As a physician who has followed a plant-based diet for well over 5 years now, I am excited to advocate for this way of eating and living to all my patients. When I introduce the plant-based lifestyle to patients, many have questions about what it entails, how it benefits them and how to implement this healthy life change amongst themselves and their families. I’ve decided to gather the questions I am asked most frequently and respond to them on our blog, so an even wider audience throughout Dallas – Fort Worth and beyond can reference this information when considering transitioning to a plant-based diet. I’m always happy to help patients of all ages regain their health and quality of life through simple changes, often without the need for additional medications.

How Do You Help Patients Adapt to a Plant-Based Lifestyle?

What I offer patients is an option. Most are willing and eager to learn a safer way to improve their conditions, in place of more pills and procedures. However, education is important – Just like anyone who may be new to this way of eating, patients and their families often have a lot of questions. Common questions I answer regularly include:

  • What’s the difference between vegans, vegetarians and the plant-based lifestyle?

The plant-based lifestyle is eating whole or minimally-processed plant foods that reflect very little or, preferably, zero animal products and oils. Some advocate being free of salt and table sugar as well. A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, is the absence of meat, fish and poultry but consumption of eggs and dairy is still allowed. Vegans avoid all animal products both in food and other aspects of life, such as clothing and medical research. In terms of eating, however, vegans may still eat a lot of processed foods like French fries, potato chips, soda, mock meats, soy cheeses and plant oils. Vegans typically do so for ethical reasons, whereas plant-based persons adhere to this diet primarily for their health.

  • Where do I get my protein?

Protein is a common concern when I talk to patients about switching to a plant-based diet. It is, after all, a major nutrient essential to our well-being and bodily functioning. However, people associate protein with meats, fish and dairy products. Few believe that plants are an excellent source of protein, without the saturated fat, added cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics, endotoxins and other harmful chemicals. Though people question protein in plant-based diets, we have yet to see someone who walks on 2 feet that is protein-deficient – regardless of their diet – so long as they eat enough calories. All plant foods have protein. Excellent sources include beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts. Fruits and vegetables are also packed with protein, as well as fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, antioxidants and natural flavors.

What we should really be focusing on is where we get our fiber. This component comes only from plants and is essential for their structure. Fiber deficiency is prevalent in Western civilization due to our meat-centered diets and is linked to chronic constipation, diverticulosis, appendicitis, hypertension and poor gut microbiome. I’d bet that you know someone who is fiber-deficient but have not seen someone who is protein-deficient!

For more information, I suggest reading this article by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on protein: http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/how-can-i-get-enough-protein-the-protein-myth.

  • Am I going to be calcium-deficient?

Another common misconception is calcium deficiency, particularly when we discuss avoiding dairy. All dietary minerals are sourced from the ground, to plants, then to animals. This means that the more plants we consume, the more minerals (like calcium and iron) we get – Without the addition of saturated fat and cholesterol that often accompanies eating flesh.

As far as I know, humans are the only species in the world that consume other species’ mammary secretions after the age of weaning. With all the deleterious effects on us, it is prudent that we avoid all dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. This is because eating dairy is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer (particularly prostate and breast), lactose intolerance, acne, osteoporosis and even Type 1 diabetes, due to high saturated fat content, high insulin-like growth factor 1 and other hormones present in these foods.

  • Where do we get our vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for our bodies and is made by certain bacteria. Rich food sources include meat, dairy, eggs, some algae and mushrooms. Because B12 deficiency could result in anemia and nerve damage, a daily supplement is advised if you opt to transition to a plant-based diet.

  • What do I feed my family and kids?

I advise patients to choose about 9 – 10 familiar meals that they normally eat and remove all animal products, dairy and oils. Some examples may include oatmeal for breakfast with any fruit you enjoy, such as blueberries, bananas, pears or apples, or a smoothie with kale, apple, banana and almond milk. Lunch could include a bean burrito with avocado, mango and corn in place of meat and cheese. Other examples include whole-grain pasta with garlic, marinara sauce and your favorite vegetable, such as spinach, asparagus or mushrooms, and nutritional yeast in place of parmesan cheese. Stews, chilis, soups and burgers can all be prepared as healthy veggie options. Lastly, frozen fruits are typically a good replacement for dairy ice cream.

When it comes to baking, there are a lot of plant-based cookbooks and recipes both online and in print. My wife loves to make brownies, cupcakes, muffins and other pastries without oil, dairy or eggs for our kids. She typically uses applesauce in place of oil, plant milk instead of dairy and ground flax meal as a binder (rather than eggs). My 5-year old and my 7-year old love all of these treats. They most often eat rice and beans, sautéed squash and spinach, whole-grain pasta and veggies, tofu dishes and other steamed veggies and then fruits or baked pastries for dessert. Snacks include air-popped popcorn (without oil or butter) and plant-based ice cream made from frozen bananas.

  • What do we order when going out to eat?

I’ll be the first to admit that eating out can be a challenge at times, since most dishes have oils. Choosing vegan options has become easier over the last few years, thanks to increasing demand and popularity, though temptation can still be tough with a very limited menu. I’ve found that in most American chains, you can ask for a black bean or other veggie burger or a baked potato with salsa in place of cheese, butter and/or bacon. In Mexican restaurants, there is usually a black bean burrito or bowl option that you can request with mango, corn, avocado, salsa and rice. Italian restaurants can also still be enjoyed, so long as you ditch the cheese, meat and fish in your pizzas and pastas and are careful to avoid olive oil. Lastly, there are many plant-based options in Asian cuisines, like Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, Chinese and Indian dishes, since rice and vegetables has been a staple of the region and its cultures for centuries. Just be sure to avoid fried foods and request oil-free options!

  • Is this diet expensive to maintain?

Eating a plant-based diet should be inexpensive. Beans, rice, potatoes, wheat and other grains are some of the cheapest foods to purchase and the easiest to prepare. Additionally, most fruits can be eaten raw, which saves storage space and the time involved with preparation and cooking. To further save, buy fruits and vegetables that are “in season” and locally produced; avoid processed foods (for example, eat whole corn and not corn chips or eat a baked potato and not potato chips); avoid buying mock/fake meats, oils and cheese substitutions and grow your own produce. Buy what your family can afford. The big picture here is to avoid animal products and to eat real food – Not dead flesh.

  • Do we need to buy organic food?

If you can afford it, buy organic when possible. However, it is not a necessity when following the plant-based diet. Again, the most important concept is to avoid animal products.

What Other Resources Are Available?

The list of frequently asked questions goes on, but the resources for transitioning to a plant-based diet are numerous:

  • Movies: Start with a few documentaries, such as “Forks Over Knives” and “What The Health” on Netflix.
  • Online Resources: You can also print a free plant-based guide from Kaiser Permanente that includes recipes. You can also follow “Forks Over Knives”, “Happy Herbivore”, nutritionfacts.org, PCRM and plant-based dieticians on Facebook. You can also follow my own physician page at https://www.facebook.com/DrOrsonRodriguez/ for information I share, as well as my weekly schedule and where you can find me.
  • Books: If you’re a reader, I suggest looking into books by Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, Neal Barnard, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. John McDougall and Dr. Garth Davis.
  • Apps: Daily Dozen, Happy Cow and Dr. McDougall recipes have personally been helpful to me and may help you as well.

In conclusion, just remember: Eat the right fuel and the body will try to heal thyself. That’s according to Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, who said: “Let food by thy medicine”. A plant-based lifestyle is the best option or our palate, our wallet and the planet, so make an appointment with me today or simply visit LuminCARE Cross Roads to learn more. I look forward to helping you achieve your health and wellness goals!