Using Plant-Based Foods for Optimum Health

Dr. Terry Mason

Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health, believes that people have power to greatly improve health through whole, plant-based eating—obtaining most calories through fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. When he discovered 10 years ago that many ailments plaguing Americans, such as cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol, are the result of animal-based and processed foods damaging the lining of the body’s blood vessels, he became a passionate advocate for plant-based diets.

       In 2007, while serving as Chicago’s public health commissioner, he started the successful program Restart4Health, challenging Chicagoans to try plant-based eating during the month of January after holiday indulgences. Mason shares his knowledge through lectures and radio shows, and will speak at the 11th annual Veggie Fest on July 23 and 24 at Science of Spirituality, in Lisle.

In addition to health benefits, such as lower cholesterol, what are some other advantages of switching to a plant-based way of eating?

There has been a lot of discussion about the microbiomes, or the environment in the gut, particularly the large intestine, that are responsible for creation of many bacteria. The things we eat alter the environment and the growth of those bacteria, so if we don’t eat the right kinds of foods, we don’t help proliferate growth of the kinds of bacteria we need to make the vitamins necessary to protect us. We’re learning now that gut flora is absolutely critical to good health, and flora of the gut can be altered in a positive way by eating whole, plant-based foods.

       As far as environmental advantages, thanks to people like [author and sustainable foods advocate] Dr. Richard Oppenlander and movies like Cowspiracy, word is getting out. The World Health Organization and major global nations are talking about how animal agriculture waste is the major cause of rain forest deforestation, dead zones in our oceans and greenhouse gasses.

What are some common misconceptions about plant-based eating?

People tell me that it costs too much to eat that way, so I ask them, “Well, how much is a box of oatmeal?” or, “How much is a pound of dried beans?” Name any bean and compare that price per pound to a pound of sirloin steak or ground chuck. Also, a lot of people think about where they are going to get protein. About 8 to 10 percent of the total dietary intake needs to be protein. That’s about the same amount you get from a good plant-based way of eating. People have this misconception that you don’t get complete protein in a plant-based diet, but that’s not true. Look at some of the largest animals in the world—they’re all herbivores.

With meat and processed food temptations everywhere, how can people shift to
plant-based eating?

Don’t worry about trying to do it all. Just start with vegetables and fruits you like and keep adding. It’s not an all-or-none approach. If you’re eating meat, just add broccoli. Then next time you add the broccoli, maybe also add string beans or asparagus. If you like apples, oranges or berries, add those things. If you can’t add something every day, commit to adding something every week. Keep adding, and don’t forget to drink water and far less caffeinated and sugar-sweetened beverages, like coffee, soda and juice-flavored drinks.

Are you optimistic that more people will embrace plant-based eating?

Absolutely, because I’ve already seen it with people I’ve worked with. More young people are into it, and movies like Forks Over Knives and Food, Inc. are showing people what food means and how food is produced.

       I would certainly like for people to come out and support Veggie Fest. There’s lots of information being shared through lectures and resources and food that people can sample. Spiritual leaders will also talk about the state of mind that we need to have; it’s not only about eating the right food physically, but also about making sure that we have better diets spiritually and mentally. We have to take time to let our brains and our spirits calm, so additional therapies, like yoga and meditation, allow us to receive mental and spiritual connections to food. It’s not just a few hippie people; there are all types trying to learn, and that’s how you start. Read it, research it and try to live it for yourself.

Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.


Dr. Terry Mason to speak at this year’s Veggie Fest


The 11th annual Veggie Fest will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., July 23 and 24, on the grounds of Science of Spirituality, in Lisle. Each year, thousands of people, from beginners and flexitarians to long-time vegans, experience the vegetarian lifestyle through cooking demonstrations and food samples, as well as educational lectures by health professionals, spiritual leaders, authors and other experts in healthy food and environmental sustainability. The event also provides more than 100 vendors and kids’ art and music activities.

Admission is free. Location: 4045 N. Naperville Rd., Lisle. For more information, visit See ad on page 9.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Green Surfing

Ecosia, a German Internet search engine, has planted more than 52 million trees in the last 10 years by diverting its advertising revenue to funding new trees worldwide.

Aqua Breakthrough

Chinese scientists have used ultraviolet light and graphitic carbon nitride to purify two and a half gallons of water in one hour.

Far Out

The outermost region of the Earth’s atmosphere has been newly determined to reach out much farther than the moon.

Baby Balking

The U.S. birthrate has been falling steadily, partly because prospective parents are worried about the increased frequency and intensity of storm, drought and wildfires, as well as about growing geopolitical unrest and resource scarcity.

Revamping Recycling

China, a major importer of recycled waste, is rejecting shipments contaminated by greasy pizza boxes, polyethylene-lined disposable coffee cups, and plastics like yogurt cups and butter tubs.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

Vinegar-Based Shrubs

A shrub is a pungent vinegar drink infused with seasonal produce and lots of potential health benefits that can be consumed straight, in water, as part of an alcoholic cocktail or in dressings and sauces.

Grow and Expand Possibilities at Soul LOVE Fest

Soul LOVE Fest, a two-day event created to hit the pause button on life and discover new ways to nourish the soul, takes place September 17 and 18th.

Clinical Study of FemiLift Treatment for Vaginal Dryness

Alma Lasers is sponsoring a clinical trial through the Cleveland Clinic to assess the use of their FemiLift laser in the treatment of vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women.

Women Farmers

Farmer Renee Randall first remembers seeing a sign that read “organic produce” on a small table at a Treasure Island grocery store in Chicago.

Summer Recipes

The size of beets will vary depending on the time of the season. Early summer beets are small to medium-sized, and are so wonderful and tasty that you don’t need to do a whole lot in the kitchen.

Make Life Easier with Bach Flower Remedies

Carol Bennington, Ph.D., will teach an interactive, two-day course on Bach flower remedies on August 13 and 14, in Schaumburg.