Nobody Ever Got Fat by Eating Too Many Vegetables

January 26, 2012

Probably nobody ever got heart disease or cancer from eating too many vegetables either.   In fact, countless studies and articles suggest that the benefits of eating vegetables may include preventing and reversing long term, chronic illnesses.  Most diet plans even allow for “unlimited vegetables.”

I am constantly reading articles, watching documentaries, reviewing patient’s food journals, and I concur.  Eating more vegetables is related to better health.  Physical and emotional.  It’s also understood that high fructose corn syrup, sugar, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates are not good and can lead to degenerative diseases.   Unfortunately, many Americans’ diets are greatly lacking in the vegetable department.  Personally, I think a good goal is to eat 2-3 cups of cooked, non-starchy vegetables each day.

After watching the movie Forks Over Knives, I was intrigued by a vegan diet.  The dishes in the movie were enticing, and I wanted to increase my vegetable consumption overall.  But to eliminate fish, meat, poultry, and all animal products?  I have read so many wonderful things about wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef, and free-range, organic eggs. While I realize the harmful effects of corn-fed cattle, antibiotic-pumped chickens, and farm-raised fish, eliminating the quality sources of these nutrient-dense foods doesn’t sit right with me.

When patients ask me if becoming a vegetarian is good, or if eliminating wheat, dairy, or soy is good, I say truthfully, “I don’t know.”  It is unreasonable to think that every human is designed to work optimally on the same set of dietary guidelines.  Our systems are wired differently due to our innate genetic differences.  Some people thrive on dairy, others are allergic to wheat, while others are more sensitive to carbohydrates.  The variances are numerous.

My gut (pun somewhat intended) says that having a diet heavily based on plant foods with good quality protein and fat is a good place to get started.  Ask me about specifics like flaxseed, nuts, whole grains, and tofu, and my answer is still, “I don’t know.  It depends.”  That is a similar answer that acupuncturist Chris Kresser gives on his podcasts, blog, and website.  I have been following his work closely, and he promotes a paleo-template diet.  That is to say, a diet based on what our ancestors ate (vegetables, fruits, starchy tubers, animals), tailored to the individual differences we each possess.  You can read more in his wonderful series which I highly recommend Nine Steps to Perfect Health.

As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), diet and digestion are key factors for assessing one’s health.  Gas, bloating, reflux, heartburn, distention, diarrhea/constipation, fatigue after eating, and stomach pain are all indications of a weakened digestive system.  A weakened digestive system requires additional energy to operate.  The use of this additional energy expenditure over time leads to a sluggish digestive system that doesn’t function properly.   Eventually symptoms send a patient to the doctor (or acupuncturist), and they are diagnosed with IBS, GERD, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, etc.

As a TCM practitioner, I assess each patient’s presenting patterns.  If I see a cold pattern, I recommend warming foods.  If I see a hot pattern, I recommend cooling foods.  If I see an excess condition, I recommend bitter foods to drain, and if I see a deficient pattern, I recommend sweet foods to supplement.  You can ask yourself questions like:  Do I sweat a lot?  Do I crave iced cold beverages even in the winter?  Do I get gas and bloating after eating fried food or grains?  The more you know about your own patterns, the better you can make educated decisions on how to eat.  I enjoy guiding my patients along this quest.

Is your goal to lose weight?  Gain energy?  Achieve and maintain a pregnancy?  Regulate emotions or hormones?  If you’re not sure where to start, begin by checking in with yourself a couple hours after you eat.  Noting patterns might not be obvious, so keeping a food journal may be a very helpful tool. Include emotional symptoms and food cravings as well as physical symptoms.  Avoiding or minimizing those foods that cause negative symptoms is advisable.  Chinese herbs and acupuncture can further aid in healing the GI tract and strengthening digestion.  Once healed, you may be able to eat the eliminated foods in moderation, or perhaps it is advisable to avoid them all together.  It depends.

If the latest study confuses you too, then stick to what we know.  Refined carbohydrates, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats are bad.  Vegetables are good.  The rest is left for you, your presenting patterns, and genetic inheritance to determine, and I wish you much luck in this venture.  I am here to help.

Questions and comments welcomed!

For one of my favorite vegetable recipes please check out these Miso-Tahini Green Beans.  Delicious!

Remember, you are what you eat.

In good health,


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