups, coconut sugar, molasses, raw/brown sugar or the good old white sugar.
There are more than 60 different names for different sugars. What’s the issue with all these sugars?
Like with oil, it’s not only empty calories (no or poor nutrition) and high in calories (contributing to overweight and obesity), but the main concern is that extracted sugars are actively harmful to health in a variety of ways. Although sugar is perceived by the general public as the main culprit for chronic illness, it is in fact the animal products, high-fat diets and oil really are the top offenders. This said, sugar is still of concern and is certainly no health food, these are ways in which sugar is harmful:
- Acts exactly like a drug on the brain: sending dopamine (reward system) into overdrive, leading to sugar addiction, increased sugar tolerance and cravings.
- Negatively impacts mood: manic state on a sugar high, hypoglycaemic (overly alert/irritable) on a sugar low.
- Disturbs blood sugar control.
- Inhibits the immune system for hours.
- Promotes liver toxicity (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – “human foie-gras”)
- Damages arteries (endothelial cells) and contributes to elevating triglycerides.
- Promotes pathogenic flora (i.e. candida)
- Harmful to dental health, contributes to cavities.
- Empty calories (no or irrelevant nutrition), high caloric density, may contribute to overweight, obesity or difficulty losing weight.
- Hypoglycaemia during sleep may disturb sleep
“But what about blackstrap molasses, that’s high in nutrients!”
Yes, it’s true, some nutrients though. Fortified deep-fried donuts are also high in nutrients. So is the dark juice that comes out of my compost pile in the garden. Blackstrap molasses are the ultimate concentrated waste products of a refining industry. Of course it has an unusually high score for various nutrients like vitamins or minerals.
Does that make it a health food? No.
Is it a whole food? No more than Froot Loops and fortified donuts, so basically, no.
Is it an extracted sugar? Yes.
How much fibre in it? Zero, like in all extracted sugars. Please check this fact and see it for yourself.
Documentary Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM
Note: Lustig has developed a good understanding of the effects of sugar on metabolism, which is why I am sharing. So much so he didn’t spend enough time considering the rest of the health research, and as a result unfortunately advocates a low-carb diet.
If Fructose is Bad, What About Fruit? (5-min video)
While zero extracted sugar is ideal and should be aimed to for those who feel they can do it, for others it may be a bit daunting and a small sugar tolerance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) set a limit of not more than 5% of calories coming from these extracted sugars. This is about 3~6 teaspoons for women and up to 9 for men. Dr. McDougall is a bit more cautious, suggesting a maximum limit of 1 teaspoon per meal to help add flavour/appeal to healthy starchy foods. Sweetness is an important part of flavour, foods that taste good are vital to the adherence to a way of eating. My personal proposal is that sweetness is easily achieved whole or blended sweet fruits, either fresh or dry: examples, dates and currants, and desserts/baked goods bananas or blended (not juiced) sweet grapes.
5) Why is salt a problem?
Salt increases blood pressure (hypertension) in many people. It may cause inflammation in the blood vessels in all people. More of concern, it worsens autoimmune diseases. Salt also conduces to water retention and dehydration. Dehydration in turn causes the blood to thicken and reduces cardiac output (sub-optimal cardiovascular function and cardiovascular risk factors). Calcium is also better retained on a low-salt diet (WHO).
“What about Celtic, Himalayan or <your name it> salt?” Same deal, same problematic main molecule: sodium chloride. And an added problem: it comes with a wide variety of minerals in crystal form. Not only that’s not the form in which we’re supposed to ingest minerals, but these may contain unsafe minerals, or unsafe quantities.
Don’t eat rocks, let plants filter that and make safer food out of them for you.
IMPORTANT: For most people feeling healthy and with no known autoimmune disease, a focus on eating unprocessed plant foods (no oil nor animal products) should be **by far** the top priority, before spending too much focus on salt reduction or elimination.
There is sufficient sodium in a whole foods plant-based diets, ideal salt/added sodium consumption is zero.
While many people are capable of achieving this, for other people, a low-added-sodium intake will feel more sustainable. The WHO sets a maximum limit of 1,500 mg of sodium a day, which is about one half 1/2 tsp salt per day (one half of a teaspoon per day). Some health conditions (i.e. kidney disease) may require a lower limit.
If salt is used, the best way to use it is: 1) taste the food first 2) and if salt is needed sprinkle your iodised salt on top of the food. Avoid pre-mixing salt during food preparation.
Within weeks of consuming a low-salt or salt-free diet, taste buds adapt and develop a preference for these foods and an aversion/dislike for what used to be “normal” salt levels. Some weight loss may be experienced (peeing out the retained water).
For athletes and other people sweating a lot, adaptations happen when switching to a low-salt or salt-free diet to retain sodium more effectively. A progressive reduction/elimination may be wise.
There exist 100% salt-free very physically active populations that have been studied. They display outstandingly healthy blood pressure patterns and no sign of a sodium deficiency.
Cool bonuses: No more gross white marks on dark-coloured shirts & t-shirts after you break a sweat in them. I used to have that all the time, very embarrassing/gross. Problem sustainably solved.
High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice (5-min video)
The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure (5-min video)
Manufactured controversy over Salt #1 (5-min video)
Manufactured controversy over Salt #2 (5-min video)
Cardiovascular damage caused by salt besides hypertension