Longevity on $5 a Day – 9 Questions for Brian Wendel
Overweight? Low energy? The best prescription for healthy living is to go on Netflix and watch Forks Over Knives. In 96 riveting minutes, it will convince you that a plant-based diet is better than any pill at increasing your energy and helping you live a longer, better life. Here, my friend and the film’s executive producer and founder of the Forks Over Knives empire, Brian Wendel tells us how to make the change to a plant-based diet, why you might want to throw away your cooking oil and how to eat healthy in America for under $5 a day. The new book Forks Over Knives Family is available now.
How did you get the idea for Forks Over Knives?
For eight years, I had been learning about how whole-food, plant-based nutrition can prevent, stop, or even reverse leading chronic ailments like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For example, there’s evidence that such a diet can stop the progression or reverse heart disease in more than 90 percent of cases, yet very few people, including doctors, are aware of this evidence. There had been (and still is) very little discussion about such evidence in the media—yet one can only imagine the widespread media coverage if a pill, instead of diet, were to achieve a similar level of success. So I wanted to make a convincing case to the public, with real-life stories that people can relate to, that the individual has much more power to live a happy and healthy life than many of us realize.
If you accept the premise (as Blue Zones does) that a plant-based diet leads to a longer, richer, and healthier life, what is the best way to make the change?
The best way to make change is to just start! Eat individual healthy plant-based meals and focus on the foods you enjoy most. If you like potatoes or sweet potatoes, you might make vegan shepherd’s pie. If you like beans and rice, maybe you make some burritos or enchiladas. If you like pasta, try whole grain pasta primavera with a plant-based pesto sauce. As part of the transition, I suggest working toward a three-week period of all plant meals, so you can really see how good the food tastes and get a more clear idea of the benefits of eating this way.
What are the most compelling statistics that favor a plant-based diet?
Dr. Esselstyn’s work, which he recently expanded to over 200 case studies, where he stopped the progression or reversed heart disease in virtually every compliant patient on a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet. Dean Ornish has shown similar incredible results. Heart disease is our nation’s No. 1 leading cause of early death, yet the evidence shows it need not be part of our life. What great news! A USC study published in March 2014 showed that middle-aged people who ate high-protein diets were 74 percent more likely to die early from any cause than those who ate a low protein diet. High protein consumers were also four times more likely to die early from cancer. The researchers specifically cited high animal protein intake as the main culprit. All of this is more evidence that our cultural reverence for this one nutrient, protein, is unjustified and walked us right into a national health disaster. Of course we need protein, but we are much more likely to get too much than not enough.
A lot of our readers are worried about getting enough protein. How do you get enough on a plant-based diet?
Eat whole foods until you are comfortably satiated and one will get more than enough protein. On a plant-based diet, your protein intake will generally range from 8-15 percent of calories. There isn’t a scintilla of evidence to show that you need more than what is naturally occurring in a calorie-sufficient, plant-based diet. And if you’re an athlete, nature has figured that out too. You will be hungrier and eat more food, and the increased food intake will get you more protein (as well as every other nutrient), which will help you meet the demands of your athletic performance.
Is simply going plant-based a good way to lose weight?
A whole-food, plant-based diet is a great way to lose weight! If you build your meals around fruits and starches (tubers, whole grains, and legumes) and mix in some veggies too, your food will be calorie dense enough to be satisfying, but not so dense to make you fat. The richer foods like meats, dairy and oils have more calories per bite; this means a lot of calories will take up a small amount of space in your stomach. So when you eat until you’re comfortably satiated, you will actually have consumed more calories than what you need. Lower the calorie density to starches and fruit and you will be satiated on fewer calories. There are so many variables (like how much you weigh to start) that it’s hard to predict how much weight one would lose. But most people will get closer to an optimum BMI when they eat mainly plants. Note that we prefer not to focus too much on weight, although reaching a comfortable weight is a wonderful byproduct of eating this way. Indeed, one can browse our many success stories to see people looking leaner and healthier; but most importantly, they report feeling so much more vital.
Americans are used to eggs, cereal and milk for breakfast. What is a tasty substitute?
I love to eat fruit in the morning. Once in a while, I’ll have oatmeal or something more savory like breakfast potatoes. Other times maybe a whole grain, rice, or corn cereal mixed with rice or almond milk. When choosing a cereal, I usually look for one with very few ingredients and that minimizes or leaves out sweeteners. Plant-based breakfasts taste better to me and they don’t make me feel sluggish like the dairy and eggs I used to eat in the morning.
What’s your opinion of olive oil or other plant oils in foods?
Oils shouldn’t be treated as health foods and they’re best avoided. Oils (like refined sugars) are extractions that have had all the nutrition stripped away—other than one macronutrient, fat. Note that just as important as the nutrients in foods are the nutrients in relationship to each other, and extracting a single nutrient disturbs the overall balance of what a whole food provides. Further, oil is 4,000 calories per pound, meaning it’s the most calorie-dense substance you can eat. As such, these calories will trigger very little satiety.
Tell us about the Forks Over Knives online class.
Eating at home regularly makes it much easier to maintain healthy eating habits. The Forks Over Knives Online Cooking Course is an 85-hour course where one can learn how to cook great whole-food, plant-based meals. The course teaches everything from basic knife skills to oil-free sautéing, and so much more. We are grateful to have served over 4,500 students since we began offering the course about one year ago. A person finishing the course will be a confident plant-based cook, which will make healthy living easier for a lifetime.
Many people believe that eating plant-based is too expensive. Is it possible on a budget of, say, $5 per day?
Eating a plant-based diet can be very inexpensive. The staple foods of this lifestyle are potatoes, beans, rice, and whole-grains—these are the cheapest source of calories out there. Our chef and culinary projects manager, Darshana, wrote a great article about her ten-day trial eating on $5 a day. She was able to eat her full daily requirement of food and in fact had plenty of leftovers!
Brian Wendel shared one of his favorite recipes from the new Forks Over Knives Family cookbook – Corn Chowder! Get the recipe here.