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The Longevity Diet

by Erin Graham

Four doctors aim to bring the healing power of food to light.

Most of us know that nutrition plays a starring role in our ability to stay healthy. But according to many experts, the notion that diet actually takes center stage among the many lifestyle factors that determine whether or not we’ll get a disease is vastly underappreciated. Below, four nutritional health experts share their insights into how our diets can profoundly influence our health, and how the food we eat (or don’t eat) can prevent—and even reverse—a number of devastating diseases.

“Food is ‘information’ that our whole bodies—including our very genes—translate,” explains Dr. Mark Pettus. “And depending on the nature of that information, the translation can be an unbelievably positive one, or it could be a woefully horrible one. Today, we have an unprecedented understanding of how food can influence our health in fundamental ways, including the fact that the majority of ‘age-related diseases’ are preventable.”

Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., a doctor who has studied the effects of nutrition on cardiovascular disease for decades, shares Pettus’ enthusiasm for the research that continues to come to light about the disease-nutrition connection. “I have a feeling that we’re on the cusp of what could be a truly seismic revolution in health,” he says. “Isn’t it exciting to think that some people with cardiovascular disease can get rid of their pain literally within days of stopping ingesting food that injures them?”

Of course there are factors other than diet that contribute to overall health and longevity, such as environmental toxins, exercise, stress levels, sleep patterns, genetic risk, and emotional well-being. But according to these doctors, the bottom line is that diet trumps them all. And their collective advice is relatively simple: Ditch the traditional Western diet in favor of a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

“Antioxidants, which are only created by plants, play an extremely important role in preventing and reversing diseases,” says Dr. T. Colin Campbell. “A diet heavy in green, leafy vegetables is about as good as you can get.” Campbell, who promotes a strict plant-based diet (meaning no animal protein, including dairy), has dedicated his career to studying how animal protein affects the body. While he’s enthusiastic about sharing his findings linking disease to diet, he laments the fact that nutritional education is minimally taught, rarely shared, and generally overlooked. “It’s really incredible to think that the strongest tool in the physician’s toolbox is not even being taught in medical school,” he says. “This information is more powerful than you can imagine and it hasn’t been told. And it’s a shame, because all kinds of illnesses could have been stopped or turned around by people simply changing their diet.”

So are some plant-based foods better to eat than others? “It’s clear to most people who spend their lives researching this that most of the things that Mother Nature has produced are probably ‘superfoods,’” says Pettus. “They may have varying degrees of nutrient content, or one may have varying levels of vitamin or mineral content, but they’re all super in that they’re compatible with what our bodies were designed to be ingesting day in and day out.”

According to John Bagnulo, people who adopt this way of eating can see changes within days. “Once you get sugar and flour and meat out of the equation, and you’re eating beans and vegetables more, changes really start to happen,” he says. Of course, to some a whole-foods, plant-based diet is a radical departure from the way they’re used to eating. “At first, it might look like it’s a million miles away,” says Bagnulo. “But after three weeks, it’ll be a habit. Look at it one day at a time, not as six months or a lifetime, and it becomes subconscious. And you’ll feel so much better, be so much healthier, and have so much more energy, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.”

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