While most of us understand the benefits of eating vegetables, we may not be aware of some of the scientific evidence that supports this.
Montgomery physician Bryan Strickland, MD and his wife, Carolyn, have embraced the vegetarian lifestyle. Their conversion began with The China Study, which examined the relationship between the consumption of animal products, including dairy, and chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer. The authors of the study concluded that people who eat a predominantly whole-food, plant-based diet, avoiding animal products as a main source of nutrition, including beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and milk, and reducing their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates, will escape, reduce or reverse the development of numerous diseases.
"About 10 years ago I read The China Study, which is the largest study on nutrition and health," Carolyn Strickland said. "It was a well-done study that looked at how nutrition impacted human health, most specifically cancer, over a 27-year period. Then my husband and I watched the movie Forks over Knives, which also looked at the impact of food on our health. That's when we decided to change our eating habits."
"I felt that this study was scientifically solid enough that we should act on what we saw and make changes in our lives," Dr. Strickland said. "There was enough evidence in this one study to prove to me that I didn't need to look for nutritional supplements to keep me healthy. I could stop damaging my health by changing what I was eating and drinking every day. It was that simple."
Carolyn Strickland, who is also president of the River Region Medical Alliance, wanted to get more involved, so she became a certified Food for Life Instructor through the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is a nonprofit organization steered by medical professionals advocating education and research in an effort to change the way chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer are treated with a focus on plant-forward nutrition.
With Dr. Strickland's office filled with patients who could use what he and his wife were learning about a plant-based diet, the next logical step was to find a partner willing to host cooking demonstrations. So Carolyn contacted Whole Foods, and the Meatless Monday Supper Club was born.
"If a physician tries to go out into the community alone to do something, you don't accomplish as much as you can if you enable a team who can work together," Dr. Strickland said.
The Stricklands work with Whole Foods staff to prepare plant-based meals with a purpose for each Meatless Monday dinner event. Most events have an educational theme, such as diabetes, in which Dr. Strickland offers some medical advice and explains how changing a person's eating habits can result in positive health benefits.
"The China Study illustrated that a plant-based diet can tip the odds to a patient's favor if that patient is pre-diabetic or has high cholesterol or other chronic health issues," Dr. Strickland said. "But you can't make promises about what a diet is going to do for any specific person. I have examples of cases where people have lost between 40 and 70 pounds and got off their diabetes medication, but still, those are isolated cases.
If you go to a plant-based diet, you'll earn a couple of milestones in your life. You are breaking an addiction to fat, salt and meat that all work on those pleasure centers in the brain. If you stop what you're addicted to, you'll feel bad for a couple of weeks, but that goes away. After a few months, the cravings go away. But it's what you're giving yourself in the long run that's so good. It's those medical milestones that you're looking for."
Carolyn wants people to know that not only is a vegetarian diet healthy, but that it can also taste good.
"The change is so much more than weight and what we look like on the outside," she said. "Internally, our health is a lot better, and we both have so much more energy. Of course people are skeptical at first when I tell them about how we eat plant-based and never get tired of it, but once they try our cooking demonstrations, they find that vegetables are truly tasty."
A Healthy and Tasty Vegetarian Dish
Yield: 4 Servings
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon almond or peanut butter
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons tamari (or low sodium soy sauce)
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons coconut nectar or pure maple syrup
1 tablespoons peeled, roughly chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, sliced or chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 ounces dry rice noodles, such as stick or vermicelli noodles
1 cup thinly sliced red pepper
1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
1/2 cup sliced green onion
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped peanuts (optional)
4 lime wedges
Baked tofu (optional)
In a blender, combine water, nut butter, lime juice tamari (or soy sauce), ketchup, coconut nectar or maple syrup, ginger, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Cook the noodles. Once just tender, drain. Add sauce to the cooking pot and place over low heat. Add the cooked noodles, red pepper, carrots and green onion. Mix until noodles are coated evenly. Once warmed through, add sprouts and cilantro. Top with peanuts (optional) and serve with lime wedges. Add baked tofu if desired.
Per serving: Calories: 324; Protein: 7 g; Carbohydrates: 69 g; Sugar: 15 g; Total fat: 3 g; Calories from fat: 7%; Fiber: 4 g; Sodium; 1,059 mg