Those of us in midlife cannot afford to follow fad diets. At this stage of life, the body does not have the resilience for the yo-yo stress that weight loss and weight gain causes. Fads like the Keto diet are not natural, not healthy, and not based on scientific evidence. In fact, their consequences make us sicker over the long haul.
An example of the latest fad is the Keto diet. This is a modification of the Atkins diet which so many followed nearly 25 years ago. Then there is Paleo, and now Keto. People claim these result in rapid weight loss and an increase in energy in the short run, but over the long haul, they cause rebound weight gain and significantly increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, and chronic kidney disease.
People defend the Keto diet with such vehemence that sometimes I wonder what this extremist fuss is all about. I wonder if it is because many of the general public’s choices are heavily influenced by social media, which are public opinion rather than science. Public opinion has inertia. People who promote health care solutions on social media often gain television notoriety because of their ‘following’, not their scientific background. Even when what they are promoting is unhealthy and may even be harmful, what they promote becomes the latest fad due to the fast results that the public wants. We must be wary of quick-fix fads because public opinion is not the same as scientific evidence. We must be careful to not get entranced by these popular pundits especially when what they preach affects our health. After many decades of medical practice, I can confidently say that what is publicly normalized is not the same as what is healthy.
After nearly 100,000 patient encounters in my career, I can say with a great degree of certainty that we must rely on scientific evidence to make healthy choices. In a similar manner as prescription drugs, fad diets come and go. Their impact is mainly palliative but they leave an unhealthy imprint in our bodies. Unlike prescription drugs that can sometimes be lifesaving, fad diets are not. They may work in the short term, but diets like paleo and keto significantly increase all-cause mortality. There is no drug or diet that has ever cured what we have eaten ourselves into, and no fad diet has had a lasting positive impact on our health. In fact, diets have been shown to have a failure rate of 95%.
So what does a Board-certified, preventative, integrative, lifestyle, and evidence-based physician recommend? A plant-based, diet (lifestyle) combined with daily aerobic exercise, intermittent fasting, and a good night’s sleep. That’s it! That is the secret of the success of the vast majority of my patients.
You may wonder what the difference is between a plant-based diet and a keto diet. Let me explain.
The first thing we must understand is what ketosis is. It is a state where the body burns fat over glucose for fuel. Ketones are the breakdown products of fat and are a great energy source for the brain and the body. This is why early during an Atkins, keto, or paleo diet, people have a lot of energy and lose weight. The keto diet accomplishes this by carbohydrate starvation and a high intake of animal fat and protein. But over time, the body needs complex carbohydrates for energy, an important macronutrient missing in keto and paleo diets. For example, people with diabetes who go on a keto diet may initially see better control of their blood sugar but then develop worsening insulin resistance.
A plant-based diet accomplishes this is by eating a diet high in vegetables, and fatty foods like nuts and seeds, avocados, and coconut milk, and allows complex carbohydrates such as lentils, grains, and low glycemic fruit in moderation. These foods should be prepared in your kitchen if possible and with fresh, organic ingredients. This matters, as we need to put the body to pure, preservative-free and food grown in harmony with nature in our bodies. It is the best way to support healthy cell structure and our microbiome. After all, the food we eat is what fuels our body and creates our cell structure. This is our foundational platform for health or disease.
Six key principles that are most successful for restoring health in my Medical practice are:
- An organic plant-based diet. Evidence has shown that eating organic does matter. Not only is it less toxic for the body than conventional food, the majority of which is genetically modified in the U.S., but it is also laced with pesticides which are hormone disruptors in addition to disrupting the biome of the soil in which they are grown, which results in reducing the nutrient content of the food and negatively affecting biodiversity and the ecosystem. After all, healthy soil is synonymous with a healthy body.
- Portion control: Eat from a medium, not large-sized plate, slightly bigger than a tapas plate (If your diet includes healthy plant-based fat, you will feel satisfied with smaller portions and not feel the need for seconds or supersized portions).
- Intermittent fasting: Fast for at least 12 hours to 16 hours after your last meal of the day, at least 5 nights per week. For example, if your last meal of the day is at 6 pm, don’t eat solid food till 8 to 10 AM the next morning. Intermittent fasting has been shown to break down fat into ketones, which are excellent for brain health and promote autophagy, where cells renew and regenerate.
- Get at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 6 days per week. If you are not committed to this practice, start by just walking briskly for at least 20 min per day. This will become a habit in a few weeks and your body will begin to crave more exercise.
- Drop the alcohol. Alcohol is pure sugar and highjacks the liver’s ability to repair DNA damage. It has now been shown that aside from being a neurotoxin and a depressant, alcohol also causes 8 types of cancer.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Turn off your electronics at least an hour prior to bedtime. Your body regenerates when you sleep. Electronic light has been shown to decrease melatonin production in the pineal gland, a hormone that is essential for health and immunity.
If you can accomplish these six principles, at any time of your life, your liver, your metabolism, and your body will be rebooted and recalibrated. Fat will melt away and your tissues will be more efficiently oxygenated and energized.
This is the best health platform you can establish for any time in your life, especially during the second half when it becomes critical and almost urgent to create a healthy platform from which to live for the rest of your life.
The body begins to manifest half a lifetime of dietary habits that build incrementally over time and reach a tipping point when hormones begin to shift during the midlife transition around age 38 to 50. The profound shifts in the psyche and emotional body that accompany the changes in the physical body make it necessary, indeed imperative, to learn healthy skills for self-nourishment. This requires us to follow a different set of rules to caretake our very vulnerable bodies during this nearly 15-year transition. What we practice now will accompany us into our elder years as either health or disease, depending upon how we choose our nourishment.
With the rate of chronic diseases on the rise in the U.S, and dementia projected to affect 1 in 2 Americans in 30 years who are now in their fifth decade, learning how to restore and reclaim health needs to be our top priority.
A plant-based, diet has ample evidence to support its legitimacy, safety, and efficacy not just through hard science over the past 4 decades, but also historically, over hundreds of years of observational data in the Blue Zones, where people live to be centenarians with an extremely low incidence of chronic illness.
Do you want to age this way?
I most certainly do.
So join me as you explore and experiment with a plant-based lifestyle. Every patient of mine who has begun this journey has enjoyed disease reversal, increased energy, vitality, and improvement in mental clarity and memory. And there are no negative long-term side effects. What could be better than that?
©Jan2020 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: Reclaiming Your Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. Dr. Kumar is happy to accept new patients; call 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.