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 ---

Join Weight Watchers, Eat at a Steakhouse and Be a Leader (But Don't Do Any of That Like Other People)

I often get questions about how to get started eating whole foods, plant-based. Or people will ask me how I managed to be so successful when they seem to be having more difficulty with it. Or what kind of things can help motivate someone more. In reality though, all I can do is tell somebody what I did. After all, I'm not a doctor nor am I a nutritionist or a psychologist. I've read a lot, but I've also read a lot of contradictory information. In the end, all I can do is tell you what my experience has been.

So, I was thinking back to when I started eating WFPB three years ago in October 2013. And there were three pivotal events that made a big difference for me. I want to tell you what those three events were with some suggestions as to how you might duplicate those events yourself in hopes that they could help you too. Of course, psychologically, we're all different so what worked for me may not be what would work for you. But these pivotal points for me are worth considering I think.

Just a note --- This posting is written not just for those who are getting started but also for those who are struggling. We oftentimes have great enthusiasm when we start something, but we really need a kickstart (or a kick in the pants) when we get bogged down and discouraged by what we're doing.

Getting Weighed In Every Week

As most of my readers know, I lost 150 pounds by following the WFPB way of eating. While there are many reasons for eating whole plant-based foods, losing weight is one that is on the minds of many people. Even now, I would still like to lose another 10 to 15 pounds myself. But when I started, I was more interested in eating healthy in order to avoid serious diseases that would put me in the hospital. Nevertheless, I knew I was heavy and I was happy to see the weight come off as well.

What really helped there was the fact that my doctor sent me to a nutritionist for regular weekly visits, and those visits just happened to coincide with my joining the Eat Smart Live Longer Club in Sun City Hilton Head. Through that club I learned to eat a diet of whole plant-based foods. That was not what the nutritionist wanted to teach me. Every week, I would go to her and she would tell me her suggested ways of eating and I would tell her how I was eating. She never argued with how I was eating and in fact, she was very interested to hear about it (just as my dental hygienist is intrigued by and interested in what I'm doing now that has allowed my dental cleanings to go from once every 3 months to once every 6 months).

But what's really important about going to the nutritionist was the weekly weigh-in. Every time I weighed in, my weight would drop substantially and she would be absolutely flabbergasted. It became a thing for me to be impressing her with how fast I was losing weight. She declared me to be her best patient --- even though I wasn't following her program at all (but she did become a blog reader of this blog). Those weekly weigh-ins became a big motivator for me.

So, my first thought is that if you're struggling with the WFPB way of eating and losing weight, go find a public weigh-in place where you can get somebody excited by how much weight you're losing. Weight Watchers is one possibility. Eat WFPB, but get weighed-in each week and brag to others there about how much weight you're losing. That can help motivate you to stay with the plant-based way of eating and to shed weight. It did me anyway.

Of course, it doesn't need to be about weight. Maybe, it's medical checkups. Having your blood work done regularly and watching your declining cholesterol numbers or triglycerides or blood sugar levels can be motivating too. The point is, get regular readings on your numbers, whether those numbers are about weight or health markers, it doesn't matter. Whichever is most important to you is what counts.

Eating at a Steakhouse

I've written about this before, but the night that I ate at a steakhouse with my family really was a pivotal moment for me. I had never in my life eaten in a steakhouse and not ordered a big, juicy steak. In fact, the thought of not having steak at a steakhouse was totally foreign to me.

But I had been doing WFPB for a couple of weeks in late 2013 when family visits by my brother and by my mother caused me to end up eating at a steakhouse. I remember agitating over that for days before the event, and studying the menu online before going (a good thing to do even if you're eating SAD; that way you can enjoy conversation before dinner as opposed to having your nose in a menu). But then walking across the parking lot, I smelled the steaks being cooked inside and I almost broke down and said, "Just this once...."

Fortunately, I didn't. And if I had, I would have convinced myself that that exception wasn't really important. But in fact, how I ate that night was very important. It was a pivotal point for me because by ordering and eating WFPB, I showed myself that it really was not an impossible way to eat.

So, my second recommendation is to challenge yourself. For me, a steak lover, the challenge was to eat at a steakhouse and not eat any meat. You might be a pasta and cheese lover, so your challenge might be an Italian restaurant. Or a Mexican restaurant. The point is to take on the challenge and prove to yourself that even in the toughest of circumstances, you can still eat whole foods, plant-based. And you'll be proud of yourself for having risen to the challenge.

Becoming a Leader

The third thing that made a difference for me early on was the fact that I was invited to be a Board member for the Eat Smart Live Longer Club. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who took this way of eating very seriously. And I had to think about how to promote this way of eating to our club members and others in our community. As people began to recognize me as part of the club's leadership, and as writer of this blog on the subject, I became even more motivated to stay with the program.

That fame led to other people watching me, which also helped to keep me on the path. Perhaps my most interesting encounters would be in the grocery store. I've had people come up and look in my cart to see what foods I was buying. That was incentive enough to not have a gallon of ice cream tucked away in my shopping cart. One day, I even had one woman follow me around in the grocery store while I shopped. She wanted to get the same foods I was getting.

I know you believe you can live quite happily without that kind of notoriety. But it really is helpful. Knowing that people are paying attention makes it a lot harder to casually change back to the standard American diet (or worse).

So, my third suggestion is to get involved. Be a leader in the movement. There are lots of opportunities to do that. Within our Eat Smart Live Longer Club, we are always looking for volunteers to help lead activities. Around the nation, there are PlantPure nation groups starting up all over the country. They always need volunteers to lead different functions. And if there's not one in your area, you can be the first to start one. Or you can start a Meetup group within your area for eating whole foods, plant-based. Or start a group within your church. Create a blog site and write blogs. They don't have to be like this blog site. Your posts could be recipes or about local restaurants or whatever. The important thing is to become recognized for it because by being recognized for it, you'll likely stay with it. There are many opportunities to become recognized out there. You just have to do it.

Making Decisions for Whole Foods Plant-Based

In recent postings, I've made the point that any movement toward a whole foods, plant-based way of eating is a step in the right direction. And it's important to realize that because most people are not going to jump in feet first to fully eating whole plant-based foods. And when it comes to areas like the environment, economics or animal compassion, small steps by a large number of people can have a dramatic effect as I mentioned in yesterday's posting. But when it comes to health benefits, the steps taken by an individual will determine the health benefits that individual sees. There it's only one person, and the bigger the steps taken the bigger the results seen.

If we choose to eat whole foods, plant-based, then we should try to make daily choices that strengthen that decision. And that's where the real challenge comes in. Oftentimes, it's easier not to make those decisions. It's easier to continue with just Meatless Mondays or VB6 or with whatever past eating history we have. It takes some actual decision making to move forward.

Let me offer two examples of what I mean from when I started eating WFPB.

Example Decision 1

I began by eating VB6, which basically meant that I ate whole foods, plant-based all day except for one meal a day. That one meal a day, I could eat whatever I chose to eat.

About three weeks after starting, I began to think that I wanted to make more of my meals WFPB. So, I started making all three meals each day plant-based, but I allowed myself the option of not eating plant-based one meal a day if I felt like it. That was working pretty good for me.

Then my brother was coming to visit and my family planned a big meal for all of us at a local steakhouse. Being that I loved steak at the time, and I loved this steakhouse, my initial inclination was to forgo the plant-based way of eating that evening and chow down on a big old ribeye steak. But then I made a decision. I decided that if I was ever going to do this WFPB thing, then I needed to avoid the steak and order plant-based.

The whole concept was foreign to me. I mean, how do you go to a steakhouse and not order any meat? I wondered. But I decided to try it.

I have to admit though that I almost went back on my decision as I walked across the parking lot to enter the steakhouse. I could smell the steaks cooking from the parking lot. And it was enough to make me question my decision.

But I stuck with it. I ordered rice pilaf with a mushroom topping and a couple side vegetables. The first thing I discovered in doing so was that the server didn't bat an eyelash. She seemed used to other people maybe ordering that way. And when my food was brought, it was a nice presentation. It looked appetizing, and several family members remarked that they would have liked that meal themselves.

That became an important decision to me because it showed me that I could really do this and I could do it within my lifestyle. I didn't have to give up going out to eat or going to family events. Had I never made that decision, I would have continued to fear going out to eat. But instead, I gained confidence that allowed me to continue moving forward.

Example Decision 2

About three weeks after the steakhouse decision came Thanksgiving. And we were celebrating it at my house this year. I still had my Big Green Egg at that time, so I smoked a turkey for the family on my Big Green Egg. And again, I could have decided that being a special occasion, I could make an exception to the whole foods, plant-based way of eating. I hadn't, after all, fully committed to it yet.

But I did some online searches and I found from Dr. McDougall and also from The Happy Herbivore some great Thanksgiving recipes. I decided to try them for myself. My main course became a cranberry and rice stuffed acorn squash, and it was delicious. And again, family members were looking at what I was eating and wanting it too. Unfortunately, I had only made one acorn squash, so there wasn't any to offer them.

But those two decisions reinforced with me the fact that I could in fact do this way of eating. And that spurred me on. I think that if I had not made those two decisions at that time, it would have been more difficult for me to move forward. And in fact, I might not have achieved the success I achieved had I not made those two decisions.

So, encourage people to start. But also encourage people to make positive decisions that end up in good results. Success requires effort. And effort starts by making good decisions.

A Question to Ponder

Here's a question to ponder. Putting aside the value of a whole foods, plant-based way of eating to our individual health, which of the following is more compassionate and less damaging to the environment --- one person going 100% vegan or ten thousand people abstaining from meat one day a week (as in Meatless Mondays)?

I think the answer should be obvious. Fewer animals are killed per month by ten thousand people not eating any meat for four or five days out of the month than are killed by one person going vegan. And those decisions by ten thousand people will have a greater impact on mitigating climate change than will the decision of one person to become vegan.

But is that a fair comparison to compare ten thousand people to one person. I would answer that it is because in our society today, we can be much more successful at convincing people to go meatless one day a week than we can be at convincing one person to go totally vegan. And therefore, putting individual nutrition aside, if our concern is compassion or climate change, then what we should work towards is helping people to reduce their consumption of animal products.

In her book, Meathooked, Marta Zaraska talks about a conversation that she had with Peter Singer. He said to her, "We should stop abusing people if they are not completely vegan or vegetarian. If you announce that once you become vegan, you must starve to death rather than have any meat pass your lips, people are going to say: That's crazy, I'm not going to do that. If we want the majority to reduce meat consumption, I don't think insisting on dietary purity is the way to get there." And I agree with Peter Singer on that point.

Now, let's throw nutrition into the equation. Here it is an individual effort, and I believe that the more animal products, oils and processed foods that can be eliminated from a person's diet, the more successful that person will be at reducing or eliminating their need for regular prescription medications and the more successful that person will be at eliminating or mitigating diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more.

But the question is, does a person have to go 100% all in, and again I come down on the side of saying no. I started by following VB6, a plan developed by Mark Bittman, then of The New York Times. But even today, I will only say that I'm 99% whole foods, plant-based. There's a local restaurant that makes a great white bean and kale soup that I enjoy when I eat there. The soup is in a chicken broth though. Did they kill the chicken for the broth? I think not. I think they killed the chicken for the meat. The broth is a byproduct and by using it in the soup, the restaurant is ensuring that the food does not go to waste. So, could I convince them to change the broth? Possibly, but what would it matter? The chicken would have still been bred and slaughtered for its meat. Thus, compassion and climate change come out the same either way. And nutritionally, Dr. T. Colin Campbell has said in The China Study that there's no scientific evidence to say that we need to eat 100% whole foods, plant-based. In fact, in the Blue Zones, which documents pockets of the world where people not only live longer lives but also healthier lives, all but one of the areas documented does eat meat on at least special occasions.

I bring this up because I believe that how we eat and how others eat is essential to our survival as a species. For a lot of reasons, I think that how we eat needs to change, and that means that those of us who understand that, need to be effective at helping to make that change occur. And we're not effective when we get radical about it. And in fact, I could even argue that the more we insist on others being totally vegan the more we play into the meat industry's hands. And that's because the more we're like that, the more we turn others off, and it's even been shown that people will double-down on their current way of eating when confronted about it. We're just not effective when we insist on 100% compliance. We're not effective when we look down on those who haven't yet learned what we know.

We need compassion for the animals, yes, but we also need compassion for our fellow human beings who have been brought up and who have lived their entire lives in a world that is oriented toward animal consumption. We won't change that through taking what others see as a radical stand. We need to recognize where each person is at in their own lives and then how we can help them and in doing so, we will help the animals and the environment too. It's said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. That one step won't be a thousand mile step. But it will be a step in the right direction. Let's reward people for that as opposed to criticizing them for not being totally vegan. In the end, we'll be much more likely to reach our overall desired goals through that kind of an approach.

Rethinking Masculinity and Food

Several years ago, there was a study done at Northwestern University where it was found that men on average tend to choose foods to eat that they perceive to be masculine. Choices men made during the study were, among others, gravy, ribeye steaks and other more hearty dishes. Women on the other hand often chose large salads and dishes made with red wine sauce.

The fact that there has been gender-bias in foods should come as no surprise to us. Our culture and language has promoted this. We look to men to be strong and virile. And when we want to speak of strong and virile, we use expressions related to heavier foods, like "Where's the beef?" or we say we're going to "beef up." But when we talk about the opposite, we use vegetable terminology. We call somebody a "couch potato" (very unmanly although probably not unlike a good number of men) or we'll talk about "vegging out."

In Meathooked by Marta Zaraska, the author tells us about a 2006 commercial, perhaps you've even seen it, where there are two guys checking out at the grocery store. One has a cart full of green vegetables, some radishes and some tofu. The other guy has a cart full of meat. The guy with the tofu and veggies is shown to be looking uncomfortable around the meat guy. That is until his eyes land on an ad for a Hummer. In the next scene, tofu man is buying a Hummer and the words "Restore the Balance" pops up on the TV screen. In other words, tofu man is not seen as having any masculinity until he restores the balance by going out and buying a Hummer.

This has happened because we are essentially haunted by our pasts. Henrik Ibsen talked about this in one of his rather famous plays, Ghosts, and it's worth repeating here what is said. Here's an excerpt: "But I'm inclined to think that we're all ghosts...it's not only the things that we've inherited from our fathers and mothers that live on in us, but all sorts of old ideas and old dead beliefs and things of that sort. They're not actually alive in us, but they're rooted there all the same, and we can't rid ourselves of them. I've only to pick up a newspaper, and read it, I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. I should think there must be ghosts all over the country -- as countless as grains of sand. And we are, all of us, so painfully afraid of the light."

The truth of the matter is that we have very old ideas about things like masculinity and food that have been handed down to us through the ages. Men were the seen as the ones who did the most physically demanding work in the past (whether that's really true or not I don't know). Therefore, men needed bigger, heartier meals filled with lots of protein. In hunter-gather societies, men hunted while women gathered. And because hunting involved tracking and fighting with wild animals, the meat that came from the hunt was seen as being a result of the big, strong men who fearlessly went out to bring the game home.

So, we're haunted by our past. Times have changed. Today, work done by men can be more mentally draining than it is physically challenging. Today, the hunt for food can involve nothing more than driving to the grocery store. So, given that these changes have occurred, is there really still a need to think of foods as either masculine or feminine?

But besides that, are the foods that get thought of as masculine really the best foods for growing muscular, tough, virile, strong and fearless men? If so, then Popeye must have had it all wrong. Those of us who grew up in the fifties remember Popeye. Popeye lived on spinach and he was considered to be extremely muscular. That was the message of his cartoons.

Of course, cartoons are one thing. But what about real life? Well, no human is ever going to grow to be as strong or as big as a gorilla. And what do gorillas eat? Plants, that's what.

But here's the other thing. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet has been shown time and time again to prevent heart disease, cancer and more. So, if we can prevent major diseases through a WFPB diet, then wouldn't that be the manly thing to do. After all, it's not manly to be sick and to be in the hospital dependent on others for your life and being unable to work and provide for your family. There's  nothing manly about that. So, shouldn't we men try to eat the foods that might prevent that from happening?

So, maybe it's time to rethink masculinity when it comes to food. We should think in terms of the foods that will keep us healthy. Let's not lose our masculinity by becoming weak and sick as a result of eating too many of the wrong foods too often. Let's man up and be real men instead.