The Good, The Bad and The Ugly About Olive Oil

After asking where do we get our protein, I think the second most popular question asked of those of us who eat whole food, plant-based is why no olive oil? After all, we hear from just about every dietitian and nutritionist out there that olive oil is a healthy oil. And it's a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, which has until this year been considered the best diet overall by dietitians and nutritionists. It was displaced this year by the DASH diet, which does severely limit use of olive oil. But why are we in the whole food, plant-based movement opposed to olive oil?

Let's take a look at the good, the ugly and the bad and then I'll tell you what I do.

The Good About Olive Oil

I'll start by talking about how olive oil got its designation as a healthy fat, and then we'll take it from there. It all started back in 1958 when the Seven Countries Study was launched. This study looked at just under 13,000 men between the ages of 40 and 59 living within 16 regions of 7 countries. These countries were Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, United States and Yugoslavia. Out of this study came the Mediterranean diet. One of the first to write about that was Ancel Keys, inventor of K-rations, a memorable food if there ever was one for our troops overseas. He wrote a book in 1975 called How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way.

And the study's findings related to the Greek isle of Crete were primarily responsible for the development of the Mediterranean diet. There, it was found that they had the longest life expectancy and the least heart disease of any of the other regions being studied. And in fact, later on, when Dan Buettner discovered the Blue Zones, Crete was identified as a Blue Zone. Over the years, Crete has become recognized for this remarkable health. In 2012, the New York Times wrote an article about Crete titled, "The Island Where People Forget to Die." Seems like ripe material for figuring out how they eat. And when you look at how they eat, you find that it's largely fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil.

To make things even more interesting, Crete is not the healthiest and longest-lived of the Blue Zones. Okinawans in Japan were found to have lived longer, and then longest living of all are the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. Both populations also cook with oil. So, it would appear from the studies that olive oil has not harmed their health or longevity. Truly, if I were to live as long as those in the Blue Zones and stay as healthy as they have at the same time, then I will feel that I have been successful with my health.

Beyond that fact that the healthiest and longest-lived populations use olive oil, is there any science to support its health benefits? Based on what the Mayo Clinic has published, olive oil is a monosaturated fat and monounsaturated fats have been found to improve risk factors against heart disease, thus lowering our risk of heart disease. This is one reason for why nuts have also been identified as a staple food among healthy, long-lived populations, including both Cretians and the Seventh Day Adventists. Nuts are also high in monounsaturated fats. Mayo Clinic also states that monounsaturated fats may help to better control insulin levels and sugar levels, thus decreasing chances of Type II diabetes according to some studies. And finally, a little fat on a salad can help with absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Of course, in all these cases, nuts and avocados can provide that added and necessary monounsaturated fat.

That's the good. Now, let's look at the ugly and the bad.

The Ugly About Olive Oil

I'll start by going again back to that Seven Countries Study that provided the basis for the Mediterranean diet and discovered the island of Crete, which later became known as a Blue Zone. There are a number of faults associated with that Seven Countries Study. You may have noticed one of them when I said the study looked at just under 13,000 men. You got it! I said "men." There were no women in the study. You may not believe this, but physiologically men and women are different. And differences between the sexes can come up in more places than arguing over the family budget. They can show up in nutritional studies as well.

So, the first ugly is that the study wasn't really a broad-based study. In fact, not only did it only look at men, but it also was narrow in terms of age groups (nutritional needs for the senior population over the age of 65 will differ from those in their infancy or even from those in middle age years).

Secondly, it's an epidemiological study, which means we're looking at correlations, and we all know the drill right: Correlation does not mean causation. In fact, it's quite possible that the food in these populations had nothing to do with life expectancy and chronic diseases. One reason to think it might be something else is that the average cholesterol level for the men in Crete was 206.9 mg/L, and yet that was the population with practically no heart disease at all and lived the longest. So, if it isn't the food, what might it be? A significant indicator of health could be how sedentary a population is. And if that's the case, those of us who sit on a computer all day or watch a lot of TV or read a lot books are likely in trouble. That's one reason, Dr. Greger walks on a treadmill when working at his computer. It's why, in my working years, I had a stand-up desk. And why I run, walk, hike, do yoga and bicycle now. We just don't know for sure which behavior it is from the Seven Countries Study or the Blue Zones that causes us to have or not have good health.

And this actually brings up a major flaw in the Seven Countries Study. When it looked at the isle of Crete, it didn't take into consideration one major aspect of its lifestyle. And that is, because of the religion of the people of Crete, they fast 180 days out of the year. On those days, they eat no olive oil or fish at all. They eat only fruits, vegetables and nuts. So, for half the year, the people of Crete are pretty much entirely whole food, plant-based. The study never took that into account unfortunately, so we don't know how much of their health is due to fasting and abstaining from olive oil and fish versus how much it is due to the overall diet.

One other ugly is the potential for bias, which does exist. We all have biases in us. It doesn't matter if the study is done by the olive oil industry, the dairy industry, the author of books on the Mediterranean diet, the author of books on the whole food plant-based way of eating, an independent researcher who has her own opinions on food and diet or whoever it is that is doing or funding the study. We all have our biases. What I want to emphasize is, the fact that the researchers doing a study or the group funding a study is biased is not a reason to reject the study. If that were the case, then every scientific study ever done would have to be rejected. And even if the peer review is biased in the author's favor, that's still not a reason to reject the study. The only reason to reject a study is to review or replicate the study and decide for yourself on the basis of the study's content. But beware, your own biases, as well as your own ability to understand the data, will affect your interpretation of the data as well. And that's why it's all so ugly.

The Bad About Olive Oil

Two years ago, on the Holistic Holiday at Sea "vegan cruise" I sat in the theater listening to a panel of our doctors answer questions. These included Dr. Campbell, Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Greger and a couple others that I apologize for that I don't remember offhand. The question came up about oil and they passed the microphone down from one end of the table to the other with each one saying loudly and emphatically into the microphone, "No oil!" And I believe that is the stand of every individual whole food, plant-based doctor today. At least as far as I'm aware.

For many people, that's all they need to decide to abstain from oil. But for me, it's not. And I suspect if you're reading this then it's not for you either. We need to understand why they say no oil when the rest of the health industry says yes to extra virgin olive oil. Is it possible that everybody else is out of step and we're the only ones in step?

So, let's look at why the WFPB doctors say loudly and forcefully "No oil." And recognize that when they say no oil, that also means no Vegenaise, the largest ingredient of which is canola oil or Earth Balance, which is a vegetable oil blend of palm oil, canola oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil and olive oil. No oil is no oil.

One reason is that olive oil is a fat without a lot of nutritional value. The nutrients and fiber of the olive have been stripped away. Thus, olive oil is in line with sugar as being empty calories. So, if you need to eat 2,000 calories a day to meet your nutritional needs from the foods you eat then adding olive oil to that need increases the number of calories you need each day by 9 calories for each gram of fat you add. In the case of olive oil, that's an additional 119 empty calories for each tablespoon that you add to your diet. As Chef AJ has pointed out, olive oil is the most calorie-dense food on the planet. Thus, as Dr. McDougall says, "The fat you eat is the fat you wear." Eating olive oil may hamper your ability to lose weight or even cause you to gain weight. And for many of us, our weight is maybe even more important than our longevity. Our weight is what we can see and feel every day and it can make us feel good or bad about ourselves on a daily basis. If it goes up or if we fail to lose when we are really trying, then it can discourage us significantly. It can cause us to not stay with this way of eating if that's what happens.

Just as there were issues with the studies supporting olive oil and the Mediterranean diet, there are issues with the studies supporting monounsaturated fats. Who knew! The studies were conducted by humans in both cases. But we can go back to the island of Crete and look at another more recent study that found that heart disease was highest among those who had the highest amount of monounsaturated fats floating around in their blood. And Dr. Esselstyn has two excellent videos that explain that whole process.

The conclusions drawn by Dr. Robert Vogel, MD at the University of Maryland (my alma mater) School of Medicine were that the healthy components of the Crete  or Mediterranean diet "appear to be antioxidant rich foods, including vegetables, fruits and their derivatives such as vinegar and omega-3 rich fish..." Dr. Michael Greger has said this same thing. Dr. Greger has suggested that the Crete diet is healthy despite the olive oil, not because of it. Dr. Greger has suggested that it's the large amount of vegetables and fruits eaten by those in Crete and by people following the Mediterranean diet that is the reason for their health (I'll add the caveat for as much as its food that affects that health).

Another issue with olive oil, or with any oil is the high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the oil. Our bodies need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are considered essential to get from our diets; that is the body does not manufacture them. But when the ratio gets out of whack, it creates inflammation in the body. And inflammation is generally recognized as the precursor for major chronic diseases that we get. In general, a 1:1 ratio is ideal. A 4:1 ratio is acceptable. Olive oil is 11:1.  As a side note, this argument against olive oil could be made even moreso against cashews and almonds but not against walnuts or flaxseeds (meaning that when choosing nuts and seeds to include in your diet, walnuts and flaxseeds win out big time over cashews or almonds).

What I Do

And this all brings me to what I believe. But before I answer that question, I want to make the point that we each need to make our own decisions. I can lay out the positives and minuses for you, which I hope I have done here, but then you have to decide. You know what your own goals are. You know how your body reacts to different foods and lifestyles. You know your own health's history better than anybody. And we're all different. Our genetic makeups are different. Our ages and genders can be different. Our lifestyles are different. Our nutritional needs are different. Eating a whole food, plant-based diet is a dietary pattern; it is not a prescribed set of specific foods that each person must eat or not eat.

When I started eating whole food, plant-based, I continued to use olive oil for about a year into it. One reason I did was because in the early years our doctors were not as strong against it, and I believed there was some benefit to doing so. Measuring the benefits versus the risks, I decided the benefits outweighed the rest.

But as I got more into eating whole food, plant-based, I reconsidered my use of olive oil when eating at home. One of the strongest arguments against it for me was the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. I think that ratio is important. While the ratio isn't super high in olive oil, it's still high, and I've come to believe that one of the major issues with processed foods is the high omega-6 to omega-3 ratios.

I don't believe that the Blue Zone populations have lived the longest and stayed healthy the longest because of the oil they ate. I believe as Dr. Greger says that they were healthy despite the oil. I also think that in large part, they lived and stayed healthy as long as they did because they were not sedentary people. I believe that sedentariness plays a major role in chronic disease, maybe as much or more than food itself does.

I believe the best we can do is to eat a predominantly whole food, plant-based diet. That's my diet at home. The bigger minefield when it comes to oils is when going out to eat. My experience has been that even if you say to use low oil, their interpretation of that can be different than my interpretation. I don't eat out that often, so it's not a major concern to me. If I traveled a lot or ate out a lot because of work or lifestyle then I might consider it a more important issue to me.

I hope that I have helped with understanding of why the whole food, plant-based doctors say "No Oil." People struggle with that. It's one of the things that I think causes people not to accept our way of eating. It helps if we understand why. Hopefully, I've given some understanding of that in today's posting.

J Lanning Smith
January 10, 2018

Making Whole Food, Plant-Based a Movement; Not a Cult

I am 100% whole food, plant-based 99% of the time, and I believe that for me and for many, many of my friends and acquaintances, it has literally been the best thing for us since sliced bread. Being WFPB, I have lost 150 pounds and have kept that weight loss off for two years since leveling out at my current weight. I have gotten off of all prescription medications that I was taking and thought I would be taking for the rest of my life. I've totally gotten rid of a number of ailments I was having before going whole food, plant-based almost five years ago now. Clearly, for me, this has been the way to go for not only my health but also my overall happiness and well being.

I believe that most others can benefit by moving toward a whole food, plant-based way of eating as well. I know a lot of people who have been inspired by my success, and they have made the switch. And they are happy they did. They too have seen remarkable successes relative to their own situations in life.

Of course, there's nothing controversial about eating more fruits and vegetables. Every dietitian in the world, every nutritional expert in the world, every food scientist in the world will say that it is beneficial to eat more fruits and vegetables. The public recognizes it too. A few weeks ago, I was checking out at the grocery store with my load of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the man behind me, with his basket of doughnuts and sugary cereal and one steak, remarked, "You sure eat healthy." Get it? He knew! Even though he was eating what we would not consider to even be food, he knew that all the whole plant-based foods I was buying were healthier than what he was buying. And yet what I was buying was not what he was buying. And I could have stood there and preached to him, and it would have done absolutely no good. He already knew that it was healthier to be eating fruits and veggies. He just didn't want to eat what I was eating.

So, if people know this and it's already out there in the public as generally accepted wisdom to eat more plant-based foods, why is it that what we do seems to become so controversial with people? And what can we do to remove that controversy? I ask that question because I believe no big changes will come in the general population until we make the effort to listen to and understand what the objections are to our way of eating. Now, some of my readers may say they don't care if the general public accepts our way of eating or not. But I do care. I care because the more we get into the mainstream, the more stores there will be that sell real foods; the more restaurants there will be that offer whole plant-based foods on their menus; and the more opportunities I'll have to socialize with friends over food. Plus, very few of us like being out there on the fringes of society (especially when society actually agrees with much of what we do).

I've heard many people who are not whole food, plant-based call us a cult. I'm particularly sensitive to that because I was once in a cult. Back in the 80s, my wife and I joined a Catholic charismatic community in the Washington, DC area. Catholic charismatic communities in and of themselves are a force for good in the community and the church itself. This one that we belonged to started out as such, but it became very cultish, so much so that Cardinal Hickey, then the archbishop of the Washington, DC diocese split it up and disbanded much of it saying that it had gotten away from Catholic teaching. And the Washington Post did a scathing six part series on the community as a cult making the whole thing look bad.

As a Catholic, that was unfortunate because the basic underlying messages of that community were in fact good, Catholic teachings. But it was a cult, and I had actually come to recognize that it was a cult years before Cardinal Hickey stepped in. In fact I left the community two years before he stepped in. But I can still remember the cultish like behavior that existed and that drove me away (and eventually resulted in Cardinal Hickey stepping in). One of those characteristics was we had our own set of priests and we listened to only them. Out of the thousands and thousands of priests in the Catholic Church, we narrowed it down to about ten or twenty priests who were worth our time to listen to. The rest, in our opinion, didn't know what they were talking about. Another characteristic was we believed our approach was the only right approach to salvation. Others didn't pray enough. Others didn't read the Bible enough. Others didn't try to follow Jesus enough. Others didn't die to self as we believed we did.

Does all this sound familiar? When we talk about "our doctors" and will only consider what "our doctors" tell us as truth. Is that not like that community that had its own priests that it would only listen to? When we reject any other way of eating as being unhealthy. When we close ourselves off to any other way of eating as being acceptable for someone. Is that not like the cult that believed its way was the only way to salvation? In other words, do we perhaps come across as showing cultish behavior at times? I hear people who tell me that we do come across as a cult, and seeing the similarities to my previous involvement in a cult, I understand that criticism.

Let me suggest something. As much as I believe that eating whole food, plant-based is healthy and can prevent and reverse severe chronic diseases in most cases (there is no 100% certainty), it's also true that I can't prove that (nor can anyone else right now). There has never been a population of people in the world and throughout history who have eaten the way we eat over an eighty plus year lifespan. That is significant because it means that we don't have any populations that we can study to determine the true benefits and effects of the whole food, plant-based way of eating.

Not even the Blue Zones have eaten this way. On average, within the Blue Zones, people ate meat five times a month (or a little over once a week). In at least three of the Blue Zones, people used olive oil in their cooking. Perhaps the ones who come closest to our way of eating would be the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, CA, and it's encouraging that of all the Blue Zones, they are the ones who live the longest and stay healthiest the longest. But there are caveats. Or should I say confounders? Seventh Day Adventists not only don't smoke, but they've never smoked. That leaves me out (and many others in my age group) since I once smoked as many as three packs of cigarettes a day. That's damage that has already been done that doesn't show up in the Seventh Day Adventist population. Seventh Day Adventists also abstain from alcohol (that's strike two against me). They prioritize physical activity, sunshine and lots of fresh air, family life and health education. Those are all factors, in addition to the diet, that could be affecting their longevity and health. Some Seventh Day Adventists eat meat and some don't. From what I've read, that doesn't seem to make a difference in terms of health or longevity in the Seventh Day Adventist population.

Within more mainstream dietary patterns, dietitians usually recommend the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet as a healthier way to eat than the standard American diet. And they are healthier ways to eat. We tend to regard them as inferior to our way of eating because neither diet has ever shown itself to reverse chronic diseases. However, these diets do mitigate chronic diseases and at the moment, they are where people are willing to go. I think a lot of people have false hope in the medical industry and are shocked when the day comes that the medical industry can't come through for them. I know I was shocked by the inability of the medical industry to seriously do anything for my wife when she was dying of cancer.

And we're always hoping for more from the medical industry. Today, immunotherapy is starting to take the place of chemotherapy. But immunotherapy has its problems too. Latest research shows that immunotherapy may be causing the body to attack its good organs as well as attacking cancers. In other words, having immunotherapy may lead to later autoimmune diseases, a serious side effect in itself.

The best answer is still to stay out of the hospital. And I believe that by eating a whole food, plant-based diet, along with getting plenty of exercise, sleep, social interaction and stress-reduction is a good way to do that. It may be the best way to do it, but I can't prove that right now. And I can't guarantee 100% that it will keep me healthy and out of the hospital. But it's what I can control.

Getting back to my point about cultish behavior, however; our WFPB way of eating turns people away when we act, out of some kind of certain knowledge that is actually much less certain than we realize, as if it is the only acceptable dietary pattern for somebody. We are still learning about this way of eating. And I find it significant that there are no scientific studies being done, or that have been done, to compare people eating whole food, plant-based with other ways of eating. Even in all the studies cited by Dr. Greger on his NutritionFacts website, not one of them that I'm aware of, studied people on a strictly whole food, plant-based way of eating.

And that's something that should definitely change. I've mentioned this before. Why aren't organizations like PCRM and NutritionFacts and other WFPB doctors organizing to do some scientific studies of the WFPB way of eating? These studies need to be done. And the food industry isn't going to be interested in doing those studies. But plant-based organizations, interested in the science behind our way of eating, should get interested in doing some studies like that.

One of the questions I have is how important giving up meat is in the WFPB way of eating. Some people see that as the main element, but in reality, it may not be. It might be the movement toward more fruits and vegetables that might be where the real health gains are. Or it might be the move away from processed foods. I think it would be good to know because I see a lot of times people looking at WFPB as being about giving up meat and they don't necessarily increase their fruit and vegetable consumption nor do they decrease their processed food consumption. And in reality, I think doing those two things are more important than giving up meat (from a health perspective).

Why do I say that they may be more important? Partly because to some degree, all diets work to improve a person's health. So, I ask myself what's common among all diets and giving up meat is not common. But what is common is increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and decreasing processed food consumption. That's true even when we go to the opposite extreme of the WFPB diet and look at diets like Atkins and the Paleo diets. People swear by those diets too. So, if they swear by those diets, then they must believe those diets are working. And I suspect they believe they're working because like us, they are giving up processed foods and they are getting their carbs primarily from vegetables. On Atkins, for example, most vegetables, along with meat, can be eaten in unlimited quantities. But processed foods are out, just as processed foods are out and vegetables are in on our diet.

We can be certain that eating whole food, plant-based has been healthy for us and is right for us. We can be certain that it offers a healthy alternative for people. But we can't be certain that it's the only way. None of us have reached Blue Zone status yet, and as I said, the Blue Zones were not whole food, plant-based (close maybe, but not there). And we can't always be certain of outcomes. I have a friend from back when I lived in Washington State who was Type II diabetic and he went on Atkins and was able to get off of his insulin requirements. That goes against what Dr. Barnard says about dietary fat being the cause of Type II diabetes (Atkins is a very high fat diet). I think that rather than trying to definitively say why our WFPB way seems to work, it's better to just say that we know that it has worked. But we get into trouble when we give a reason for it that can be easily contradicted by somebody who has knowledge that contradicts that reason.

That's the difference between being a cult and becoming a movement. We need to look at our way of eating as a dietary pattern that has worked for us and we believe can work for others. But we also should be open to listening to others and understanding others because if nothing else, it will help us to understand what is right and not right about our own way of eating too. The world of nutrition is complicated. But if we just learn to do what Michael Pollan says and "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" then we'll be fine. And eating a whole food, plant-based diet is an excellent way to do that. Combine that with exercise, adequate sleep, physical activity, family and social relationships and reduction of stresses in our lives and we'll be living much healthier than the population at large.

J Lanning Smith
January 6, 2018

Not Everybody Wants to be Vegan or Plant-based -- Respecting Their Boundaries

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on a study that was done of people with heart disease eating a vegan, plant-based diet versus another group eating the diet recommended by the American Heart Association. As those of us who are whole food, plant-based might have guessed, the people eating the vegan diet slowed the progression of their heart disease whereas the people eating the American Heart Association diet did not. But that's not the point of this article.

Instead, there was something else that intrigued me about the study reported on by the article. And that was that the study was delayed in starting because they couldn't get enough heart disease patients to be willing to go on a vegan diet. And furthermore, of those who did, many went back to a non-vegan diet after the study was over, even though they had seen beneficial results from being vegan. To me, that points out one thing: Not everybody is interested in going vegan or plant-based, even when their health can be shown to improve by doing so.

It's like the friend I had in my house once. He picked up a copy of The China Study that was laying on my coffee table and started leafing through it. Observing this, I casually mentioned, "You read that book and you'll never eat meat again." He immediately put it back down and said, "Then I don't want to read it."

Food means many things to people, and it's not all about sustaining life or energy. Food has huge connections with social and family occasions and traditions. Many of us have fond remembrances of something lovingly cooked by our mom's that we like to replicate. Or there's the uncle's house we liked to go to who would slow roast a pork butt in the backyard. It's not just the taste of that pork butt that we remember, but the taste of pork today can bring back fond memories of great times at that uncle's house.

It's hard to change those images in people's minds. I spent my entire life having turkey at Thanksgiving. Having turkey brings back happy memories of Thanksgivings growing up and of Thanksgivings visiting my wife's family every year as an adult. The first year I was plant-based and went without the turkey seemed strange to me. As good as it was, and as proud as I was of myself for doing it, it also made Thanksgiving a little less like the Thanksgivings I had grown up with and known all my adult life as well.

Like many people, when I first thought about going whole food, plant-based, I didn't think it was something I could do all the time. There were foods that I couldn't imagine giving up. There were foods that I believed were still important to eat from a health standpoint (primarily salmon and olive oil because every dietician I knew of insisted on the importance of those two foods), and so I kept eating them pretty much during the entire first year of being WFPB. Early readers of my blog site may remember me saying I was 90% vegan and 95% vegetarian. Because I couldn't imagine being totally vegan, I started with a book by Mark Bittman called VB6. The idea behind his book was that we may not be able to go totally vegan (and Mark Bittman is by no means totally vegan as he will readily tell you), we ought to be able to go vegan most of the day. So, he proposed being vegan all day except for one meal, and at that one meal, you can eat what you want to eat.

That seemed like a reasonable approach to me, and it seemed like something I could do. I wanted to get healthier and I knew that dietitians all recommended eating nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. On the diet I was on (basically the standard American, low-carb diet), I didn't see how that was possible. As a result, that was one of the things that did attract me to the whole foods, plant-based lifestyle. It seemed to offer a way to meet that recommendation of nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables.

At the same time, I had no interest in being a vegan. My image of vegans was of young kids vandalizing property and throwing paint at women wearing fur coats. Or worse. Vegans never presented a very attractive image of themselves in my mind. While today, I understand that better, there is still 95%+ of the population that views vegans in a very negative way, as I once did. And while today, I can cite all the health, environmental, economic and ethical reasons for being vegan, I also think that vegans can be their own worst enemies when interacting with the general public. I believe that more people are turned off by their encounters with vegans than are convinced to become vegans.

The important thing I think is to recognize that we are all at different places in our life's journeys. And we all have our reasons for our beliefs, attitudes and the foods we eat. I can't force anybody to eat the way I eat. And truthfully, I can't convince someone to do so through logic alone. Our connections to the foods we eat are too strong for that. On the other hand, I have seen a lot of people change their diets to a whole food, plant-based way of eating and have seen them getting healthier as a result. And many have done so because they have seen the change that it has brought about in me. I know that because they have told me so. My best statement to people is to tell them what eating this way has done for me.

But still, most people have foods that they aren't ready to give up, don't plan to give up and will not give up. And they have negative images of what it means to be vegan. And they can't imagine going into a restaurant or sitting down to a family meal and not having a piece of meat on their plates. All of that takes time to change, and people have to come to it on their own. What we, in the WFPB movement need to do I think, is to accept people where they are at. We should be able to articulate what a whole food, plant-based way of eating is and why we eat that way, but we should be careful about evangelizing others to do the same.

Instead, we can let them see the changes in us. We can answer their questions when they have questions. And they will have questions. I have found that I can sit down to eat and not say a word about how I eat, and yet people will notice and they will ask me about it. Many people know they should be eating a more plant-based diet and when they see someone doing it, they will ask questions that might help them to move in that direction in the future. In such instances, we can encourage them when they tell us they want to do something. But we need to also respect their boundaries. And if their boundary is that they are going to continue to eat eggs for breakfast or salmon twice a week or whatever it is, we can respect that while at the same time encouraging them to eat whole food, plant-based the rest of the time.

Seeking perfection never works. Meeting people where they are at and giving them gentle encouragement without nagging or badgering can pay dividends though. I'll leave off with the words of Dr. Greger from page 265 of his book How Not to Die:

"Sometimes people's diets take on a religiosity of their own. I remember a man once telling me that he could never go 'plant-based' because he could never give up his grandma's chicken soup. Huh? Then don't (give it up)....I told him that enjoying her soup shouldn't keep him from making healthier choices the rest of the time. The problem with all-or-nothing thinking is that it keeps people from even taking the first steps. The thought of never having pepperoni pizza again somehow turns into an excuse....We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

My Most Nutritious Salad Dressing

For those who missed seeing it elsewhere, I posted a recipe for a new salad dressing on my other site. It can be read here:

It is my most nutritious concoction yet.


J Lanning Smith
November 29, 2017

Eating Out This Holiday Season (and the Rest of the Time Too)

I think without exception, all of the whole food plant-based doctors recommend against eating out. As we are all aware, restaurant food can be loaded with salt, sugar, oils, fats and some chemicals. It's what makes that food taste so darn good. Restaurants are in the business of selling food and that means finding ways for it to be more attractive to us than eating at home is. Of course, a big attraction is not having to prepare the meal or cleaning up afterwards. But after that, taste is the big attraction. Restaurants want to give their foods a taste that will keep us eating more and drinking more. That's the business they are in.

Many of us though have lives that mean going out to eat. It could be part of the lifestyle that we are used to and want to maintain. But it could also be that we work and find ourselves going out with clients a lot or being too tired to make a meal at the end of the work day. Others go out to be with friends or family and to socialize. There are a whole host of reasons to go out to eat. And it seems that during the holiday seasons, there become even more reasons for going out to eat.

So, what to do? I think the best defense is always knowledge. The more knowledge that you have the better. You may choose to break the rules when you go out to eat, and I'll admit that I do break the rules sometimes when I go out to eat, but at least, with knowledge, you are aware of what you are doing. And that gives you the power to make a choice. Without that knowledge, the restaurant is making the choice for you. You may order a white bean and kale soup thinking that you're ordering vegan, not knowing all the while that the broth the restaurant is using is a chicken broth. You might order a bean burger never realizing that the bean burger used eggs as a binder. Without that knowledge, the restaurant is making the decision for you. With the knowledge, you may still decide to order the bean burger, but at least you are the one making the decision and not the restaurant.

The good news is, I think more and more restaurants are willing to work with their patrons who want to eat healthier fare. Not all will, but many will. I always suggest letting the restaurant know how you eat and then asking if the chef can come up with something for you. Oftentimes, that will get you closer to a good meal that is whole food, plant-based then trying to piece something together off of the menu. The chefs, by the way, love the challenge. It gives them a chance to be creative, do something good and show off their talents. And the presentation usually turns out to be such that others at your table will find themselves looking at your food and wishing they had ordered that. And then that becomes an opportunity to talk about how you eat. You never know who might be influenced by that.

Mary McDougall, wife of Dr. John McDougall, has a presentation that she does at the McDougall Advanced Studies weekends in Santa Rosa, CA. For good insight on how to order in restaurants and what to watch out for, it's a good video to watch. It can be watched here. I like her title, Dining Out When You Must. She doesn't view dining out as the norm. She views it as the exception. While that of course is the ideal, there are many people who can't meet that ideal. I think her advice is doubly important for them.

Following is a summary that can help in eating out. It contains information that is in Mary's hour long video. But you're not going to watch an hour long video every time you plan to go out. Here, you can print this out and use this when going to the different types of restaurants. This is based on my own personal knowledge and experience plus a few additional tidbits that I picked up from Mary McDougall as well.

Plant-Based Restaurants

These restaurants include both vegan restaurants and the more healthy restaurants that are truly based on eating whole plant foods as opposed to vegan processed foods. I think it's important to distinguish between the two because some vegan restaurants serve highly processed, highly oiled processed foods. Those are not healthy in my opinion. And in fact, I've heard Jeff Novick say that some of the unhealthiest restaurant food comes from vegan restaurants. I try to avoid those restaurants.

But I am always delighted to find a good plant-based restaurant that serves food that's prepared from whole plants. We have a few in my local area; one of which is Pure Natural Market on Hilton Head Island. I took Dr. Greger there when he was in town and he loved the restaurant and the food. And it's so good, that it was voted by readers of the local newspaper to be the No. 1 favorite lunch spot in the local area. It shows that people can find real food to be delicious.

In restaurants like Pure, I don't worry about the food I am eating. The owners are members of Palmetto Plant Eaters, our local PlantPure Nation pod, and they know about eating whole food, plant-based. But if going to restaurants that are vegan but less so WFPB, then I try to avoid fake meats and cheeses and I try to be more aware of the use of oil and what ingredients are being used to maybe make some of the sauces.

Asian Restaurants

Most of the time when I'm meeting someone for a meal in the local area, I arrange it so as to eat at Saigon Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant. Two other regular favorites of mine are Fujiyama, a Japanese restaurant and Ruan Thai, a Thai restaurant.

I know most of my readers don't live in this local area, so why do I mention these three restaurants? The reason is because Asian restaurants offer some of the best ways to stay eating on a whole food, plant-based way. As a result, when I'm traveling, I will usually look for an Asian restaurant if I can't find a good plant-based restaurant. The next alternative might be a Mexican restaurant, which I will discuss more about below. I used to also look for farm-to-table restaurants because they often had good fresh vegetable dishes for their main courses. But it seems like more and more farm-to-table restaurants these days are focused primarily on meat as opposed to veggies. I'm not sure exactly how that qualifies as farm-to-table since it involves a slaughterhouse in between, but I guess that's another story.

The nice thing about Asian restaurants is the dishes are generally vegetable focused with just small amounts of meat. That is, meat is not the main event like it is in so many other places. And even better, I've never been in an Asian restaurant that didn't also offer tofu as an alternative to meat. So, in essence, every Asian restaurant is a vegan restaurant also. There's no dish you can get that you can't get with tofu as opposed to meat. Right away, that makes life easier. Just be sure to ask for the tofu to be boiled or steamed as opposed to fried.

And there are usually things like spring rolls or papaya salads that can be gotten for appetizers. Even if spring rolls say they come with pork or shrimp, they can almost always be ordered as vegetarian. After all, a good restaurant will be making the spring roll for you. It's just as easy for them to make the spring roll with vegetables as it is with meat. So, don't be afraid to ask if you don't see a vegetarian option on the menu. Just make sure that you are ordering spring rolls and not egg rolls. Egg rolls are fried and are not healthy.

Some of my favorite foods in Asian restaurants are sushi in Japanese restaurants and miso soup in Vietnamese restaurants. Like spring rolls, sushi can be made vegetarian. In fact, sushi is popular in all parts of Japan, not just along the coast. In the inner parts of Japan, sushi is made with vegetables and not with fish. So, again, if you don't see it on the menu ask. Also, regarding sushi (and other dishes ordered in Asian restaurants), white rice often predominates. But more and more Asian restaurants are offering brown rice, black rice or red rice. Those are worth looking for. Regarding the miso soup, it is often pre-made in broth containing fish. But as Mary McDougall points out, it can usually be asked to be made fresh for you using a pot of boiling water.

As with any restaurant, be careful about the salt, oils and sugars used as well. Many Asian dishes can be high in sodium, particularly if they contain soy sauce or tamari. Main courses can be sautéed in oil. But again, a simple request to have it sautéed in vegetable broth can fix that. And Chinese buffets, which I personally tend to avoid, oftentimes use sugar to improve the tastiness of the food.

Mexican Restaurants

Next after healthy plant-based restaurants and Asian restaurants, my choice will be Mexican. Here, I tend to think of beans and rice and bowls. I love Mexican food and it's easy to order healthy versions of it.

Chipotle is a "go to" restaurant for me when I'm traveling on the interstate. By the way, Subway, which I'll get to below, is my other "go to" option when traveling on the interstate. The point being, there are fast food options other than the big names we always think of. Or at least always used to think of.

At Chipotle, I get a vegetable salad bowl with lettuce on the bottom, then brown rice topped with black beans and grilled veggies, pico de gallo, medium or hot salsa, corn salsa, guacamole and cilantro. I will usually ask for a double helping of the black beans and the rice. You could argue with the guacamole and I did not get that for a long time, but our doctors do say that avocado is a good fat and that you do need some fat with your meals for nutrient absorption. So, that's what I do now. You don't have to of course.

But ordering a bowl in a Mexican restaurant is easy to do and it's always good. Just explain to the server what ingredients you want the bowl built with. Also let the server know that you don't want any cheese or sour cream. Too often, they will put both on the food, even when it's not mentioned on the menu or even though you didn't ask for it. I've found they will always take the food back if put on, but it's better to explain upfront that you don't want sour cream or cheese.

Sit-down Mexican restaurants will usually bring chips and salsa to start off with. And even at Chipotle, you can get a bag of these chips and some salsa. Don't do it. Even if they are said to be baked, they will be fried. They're just baked before they're fried. Instead, do as Mary McDougall says, and order soft corn tortillas, which are almost always oil-free. Note that the same is not true with flour tortillas though, so stick with the corn tortillas.

Also, always select black beans. Everybody loves refried beans, but refried beans are killers when it comes to fat. And pinto beans are often cooked in pork. So, stick with whole black beans. They're good and they're good for you.

If you are a real stickler about being vegan, then you may not be able to eat in a Mexican restaurant since many of them use chicken broth to make their rice. But if you are whole food, plant-based for health reasons, Dr. T Colin Campbell has said "Don't sweat the small stuff" when it comes to things like that.

I'll add that even as a vegan, I'm not overly concerned about that though for two good reasons. First, no chicken is killed for the broth. The chicken is killed for the meat it provides. Using the leftover carcass to make broth is just efficiently using the entire chicken, which if you are going to kill an animal for food, then in my opinion, the maximum benefit should be gotten out of that animal. It would be wasteful to do otherwise. The second reason I'm not concerned is PETA itself on its website says to not be concerned over things like that. It says that when we get too strict about things like that then all we do is discourage restaurants from even trying to do better. So, without getting into any arguments over that, that's my position as well.

Sandwich Restaurants

As I mentioned, Subway is a "go to" restaurant when traveling on the interstate. And I just discovered a new place called Which Wich that also offers vegetarian and vegan sandwiches and wraps. While I would not eat at these places on a regular basis, mainly because I try to avoid floured products, an occasional stop when traveling and nothing else is available can be worthwhile.

The rules are easy. Order the whole wheat or whole grain bun or wrap when available. Ask that the sandwich be filled with lots of greens (spinach) to start with and then lots of veggies. Instead of putting mayo, ketchup or oil on the sandwich, ask for mustard or vinegar instead. And skip the fries or chips of course. Most sandwich places will offer at least a small side salad that can accompany the sandwich. Do that instead if a side dish is desired. Or eat an apple when you get back out to your car.

Pizza Parlors

A close kin to the sandwich restaurant is the pizza parlor. While I love pizza, I hardly ever stop at these places. One reason is the crust is flour again and another reason is I tend to eat the whole pizza. In other words, I over indulge. Coming back from this past year's vegan cruise, my traveling companion and I stopped for pizza in Ormond Beach and between the two of us, both WFPB eaters, we managed to wolf down three entire pizzas. And that was after a week of eating gourmet plant-based foods on the vegan cruise! Not good! Well, actually it was good!

My main suggestions are about pizza: Order a whole wheat crust and ask for it without cheese. Skip the fake cheeses. No cheese is just as good. And finally, order it by the slice if you can. Looking at a whole pizza sitting in front of you can be just too tempting. At least it is for me.

American Restaurants

These restaurants can include everything from steak houses to seafood restaurants to farm-to-(slaughterhouse-to)-table restaurants, diners, fine dining establishments, comfort food restaurants, southern restaurants and more. I've been in these sometimes where the only thing I could order was baked potato. Would you believe they didn't even have a vegetable I could order? In such cases, I've been known to order as many as three baked potatoes for a main course and then add salsa or mushrooms or beans or whatever I can find on the menu as a topping.

It can help to call the restaurant before going. As mentioned above, the chefs may be able to prepare something specifically for you if you let them know how you eat. And if they do, I guarantee you that you'll be the envy of the table.

Otherwise, look at what you can piece together from the menu. Think vegetable side dishes, rices and potatoes and steak or seafood toppings. Sometimes a steak topping can be a great topping for rice to make your own idea of a main course. The possibilities are there. I like to study the menu before going. That way, I've had time to thoroughly review and decide on all the options. Plus, then my attention is on the people I'm with and the table conversation as opposed to having my face buried in the menu.

Other Restaurants

There are many other restaurant types not mentioned here. For example, Ethiopian is a favorite food of mine. Other restaurants not mentioned here include Italian and Indian restaurants. Mary McDougall does a good job talking about them (and not recommending either) in her video linked to above. If you're interested in either, then I strongly suggest watching her video. You may still go, as I do from time to time, but at least you'll know what you're up against.

I hope that as we get into the full swing of the holiday season, you've found this to be useful information. Many of you, I'm sure, know even more about this subject than I do. But for those who don't, I wanted to offer what information I had on this.


J Lanning Smith
November 26, 2017