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Whole foods and plant-based diets for longer healthier lives (Part 1)

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By Dr. Emil Q. Javier

Dr. Emil Q. Javier

Dr. Emil Q. Javier

‘There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?’ – Robert Kennedy

Recently the organization of research, extension and professional staff (REPs) of the University of the Philippines (UP) System invited me to talk about the 2030 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and how they individually and as a group, can best contribute.

Following the Millennium Summit of 2000, the 189 member-states of the UN and at least 22 international organizations committed to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Towards achieving the goals, rich countries belonging to the Group of Eight committed funds to support various initiatives. For their part, the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) cancelled the estimated $40–55 billion debt of heavily indebted poor countries to allow them to redirect resources into programs improving health and education and alleviating poverty.

In September 2015, at the end of the MDGs, which successfully helped 700 million people escape poverty, the UN adopted a new, more ambitious global development agenda: the UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 to Transform Our World.

Sustainable Development Goal No.3 – Good Health and Well-being

There are 17 UN SDGs and since there was not enough time I elected to dwell only on Good Health and Well–being, SDG 3, which comes after eradicating poverty (SDG 1) and zero hunger (SDG 2).

I was confident the university scientists and professional staff present would be interested on the topic for the benefit of themselves, their friends, relatives, communities. Likewise, for UP as the national university, this is a most appropriate and timely national goal to study, promote and advocate.

To begin, the ten leading causes of mortality among Filipinos are heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), road accidents/injuries, diabetes, dengue, maternal deaths, kidney failure, and perinatal conditions (death of children below five years old).

Six of the top 10 causes of mortality are in fact diseases of affluence and lifestyle. They are not communicable (not due to poverty and lack of clean water and proper sanitation) but are commonly associated with smoking, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and stress.

Healthy diets as key to health and well-being

Smoking has been addressed by Congress by substantially raising taxes to discourage both smoking and alcohol consumption. Just this week the World Health Organization (WHO) praised the Philippine government for dramatically reducing the numbers of Filipino smokers during the last decade. Much of our research and development and education initiatives are directed to medical treatment and surgery of these maladies. Unfortunately not as much resources and focus are devoted to disease prevention by way of healthy diets and proper nutrition.

And yet as pointed out by Colin Campbell in his monumental book on nutrition “The China Study”, there are now deep and broad range of evidence that a whole food, plant-based diet is best for long, healthy lives, for preventing and/or delaying onset of the diseases of affluence and extravagant nutrition.

Colin Campbell is widely recognized as one of the giants in the field of human nutrition. He taught at Cornell University and at one time was involved in a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) project on children nutrition and liver cancer in the Philippines. Interestingly, he claimed that his life-long interest on the subject was provoked by his observation that the Filipino children of rich families with their high protein diets were more prone to liver cancer than children from poorer families.

Some of the profound and revealing conclusions in Campbell’s book are as follows:

The genes that we inherit from our parents are not the most important factors in determining whether we suffer from any of the diseases of affluence. More important is our diet. Only 2–3 percent of total cancer risk is due to genetics.

dietary intakes

In The China Study, Campbell pointed out that the common diseases affecting the Chinese living in the United States (US) are different from the diseases of people in rural China although ethnically they are all Han. The diseases of people of Chinese descent in the US are no different from diseases common to African Americans and Caucasians because of their shared high animal protein, high fat and low dietary fiber diets.

For the same body mass the rural Chinese consumed more calories but they do not get fat because they exercise more than the affluent, sedentary Americans. The rural Chinese took in 2/3 as much as total protein but the major difference is their protein came from plant sources (ratio 1:10).

Synthetic chemicals in the environment and in food, as problematic as they may be, are not the main causes of cancer.

In toxicology studies reported in the literature to demonstrate the carcinogenic potential of chemicals, the dosages to induce cancer symptoms in laboratory animals are way, way above (astronomical) compared with levels normally found in food or in the environment humans are commonly exposed to.

As an example, Campbell cited the study to prove nitrosamines are potential human carcinogens. Nitrosamines are produced in our bodies with the ingestion of sodium nitrite, a food preservative which kills bacteria and which imparts a pink color and desirable taste to hotdogs, bacon and canned meat.

In the experiment, rats were exposed to high and low dosages of nitrosamine. As expected all the rats developed cancer symptoms. But the low dosage treatment was equivalent to the preposterous diet of eating 270,000 one-pound bologna sandwiches. At one bologna sandwich per day, one has to eat bologna sandwiches for over 30 years to match the diet fed to the laboratory animals.

Campbell added further that proper diet can mitigate/reverse the effects of known carcinogens. He cited a study in India (Modhavan and Chopra 1968) where two groups of rats were fed with aflatoxin, a powerful carcinogen common in infected corn grains and peanuts. One group was fed a 20 percent animal protein (casein) diet; the other was deprived and given only a five percent animal protein diet. All the rats fed with 20 percent animal protein diet developed liver cancer. None of the rats with low protein diet had cancer.

The right diet not only prevents but also treats diabetes. Dietary change can enable diabetic patients to go off their medications.

Seventh-Day Adventists are exhorted to stay away from meat, fish, eggs, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco. Many of them are vegetarians but some are moderate meat eaters. A survey showed that between the Adventist vegetarians and moderate meat-eaters, the vegetarians had about one-half the incidence of diabetes.

In England and Wales the rate of diabetes dropped markedly during the Second World War (1940–1950). Because of food shortages, people had to do with more fiber and grain and less fat in their diets. Around 1950 after the economic conditions normalized in Europe, people returned to eating more fat, more sugar and less fiber. Sure enough diabetes started going up.

In a study by James Anderson a leading authority on diabetes, 25 diabetic patients each, with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and taking insulin to control their blood sugar, were fed an experimental diet consisting mostly of whole plant foods and the equivalent of only a cold cut of meat a day.

In three weeks the Type 1 diabetic patients were able to lower their insulin medication by an average of 40 percent. Their blood cholesterol levels dropped by 30 percent. And of the 25 Types2 diabetic patients, 24 were able to discontinue their insulin medication in a matter of weeks.

Likewise remarkable was the land mark Life Style Heart Trial conducted by Dean Ornish an eminent cardiologist. He had two sets of heart patients – one set were subjected to an experimental treatment plan with low fat, plant-based diet for at least one year. And a second set of heart patients on a standard treatment plan i.e. no change in diet.

After one year, the 18 patients in the experimental treatment plan with the plant-based diet, were rewarded with improved health and vitality. Their total blood cholesterol dropped from 227 milligram per deciliter to 72 milligram per deciliter and their “bad” low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol dropped from 152 milligram per deciliter to 95 milligram per deciliter.

The 20 patients in the control group did not fare as well despite the fact that they received the usual medical attention. While the experimental group experienced a 91 percent reduction in frequency of chest pain, the control group experienced a 165 percent rise in frequency of chest pain. Their cholesterol levels were significantly worse than the control group and the blockages in their arteries became worse.

I received a copy of “The China Study” as a gift from a dear friend, Higino Ables, who teaches at Bicol University. If you want to read more, you may get a copy from National Bookstore for R815.00.

To be continued. . .

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Dr. Emil Q. Javier is a Member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and also Chair of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP). For any feedback, email eqjavier@yahoo.com.

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  • RD Lazo

    Sa provincia may restaurant turo turo style mga caldero ng ulam na nakaparada. I asked the restaurant owner bakit walang gulay at bakit pulos baboy at matataba ang pagkain sa mga kaldero.
    Ang sagot niya hindi po mabibili ang lutong gulay masasayang lang. Sorry and sad to say malayo pa bago tayo maging healthy eaters. Like the article said we become affluent therefore nadagdag pa ang western diet sa Filipino diet.