Eating whole food, plant-based means to maximize whole, plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, whole grains and nuts and seeds) while minimizing animal-based foods and processed foods.
One question that comes up often is, “How much fat should a whole food, plant-based diet include?” There are varying opinions as to the answer.
Many plant-based advocates want to eliminate high fat, plant-based foods, usually citing the works of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish for their reasoning. By putting patients on a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet of less than 10% fat, both doctors reversed heart disease in their patients.
These accomplishments were achieved back in the 1990s. There were many dietary and lifestyle changes that the doctors made in their patient’s lives – reducing dietary fats was just one of them.
Since then, however, Dr. Ornish has added nuts and seeds back into his program. Dr. Ornish now writes in his book, “Undo It!” that nuts and seeds “correlate with a consistent 30% to 50% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, sudden cardiac death and stroke.”
Another whole food, plant-based practitioner who has changed her mind about including some healthy fats is Virginia Messina, a dietician who co-wrote “Becoming Vegan” with Brenda Davis, a whole food, plant-based dietician in British Columbia. In “Fat in Vegan Diets: How Low Should You Go?” she writes that, while 20 years ago she was a proponent of the low-fat approach taken by Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish, she has since changed her mind as a result of more current scientific research on the benefits of healthy fats.
Davis says in “Becoming Vegan,” “Some people take a hardline view against all fat, including the fat found in whole plant foods. However, hundreds of scientific studies have confirmed that high-fat plant foods not only deserve a place in diets, but also that they deserve a place of honor.”
Those healthy fats that are recommended by both Dr. Ornish and Davis are foods like tofu, edamame, soy, nuts and seeds. In addition, Davis adds avocado and olives from the olive bar (not canned). And Messina includes nut butters as well.
Note that olive oil is not a whole food; it is highly processed and not generally accepted as being whole food, plant-based.
According to the World Health Organization, we should consume at least 15% fat in our diets, and women of childbearing age should consume at least 20% fat. WHO suggests that 30% to even 35% of calories from fat can be healthful.
So, the bottom line is, enjoy those avocados and nuts and seeds but in moderation. The latest science shows they’re good for us. Maybe that’s why nature made them taste so good.
J Lanning Smith is a local freelance writer focused on healthy lifestyles.