Announcing a New Recipe

I've published a new recipe on my Art of Plant-Based Meal Creation website. It's made with lentils, potatoes, millet, mushrooms, carrots, cashews, kale and more. And it's a comfort food I know lentils don't sound like a comfort food, but that's what is amazing about this recipe. It gets you your legumes with your comfort food. Try it out!

Should We Follow the Okinawan Diet? Probably Not....

But at least in western countries, we might consider the Seventh Day Adventist way of eating.

But first, I want to mention terminology. I was looking at the demographics of my blog's readership. I've now reached over 170,000 page views on my blog site, and yesterday's post was read by well over 7,000 people on every continent in the world except Antartica. In fact, it was read in every country except for a couple. The heaviest readership was in the United States, followed by England, Germany, Egypt and Australia.

While the heaviest readership is in the United States, there's still enough of a readership outside the United States that I've decided to no longer refer to the standard American diet. Instead, when referring to the SAD diet I will be referring to it as the standard awful diet. Every country has its standard awful diet, and while thanks to the American food industry, that way of eating is becoming more Americanized every day, I still want to give deference to each of the cultures where I am writing.

Today's posting will be a bit long because I'm going to cover three subjects. I could do it over three separate postings, but I've decided for continuity-sake to do it all in one posting. And besides, I write best when something is fresh in my mind. And once I write it, I want to hit the Publish button and get it out there. So, the three topics will be addressed in this one posting. First, I want to talk about the Blue Zones in general. Then I will to talk about the Okinawan diet. And finally I will talk about the Seventh Day Adventist diet, which I believe is the most extraordinary and the one that gives us the clearest evidence yet as to the healthfulness of a whole food, plant-based way of eating.

The Blue Zones

As I think most of us know, the Blue Zones are five regions in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. The idea for studying the Blue Zones is to see if we can gain some knowledge from them about how we might live longer, healthier lives. Dan Buettner, the National Geographic writer who came up with the Blue Zones concept has suggested that we may be missing out on 10 good years of healthy life by following things like our country's standard awful diet. The key words there being "healthy life." Most of us don't care to live an extra 10 years if it means declining health and mobility. And that's why healthy living and the whole food, plant-based way of eating are about much more than longevity; they are about staying healthy right up to the end.

So, the question comes up, can we learn from the lifestyles of people in the Blue Zones, and I believe we can. But we also need to be careful about subscribing too much to any given segment of a Blue Zone lifestyle or diet. Just as we can get into reductionist thinking about food, as explained by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, we can also get into reductionist thinking when it comes to the Blue Zones. We need to remember that for any given Blue Zone, it is the entire lifestyle that contributed to the healthy longevity and not simply the diet or eating one particular thing common to each Blue Zone (with the one exception of the Seventh Day Adventists, which I'll explain later). Let me give a couple examples.

Physical activity plays a major part in every Blue Zone. People did not sit at desks all day. They did not have landscapers take care of their lawns or housecleaners take care of cleaning their homes. They did not sit and watch TV or play computer games for several hours on end. I think this is signifiant, because regardless of how we eat, the more sedentary we are, the more damaging to our health and our longevity prospects it is. Just yesterday, there was a study announced that found that even among people who exercise a lot, sitting is still harmful. The more we sit, the less healthy we will be.

I believe that is why Dr. Greger has a treadmill desk. When I was working, I was fortunate to work for a good company and I had a good boss who at my request put a standup desk in my office. I worked standing up for a good part of the day --- sometimes pacing, sometimes at the computer standing up and sometimes thinking at the whiteboard. I was fortunate in that respect. I've also been a big advocate for standup meetings in the workplace. It's amazing how much shorter meetings become when they are standup meetings. Unfortunately, since I've retired I've become more accustomed to sitting. While I walk several miles each day, bike, play pickleball and do yoga, I still sit way too much. And I know that's taking years off my life.

So, we need to acknowledge that for most of us, we are at a disadvantage right away to the Blue Zone populations because we are not as active as they have been.

A second point is we need to be careful of correlation. Correlation does not mean causation. While I believe very strongly in eating beans, they are a resistant starch and full of fiber, the fact that every Blue Zone population eats beans does not mean that there's something special about eating beans. Every Blue Zone population also drinks water and breathes air. So, while I am totally onboard with the healthy benefits of beans, I'm there because of the science behind beans, not because every Blue Zone population eats beans. Beans are eaten in the Blue Zones because they are widely available and they are filling and can be made tasty.

This is important because we want to avoid being reductionist about Blue Zone dietary habits unless there's science behind it. There is one Blue Zone food that I will get to with the Seventh Day Adventists where the science behind it is actually confirmed by the Blue Zone way of eating. But the Seventh Day Adventists are a unique demographic that because of their eating habits they are really easy to study and draw conclusions from. That's important because when it comes to food, it's hard to draw conclusions in scientific research because of the number of variables that exist (from genetics to the environment to exercise to people lying to researchers and on and on).

So, my message here is to be careful about quickly jumping to conclusions with respect to the Blue Zone populations. It's good to learn from them, but let's make sure that what we learn is in line with good scientific research as well. And for the best information on research relative to a whole food, plant-based diet, there's no better source for us lay persons than Dr. Greger's fantastically wonderful site.

The Okinawan Diet

I wanted to write about this diet in particular because after yesterday's post, one of my readers pointed out that the Okinawan diet flies in the face of what Dr. Greger says with his daily dozen and Dr. Fuhrman says with his G-Bombs. And it does in fact fly in the face of what they say, which means it really flies in the face of much evidence we have about following a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. It comes closest to complying with Dr. McDougall's program, but even there it falls short because Dr. McDougall says 20 to 45% of calories should come from non-starchy vegetables and 10% should come from fruit.

But the Okinawan diet is almost 70% sweet potatoes with the rest made up almost exclusively (but not totally) of rice and tofu (beans).  So, what gives? How could the Okinawans have been so healthy and lived so long without eating a lot of greens as Dr. Esselstyn says to do or without eating berries and cruciferous vegetables every day (as Dr. Greger and Dr. Fuhrman say to do) or without eating a wide variety of plant-based foods (as Dr. Campbell says to do).

Perhaps just going plant-based is enough in itself. And I think there's a strong argument for that. Every dietitian in the world, without exception I believe will tell their clients to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. There's no doubt that the higher the percentage of plant-based foods we eat, the healthier we will be. But does that mean we should ignore what I wrote yesterday about certain foods being healthier than others. In short, I would say that answer is "No." And here's why.

First, the Okinawans do something that those of us in the western world would find very difficult. They leave their meals still in a hungry state. It's not stated that way. It's stated as they eat until they're 80% full. But how can anybody claim to know that they are only 80% full unless they are still feeling hungry after they eat?

This is a form of fasting. And there is a lot of science behind the benefits of fasting, and there are many different types of fasts that a person can do. I'm fasting right now, for example, in that I haven't eaten anything since dinner last night and it's now after 11 a.m. in the morning. Okinawans fast, even though they don't call it that, by stopping their eating before they are full. Most of us can't or don't do that.

So, that and physical movement and activity throughout the day are a couple key differences between most of us and the Okinawans.  Another key difference is environment. Those of us in western cultures are exposed to a number of chemical, pollutant and other environmental hazards every day. The Blue Zone cultures, except for the Seventh Day Adventists, are all cultures that are outside that boundary of carcinogenic subjects. And that's important because broccoli as a cancer-fighting food takes on less significance if there's nothing carcinogenic in the environment to get cancer cells started growing in the first place.

I emphasized that statement because I think it's key to why the Okinawan diet in particular might work for them, but would be less beneficial to those of us in western civilizations. They can have a more limited diet because they live lives that don't become exposed to the same things we get exposed to in our more modern, more pollutant world.

So, while you can eat the Okinawan diet and be healthier than you'll be on the standard awful diet, I don't believe that it's the healthiest diet for those of us in western cultures, which is most of my readership.

The Seventh Day Adventist

The Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda are interesting for a couple of reasons. For one, their environment and lifestyles are very similar to that of the Mormons in Salt Lake City. And that allows for studying the differences between the two. Because the Seventh Day Adventists live longer and healthier lives, it's much easier to attribute the differences between them and the Mormons to being the basis for their healthier and longer lives. But the other thing about the Seventh Day Adventists is there are pockets within the church as to how they eat. So, some do eat meat while others don't for example. Some eat nuts (and I'll show how this is important in a minute) and some don't eat nuts. Given how everything else is the same, we can make comparisons between those who eat meat versus those who don't and between those who eat nuts versus those who don't and we can then draw some conclusions. So, the Seventh Day Adventists give us some really clear bases for scientific research that is really unparalleled in nutritional research.

And for those of us in western civilizations, the Seventh Day Adventists come closest of all the Blue Zones to being exposed to the same environmental, atmospheric and polluting substances as the rest of us in western civilizations. In fact, I remember when I lived in California, there was a large haze of pollution over the city of Los Angeles where Loma Linda is. I think it's gone now. But those who have lived long enough to be a Blue Zone resident were there when the pollution was heavy in L.A.

And significantly, of all the Blue Zones, the Seventh Day Adventists are the ones who have lived the longest and the healthiest. There are amazing stories coming out of Loma Linda of people over 100 years of age still driving on L.A. freeways and doctors in their nineties still working in the operating room. This is a population to pay attention to.

In fact, it seems to me that if there's one Blue Zone population that we in modern civilizations can come closest to emulating, it would be the Seventh Day Adventists.

So, what are the significant findings relative to diet that have come from the Seventh Day Adventists? Basically, the findings, and this post is getting long enough, so I won't go into all the research but it's easily searched out, are in the three areas of eating nuts, eating meat and eating plant-based foods. Again, because of the comparisons that can be made between different groups of Adventists and also between Adventists and Mormons, it's easy to attribute the successes to specific differences.

The findings relative to eating plant-based foods, including a regular diet of beans, and relative to eating meat are well established for those of us eating a whole food, plant-based diet. The findings relative to eating nuts were surprising to researchers, but they have been borne out by 4 separate research studies. And the findings are that Adventists who eat nuts live on average 2 years longer than those who don't eat nuts and also have half the risk of heart disease as those who don't eat nuts. And this finding was consistent across all segments of Adventists. It was true for women, for men, for those who eat animal products and for those who don't eat animal products. The Adventist population was looked at from 16 different ways and in every case, people who ate nuts had longer lifespans and less heart disease.

Now, I know some people object to nuts because they falsely believe that nuts cause weight gain. Scientific research has shown that not to be the case. Dr. Greger explains it this way. In his book, How Not to Die, he says there are three reasons for why nuts don't cause weight gain, and these reasons are also backed up by research. First, nuts increase satiety. You feel full faster as a result of eating nuts, so you stop sooner. Now, I'm not talking about sitting down with a can of salted nuts and snacking on them like potato chips. None of us can stop when we start doing that. I'm talking about putting walnuts on your oatmeal in the morning and walnuts on your salad at lunch time. I'm talking about blending cashews and water and adding that to soup or another recipe to make a creamy mixture. I'm talking about using almond milk in recipes calling for milk. There are lots of ways to use nuts that will provide satiety as opposed to causing a person to pig out on them.

Secondly, Dr. Greger says that some of the fat calories get flushed out in our feces. In other words, just because we eat a certain number of calories doesn't mean that's how many calories our bodies actually absorb. That's something that often gets missed by the calories in calories out crowd. And finally, eating nuts boosts our metabolism, which means we burn off the calories from nuts at a faster rate (as well as anything else we might be eating with the nuts).

This is all scientifically explainable and backed up by research that has been compelling enough for Dr. Dean Ornish to change his program to now allow nuts and for Dr. Campbell and Dr. Greger to write about it, both urging people to include nuts and seeds in their diets.

So, what can we learn from the Seventh Day Adventists? Eat lots of plant-based foods, including beans. Limit or eliminate meat intake. And eat nuts and seeds.

The Healthiest Plant-Based Foods

I'm a big believer in both Dr. Joel Fuhrman's G-Bombs (that is, eating greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds every day) as well as Dr. Michael Greger's Daily Dozen of foods to eat on a daily basis. I believe that by doing so, I've been able to improve my health significantly, bringing my total cholesterol down to 101 and my blood pressure down to 110/70 along with many other improvements in my health that I've repeated several times (and most of my readers know about). In my mind, by following those two pieces of guidance, the G-Bombs and the Daily Dozen, I am eating the healthiest diet on the planet.

But yesterday I was struck by something each of those doctors said. First, I was struck by Dr. Fuhrman's statement in Health Science Magazine when he said, "A diet made up of rice, potatoes and fruit can be whole food, plant-based, but that certainly is not a diet designed to maximize lifespan and offer the most dramatic protection...." In other words, he is saying that while there's nothing wrong with those foods, those are not the foods that are going to give us the dramatic health benefits that we are seeking through a whole food, plant-based way of eating.  And the more potatoes, rice and fruit that we consume, the less of the really important beans and vegetables we end up consuming.

Dr. Greger echoed this same thought in yesterday's video titled Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen Checklist. In his video yesterday, Dr. Greger started out by saying that some plants are healthier than others. Then he went on to say that you can center your diet around potatoes, which he said would meet the definition of a whole food, plant-based diet, but as he said, "Not a very healthy one." And in a series of videos last month, Dr. Greger effectively moved rice from being a green light food to a red light food (except for those who just can't live without rice, in which case, he suggested treating it like a yellow light food). The various stoplight colors are described in his book, How Not to Die.

So, as I read Dr. Fuhrman's article and watched Dr. Greger's video, I came away with the thought that both potatoes and rice are foods to not emphasize in our diets. Again, there's nothing wrong with the potato, it's just that it doesn't give us the biggest bang for our buck. Instead, both doctors really push vegetables as being where we need to fill up.

There are particular vegetables that are most important. Both Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. Greger rank green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables as most important. Dr. Esselstyn backs that up as well when he says to eat greens six times a day. It makes sense when you think about it because the reason plants are green is the chlorophyll, which is how the plant captures the energy from the sun. So, the green color indicates direct sunlight energy and lots of phytochemicals to strengthen our immune systems.

There is also one non-plant food that both doctors say to eat daily. That is the mushroom, which is actually a fungus and not a plant. Mushrooms have a substance in them that is found nowhere else in any of the foods we eat. But it gives the mushroom amazing disease-fighting capabilities. In fact, some have said that it should be classified as a vitamin that everybody needs on a daily basis. The only thing about the mushroom is that it should only be eaten when cooked. Raw mushrooms contain agaritine, which is potentially carcinogenic.

Both doctors also emphasize the importance of nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are helpful for losing weight and they protect against both cancer and heart disease. Dr. Greger says that not eating nuts and seeds is actually a leading cause of death.

Beans are also emphasized by both doctors, and beans are eaten by every Blue Zone community in the world. In fact, beans are the one food that is common to every single Blue Zone. Beans are important for several reasons, but one is that they are a resistant starch. I'm planning to write more about resistant starches in the future. They can be thought of as McDougall on steroids. Resistant starches allow you to eat many more calories than you'll actually absorb. That is as long as resistant starch is eaten along with a lot of fiber as Dr. Greger has talked about in the past. Beans have both fiber and resistant starch.

I wanted to write this today because I hear people from time to time say that they have gone whole food, plant-based, but they never saw results like they expected. Or they tried it and gave it up as not working for them. I oftentimes find that they went "vegan," but they didn't really go whole food. I wrote yesterday about the dangers of processed foods. Some people will call themselves whole food, plant-based, but all they did was trade the animal products in for fake processed foods. Or some people, as I talk about in today's posting, go whole food, plant-based, but most of their food comes down to potatoes, rice and fruit. Those foods, while acceptable, won't provide the benefits being sought, however.

So, no potato diets and no banana diets (or any other mono diet). It's clear to me that a salad is something to think seriously about as the main course for our meals. And I've found that eating a large salad, topped with lots of beans and a handful of walnuts and lots of veggies can be very filling and very satisfying. And because I like potatoes too, I'll throw in a few cold but cooked fingerling potatoes. I'm not saying to not eat potatoes. In fact, I keep potatoes around to snack on. The important thing is to not focus on potatoes or rice or fruit. Focus on the most nutrient dense foods instead.

The Real Food Fight

Just as we who eat whole food, plant-based believe our diet has the healthiest benefits and we have the studies to back us up on that, there are also those who eat Paleo diets and believe they are eating the healthiest diet and they have some studies (not nearly as many as we have or conducted to the extent that our studies have been conducted) that support their belief. And even though a WFPB diet has tremendous health benefits, most dietitians will recommend diets like the Mediterranean or the DASH diets to their patients. And they have studies to back their beliefs up as well.

I believe that the studies supporting the whole food, plant-based way of eating are substantial and compelling. They are, in my mind, more compelling than are the studies supporting the Paleo, Mediterranean or DASH diets. But at the same time, I don't believe that we should discount those who follow the Paleo, Mediterranean, DASH or other well thought-out diets. Following any of those is, I believe healthier than following the standard American diet.

The most damage to our health, to our children and grandchildren's health, to the environment, to the climate, to medical insurance rates, to our national budget and to animal welfare comes not from those diets. While yes, those diets include meat and oils, which we know to be less than optimal for good health, there is a far bigger culprit that affects all of us, even those of us who eat WFPB; it affects us every time we pay a health insurance premium or face another threat from climate change or pay our taxes, etc. etc.

What is that? I'll let Dr. Joel Kahn explain because I have to admit this is not an original idea. It came from reading the current issue of Health Science Magazine, a publication of the National Health Association. But I realized that what he said is not only absolutely correct, but I think it's essential that we think it over so that we demonize the right parties, not our fellow friends who are also trying to be nutritionally and environmentally conscious. He said, "Instead of attacking the adherents to the Paleo diet, I wish we could, instead, unify around the real enemy, which is 55 years of fast food, processed foods, gas station food, vending food and unfortunately, often hospital food. All of these foods are dangerously high in salt, oil, sugar...."

When I read that, I thought, Yes, that is the real enemy. When I'm traveling or meeting someone in a restaurant or going to a party or looking for a snack while watching football with friends or seeking something quick and easy to make in the grocery store, I don't have much trouble being a vegan. It's easy to leave out the meat and the cheese. There's always something I can eat that meets that criteria. But as I've written many times, we're not just vegans. Going out to a restaurant or looking for something to snack on while watching football or grabbing something quickly at the airport while traveling can be next to impossible if you don't carry your own food. The reason is, there's very little offered in that regard that doesn't contain too much salt, sugar and fat. Sure, some products might go for low or no fat, but then they load the product up with sugar. Or vice versa.

And those are the foods that from my unscientific observations, most Americans eat. And of course, over the last 55 years, we've seen most Americans putting on more and more weight and it seems like there's more heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases than there ever have been. I was watching To Kill a Mockingbird recently, a movie from the 50s. It was amazing to see. Everybody in the movie was thin. Everybody. Based on today's world, it didn't look natural. And yet back at that time, being thin was the natural state of our bodies.

But this growth in what gets termed as junk foods has also correlated with growth in the cost of health care and health insurance. I believe it's affecting the health of all of us. It limits our choices when we are outside the house and away from the food that we prepare for ourselves. That's the hard thing. As I said, eating vegan is usually pretty easy. It's avoiding the excess salt, sugar and fat (primarily oils) that becomes really difficult.

I agree with Dr. Kahn. We should recognize what we have in common with the Paleo dieters and the Mediterranean dieters and the DASH dieters. The real threat to our health, our children and grandchildren's health, the environment and the budget (both national and personal) is not as much with those diets as it is with the food industry and the non-food products they tend to produce.

Why Vegans Should Be WFPB and Why WFPB People Should Be Vegans

I've written several blog postings in the past on the difference between being whole food, plant-based and being vegan. Now, I'm going to take it a step further and explain why I believe that people who are vegans should also become whole food plant-based and why people who are whole food, plant-based should become vegans.

But first, let me summarize what the differences are between the two.

Basically, being vegan is about kindness and compassion, specifically toward animals. It's not just about the food. It's also about the other products a person buys (from automobiles to soaps), the clothes a person wears, the wallets and belts and other accessories a person has, and the causes, both political and charitable, that a person supports and promotes. Being whole food, plant-based, however, is totally about the food. It doesn't matter what soaps you use or what car you buy or what kind of belt you wear in order to be whole food, plant-based. All that matters is the food you eat.

But the best of both worlds is to be both vegan and whole food, plant-based. That's the camp I count myself in, and I hope that my readers, if not there, will gravitate toward that position as well. And the reason I say that is summed up in the environment and in climate change. That's the common denominator that both groups have.

Animal agriculture, from reports and books I've read, can be destructive to the environment and can be a major contributor to climate change. I think we all agree on that. So, while being vegan is often thought of as being kind and compassionate toward animals, by the very fact that it is less destructive to the environment and creates less of a contribution to climate change, makes it also compassionate toward humanity. That's because we all live in the environment and the atmosphere that we create here on earth. And while we didn't create our earth and our atmosphere, our daily actions determine what that environment and atmosphere will be. And as such, we are daily creating the circumstances within which we live.

The effects of being vegan are on the animals, the environment and the atmosphere. Being whole food, plant-based is actually about none of that, except to the extent that we don't eat animal products. To that extent, we are helping the environment and contributing less to climate change, just like vegans do. But because we might still buy leather wallets and leather belts and silk dresses and down pillows and woolen sweaters and perfumes and soaps made with animal products and cars with leather seats and on and on, we are still contributing to animal agriculture. And that means we are still contributing to demise of the environment and to climate change more than we need to be.

But that doesn't explain specifically why a person who is whole food, plant-based should want to be vegan. The above explanation applies to all of us. But there's a reason that the WFPB person should be sufficiently concerned about the environment and about climate change, and that is, the quality of the food that we get. The quality of the whole plant-based foods we eat, and by quality I mean the nutritional value of the food, is affected by the environment. When the soil is depleted of essential minerals, for example, then the plants won't absorb those minerals and we will no longer get needed minerals in our food.

Or worse, problems occur like the one with arsenic in rice. This issue has come about as a result of chicken farming that has raised arsenic levels in the water absorbed by rice. This has become a serious enough issue that Dr. Greger has suggested that we limit our consumption of rice. And as a whole food eaters, brown rice is even worse than white rice. But the bottom line is, the problem is created as a result of animal agriculture.

For these kind of reasons, the person who is whole food, plant-based and eating this way for their health should recognize the impact that animal agriculture is having on their health even when they don't eat animal products. And that's why a person who is WFPB should also be vegan.

So, what's the case for a vegan to become whole food, plant-based? My argument for that is that with a small percentage of people being vegan, everyone needs to be at their peak healthwise in order to have the strength, energy and stamina to take on the issues associated with being vegan. In other words, vegans need to be healthy because in being healthy, so much more can be accomplished to help the animals. It's hard to help another, whether it's a person or an animal, without being at your best in terms of health. So, I would argue that vegans have a responsibility to be healthy, and that means being whole food, plant-based. It means not just avoiding animal products, but it means also removing from the diet, oils and processed foods as well.

Bottom line is, we should all be vegans and we should all be whole food, plant-based. In that way, we can combine forces to truly improve the planet, our own health and the lives of the animals.