Although I am certified in Plant-Based Nutrition by the T. Colin Campbell Foundation and eCornell, I don’t consider myself an expert in nutrition. As you know, I call myself “the big picture guy” when it comes to how our food choices affect not only our health but many other troubling global issues as well.
As the “big picture” handle implies, I try to always keep that “big picture” in mind and try not go get mired down in the details. But that’s not to mean that I won’t take an honest stab at answering Brian’s questions:
Dear Mr. Hicks: Let me first thank you for offering with clarity and importance your knowledge of following a whole foods, plant-based diet. My wife and I (both in our early 40s) are well on our way in that direction, and we could not have even begun to sort through this change in lifestyle had it not been for you. We recommend your book to anyone who will listen, and we will continue to do so.
First Question. What is the story with cane sugar? Limiting our food choices (those with labels, anyway) to an ingredients list of only 2-3 items is hard enough, but sometimes we find that one of the 2-3 ingredients is cane sugar or “evaporated cane sugar,” or corn syrup/sugar. How much should we be avoiding such sugar even if it is in whole grain products? It seems, in many cases, unavoidable.
Second Question. Also what is your overall take on caffeine? Coffee (black like we drink it) is not specifically mentioned in Healthy Eating, Healthy World.
My Response. Dear Brian, First of all, thank you very much for your kind words about our book and our work. When we developed the 4Leaf Program, one of our goals was to keep it as simple as possible, so we established a few flexible guidelines to help people maximize the percent of their calories from the healthiest of foods—-whole plants, still in nature’s package. We also asked them to keep their fat calories below 20%. Like the 80% for the whole plant calories, that was somewhat of an arbitrary number, based on three things:
- We know that Dr. Esselstyn likes for his heart patients to stay below 10% of their calories from fat—any kind of fat.
- We know that the average American consumes about 40% fat; and it’s literally killing them with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- We wanted to pick a reasonable goal that would provide for great improvement from that 40% number; while providing an easier target to maintain than that of Dr. Esselstyn.
But you’re right Brian, we didn’t say much about sugar and caffeine in our book. For sugar, we just recommended (in the book) keeping added sugars to a minimum, so if you’re eating only whole plants–still in nature’s package, then, by definition there won’t be any added sugar. The label on the bag of oranges may contain “sugars,” but you can be sure that they weren’t added by humans.
As for cane sugar, brown sugar, or fructose; it’s all added by humans and should be avoided. And you’re right; for sugar in products with labels, it’s almost unavoidable. Look for the word “unsweetened” on the label and then check the Nutrition Facts panel to make sure. That word can be hard to find in most most stores; for that reason, I order my cereal (Uncle Sam’s) and my almond milk (Pacific unsweetened) in bulk; because I got tired of searching for it in the grocery store.
Finally, for your caffeine question, which I didn’t mention a single time in our book. As with sugar, the optimal amount of caffeine for humans to consume is zero—in my opinion. So, in both cases, I am guilty of straying a bit from the optimal diet when it comes to added sugars and caffeine.
I begin my day with one Starbucks “Tall Pike” and, like you, I drink it black. Sometimes, I ask for a half-cup refill which is free with my gold card. Then, sometimes after a meal, I indulge with one or two very small cookies that contain a little sugar.
But, for my average daily total, my percent of calories from whole plants (in nature’s package) is consistently over 80%.
People are constantly telling us that they love the simplicity and flexibility of the 4Leaf Program—it helps everyone gain a good feel for what constitutes an optimal diet. Then, each person must decide how far in that direction they wish to proceed.
Brian, Thank you again for your question and I hope that this information will be helpful for you and your wife.
Want to receive some occasional special news from us? You may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4-Leaf page.
If you’d like to order our book on Amazon, visit our BookStore now.
And if you like what 4-Leaf eating is doing for you and your family, you might enjoy visiting our new “4-Leaf Gear” store. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.
—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com
SHARE and rate this post below…One more thing, occasionally an unauthorized ad may appear beneath a blog post. It is controlled by WordPress (a totally free hosting service). I do not approve or personally benefit whatsoever from any ad that might ever appear on this site. I apologize and urge you to please disregard.