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  • Dr. Marsha-Gail Davis

The Health Download with Dr. D: Nourish!

Wagwaan, beautiful people! Dr. Davis here again

(Wassup/What’s up/What’s going on? in Jamaican patois)

I hope that you have had a wonderful week! It is always a pleasure to chat it up with you in this blogosphere! This week we will be discussing a little bit more on the measure of NOURISH!

Oooooooh! Did you hear that? Yes, it is the GASP heard around the world because you think that I am about to open up a cultural/information/emotional can of worms. But when you look at it... when we think about approaching conversations around food, isn’t that what we find? Just entirely too much going on. The confusion is guaranteed.

Food , right now, is the hottest topic on the planet.. There are so many “diets: Plant-based, Keto, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, Carnivore, Atkins, Low-carb, South Beach, WHOLE30, DASH, Blood Type, Flexitarian, Mediterranean...etc. Is ya head hurting yet? I can’t blame you, or any other person out there with a genuine desire to improve their health who is just looking for some practical answers.

The American Dietary Guidelines suggests that the characteristics of a healthy dietary pattern associated with good health outcomes usually include a higher intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low-fat protein sources, nuts and seeds and a lower intake of red meat, sugar-sweetened foods/beverages and refined grains. So far the research overwhelmingly supports the famous and simple claim by well-known food writer Michael Pollan to “Eat food. Not too much, mostly plants” as the key to experiencing the healthful life that we all want. My own guess is that around AT LEAST a 70% to 80% plant lean will achieve significant changes in your health profile if your diet hasn’t been in that direction for some time.

But Dr. Davis, we already know this! Mama has been telling us to eat our vegetables, the issue is why is it so challenging to make the healthier choice your everyday consistent choice? If I attempt to answer this question in the detail it requires, I will definitely be opening another can of worms. We ain’t got time for that. So I will just focus on ONE of the most significant reasons as to why we eat the way we do.

Let’s play a little guessing game. When I say a word, I want you to think of the FIRST food that comes to your mind. Got it? Okay, let’s do it!

When I say Protein, you say ________!

When I say Calcium, you say ________!

When I say Vitamin C, you say ________!

Let’s see what you came up with because I can most definitely read your mind. :)

I know you came up with the following: Meat, Milk, Oranges (Citrus)

Did you notice how quickly those images or words came to you. I’m sure you didn’t have to even take a second to think about it. It was probably automatic. THAT, Big Picture Living family, is the POWER of MARKETING!

Marketing has the incredible power of creating a certain perception of reality. It may be factual or may not be factual.

So for example, one of the most consistent questions I get is, “Dr. Davis, if you eat a plant-based diet, where do you get your protein?”

Well let’s do some MATH to answer this question. Students (and advisors), are you ready?

The average person requires around 0.5 - 0.8g of protein per KG per DAY. The typical average weight is around 70kg so that leaves us with about 56 grams of protein we would require to function well.

Now let's look at a typical day in my life and I am right around the average weight at 144lbs:

Breakfast: Green Smoothie:

2 cups of spinach (12g)

1 banana (1.5g)

a large thumb of ginger (0.4g)

1 cup of plant-based milk (8g)

1 date (0.4g)

½ of mango (1.4g)

½ cup of pineapple (0.9g)

Total Protein: 24.6g

Lunch: Curry Chickpeas and Rice with a side salad:

1 cup of cooked chickpeas (14.53g)

½ cup assorted veggies (1g)

1 cup of spinach (3.5g)

1 tbsp of tahini dressing (5.2g)

1 cup cooked brown rice (5.5g)

Total Protein: 29.73g

Dinner: My favorite salad:

3 cups of spinach (9g)

1 cup of cherry tomatoes (1.3g)

½ avocado (2g)

½ cup of red cabbage (0.5g)

¼ cup of red onion (0.5g)

½ cup of edamame (9.2 g)

Sprinkle of dried cranberries (<1g)

Total protein: 22.5g

Overall total protein: 69.83g

Not to mention the grapes (0.6g), apple (0.5g), peanut butter + toast (12g)and handful of nuts (5g) I may snack on, which would bring me to a WHOPPING 87.93g of protein for the day.

So this, my friends, is how I get my protein. No concern for protein deficiency here. Why? Because almost every food has SOME amount of protein. It simply varies depending on the food group and so when you eat a balanced and varied diet centered around nutrient rich plant foods containing essential nutrients, protein will never be a problem. Protein deficiency is really only a problem when you are not eating, period!

NOTE: Protein data is from USDA

Let’s take a quick look at some other common nutrients of concern that we typically hear about when it comes to a plant-based diet. Calcium as we learned from marketing earlier only comes from milk. However, my nutrition facts1 tell me that green leafy vegetables and beans are some of the BEST sources of highly absorbable calcium such as kale, collards, broccoli, chickpeas and tofu). The only caveat is spinach which doesn’t provide calcium that is as easily absorbed. Interestingly enough, excess animal protein can leach calcium from the bones and is effectively doing the opposite of what you want for your bone health. The recommended daily amount of calcium is around 1000mg. One cup of collards is 327mg, which is ⅓ of what you need in a typical day and that’s just from a side dish. So yeah, calcium isn’t an issue either.

Lastly, let’s touch on iron. This is a good one because when we think of iron, the same thing happens. We are probably thinking of a hunky guy pumping actual iron in the gym getting his iron from a slab of meat. Hmmm, yeah, sounds like marketing. Let’s remember that iron is what we call an essential mineral, meaning we cannot produce it as humans, but we have to get it from consuming foods that contain it. So where does iron actually come from? Directly from the soil. Plants pull these essential mineral nutrients (iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, etc) from the earth as they grow and we can then access those nutrients when we consume foods that have large amounts of it. Beans and greens, for example, are great sources of adequate iron. Studies looking at the incidence of iron-deficiency anemia (a condition where your hemoglobin, which is crucial for carrying around oxygen in your body, is lower than the normal range due to a lower than normal amount of iron) have not seen significant differences between those who consume vegetarian diets and those who do not in Western societies. (Attribution: Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(12):1970-1980.)

The recommended amount per day is about 8mg for men and 18mg for women with slightly lower requirements in younger ages. A 10z package of spinach has 7.7mg in it and we probably eat ⅓ - ½ of that for a salad so that’s really around 2mg - 4mg. A serving size of black beans is around 130g or ½ cup and has 1.44mg of iron. You aren’t even finished making your salad yet and you are close to ¼ or ½ (depending on your sex) of your iron requirements for the day. So it looks like we are doing great on iron too!

I appreciate you staying on the ride for this long! Now that we have cleared up those common myths, below are some of the meals I get to enjoy that are fully dosed with calcium, protein and iron and are also fully plant-based.

Some Food (pictures) for Thought

Berry smoothie bowl with granola

My favorite pataydas (potatoes)

My second favorite salad: spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocado, red onions, parsley, tahini dressing

Plant-based version of a Jamaican dish called “Rundown."

The typical ingredient of codfish is replaced with eggplant and mushrooms. For the uninitiated to Jamaican cuisine and plant-based Jamaican cuisine, at that, this can look a little questionable but for me, this looks like lunch :)

Marsha-Gail Davis, MD, is a primary care internist and preventionist. Originally from the island of Jamaica, she received her MD from the University of California, San Diego, and completed her residency in the Yale Primary Care Residency Program. At ACLM, in addition to serving on the Board as Young Director, Dr. Davis is a leader of the Health Equity Through Lifestyle Medicine (HEAL) Initiative. She believes prevention is the best treatment for many diseases, particularly chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. Her goal is to make prevention the priority and to make prevention popular! Follow her on Instagram.

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