The most significant thing you can do to improve your health, vitality, and energy levels, according to nutrition scientist Dr. T. Colin Campbell, is to change the way you eat. This doesn’t mean following the fad diet du jour, joining Overeaters Anonymous, or counting every calorie. It means, at least according to Campbell, simply eating more real foods, especially plants.
Lessons From the PhilippinesIt was while Campbell was doing original research in the Philippines that he uncovered what he calls “a dark secret” in his book. That dark secret was that Filipino children on the highest protein diets seemed to have the worst health outcomes. “Children who at the highest-protein diets were the ones most likely to get liver cancer!” Campbell wrote.
After observing this paradox, Campbell, who has published more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific articles, found a provocative research report from India. A team of Indian scientists had studied two groups of rats, exposing each group to a cancer-causing mold that often contaminates peanuts and corn called aflatoxin. One group of exposed rats was fed a diet that contained 20 percent protein, which is similar to the amount of protein that most Westerners consume. The other group was fed a diet of only 5 percent protein.
The study results were both surprising and unexpected: Every single rat that ate the higher protein diet showed evidence of liver cancer. Conversely, every rat on the low protein diet avoided the cancer.
Campbell’s research at the time was controversial and remains so to this day. Critics—especially those who promote meat and dairy-based diets—insist that a diet high in fat and cholesterol is the healthiest. They accuse Campbell of simplifying the science and leaving out key information in the studies he highlights in the book.
So if you want to eat more fresh vegetables, colorful fruits, and whole foods, how do you do it?
If you do, you will be pleasantly surprised by the results. The more whole foods you eat, the fewer blood sugar spikes and dips you’ll experience throughout the day, the more energy you’ll have, and the trimmer your waistline will become.
1. Add Crunch to Your BreakfastMost Americans eat highly processed sugar-coated cereal for breakfast. According to data compiled from the U.S. Census and Simmons National Consumer Survey, which was then calculated by Statista, more than 283 million Americans ate cold breakfast cereal in 2020. If processed cereal is your go-to, it’s time to switch to Swiss-style muesli, made from rolled oats, rye, and barley; almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and other nuts; and dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, and date pieces.
But even if you want to stick with the toasted Os, thank you very much, you can make your morning meal healthier and less processed by adding some chunks of fresh organic apples and pears to give any breakfast cereal some color and sweetness.
2. Drink Your VegetablesYou can also upgrade your morning meal—or any meal throughout the day—by swapping out the pasteurized homogenized cow’s milk for a plant-based liquid such as coconut water or homemade almond, oat, or soy milk.
Dr. Meredith McBride, a recently retired surgeon based in Sonora, California, stopped drinking dairy in order to help mitigate the troublesome symptoms of an autoimmune disease.
“When I don’t drink milk or eat dairy, I have less autoimmune flares—less joint pain and GI upset, swelling, headache,” McBride said.
McBride makes her own soy milk from tofu. She puts a high-quality soft tofu (she says to choose one that's organic and doesn't contain any additives or binders) into the blender with water and a pinch of salt. Add water in a three to one ratio of water to tofu. Blend on high until creamy.
“You just drink it, it’s really creamy and smooth,” McBride said. “It’s very similar in texture to whole dairy milk and it pours nicely.”
3. Make It Deceptively DeliciousWhen I interviewed Moorea Malatt, a Los Angeles-based parent coach and educator, about how to get kids to eat more vegetables for a Jefferson Public Radio audio feature, she pooh-poohed the idea of secretly adding vegetables to food.
“Your job is to decide which foods are healthy for your child and put them on the table frequently,” Malatt told me. “And your child’s job is really to decide whether they are going to eat them or not.”
Unlike Malatt, I'm a big fan of sneaking vegetables (and other healthy extras) into my family’s meals. Food writer Michael Pollan, author of the bestselling book, “Food Rules,” advises eating “junk food” only if you make it yourself. So why not add some vegetables to your homemade treats?
But I’m talking about putting vegetables into other dishes. I like to grate a half cup or more of a combination of any of the following: broccoli, cabbage, kale, squash, carrots, and spinach. Then I cover the grated vegetables with water and simmer them on the stove until they’re softened. I add this mixture to cake recipes, pancake batter, savory muffins, and pasta sauces.
My eldest was born in 1999, and I've been doing this since my kids were little. So I was delighted when Jessica Seinfeld published a cookbook in 2008, “Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food,” which recommends adding pureed cauliflower to mac and cheese, avocado puree to quesadillas, and kale to spaghetti and meatballs.
Another excellent way to eat more vegetables, advocated by Dan Buettner, longevity writer and author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” and several other books, is to replace some meat (in sausages, meatballs, meatloaf, or hamburgers, for example) with chopped mushrooms.
4. Offer Your Family (and Yourself) Colorful Plants at Every MealFreshly picked strawberries. Roasted yams. Slices of red, orange, and yellow pepper. A bowl of shelled green pistachio nuts. Green beans. Belgian endive. Purple grapes. Kohlrabi. Endive.
As you strive to eat less processed food and more whole-plant-based foods, try putting out a plate of beautiful, colorful, fresh vegetables, as well as fruits, nuts, and seeds, at every meal.
5. Try New Things With VegetablesI’ve seen many an adult wrinkle their nose and heard them protest that they “don’t like turmeric!” or “My kids would never eat that!”
Make a point of trying new vegetables and experimenting with different ways to cook and serve them as often as you can. You’ll have fun discovering new flavors and textures as you incorporate more whole, real plant foods into your diet.
Though Meredith McBride, the surgeon in Sonoma, has been eating almost entirely vegan food of late, she says she doesn't espouse a vegan diet for everyone and that it’s important to eat the foods that make your body feel good. But for McBride, eating plant-based whole foods not only keeps her autoimmune disease in check, it also makes her feel less self-reproach.
“Once I had been following a plant-based diet, I realized how much I enjoyed the freedom from carnivore-guilt,” McBride told me. “You do it for health reasons, but I always had this nagging guilt every time I read an article about the commercial meat industry or saw a post about how awful commercial feedlots are. It feels really freeing to not participate in that anymore.”