Healthy Beginnings

Change your healthy eating habits with a plant-based diet

Eating a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables and food sources, including whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, can help improve or in some cases reverse common causes of disease. Photo: Getty Images

You are what you eat.

It’s an old adage we’ve heard throughout our childhood and adult lives. More than ever, medical professionals are encouraging patients to take this platitude to heart. After all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of all adults have one or more chronic health condition.

Dr. Gregory Bergner, Medical Director of Lifestyle and Wellness for Barton Health, said many of these chronic diseases could be prevented, arrested and, in some cases, reversed.

And it starts with what you eat. Specifically, doctors and dietitians at the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness are educating patients on the accumulating evidence supporting plant-based diets.

Dr. Bergner emphasizes eating fruits and vegetables as grown, consuming whole grains, rather than those stripped of nutrients through refinement, and avoiding (or significantly limiting) the intake of processed animal (or even processed plant) products.

“All of the most common diseases can at least be improved, or in some cases arrested or reversed. That’s the benefit of the plant-based diet,” Bergner said. “Among our most common chronic diseases, diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease and some types of arthritis can all be avoided, arrested, or even reversed. We can even reduce cancer risk.”

Since retiring from Barton Urgent Care in 2015, and during his nearly 40 years in medicine, Bergner has noticed the older population “getting sicker and sicker.”

In fact, the Milken Institute projects that by 2023, based on current trends, chronic diseases will have increased by a whopping 42 percent.

Additionally, experts are predicting that the current generation of children won’t live as long as today’s adults, due to the increase in chronic diseases occurring at younger and younger ages.

“It struck me,” Bergner said. “Humans haven’t changed that much. We’re doing something wrong, and we’ve got to create solutions. We cannot fail to act on what we now know, even if we don’t understand all details. We can fix this!”

For those interested in adopting a diet based more upon plant foods, Barton Wellness offers classes highlighting two options: Whole Food Plant Based (no animal products) and a Mediterranean Dietary Pattern.

Both of these plant-based dietary patterns support eating a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables and food sources, including whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

For those who don’t want to give up meats and cheeses, the Mediterranean-style diet includes seafood and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Red meats, such as beef, pork and lamb, if eaten at all, are eaten only occasionally, and served more as a topping than a main entree.

Don’t be overwhelmed — making positive, stepwise changes can reap big rewards, said Lynn Norton, Lead Clinical Dietitian at Barton.

“A Mediterranean pattern, which can begin with simply serving half the portion of meats while doubling your vegetable side is a great start,” she said. “Next, look for ways to incorporate legumes into meals and soups … gradually adding these higher fiber protein sources into your weekly meal planning routine.”

Making healthy choices within the plant-based spectrum is also important. For example, French fries might come from a vegetable, but they also arrive with oils and fats from the frying process. Baked sweet potato fries with the skins on would be a better choice.

A common question, then: Are you able to get all of the nutrients you need on a whole foods plant-based diet? Norton said yes, though there are nutrients such as vitamin B12, which should be supplemented for safety.

With regard to a WFPB diet, People commonly ask “where will I get my Protein?” In terms of protein, Bergner said most people are eating nearly double the amount of protein recommended. He pointed to a number of professional athletes who have adopted a healthy, whole foods plant-based diet.

“They feel better, they perform better and their endurance is better,” he said.

Obtaining your protein through beans, legumes, peas, and nuts can provide the variety and the recommended levels of protein.

Quite simply, everyone, not just athletes, can benefit from more whole foods and plants in their diets.

Improving your diet dovetails a change in how the medical industry treats and educates its patients. Nutritional advice has not typically been offered in health care, but as the science and our awareness evolves, it will become a more important part of your healthcare visits.

“Health care has grown up in the last 100 years,” Bergner said. “In the past, when patients developed diseases, we treated the symptoms of those diseases. Now that we’re seeing the rise in chronic diseases, and we’re finding that they’re largely caused by lifestyles, we are switching into a more proactive posture as we address individual health, as well as the health of the nation.”

Kaleb M. Roedel is a reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes Healthy Beginnings. This article originally appeared in the magazine, “Orthopedics & Wellness,” which published in July 2018 and was produced by SNMG for Barton Health.