Politics and Food

Last night, Hugh Laurie said on the Stephen Colbert show that ISIS is not going to kill most Americans; diabetes is. He went on to say that if ISIS really wanted to kill us, they would be opening up a string of doughnut shops rather than plotting terrorism strikes against us.

This is actually a point that I've made before myself. Why do we worry so much about something like terrorism, which kills very few people (and I totally agree that one is too many people to be killed by terrorism) but then ignore, or more often than not take for granted, our number one and two killers, heart disease and cancer? And we do take it for granted. My neighbor's doctor told him that getting a heart stent was just a normal part of aging.

Well, it's not a normal part of aging. Nor is any kind of heart disease. Dr. Kim Williams, previous president of the American College of Cardiology, has said that heart disease need not exist. He has made it his mission to put cardiologists out of business. One of my favorite quotes by Dr. Williams is when he says there are two kinds of cardiologists, those who are vegan and those who haven't reviewed the data.

We know the answers to good health. They include eating a whole foods, plant-based diet consisting mostly if not entirely of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts and seeds. That is eating plant-based foods as they occur in nature. And they don't occur in nature in the form of oils or processed foods. Whole foods don't come with nutrition labels. That's not to say that foods with nutrition labels are bad, but it is to say that the labels need to be read carefully. As Jeff Novick says, we should never believe what it says on the front of the box. Read the label.

Of course, exercise plays a significant role in our health as do activities like meditation, yoga and sleep. But it's of primary importance that we get our dietary patterns right. Lacking adequate whole, plant-based foods can ruin everything else.

So, if you're overly worried about terrorism, then besides playing into the terrorists' hands (because creating fear is how they win), then you should be even moreso concerned about nutrition and the foods we are eating. It's a fair question to ask during the political question. Where do the candidates stand on food? What will they do to provide healthy food options in our schools? What will they do to help teach our children and grandchildren about good nutrition? What will they do to get rid of the influence of the food industry in how our children eat? How will they remove the food industry from influencing the dietary guidelines? Where do the politicians stand on GMOs?

We heard none of those kind of questions in the debate last night. It's unfortunate because, in my opinion, that is what is really killing Americans prematurely. And that is, in my opinion, what contributes to making Americans sick, thus driving up our medical costs and through Medicare and Medicaid driving up our national debt.

If the candidates were serious, they would be talking about food. If we were serious as voters, we'd be asking about their policies toward food. And if ISIS were serious, as Hugh Laurie said, they'd be opening up doughnut shops across the land.

It's National Farm-to-School Month in the United States

October is National Farm-to-School month in the United States. Over 42,500 schools and farms participate in the farm-to-school program. This year's theme is "One Small Step" and it highlights how we can all make a difference in our food system. More information about this program can be found on the Farm-to-School website.

The concepts of Farm-to-School and Farm-to-Table are important to us in the whole foods, plant-based movement, and we should support those concepts where we can. They take out the middle person. It's just good, fresh food straight from the farm to our mouths.

In general, I love eating at true farm-to-table restaurants because the food is fresh, more likely to be organic and is not processed. It also supports local, family-owned farms. While some such restaurants are heavily animal-focused, it's usually possible to get a good plant-based meal at most farm-to-table restaurants. Menus can be checked out online before going or special requests can be made of the chefs once there.

The National Farm-to-School program is an important one because it helps to teach children the value in eating fresh, whole foods from local farms and gardens. And habits that children learn at an early age can stay with them as they grow older. When I was young, we were taught none of that, and it took me over sixty years to learn it. That's over sixty years of attacking my own health on a daily basis, contributing to global warming and water depletion and rainforest clearing through my food choices, and causing misery for many creatures that may have suffered to become food on my plate. It will be a better world if our children and grandchildren can learn to be more conscious of the food choices they make and the impact those choices have on their own health and the world around them.

So, in my opinion, those of us in the whole foods, plant-based movement should be looking for ways to partner up with the Farm-to-Table and the Farm-to-School movements. They are aligned with our interests. And by encouraging their growth, we create more options for places to eat, a smarter future generation when it comes to food, a more vibrant local economy, survival of small family-owned and organic farms and a better world overall.

A Change of Heart....

Since yesterday's posting in which I had mentioned that I was running out of inspiration for writing these blog posts, I've received numerous requests, some online but many made personally to me, that I not stop writing about eating the whole foods, plant-based way. It seems that my fan base is not just larger than I realized (yesterday's blog posting by the end of the day was read by just under 3,000 people online) but they are also more hungry for my writing than I ever imagined. Therefore, I have decided to keep writing my blog.

I also need to end any rumors that may be floating around that I had given up on the whole food, plant-based way of eating. That question came up tonight because of my mentioning yesterday about writing less and also because of a few other areas that I had recently scaled back from doing. But let me just say, those rumors are emphatically not true. Going whole foods, plant-based is probably one of the most important things that I've done in my life. And it has affected me in so many positive ways that I can say definitely that I would never give up on this way of eating.

In fact, I'm continuing to learn and to expand my knowledge in this arena. Tonight I was at the Seventh Day Adventist Supper Club on Hilton Head Island where Karen Holland did another fantastic job of teaching local residents how to cook whole foods, plant-based. Her demonstrations are always outstanding and her food is always delicious. As is usually the case when I go there, I learn new ways of preparing whole plant-based foods and delicious ways of serving them.

And speaking of learning to cook whole food, plant-based, next week I will be attending LeAnne Campbell's Global Roots Cooking Summit on the north end of Lake Lure just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. LeAnne is the author of The China Study Cookbook and The China Study All-Stars Cookbook. She is also the daughter of Dr. T. Colin Campbell who will be giving the welcoming talk on Sunday night to those of us attending. It's a small group attending (I think about twenty people or so) although it's open to anybody, and I believe there are still openings for it. You can check on that at Global Roots website if interested.

I'm looking forward to that summit because it will be given by several of our leading cookbook authors. Besides LeAnne, other cookbook authors include Del Stroufe (Forks Over Knives cookbooks) and Kim Campbell (PlantPure Nation cookbooks). There will also be several teachers from Dr. Neal Barnard's PCRM Food for Life cooking classes. Those credentials alone make this seem like a great opportunity to learn more about plant-based cooking.

But then I was talking on the phone with LeAnne Campbell last week and she was telling me that there would be somewhat of an international flare to it as well. She mentioned Ethiopian food as an example. That's always been one of my favorite ethnic foods. Back before going WFPB, when we lived in Washington, DC, there was a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant in the Adams-Morgan section of town that my wife and I loved to go to for some delicious nights out. So, I'm looking forward to revisiting that from the plant-based perspective now. She also mentioned that there will be several men at the summit next week, which is good. We need more men to be learning to cook and eat whole plant-based foods. It's not just a "woman thing" guys. It's for you too.

So, no, I haven't given up eating this way. As you can see, I'm making an effort to learn how to prepare even more meals this way. And I haven't really given up on being in leadership roles. This Saturday, I will be "manning" our club's table at our community's Club Fair, working to bring more people into our Eat Smart Live Longer Club. And two weeks later, I will be working as a volunteer at South Carolina's first ever VegFest on Hilton Head Island.

This is a way of life for me. And now I will commit myself to continue writing about it as well. It's gratifying to learn how much my writing is appreciated in this arena. Thank you, all of my readers, for that.

The End of an Era, Turning Seventy and Following the Doctor's Advice

I just looked at my stats and noticed that today alone I had 1,848 hits to my blog site. It's gratifying to see that so many people are coming to read my blog posts even though I haven't written anything new in a while. And while I never like to say never, I am finding myself coming to the end of an era regarding blogging about whole food, plant-based eating. I'm not saying that I'll never write again about plant-based eating, but I'm finding fewer and fewer inspirations. And that's resulting in my writing less and less material. But even if I don't write any more posts, I'll leave my blogsite up because according to the statistics, people are finding it and reading it even when there's no new material.

I was inspired this morning to write on a couple subjects though. So here goes:

I'm just a few months shy of turning seventy now. And I was thinking about that this morning while walking the nature trail. I was thinking how in the last three years, my aches and pains have gone away. My need for drugs of any kind, prescription or otherwise, has gone away. My blood work numbers all come back in an ideal range. And I feel healthier than I've ever felt in my entire life. And I feel more energetic. My eyesight is excellent. I still wear glasses, but I'm not suffering from cataracts or night blindness or macular degeneration or any other age-related eye diseases. My dental hygienist has moved me from the every three month dental cleanings that I was on three years ago to now every six months. All in all, I actually feel younger these days.

That's not how I imagined turning seventy would be. And I'm quite sure that it's not the experience of almost everybody who is on the standard American diet. I live in a community where a lot of people do watch their health, but they still experience problems. They exercise and meditate and do yoga, and they eat healthier than much of the population. Following the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet or even a low carb diet is healthier than those who just eat what they want. And yet, local doctors are making a killing in treating so many age-related diseases. That says to me, that while those diets are healthier than just eating whatever you want, they still aren't healthy enough.

By eating whole food, plant-based (WFPB), I don't mean giving up all meat, dairy and processed foods. Instead, I mean eating so many vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds that's there's little to no room left in your diet for meat, dairy or processed foods. In other words, I think that it is vital to focus on what to eat as opposed to what not to eat. You may recall my blog posting, Three Reasons for Not Including Olive Oil or Any Other Oils in a WFPB diet, which by the way has been my number one read blog of all time, I said that one thing oils do is they rob us of our ability to eat something more nutritious with those same calories. The same goes for animal products and processed foods. In addition to the bad things about them, they also rob us of being able to eat something more nutritious for the same number of calories.

So, I like to think about what to eat as opposed to what not to eat. I want to get as much bang for the buck as I can out of the calories that I take in each day. And that's where Dr. Greger's "daily dozen" is such a great resource. He tells us what foods we should be eating every day, and I find that when I follow that "daily dozen," I don't have room left for meat, dairy or processed foods. I do take Dr. Esselstyn's advice and add more servings of greens every day to my diet than Dr. Greger suggests.

To me, it's vital that I eat greens and beans at every meal. That's absolutely without question. In the morning, I have Ezekial toast, which is a sprouted grain "flourless" bread, covered with a hummus spread that I make from a Forks Over Knives recipe. That hummus, made with garbanzo beans, gives me my beans at breakfast. And I always put a thick bed of greens in my bowl before pouring in the oatmeal. That gives me my greens for breakfast. Getting greens and beans at every meal is an absolute must for me. Lunch might be a tempeh with greens, onion and tomato sandwich or it might be a bowl of bean soup that includes kale and grains and rice as well. Soups are a great way to get a lot of veggies, beans, greens and whole grains into the diet.

I also think nuts and seeds are tremendously important. I figure that nuts and seeds contain all the nutrients needed to grow trees and strong plants. To do that, there must be a heck of a lot of nutritional value packed in to each one. Yes, they can be high in calories, but they are filling (satiating), and thus eating nuts and seeds can slow down or stop me from eating other foods. And I can't think of much that's more nutritious than nuts and seeds.

The important thing, in my mind is to think about getting the most nutritional value you can out of the foods you eat. And do that so much that you don't have room left for other foods of less nutritional value. That's how I'm able to come up on seventy years of age feeling almost as good as I did in my twenties and thirties. Unlike many others my age, I am not hanging around the doctor's office these days.

And speaking of doctors, that brings me to the third thing I wanted to address in this blog posting this morning. One of the hardest sells for WFPB eating has been the argument that people make when they say, "I'll follow what my doctor advises" or "My doctor has not recommended plant-based eating to me." It's frustrating because, while I'm not a doctor, I know that this really is the right way to eat. And I know that doctors get little to no training on nutrition in medical school. And I also know that the business of medicine is not what I once thought it was --- to get people truly healthy. It seems to me that it's become more about pushing pills than it has been about finding the underlying causes of the diseases we face.

So, it frustrates me when I hear somebody say they won't do a whole foods, plant-based diet because their doctor hasn't told them they need to do it. I believe their health is on the line, and while that reasoning can seem sound, I actually think it's faulty. But here's the rub. I believe the same is true of us in the whole foods, plant-based movement. We can sometimes turn our doctors into gods that we follow, and that can hurt us too. We really need to be smart ourselves and not totally put our health into the hands of any one person. That's one reason that I like the program given by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University. A large segment of that program is devoted to evaluating health claims that are made as new research is conducted.

Of course, not everybody has the resources or the temperament to do that course of studies. But everybody can learn about what the latest research is showing from Dr. Greger at his Nutrition Facts website. And in that regard, I urge all of my readers to watch the video on that site titled Should Vegans Take DHA to Preserve Brain Function? I believe strongly that taking DHA supplements is just as important if not more important than is taking a B-12 supplement every day. I've written about this many times before. The importance of DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid, cannot be understated when it comes to the health of our brains (i.e, the potential avoidance of Alzheimer disease or dementia) and our eyesight. But it's not currently on the radar screen of most of our WFPB doctors, although I believe it eventually will be on their radar screens. Most of our WFPB doctors say to get omega-3s from the short-chain ALA foods like chia seeds and flaxseeds. However, most research studies have shown that, particularly in older people, there is not efficient conversion of ALA short-chain omega-3s into DHA long-chain omega-3s. As Dr. Greger points out, our brains shrink as we age, and quite significantly actually. But DHA supplementation can stop or reverse that shrinkage. I have also had more than one eye doctor, including one who spoke on the "vegan cruise" Holistic Holiday at Sea this past Spring, tell me that DHA is absolutely essential to eye health.

So, my message is, let's not be like the people who say, "I won't do that because my doctor hasn't told me to do it." We need to evaluate what our doctors tell us, just as those out in the general public following the SAD diet should be evaluating what their doctors are telling them too. And based on my own evaluations, I have determined that it is risk mitigating to take a vegan DHA supplement every day. And Dr. Greger's recent video talking about the research behind that is now supporting that belief as well. Over time, I do believe that our other WFPB doctors will catch up on this, but in the mean time, I'm going to take the path of least risk to my health.

And with that, I'll close. I know this has been a long post, but when the muse hits, I need to write it. When or if I blog again, I don't know. But regardless, I'm leaving my blog site up for people to continue to come to it. People seem to keep finding it. And that's a gratifying thing.

Sorry Dr. McDougall. But We Need Omega-3 Fats!

It's not often that I take issue with Dr. McDougall. After all, his book, The Starch Solution was one of the first books that I read after becoming whole foods, plant-based. That book greatly influenced me and still does to this day. I understand the importance of starch in my diet and I have that understanding only because of what Dr. McDougall taught me.

But this afternoon, I received an email from John McDougall MD Newsletter with the subject line of "3 Reasons to Cut Out Vegetable Oil." So, I opened up the email and the very first reason was stated as "Omega-3 fats....can cause bleeding, infection and other serious health effects." I was absolutely astounded to read this. Here, I've been putting flaxseed and chia seeds on my oatmeal every morning in hopes of increasing my omega-3 intake and taking an algae-based DHA supplement every morning in order to ensure that I was getting the right kind of omega-3 fats (which are the long-chain omega-3s that are not available in plant foods other than in algae). But now I get this email from a doctor who I respect that seems to suggest that omega-3 fats are bad.

While Dr. McDougall is correct that omega-3 fats can cause bleeding to be harder to stop if we cut ourselves, due to the fact that omega-3s make our blood thinner, I believe that there are too many benefits to consuming omega-3 fatty acids, and I believe those benefits outweigh the risks. Of course each person must decide for themselves. But Dr. Michael Greger, in his latest book How Not to Die seems to side with me. On pages 410-411, he states that we should "Consider taking 250 mg of pollutant-free (yeast or algae-derived) long-chain omega-3s daily."

As a short primer, our bodies, particularly our brains, require long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Supposedly our bodies can manufacture long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are the omega-3s found in plant foods. The problem is that our bodies aren't particularly efficient at doing so, and the older we are the less efficient we become at doing this. Because of that lack of efficiency in converting plant-based omega-3s into the longer-chain omega-3s, it becomes important, I believe, that we find direct ways of getting the long-chained omega-3s. That is why nutritionists recommend two to three servings of fish a week and why doctors recommend taking fish oil capsules. But we, in the WFPB movement do not want to eat fish and we do not want to take fish oil capsules. And there are good reasons for that.

So, the answer, as Dr. Greger suggests is to take a pollutant-free yeast or algae-derived long-chain omega-3 tablet daily. To put that in laymen's terms, we want a vegan DHA tablet daily (where the algae has been grown in a laboratory in order to stay pollutant-free). There are several options available for this. But before heading to the health store, check with your doctor. Taking pills that thin the blood can have serious side effects with some other medications, such as Cumidin, that you might be taking.

Back to vegetable oils. There are plenty of reasons for not including vegetable oils in your diet. And the other two reasons given in Dr. McDougall's newsletter email are spot on. For a full discussion on why vegetable oil is bad, you might check out my earlier blog posting on that too ---