The P/a Ratio: Lessons For Adding Years By Adding Veggies
Should I eat more healthy fats? More protein at every meal? Grass fed beef, chicken and lamb? Do I add extra butter, coconut oil, avocados, and bacon to nourish my body? Making decisions on what to eat is a daily challenge we all face. We are blessed with abundance. It would be easy if there was only one diet that was superior to all others in order to enjoy vitality and long years of health. While some book authors have strongly promoted the idea that there is indeed only one such eating pattern, I disagree. It is instructive to return to the Blue Zones, the communities around the world where average life span is the greatest and the concentration of centenarians is the highest. Although the specific dietary contents of these geographically diverse areas vary, they share a very high percentage of plant based, whole foods that are low in fat. For example, in Okinawa, Japan, the Blue Zone with what may be the greatest longevity and freedom from chronic diseases, the composition of their diet is instructive. In 1949, studies showed that on average 6% of their diet was from fat calories (which by coincidence is approximately the fat content of breast milk, a rather good source of nutrition for fast growing humans), 9% of calories were from protein and fully 85% of calories were from carbohydrates. Grains and legumes were the biggest component of the diet with a strong preference for sweet potatoes. On this diet compared to numbers in the US, rates of heart disease in Okinawa were 80% lower, breast and prostate cancer 75% lower, and dementia 67% lower. Any dietary recommendation that doesn’t repeatedly stress one simple step, up calories from plants and decrease calories from animals, is missing the mark in terms of life span. Simply put, the P/a ratio, plant to animal, is an easy way to describe healthier eating patterns for all.
New data just published adds prior support to the view that a simple platform to judge any diet is the P/a ratio. One study comes from scientists in Europe who carefully recorded dietary records on over 450,000 healthy persons and followed them for over 13 years for the development of diseases and death (http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/178/4/590). There were over 25,000 deaths in follow up. When the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed where analyzed, the highest consumers of plant based foods (on average over a pound a day) had death rates 15% lower than those eating the lowest amounts (less than 1/2 pound a day). High vegetable intake was particularly good at lowering deaths due to heart disease. In those at increased risk, such as the obese, regular drinkers of alcohol and smokers, the benefits of eating more P was even higher. There was also trend for lower mortality from eating raw as opposed to cooked vegetables.
A second study just published from Sweden drives home the same point, a high P/a ratio is an easy tool (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23803880). Over 71,000 healthy people were also followed for 13 years and over 11,000 died. Compared to people eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, those who ate none lived 3 years shorter! Even eating just one fruit a day extended life by 1.5 years. As they say, an apple a day…
Dr. John McDougall, a 40 year pioneer in reversing chronic diseases with plant based complex carbohydrate rich diets, has lectured on the “food war” battles between authors proposing various dietary programs. My advice, if the first, second, and third thing out of anyone’s mouth is not eat more plants, vegetables and fruits, raw when you can, be wary. Perhaps Michael Pollan summarized it best on the cover of his book In Defense of Food as “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.” Take a high P/a ratio to your mat and add years to your life