Janice Stanger, Ph.D., penned the book “The Perfect Formula Diet” in response to her two young children deciding to go vegetarian ten years ago. Like most parents, Janice was concerned that her daughters might compromise their health by omitting meat, dairy and eggs from their diets. Luckily for her daughters, Janice respected their wishes. What she discovered was that a vegan diet was not only the healthiest diet, but also was responsible for preventing and reversing most of the chronic diseases plaguing Americans. Janice studied over 1,000 research papers on nutrition and “The Perfect Formula Diet” is the result of that work. The book was released in 2009. I sat down with Janice to discuss the book, her veganism, advice for people transitioning to a vegan diet and what exactly is the perfect formula diet.
How long have you been a vegan and how was your road to veganism?
My journey to becoming vegan started when I was five. We had just moved to a newly-developed area on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The area was solid brick duplexes for as far as a child’s eyes could see, except for one small patch of trees next to a gas station a few blocks from our house. Another child told me he saw a deer there.
Instantly, I got a sick, broken feeling inside of me. Somehow I sensed that the houses had taken over the deer’s home. I immediately empathized with the animal and experienced its terror at being stranded with nowhere to go. I knew the deer would die. That made me overwhelmingly sad.
Today I still get that same sick, broken feeling whenever seeing or hearing about an animal in trouble. Whether it’s a pelican coated in oil, an elephant beaten in the circus, a steer wrestled at a rodeo, or a calf torn from his mother by a dairy businessperson, it’s all the same in my consciousness.
However, I was raised in a family that saw meat as the premier taste and nutrition. I grew up eating giant servings of every kind of animal food. Not surprisingly, I became obese in college and had multiple health problems in my thirties and forties. Although I “loved animals,” I was brainwashed into thinking I needed to eat meat to survive.
My awesome daughters finally enabled me to see the connection between animal suffering and the food on our plates. They became vegetarian, over my strenuous objections, when they were eleven and thirteen. A year later I joined them, and four years after became the first to be vegan. They soon followed. We’ve all been animal-free about ten years.
What inspired you to write “The Perfect Formula Diet”?
When my kids first became vegetarian, I was convinced they would suffer serious malnutrition. That spurred an intense research project to find out how to keep them as healthy as possible until they “came to their senses” and started eating meat again. The more research I did, the more I learned that a vegetarian diet is actually healthier.
Since I have a Ph.D. and prefer information from medical journals and textbooks, those became my information sources. I also learned much from my pioneering vegan heroes at various conferences and talks. The major influencers for me were T Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Drs. John McDougall, Joel Fuhrman, Neal Barnard, and Michael Greger.
Each of these awesome researchers had a somewhat different take on the “ideal” diet, and I decided to see if I could put together an eating plan for myself and my family that reconciled the various recommendations.
About this time, scientists were waking up to inflammation as the root cause of chronic illness, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, depression, sinusitis, allergies, and even cancer. I wondered if animal protein, rather than animal fat, was not the culprit underlying inflammation. This seemed a likely hypothesis, because people eating only “low fat” animal foods got just as sick as everyone else.
The two strands of my research merged. Excitement built as I discovered other toxic aspects of animal foods, including estrogen, persistent organic pollutants, and growth factor (IGF-1) to name just a few.
I decided to write my book to share what I was learning.
Can you give us an overview of “The Perfect Formula Diet?”
“The Perfect Formula Diet” lays out a whole-foods eating plan for permanent, hunger-free weight loss. This same eating plan will prevent or even reverse most chronic illness. Briefly, here is the diet.
By volume, one quarter of food will be vegetables, one quarter will be fruit, one quarter will be beans, peas, lentils, and/or potatoes (in any proportion), and one quarter will be whole grains. To this food base, add two tablespoons a day of ground flax seeds as an economical and healthy source of omega-3s. Eat a handful of nuts or seeds (in addition to the ground flax) four to six days a week. Enjoy flavorful foods, fragrant with beneficial herbs and spices.
This eating plan is simple to remember and follow. You eat when hungry and stop when full. There are no artificial portion sizes. Minimize manufactured foods and do not eat any animal foods.
The book also explores plant-based nutrition, exploding myths about protein, calcium, estrogen, toxic man-made chemicals, omega-3s, aging, and many more. Chapters examine inflammation and its relation to diet and health, as well as logistical tips, how to stay committed to an animal-free diet, and the devastation an animal-based diet is wreaking our planet.
Although “The Perfect Formula Diet” is science-based, it is also jargon-free and easy to read. T Colin Campbell and Drs. McDougall, Fuhrman, and Barnard have all endorsed the book, which is very gratifying for me.
Of all the research you did for the book, what was the most surprising?
The extent to which nutrition myths and misinformation rule how people eat. Virtually all the advice in the popular media and run-of-the-mill diet and nutrition books is wrong. No wonder, as a population, Americans and others in developed countries are becoming more and more obese and sick with every passing year.
While high-tech medicine can fend off death for a while, most people experience a serious decline in their health and quality of life well before middle age. This just keeps getting worse as they get older. And the cost of treating all this preventable illness is bankrupting the US and threatening many other countries as well.
If someone wants to move towards a vegan diet, what advice would you give them?
First, understand why you are aiming at a vegan diet. Is it just for personal health reasons? My observation is that people who are vegan solely to lose weight or address a medical condition tend to move back to eating animal foods after a while. To sustain this eating pattern, it really helps to cultivate other reasons to be animal-free. The two most compelling reasons are to end animal suffering and to mitigate environmental threats to the future of life on earth as we know it. Research either or both – really get into it and develop some passion.
Second, have a plan. Decide if long-term success is more likely through a quick shift to a vegan diet, or a more gradual change in food choices. This is a personal decision that may take some experimentation to discover the right answer.
Third, figure out foods you really like, that keep you full and satisfied while being healthy. Don’t OD on the vegan cakes, cookies, and fake cheese that abound these days. A little is ok, more is not better. Appetizing food is the crux of long-term success. Understand it takes about three weeks for tastes to change.
Finally, educate yourself on nutrition issues so you can respond to the inevitable misinformation others will toss your way. It’s essential you can answer questions such as “where to you get your protein, omega-3s, or calcium.” Even physicians often bombard vegans with ill-informed reasons to start eating meat and dairy. Vegans who do not have solid information may get overwhelmed.
Please share some of the chronic diseases that can be helped or alleviated by “The Perfect Formula Diet?”
Most people know that cardiovascular disease is closely related to diet, but they really don’t understand why. The popular myth is that blood vessels are like pipes, and get passively plugged up with fats the same way a pipe under your kitchen sink would. Actually, what happens is that the plaque clogging the arteries of virtually everyone on an animal-based diet is the result of an active inflammatory process that is spurred by animal protein more than fat.
So “The Perfect Formula Diet”, which fosters inflammatory balance, actually can lead to open blood vessels with shrinking plaque. This eliminates the major cause of heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Chronic inflammation is also at the root of type 2 diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, depression, sinusitis, allergies, cancer, and many other chronic conditions. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, such as “The Perfect Formula Diet”, is the single most important step most people can take to break free of chronic illness.