Within days of switching to a plant-based diet, Courtland Milloy writes, he began experiencing health benefits. (zi3000/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Columnist

So far, so good.

More than six months into my plant-based, whole-food dietary journey, what began as a trudge has eased into a stroll. Still crave some sweets, but I do not miss meat.

Give me an extra helping of beans, rice, fruits and veggies, please.

My old eating habits verged on corporate-sponsored suicide by food — especially that artery-clogging, mind-numbing fare I’d get from fast-food joints. Within days of making the change, I began experiencing health benefits — lower cholesterol, normal blood pressure, reasonable weight.

Even mental acuity improves when the brain is not saturated with fried-chicken fat.

Kindred spirits have made the journey even more enjoyable. I’ve met many in the vegan community. Just everyday people — only healthier, more energetic, happier, better able to handle stress.


Kale, roasted yams and avocado salad. (anakopa/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Hundreds of them had gathered in the District over the weekend for the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine. The topics included the role of food in triggering “pathological processes” and how foods can reverse chronic diseases.

Eric L. Adams, a former New York City police captain now serving as Brooklyn borough president, was among the participants. He’d been diagnosed with diabetes three years ago and declared legally blind in one eye. He was told he’d probably have to turn in his driver’s license and be on medication for the rest of his life.

“That was my wake-up call,” Adams told me. He began doing research on treatments that didn’t involve a lifetime of insulin shots and discovered the work of physicians Michael Greger, Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard and Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. and biochemist T. Colin Campbell, which showed that diabetes and other chronic diseases could be prevented and even reversed with a plant-based diet.

“I changed my diet and three weeks later, my vision had cleared up,” said Adams, who is 58. “The tingling sensation in my hands and feet stopped. My ulcers disappeared, my cholesterol dropped. It was like a complete reversal.”

His mother had been a diabetic for 15 years and had spent seven years on insulin. “Two months after going plant-based, she was off the insulin,” Adams said.

He used to think that diabetes was just a part of his genetic inheritance, something he could not have done anything to prevent. “What I learned was that the problem was not my DNA; it was my dinner,” he said.

At his job as borough president, Adams turned his office in a mini kitchen and gym. He prepares his own food, has a stand-up desk and a stationary bike.

“I have centered my life around my health,” he said. “People see this and they are reaching out to me, like a life raft.”

Adams, who is African American, said it matters to him that black people see his transformation and have become receptive to how he did it.

“We suffer disproportionately from food-related diseases and yet many of us think that this plant-based thing is a white thing,” he said. “The fact is, what we call ‘soul food’ is really slave food. It’s what the ‘master’ gave us to eat on the plantation, and its killing us.”

Pig feet, pig ears, chitterlings, hog maws — sorry, but those just aren’t the delicacies some try to make them out to be.

“The more we make the historical connections, the more we’ll start making the changes necessary to save our lives,” Adams said.

The event was sponsored by the D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Marie L. Borum, director of the division of gastroenterology at GWU, gave a sobering presentation on racial disparities in colorectal cancer deaths — which is more than 20 percent higher among African Americans than whites. In the District, colon cancer among black people, especially black women, is epidemic. Studies show that high amounts of red meat consumed by African Americans is among the factors contributing to the disparity.

At a dinner after the conference, I got a chance to sit and talk with Baxter Montgomery, a cardiologist who runs Montgomery Heart and Wellness in Houston. He has used plant-based nutrition to successfully treat diabetes, heart failure, hypertension and obesity.

He has even taken patients who were in hospital intensive-care units, some on the verge of death from kidney failure, and brought them back to health by feeding them plant-based nutrients through their IV tubes.

“These dramatic reversals seem miraculous, but plant-based treatments are making them happen and more people need to know about it,” Montgomery told me.

The center features an on-site plant-based restaurant and specialized food plans. “Reversing diseases, reducing medication — that’s what we do in a nutshell,” he said.

We were meeting at the GreenFare Organic Cafe in Herndon, where my plant-based journey had begun in January. Gwyn Whittaker, the owner, had incorporated many features of a wellness center into her restaurant. She brought in nutrition experts, held cooking classes and did a monthly 21-day kick-start program to help people transition from bad eating to healthful eating.

She’s also a producer on an upcoming documentary, “The Game Changers,” which features a lot of tough guys — military men, professional boxers and football players — who’ve achieved success as vegans.

The cafe also offers books, such as Tracye McQuirter’s “By Any Greens Necessary” and Montgomery’s “The Food Prescription for Better Health.” There’s also “Undo It: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases,” by Dean and Anne Ornish.

How would Dean Ornish, whom I interviewed at the conference, sum up the simple changes?

“Eat well, move more, stress less, love more,” he told me.

So far, so good.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.