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What Role Can a Plant-Based Diet Play While You Are Waiting for Your Operation?

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Welcome back to Stirring The Pot. Thank you for joining me.

We have discovered many things during the past year. We've learned how easily three-year-olds can be trained to hold their hands underneath any small box on a wall waiting for hand gel. Most of us over fifty have discovered that hearing involves lipreading. Most of us under fifty have discovered that people over fifty generally have bad hearing. We've discovered that doing that big sort out at home actually wasn't dependent on having more free time. And sadly, we have discovered that it really is possible for the NHS waiting times to get longer. For those of you who are feeling the impact of longer waiting times first hand, I am genuinely sorry. Operations are generally intended to ease some sort of discomfort or disability and waiting longer than necessary can make life very difficult. For anyone who is interested and able, this article provides some insights on how following a plant-based diet can optimise your health in anticipation of the day when your operation does finally happen.

Arguably the most important health factor for both the anaesthetic and the operation itself is for a person to have a 'normal' weight. Broadly speaking, this means having a body mass index (BMI) below 25. Being a healthy weight makes it easier for the anaesthetist to put a patient to sleep, it makes access easier for the surgeon and it reduces the likelihood of complications such as infection after the operation. If you are overweight, you may have been given some bland advice by your doctor to lose weight without having been given any clear instructions on how to achieve this. This is not a criticism of your doctor. I like doctors. I used to be one, I'm married to one, and I've given birth to one. It's simply that they are not trained in nutrition. This lack of direction puts you in the difficult position of having been advised to lose weight but without any detail regarding how to do it. If you're waiting for an operation to improve your mobility, you might also not be in a position to start exercising to lose weight. The ultimate Catch-22. This is where a healthy plant-based diet can help. It is centred around fruit, vegetables, legumes (chickpeas, black beans, tofu, kidney beans), whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, oatmeal, barley), nuts, and seeds with a minimum of processed foods and added oils. It does not include animal-based products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt). It can be very effective at helping with weight loss even if exercise is not an option.

There are many reasons why a healthy plant-based diet is so effective at improving health, weight and energy, but I'll start with just a few:

1. Animal-based foods are surprisingly high in calories compared with plants. This is why the only way to lose weight on a diet which contains animal products is to restrict intake which inevitably leads to hunger. Hunger is a tough adversary that usually wins. Plants however have a lower calorie density which means that you can eat more of them and therefore feel full. If you are hungry on a plant-based diet then the solution is simple - eat. No need to count calories or control portion size.

2. The secret ingredient of a healthy plant-based diet is fibre. Fibre is only found in plants. Fibre is the part of the plant that our digestive system is unable to break down and absorb. Fibre in the food we eat makes it all the way to our large bowel and provides food for the good bacteria that live there. These bacteria thank us for their meal by producing something called short chain fatty acids which in turn are the nutrients feeding the cells which line our large bowel. It's like a weird form of hand-me-downs where each child on the pecking order is actually happy with the clothes they get. So fibre provides our gut with the nutrients to keep it healthy. And because we can't break down fibre, it keeps us feeling full for longer. The more fibre we have in our diet, the fewer calories we consume.

3. A healthy plant-based diet is a multi-trick pony. Not only does it help with weight loss but it can help to improve both high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes, optimising your health for your operation. Plant-based diets are generally lower in sodium but higher in potassium than an omnivore diet. This, combined with the fibre and weight loss associated with a plant-based diet, can lead to lower blood pressure. Plant-based diets are also associated with a 60% reduced risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. For those who already have Type 2 Diabetes, a plant-based diet can help with its management and in some cases reverse the diabetes. Have a look at my earlier post about the benefits of a plant-based diet in Type 2 Diabetes.

It has often struck me as odd that in trying to lose weight so that we will feel better, we are willing to follow diets that make us feel worse - hungry, lacking energy and irritable. We seem to tolerate the journey in order to arrive at the desired destination. A healthy plant-based diet is more country lane in the Cotswolds, less M25 at rush hour. It is a journey to be enjoyed. There is no calorie restriction or portion control. And because it is a diet high in nutrients and fibre most people find that their energy levels and health improve very early on. So if you have an operation planned and would like to optimise your weight and health, a plant-based diet is a very pleasant way to pass the time. For more specific details on how to get started, please have a look at my first post or check if I am currently running a course. And I wish you all the best with your operation.

Please be aware that a plant-based diet is a very effective way to lose weight, so if you are taking medication please consult your healthcare professional as medication doses might need altering as you become lighter and healthier. Also, anyone on a purely plant-based diet requires vitamin B12 supplementation of at least 10 micrograms a day or 2000 micrograms a week (British Dietetic Association).

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