Starting the New Year Right

With 2021 looking in some ways as bleak as 2020, it’s hard to think of this new year as a ‘fresh start.’  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m feeling more overwhelmed than usual right now, and that spin bike I ordered back in December?   It came early…but it’s still in the box. 

On the bright side, I’ve seen trends in nutrition moving in a more positive direction.  While processed foods still abound, it seems people in general are starting to ‘eat real food’ and view their health more holistically.  Here are some themes that are becoming more commonplace that you can adopt if you haven’t already.

  1. Take a plant-based approach.  ‘Meatless Monday’ is old news, but there are many ways to include more plants in your diet.  Breakfast cereals made with sunflower protein (try Seven Sundays brand), edamame mixes that can be zapped in the microwave for quick lunches and lentil chili for dinner are all easy ways to eat more plants.  Nuts and beans provide protein and fiber that help keep you feeling full longer than simple carbs.
  2. Support local and/or small businesses.  ‘Shopping Small’ isn’t new, but perhaps we forget about the hundreds of food-based businesses right in our backyards, and there’s no time like the present to support them.  We’re all struggling right now, and small businesses especially.   Shopping locally means keeping more money in your local economy and helping your neighbors (near or far) stay afloat.  Right here in the village we have options for fresh ground coffee (Kornerstone), fresh bread (Elm Street) and even a full grocery store (the Co-op).  Just 10 minutes outside the village, you can get local soap (Alpine Made), maple syrup (Weber’s) and more.  
  3. Cook more.  We all started cooking a whole lot more last year, and while restaurants are re-opening (yay!), I hope some of the home cooking is here to stay.  Cooking at home is lower in calories and fat and brings the whole family together.   It’s a great way to get the kids involved in meal planning, grocery shopping and food preparation.  During these cold winter months, big pots of soup and roasting meat and winter squash are great ideas.  Last year I wrote about making ‘power bowls,’ which are easy combinations of cooked meat or plant protein, paired with a grain (like rice) and cooked and fresh veggies topped with a store-bought or homemade dressing.  I’ve started making them once a week and it’s the easiest meal on the menu.  And don’t forget about the rotisserie chickens at the grocery store!  They make an easy main dish on busy nights, and can be combined with steam-in-the-bag veggies for a complete meal.
  4. Focus on both physical and mental health.  Food isn’t just about losing or maintaining your weight; it’s a part of our existence that’s meant to be enjoyed and benefit both our bodies and minds.  Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon and nuts and seeds) and B vitamins (meat, eggs, legumes, leafy greens) are good for our brains as well as the rest of our bodies.  With the shorter daylight and colder temps, everything we can do to boost our moods—such as eating foods with omega-3s and B vitamins—is a smart idea.

After writing about all these ways I can improve my health this year, I’m feeling ready to set up that bike!

The Flexitarian Diet

The sixth installment of the series on eating patterns is about the Flexitarian Diet. Last month, we explored the MIND Diet and discussed how it emphasizes specific foods for brain health and cognition. Ranked #3 out of 41 total diets in the U.S News Best Diet Rankings, the Flexitarian Diet is just that—flexible. Largely based on a vegetarian framework, dieters may include meat when the mood strikes and can design their meals and snacks based on their own (mostly meatless) preferences. The diet was developed by a registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner and is found in her 2009 book, “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life.” While that’s a pretty ambitious goal for any eating style, plant-based diets have been shown to help people lose weight and lower their risk of heart disease and stroke. Continue reading “The Flexitarian Diet”

Book Review: The Campbell Plan

The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Wight and Reverse Illness, using The China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet
By Thomas Campbell, MD
Rodale (2015)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD


The Campbell Plan uses the findings of The China Study, of which both Campbell and his father (T. Colin Campbell, PhD) were part, to assert that a plant-based diet can not only allow readers to be the healthiest they can be, but also to fend off diseases, including cancer. The findings are based on the results of the 20-year China Project, which studied the diets of 65,000 adults in 65 counties in China and rates of disease. They concluded that the counties eating higher animal protein had more incidences of ‘Western’ diseases and cancers than those populations eating a plant-based diet. Campbell’s own studies on tumor growth and protein intake (casein, found in milk) in lab rats led him to conclude that consumption of animal protein promotes tumor growth.

Campbell says, “…humans eating lesser amounts of animal protein and more plant-based foods might have not only more energy, but also lower odds of developing obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, brain disease and prostate, breast and colon cancers.” Additionally, he claims that a plant-based diet promotes healthier bacterial communities in the gut. The book includes chapters addressing ‘hot topics’ such as soy and gluten.

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

Campbell believes a high-carb, low-fat diet high in fiber, along with exercise, is the healthiest way to eat. He says, “…if you make the right food choices, you will do more to improve your health than anything else you might do.” But what are his ‘right food choices?’

The biggies to avoid are all animal products (meat, eggs and dairy). Additionally, he includes lists of foods to eliminate, including, pure fats (liquid oils, butter, margarine, substitutes), refined grain products, processed foods, cereals with added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and jarred sauces/dressings with added oils. Recommended foods include fruit, 100% whole-wheat pastas, breads, beans, vegetables, and nutritional yeast.

Campbell’s diet plan, as he presents it in the book, is really a lifestyle change. Campbell does not encourage counting calories or other macronutrients, nor is this a weight-loss plan. He fully intends that readers embrace a ‘no animal products’ eating style for good.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

All of the foods Campbell recommends are full of health benefits; fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals and whole grains are packed with fiber. But by eliminating both meat and dairy, protein may be lacking in the diet. Campbell states that 12.5 grams of protein per 500 calories is sufficient for most adults, which equates to approximately 50 grams of protein in a 2,000-calorie diet, which does align with the FDA’s protein recommendations as well. However, diet quality determines the amount of protein—and other nutrients—taken in, and not all participants will eat the amount or variety needed to meet their protein needs without meat and dairy. Campbell does make a case for allowing ‘small amounts’ of lean meat and eggs, but only for someone who has followed his ‘optimal diet’ since birth, which is highly unlikely.

Campbell also includes hints for grocery-shopping, label-reading, substitution suggestions and advice on how to discuss your dietary change with others. He addresses added sugars, salt and fat, and discourages the use of ‘vegan’ meat/cheese/mayo, etc… substitutes. A two-week sample meal plan is included that features recipes from the book.

Bottom Line:

Despite its very restrictive nature, there is a lot to like about the book and its presentation. Campbell, above all else, recommends eating real food—whole grains, vegetables, fruit and legumes—and ditching anything even remotely processed. He also addresses many dietary ‘ills’, like added sugars and trans fats, information beneficial to anyone, not just those ready to swear off animal products.

The book is well referenced, although further research reveals that there are holes in the data, or places in which pertinent data may have been omitted. For example, one of Campbell’s biggest and earliest points is that casein, a protein found in cow’s milk, promotes tumor growth. Not mentioned in the book is that whey, the other protein found in cow’s milk, has a protective effect and delays tumor growth, and that both of these proteins are most often ingested together. Additionally, studies have found that indigenous populations whose diets are high in animal products, such as the Greenland Eskimo, also have very low rates of disease and cancer, despite their animal protein intake. Overall, Campbell makes some broad generalizations, such as the casein example and that high cholesterol is a marker for all manner of disease, that aren’t fully supported by existing research. Follow his advice for eating real, whole foods, making most of your diet plant-based and his guidance for avoiding added sugars, etc… but staying away from all animal products on the basis they are the cause of disease is unfounded.

This book includes 55 recipes and a two-week sample menu.