The whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle has been gaining converts, acclaim, and publicity since the release of the major documentary Forks Over Knives six years ago, and it's now extending its reach -- and benefits -- to families.
In 2011, Forks Over Knives made the radical (but convincing) case that modern diseases can be prevented -- and often reversed -- by removing meat, dairy, and highly refined foods from a person's diet. In the film, these assertions were backed by scientific research, physicians, and expert researchers, and in the years since they've been echoed by the success stories of those who have embraced the lifestyle. Testimonials from everyday people to professional athletes on the Forks Over Knives website claim the diet has reversed chronic heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and more, and made them healthier and happier than ever before.
Now the movement is officially extending to families with the release of a new book, Forks Over Knives Family. Billed as "every parent's guide to raising healthy, happy kids on a whole-foods, plant-based diet," the book shares more than 100 recipes and advice on how to transition a family to the lifestyle, as well as what to eat while pregnant or breastfeeding, how to introduce solids to a baby, and much more.
"We have been advising patients for many years on how to follow a whole-foods, plant-based [WFPB] diet, and many times they would ask, 'Is this OK for my kids?' 'Is it OK for me when I'm pregnant?'" says co-author Dr. Matthew Lederman. "We realized there was a need to reassure the average person that this was a very health-promoting diet."
Lederman and his wife, Dr. Alona Pulde, co-wrote the book, as well as the earlier New York Times bestseller, The Forks Over Knives Plan. They live in Los Angeles with their 3- and 5-year-old daughters, where they live a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle as a family.
And what is this very healthy way of eating? Those who are whole-food and plant-based eat meals based out of five categories:
* Fruits * Vegetables * Tubers and starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, winter squash, etc.) * Whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc.) * Legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.)
Lederman says it's also important to note what WFPB is not, given there are common misconceptions about the diet, one of which is that all one eats are salads.
"In fact, you're actually eating lasagna, burritos, stir frys, pizza, pancakes, and sandwiches. You're eating delicious foods, you're just making them with healthier ingredients," he says.
Another incorrect assumption: One has to be vegan to follow this lifestyle.
"Whole-food, plant-based are foods that are minimally processed and plants," Lederman says. "Whole plant foods include fruits and vegetables, starchy vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Vegan foods can be anything from Twizzlers to Coca-Cola to potato chips. Whole plant food can fall under vegan. Veganism is coming at it from an ethical perspective, where whole plant foods come from a health perspective initially. The fact that it helps the environment and is helpful from the ethical perspective are continued added benefits. That's where I think this diet is a real win-win, no matter what angle you come at it from."
While the thought of moving from a standard American diet to whole plant foods can seem daunting, Lederman has one message: Do whatever you can, whenever you can.
"You do not need to be 100% plant-based to reap the health benefits of adding or making a significant portion of your diet whole plant foods," he notes. "There's no evidence that staying on the Western diet is going to make you healthier or prevent disease. In fact, all the evidence says that the Western diet is probably best designed to make you unhealthy and cause disease. There's lots of good evidence to at least start exploring change and adding in whole plant foods to your diet. Don't focus on labeling yourself a certain way of eating if that makes you uncomfortable. Just try and add more whole plant foods to your diet as much as possible."
And, he says, whatever you can do will benefit your family's health in significant ways.
"A lot of the diseases we see as adults can begin many years, and even decades, before you see them," he explains. "When you have a heart attack, that's a culmination of many, many years of damage to your blood vessels and cholesterol being high. The same thing with cancer: A lot of the cancer starts early in your lifetime and then grows until it's big enough to be detected by our conventional tools, at which point we diagnose cancer. But those cancer cells start much sooner, and we're putting gas on the fire. You want to stop putting the fertilizer on those cells that allows them to grow, and you want to strengthen your immune system, which is your natural cancer fighter. A whole-food, plant-based diet does exactly that. You're really giving [children] a great step forward by starting them as soon as possible on whole plant foods."
Another common criticism -- and fallacy -- heard by vegetarians, vegans, and those on WFPB diets is concern over a lack of protein, given they do not eat meat.
"The best source for protein are whole plant foods," Lederman says. "When you're eating fruits and vegetables and whole grains, you're getting tons of protein, you're getting all of your essential amino acids. You don't need to food combine and make a chemistry experiment to get the right protein in your diet. Eat whole plant foods, and protein should be the last thing you worry about."
Transitioning your family
For parents who decide to give a WFPB diet a go family-style, Lederman advises time and patience, not perfection.
"It's like growing up speaking one language and you're told you gotta learn to speak this other language that's healthy. It takes time to build that vocabulary and perfect the accent, and that's what you're doing with this diet and lifestyle," he says. "It takes time to learn how to shop this way, use these new ingredients. As this is becoming more popular and there's going to be more and more of a supporting environment, we're helping you jump start and do what you need to to navigate your way around any obstacles that can come up. You have the rest of your life to perfect this; do the best you can."
One considerable obstacle for families may be a child who's already an established eater and, let's say, less-than-enthusiastic about a change in his diet.
"Try and respect their autonomy, don't insult their intelligence," Lederman advises. "Say, 'Hey, I've learned about this new way of eating for health, would you be interested in watching this documentary with me and we can talk about it afterwards?' You can also talk about the impact it has on the environment and the animals. You can find all sorts of different things that resonate as reasons to add whole plant foods."
Lederman, a board-certified, Internal Medicine physician specializing in nutrition and lifestyle medicine, encourages his patients to write a "deal breaker list." For example: "I want to make sure I eat out. I want to make sure I don't give up this food."
"Once they write down their deal breakers, I say, 'Let me work on everything else. Don't touch deal breakers.' Then, what happens over time, the deal breakers aren't actually as big a deal, and they wind up changing those, too," he notes.
Experimenting in little ways can be fun. For example, for breakfast try cereal with non-dairy milk, oatmeal with fruit, or whole-grain pancakes with pure maple syrup. Families can flip through Forks Over Knives Family's 125 recipes together. Children can check out the full-color photos of meals and pick ones they want to try. Lederman says parents can then take the following easy-going approach: "Let's make it together. How close can it be to the picture? What did it taste like? There's no pressure to like the food, there's a pressure to try it and see what you think. And if you don't like that, let's try something else."
"Take the pressure off and make it fun," he says. "Do it together. If you're shopping, give them all different ingredients to find in the store. It can be really fun if you try to make it that way."