Austinite Rip Esselstyn shares the importance of a whole-food, plant-based diet and how it can boost immunity during COVID-19.
AFM: How can plant-based nutrition, such as that of the Engine 2 diet, boost immunity and help combat COVID-19?
The best thing you can do to create a fortress of immunity within your body is to be, not just plant-based, because plant-based isn’t enough, but to be whole food, plant-based. In a whole-food, plant-based diet, you’re getting protein, unprocessed, complex carbohydrates and all of the essential fatty acids you need. Whole, plant-based foods have 64x more antioxidants than animal-based foods. Antioxidants are very potent and anti-inflammatory in nature.
With COVID-19, when you have some sort of underlying comorbidity like hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease pre-diabetes, Type 2 diabetes… all of these things are basically manifestations of the standard American diet — people eating processed and refined foods, too many animal and dairy products that have all the weak building blocks that promote inflammation and disease.
We now understand that 70 percent of our immune system resides in our gut and it’s all dependent upon the ecosystem that you are cultivating in your gut. Are you eating a vast variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, nuts and seeds that have, between them all, billions and billions of different types of fiber, or are you eating processed refined foods and animal products and dairy products and a minimal amount of plants?
Eating processed and refined foods can lead to a leaky gut, which can, in turn, lead to autoimmune diseases and a weakened immune system. I can’t say enough about how whole food, plant-based nutrition can boost immunity in combat COVID-19.
AFM: Could you go into more depth on how processed foods could lower or alter our immune system?
Thinking about processed foods, whether it’s fried chips, white bread, white sugar, white rice, doughnuts, bagels, soda pop — all these processed foods are, for the most part, empty calories. They don’t have the full complement of fiber in any at all which is going to be crucial for cultivating that healthy microbiome. They don’t have the full complement of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. So they’re a refined, processed, weak food that is a shell of their former, whole-food selves.
AFM: When some people hear plant-based, they tend to worry about taking in too little protein, what are your favorite protein-packed, plant-based foods?
I don’t have any — everything I eat is packed with the perfect amount of protein that my body needs. That’s the biggest boogie man that’s out there, that somehow when you’re eating plants, you’re not going to get enough protein. All proteins are chains of amino acids. There are basically 20 amino acids, and of those 20, nine are considered essential, meaning that our bodies can’t synthesize them on our own — we have to get them from food. All of these building blocks, all of these amino acids, originate from plants so it’s the mother source for protein. It’s got the perfect complement; the perfect assortment of these amino acids, and even the nine essential amino acids. So, this whole notion that A) that plants are inferior or B) that plants don’t have the complete essential amino acid profile, is actually it’s bunked. It’s been disproven over and over again and its myth persists today. Everything has protein in it, whether it’s kale, spinach, black beans, oats, bell peppers, etc. As human beings, we only need between 5-10 percent of our calories coming from protein, so this whole notion that you’re eating a whole-food, plant-based diet and you’re somehow going to be deficient in protein is absolute nonsense.
AFM: For those who struggle to eat plant-based foods, what are some simple ways people can ease in a plant-strong lifestyle?
Find four to six meals that you absolutely adore that are on the menu right now and figure out some ways to make them, what I call, plant-strong.
AFM: In addition to boosting immunity, how else can a plant-based diet affect your body?
It’s the best way to find your ideal weight. The caveat there is, it has to be a whole-food, plant-based diet — not a junk food, plant-based diet.
It’s also the best way to protect and arm yourself from chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, life obesity, cancer, etc. These are all manifestations of us eating weak, problematic and insidiously destructive foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner for weeks and months and years at a time and then our bodies give up the ghost. If you have these diseases, it’s the most effective way of treating them and getting to the root causation of all these diseases.
AFM: Why do you refer to a plant-based diet as a plant-strong?
Plant-strong is a double entendre — people think you can’t eat plant-based and be strong and be virile and it’s completely untrue. I want people to know that you can eat plant-based and be strong. So, by eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, you’re essentially eating plant-strong. When you’re eating this way, you’re going to be your strongest, best, fittest and healthiest self.