Why a plant based diet leads to a longer, healthier life

By Clive Blazey, Founder of The Diggers Club

An Aussie diet of meat and 2 veg

As a child brought up in the suburbs in the 50s, our daily bread so to speak was meat and 2 veg. Out of the Kookaburra stove each night came chops or sausages on the weekdays and a roast on the weekend.

We always had fresh meat and vegetables but nothing was grown at home in our own soil and our fruit was always bought, the usual apples, oranges and bananas but in all we would have been lucky to eat 3-4 serves of fruit and vegetables every day.

My mother, who hated cooking, would have wanted to buy pre-prepared meals but this was before TV meals became popular.

A Japanese diet of vegetables and fish

Compare this to our last meal in Japan whilst on a Botanica tour recently when we had about 30 different vegetables including seaweeds, fermented cabbage and bean sprouts, fermented apricots and fungi as well as the standby radishes, carrots, pumpkins, eggplants, peas and sweet potatoes.

Instead of bread, eggs and bacon at breakfast we had rice and fish. Over the 3 weeks we rarely ate beef, no lamb, pork or potatoes, no bread, milk or sugar. We had no sugar cravings and didn't need to break out for chocolate in the late afternoon.

Our deserts were meagre servings of fruit in season. After 3 weeks on this diet we felt incredibly healthy and full of beans! Now why is it that in Japan obesity is almost nonexistent and in the longevity stakes the Japanese come out on top?

Well of course there are a few obvious answers

They eat very little red meat and almost no dairy products. They do eat lots of fish and an incredibly diverse diet of vegetables and rice, perhaps 70-80% of their daily intake.

Their diet satisfies without needing supplements of sugar and very little processed food. Multinationals like Kelloggs, Cadbury, McDonalds, Nestlé and Monsanto have little traction in Japan because a healthy diet satisfies. Or put another way, most of the food the Japanese eat is from the forest, or their rivers, or their rice paddies or the sea.

Their food choices are part of the Japanese cultural tradition and as vital a part of their culture as their temples, their gardens, their dress, their houses and their art.

Inheriting a British diet

But in Australia we inherited a meat and 2 veg cultural tradition from Britain. During the 18th century the British hunted game and roasted it, serving up soggy cabbage or Brussels sprouts and potatoes. It was only after the war that the Italians introduced us to the vegetables better suited to our climate, such as capsicums, zucchinis, basil, tomatoes, broccoli and fennel. So now our Australian diet is far more diverse and our proximity to Asia has introduced us to stir fry cooking, a sort of fast food that is so much more healthy than the high sugar/high fat diet that is driven by the corporate profit motive.

In the last few years there has been a breakthrough in understanding that when we eat we need to feed not only ourselves but the bacteria that process our food. Our digestive system needs fibre and the best source of fibre is a diet high in vegetables and fruit. Our current diet of meat, dairy, high fat and high sugar leads to obesity, type 2 diabetes and even asthma. The diets of the Italians and the Japanese have a greater diversity of vegetables that aids digestion and leads to a longer life.

Everyone wants a longer life but what is never articulated is that what we all want is good health right to the end. That's possible if we eat far more vegetables and fruits; not the meat and 2 veg diet that leads to poor digestive health, but a diet of 70-80% plant based foods or, as our health authorities recommend, 8-10 serves of fruit and vegetables each day.

Clive Blazey (5 October 2016)

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