So another study was released today showing a correlation between a plant-based diet (vegetarian in this case) and cancer prevention.   We’ve all seen a lot of these and in this post, we’re going to talk about what all of these studies and findings have in common and why this may be the case, some of the ways they’ve been applied, and (of course) our take on the whole thing.

So, what do these studies and findings have in common?  Over and over again, we see results showing that people who eat more fruits and vegetables and other whole foods and less animal products and processed foods get cancer less often and have better results once they have the disease.  (The same is also true for heart disease, diabetes, and just about any other disease prevalent primarily in first world societies.)  So what drives this connection?  Well, there are lots of theories and they vary by study and by type of cancer.  Generally speaking (and this is definitely a simplification), our bodies our exposed to all sorts of toxins on a daily basis than can potentially cause our cells to mutate and become precancerous– this has caused some people to feel they should just give up because “everything causes cancer.” Additionally, some of us also have a genetic predisposition for certain types of cancer. 

But we were talking about the role diet plays; if we are all exposed to these toxins, and genetics play a role too, how can a plant-based diet help?  There are several stages of cancer, with two phases (which can last for years) taking place before cancer is evident.  The first phase is the actual cell mutation described above.  We may not have a lot of control over that part given the world we live in.  But the second phase (called promotion) is a long phase, and it’s where our behavior (including factors like diet and stress) come into play.  If the cancer is not reversed in this promotion phase, the cancer becomes clinically evident and we move into metastasis.  Many studies (including the one referenced at the top) have shown the correlation between a plant-based diet and lower incidences of cancer.  Other studies (referenced at end) have shown that for various reasons a plant-based diet has a significant impact, specifically during the promotion phase.  Nutritional differences don’t stop the cells from mutating, but it does apparently impact our bodies’ ability to stop these cells from taking hold and multiplying.   If you’ve heard people say that sugar feeds cancer – this is what they are referring to.

These various studies have focused on a variety of factors.  Some show that it’s the fiber that leads to less cancer.  Some indicate lower levels of protein, especially animal protein. Some focus on phyto-nutrients.   Others (like the one linked at the top) just focus on the correlation and don’t draw any conclusions about why.  But here’s a thought – does it really matter?  Because they all point to plants being better for preventing cancer than animal based food.

So when we read something like this: ”It's not known whether there is something in vegetables that is protective or whether something in meat is harmful…” as we do in this same article, that’s our reaction – does it really matter?  Given all of the evidence out there, doesn’t it make sense to eat more plants and less processed foods and animal foods?

Examples of studies and summaries of studies:

Messina V, Burke K. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1997;97:1371-21.

Steinmetz K, Potter J. Vegetables, fruit, and cancer, I. Epidemiology. Cancer Causes Control1991;2(suppl):325-57.

Jacobs DR, Marquart L, Slavin J, et al. Whole-grain intake and cancer: an expanded review and meta-analysis. Nutr Cancer 1998;30:85-96.

Divisi D, et al. Diet and cancer. Acta Biomed. 2006 Aug;77(2):118-23.

Nguyen JY, et al. Adoption of a plant-based diet by patients with recurrent prostate cancer. Integr Cancer Ther. 2006 Sep;5(3):214-23.

Saxe, GA, et al. Potential attenuation of disease progression in recurrent prostate cancer with plant-based diet and stress reduction. Integr Cancer Ther. 2006 Sep;5(3):206-13.

Madhavan TC and Gopalan C. “The effect of dietary protein on carcinogenesis of aflatoxin.” Arch. Path. 85(1968): 133-137

Youngman LD, and Campbell TC. “High protein intake promotes the growth of preneoplastic foci in Fischer #344 rats: evidence that early remodeled foci retain the potential for future growth,” J. Nutr. 121 (1991)

SMART RESOLUTIONS January 12, 2015 11:43

Orginally published in Lake Highlands Today as part of our Food Forward series.
Well, it’s January so there is no shortage of discussion about New Year’s resolutions – what types of resolutions people make, how fast they break them, and tips for sticking with them.

We’d like to suggest taking another look at those resolutions, especially if you’ve already broken them.

We all tend to be very optimistic at the New Year, choosing lofty goals to rework our lives.  But the best resolutions are those that are practical and sustainable.  The resolution to walk for 20 minutes a day is better than the one to go to the gym for an hour every day… if you stick with the walks all year versus giving up on the gym by February.  In this example, you would be getting a total of 120 hours of exercise walking versus 30 hours in the gym. 

Adding fresh fruit to your breakfast every morning could be better than a goal of eating 7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day… again if you do it all year instead of for a couple weeks…

You can always add on once you’ve mastered the smaller goals, and you get the benefit of whatever small changes you make all year long and hopefully forever.  Studies indicate that the healthiest people are those who maintain good habits (and a healthy body weight) over long periods of time, rather than fluctuating back and forth.

From a food perspective (our favorite topic), here are some ideas for reasonable goals for 2015:

  • Cook one entire healthy meal each week – including at least 2 servings of vegetables and 1 of whole grains.  Bonus for cooking extra so you can eat it for lunch the next day.
  • Eat fruit instead of dessert 6 out of 7 days a week.
  • Replace your current breakfast with one that’s made up of whole grains (like oatmeal) and fruit.  Or drink a smoothie with leafy greens mixed in (if you add a frozen banana, you will not even taste the greens).
  • Replace creamy salad dressings with lemon juice and spices.  Lemon juice and tahini make a great dressing.  Replace the cheese on your salads with nuts or seeds.
  • Take your lunch to work 4 days per week and eat out 1 day.  
  • And of course, we would love to see more people participating in Meatless Monday which is a great way to explore healthy eating options without making a huge commitment or change.

And of course, Nature’s Plate is an option for supplying healthy, fresh plant-based meals if that’s on your list!

Happy, Healthy New Year!

HOW SUPER ARE SUPER FOODS? December 03, 2014 11:45

Originally published in Lake Highlands Today as part of our Food Forward series.
We’re back to address another trendy nutrition topic… super foods!  You may have heard about chia seeds, acai berries, maca, or many of the other “super foods” creating a lot of buzz on social media and elsewhere.  So, is it worth it to spend the money on these items?  Are they as good as they sound?

Well, there’s no doubt that these foods are rich in nutrients and that they are health-promoting… no doubt at all.  And they can definitely promote health as part of a reasonably clean diet.  But there are two caveats that we would like to discuss:

1.      Eating super foods (or any particular food) will not make up for a diet that is otherwise lacking in nutrients.  So no, it probably does not make sense to add kale, cacao, maca, chia seeds, and spirulina to a smoothie in the morning and then eat fast food or primarily “beige” foods lacking in nutrients for the rest of the day.  Is it better than just eating fast food?  Sure, but your body deserves better than that anyway.

2.      There are plenty of everyday, accessible foods that pack large amounts of nutrients and promote health in a big way.  For example, broccoli, asparagus, and all green vegetables are good sources of calcium, Vitamin A, folate, fiber and many other phytonutrients.  Even potatoes (which have a bad reputation) provide potassium, Vitamin C and fiber.

Kale has gotten a lot of attention lately, and there’s no doubt that kale is a wonderful food and one of the most nutrient dense foods around.  But this doesn’t mean we should ignore all of the other wonderful greens out there… chard, spinach, collard greens, and even green leaf lettuce.  If you don’t like kale, move on – you’ll get the same benefits from eating other greens, especially if you eat more since you actually like what you’re eating!

All plant foods -- the more colorful the better -- are rich in nutrients, promote health, and fight disease.  This applies to fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts/seeds. 

Yes, superfoods are a wonderful addition, but your regular grocery store or farmers market (White Rock Market!!) has plenty of nutrient-dense, familiar options, and you don’t have to spend a ton of money.

A healthy diet always comes down to eating a wide variety of whole, plant foods and minimizing (preferably avoiding) processed foods. 

PLANT-BASED EATING: ALL OR NOTHING? October 29, 2014 11:46

Originally published in Lake Highlands Today as part of our Food Forward series.
Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz about plant-based eating, veganism – the health benefits, environmental impact, etc.   You may also be thinking that a plant-based diet and the avoidance of animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) is really extreme if not impossible.

So what’s the best way to incorporate the many benefits of all those nutrients and fiber in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes… and experience the health benefits including lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer without completely giving up all the traditional foods you love?  Well, as theMeatless Monday and Vegan Before Six concepts show, many people are finding ways to balance all of this out.  Any movement in the direction of adding healthy, whole plant foods (as opposed to processed, vegan products) into our routine helps us by adding all the good stuff while also minimizing the less healthy food.

There are plenty of reasons to clean up our diets – weight/fat loss, improved fitness, general health, increased energy levels – and adding more whole plant foods can help with all of this and more.  Kaiser-Permanente (a leading health care provider and not-for-profit health insurer) now recommends plant-based diets saying “Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods.”  But they also state “A plant-based diet is not an all-or-nothing program…”

Mark Bittman, author of Vegan Before Six:  “We hear ‘You can only eat this way and if go off, you’re bad.’  With this, if you go off it, don’t worry.  But live mostly that way forever.  That doesn’t mean that if you’re dying for a slice of pizza you don’t have it; it means that’s not your everyday.”

Since we started Nature’s Plate, we’ve learned that most of our customers are using our meals to do exactly this – increase the healthfulness of their food in a convenient way.  But most are not giving up animal products completely.

And Juliana Crawford, a long-time weekly customer of ours says:  “My husband and I have loved adding Nature’s Plate to our weekly meal plan.  Before discovering these meals we had been trying to plan out a few meatless meals per week just to add more veggies to our diet, but were running out of creative ways to do it.  …  We have also learned that you really can get a completely balanced nutritious meal that is entirely plant-based – something I had not quite realized before.”

The bottom line is however you choose to do it… adding more plants to your family’s meals has a long list of benefits, and it doesn’t mean you have to avoid animal products all the time.


WHAT'S UP WITH CLEAN EATING? September 11, 2014 23:00

Originally published in Lake Highlands Today as part of our Food Forward series.
You’ve probably noticed that theories and points of view on what you should eat are everywhere and new ones pop up all the time.  If “clean eating” sounds like the latest fad, we’d like to explain and simplify things a little.

Eating whole foods or eating clean is really just about eating food in its natural state or as close as possible.  It’s not very complicated and it’s not a fad.  During the time period that processed/packaged food has been available (approximately 50 years), we have seen dramatically increasing rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all sorts of auto-immune disorders.


Processed food is altered from its natural state – these processes strip away nutrients or impact the body's ability to use those nutrients.

Processing removes natural fiber – and even when this fiber is artificially added back in (which it is in many “high fiber” processed snack foods), our bodies don’t get the same benefit .  Fiber is crucial, not only for digestive health, but for generally clearing our bodies of toxins which can cause all sorts of issues.

A diet high in processed foods is automatically limited in the number of ingredients and is primarily derived from corn and soy.  And this is not corn and soy in its natural state.  We need a variety of foods to be healthy.

·   Preservatives, dyes, and other chemicals are added to processed foods to make them palatable, attractive, and longer-lasting.  These ingredients are not nutrients and new research on the negative effects comes out every day.

Here’s one example.   You may have heard that we are generally deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids and more and more foods tout this healthful nutrient.  Omega 3 fatty acids are not inherently better than Omega 6’s (which get a really bad rap).  The issue is that our bodies function well on a roughtly equal balance of the two.  Sadly, all of the corn, soy, and safflower oil that is added to processed food has Omega 6 fatty acids -- while Omega 3’s naturally occur in whole nuts and seeds.  So diets high in processed breads, chips, crackers, and even seemingly healthy items like granola bars – including those labeled whole grain – cause this imbalance.  

(Note: Omega 3’s are also prevalent in meat, but not in factory-farmed meat – that’s a story for another day.)

Michael Pollan said it best…

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”

In other words… eat actual food (in its natural state) and focus on reasonable portions of plant-based foods.  We’ll talk more about the plant-based aspect in our next column (and no this does not mean everyone has to be vegan).

If you are looking for recipes to help clean up your diet, here are a couple of our favorite sources.  Or if you prefer, we can do the cooking for you…

Oh She Glows

Forks Over Knives