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Move toward a plant-based diet

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The holidays are upon us and one of the greatest gifts you can impart to your family is a roadmap to a healthy life. You’d think that in an age where instant communications are within everyone’s reach, people would understand the basics of nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

You’d be wrong.

Life in Hawaii, as in many parts of the world, is beset by chronic illness including heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and others. A major contributor to most of these maladies is too many high-calorie processed foods and not enough physical activity.

How did we get to this unfortunate state of affairs?

The major reasons for this come from dietary changes and patterns over the last century:

>> A continued increase in total meat consumption

>> A huge increase in added fats and oils to foodstuffs

>> A dramatic increase in cheese and other high-fat dairy consumption

>> A steady increase in sweeteners, mostly corn sweeteners, delivered en masse, in soft drinks.

>> An increase in grains since the early 1970s, of which 85 percent are refined grains, with added sweet/fat calories.

What to do?

There are many approaches, but one that appears to be garnering results is being utilized by my colleague Kirk Hamilton, a physician’s assistant and researcher based in Sacramento.

He has come up with a lifestyle regime using a plant-based diet, partly based on the world’s healthiest and longest-living peoples. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and he has introduced his system to diverse communities, including Mexican Americans and Marshallese Islanders, as well as his patients in Sacramento. I believe it’s application could be universal and is something that every family would find valuable.

Note that a plant-based diet is a plant-heavy diet, not necessarily a vegan diet, which requires much stricter discipline and attention to nutritional composition, lest the diet become deficient in various micro- and macronutrients.

Adults may consider a vegan diet, but while a child’s diet should include a great deal of vegetables, I would be hesitant to completely cut out dairy, eggs or animal-based protein unless there are medical reasons to do so.

Kirk divides his program into three components that he calls it the “Triad Wellness Program,” which entails diet, exercise and training your mind daily. We’ll get into the details next Tuesday.

In the second part, I’ll discuss these components further and how Hamilton’s program could lead to a longer, healthier life.

Dr. Bradley J. Willcox is principal investigator of the National Institute on Aging-funded Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan Study and Kuakini Hawaii Healthspan Study. He is a professor and director of research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii.

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