Do you have high blood pressure or are you susceptible to diabetes? Are you overweight or feel chronically fatigued? Are you genetically receptive towards certain life-threatening conditions? Or are you heavily exposed to computers, mobile phones, other sources of EMF radiation and environmental toxic chemicals?

Today, one third of the average American diet is based upon animal proteins, high fats, starches and unhealthy processed sugars. If it is your habit to eat as the average American and follow the dietary advice of conventional medical doctors and health counselors, by the age of 45-50, you could possibly fall severely ill unexpectedly or die at any moment.

As we age, insomnia, fatigue, and the loss of muscle mass and memory, and a weakened immune system begins to increase exponentially. Our immune system weakens thereby creating an environment within our bodies ideal for the onset of inflammatory and autoimmune ailments. As we age, the quality of our health is not necessarily destined or predetermined to erode into conditions that can be prevented. Scientific research has shown repeatedly that little or no meat, and more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and legumes, which make up the basis for a plant-based diet, prolong longevity and ward off diseases. We can age naturally without succumbing to the most crippling illnesses that make living unbearable for many. It is therefore completely within the realm of probability that 15 or more quality years can be added to our lives if we acquire the knowledge and muster the courage to alter our lifestyles and eating habits to foster health.

Nevertheless, simply adopting a plant-based diet and expecting to attain immortality is insufficient. Surely, our bodies require the healthiest of nutrients and biochemicals to sustain health. But this is strictly at the biological level. Lifestyle changes are equally critical for entering the path of longevity and anti-aging. And now in our post modern age, the health of our minds and hearts are as equally crucial as what we put into our mouths.

Today, we live in a culture that has become nothing less than a toxic swamp compared to the era before the rise of industrial civilization. We are bombarded daily with environmental toxic chemicals. Unconsciously we breathe a polluted atmosphere, especially if you live in a highly populated urban area. Our water resources have become increasingly contaminated. And the produce we buy at our local grocery stores is increasingly spiked with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Pathogens abound and new, more virulent strains of otherwise minor infectious organisms are being identified due to humans’ direct interference with the planet’s ecology. Consequently Americans are swimming in a toxic stew day and night. And our greatest, and perhaps only reliable defense is ourselves. No longer can we place faith in our medical institutions and health officials. Rather we must make a concerted effort to educate ourselves about what we eat, what we do, and how we feel. And this is nothing less than saying “yes” for a complete makeover of our lives.

More often than not, a complete overhaul and reinvention of ourselves, rather works. In many cases, a dramatic effort can be made, but in the large majority of cases it is unfeasible. In no time people fall back into their old habits, and once feeling disappointed in their efforts, they return to their unhealthy eating habits. Rather we can achieve greater success by taking smaller steps. This is what in the East is called “mastery through accomplishment.” With every small undertaking we succeed at, we then acquire greater strength, inspiration and determination to tackle the next feat before us. Accomplishing small acts builds the necessary self-confidence for an even larger endeavor.

During my forty-plus years of counseling many thousands of individuals on matters of physical health to prevent and reverse diseases and to reach psychological well-being, I have observed that changing eating habits, adopting a plant based diet, provides the energy, both physical and mental, to achieve greater successes in life. This became a basis for my earlier documentary film, “The Food-Mood Connection,” in order to present the scientific evidence that would educate people about certain foods and plants to treat adverse mental conditions and elicit psychological well-being. When our minds are clear and alert, when our feelings are free from stress and anxiety, and bodies are alive and rejuvenated, we can accomplish great things. And let us never forget that a weak mind unable to concentrate and a sliding memory are signs of an aging brain.

For example, beets improve blood circulation which is crucial for proper brain function. The flavinoids from green tea, berries, citrus dark chocolate likely wise enhances circulation, lowers blood pressure, while also improving oxygen absorption. Foods high in lutein, such as spinach, kale, carrots and broccoli provide crucial antioxidants to prevent mental decline that comes with age. You don’t need to take my word for this claim. This was the conclusion of a study on plant-based luteins conducted at Tuft University’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. Including whole grains high in choline, such as oats and brown rice, increases our body’s ability to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter directly involved in preserving memory. Besides being high in zinc, which improves memory skills, pumpkin seeds provide sufficient levels of niacin for GABA production, which will lower stress and anxiety.

We don’t need to rely upon meat, eggs and dairy to sustain health. In fact, according to research at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, not only do the high fats in meat contribute to cardiovascular disease, strokes and death, but it affects normal brain function, including our memory.

With a plant-based diet, preferably vegan, we can restore our mental well-being, fine tune our thoughts, to make further changes in our lifestyles to improve our lives, the lives of our loved ones and communities and even our planet. We can make changes in how and what we purchase. Buy local. Start doing daily exercise regimes that we only dreamed of but were too lazy to gather the energy to begin. With greater mental clarity, we can peer behind the cause and effect of conditions around us and the state of our society and world. And only then can we dedicate ourselves to being a harbinger of change for a better world rather than a pawn in the industrial machine. And it all begins with what we put into our mouths.

Gary Null is a best-selling author, radio show host and awardwinning documentarian.

He will be speaking at the NY Vegetarian Vision Expo in New York City (Penn Plaza Pavilion, 33rd St. & 7th Ave.) on September 9 at 4pm.