Thanksgiving

As we go into Thanksgiving this year, I know that many of my friends are nervous about getting together with family and friends during the holiday season. It's not just the obnoxious uncle who will be spouting off political beliefs that we might disagree with, but it's also the food. There will be conflicts that arise as a result of how we eat. Some of that conflict will come as we try to choose around foods that we know are not healthy, some will come from well meaning mothers and aunts who will seem offended if we don't eat what they serve and some of the conflict could arise from those who want to challenge us about our way of eating. In other words, many following a whole food plant-based way of eating are facing this time of what should be filled with joy and love as a time of dread instead. And the holiday season is just beginning.

Thanksgiving was one of my first big tests when I went to a whole food, plant-based way of eating.  I started eating this way in late October 2013, just weeks before Thanksgiving and the holiday season. Not only that, but plans had already been made for the family to celebrate Thanksgiving at my house. That meant my mom and her husband, my brother and his wife, my step sister and her husband and my daughter, her husband and two grandchildren would all descend on my house for Thanksgiving. And they expected a traditional Thanksgiving meal. I was too new at this whole game to deny them that kind of meal. They had seen me in the past yo yo between Atkins and Weight Watchers and the DASH program and a myriad of other diets without much success. They certainly were not going to take this new way of eating seriously after only four weeks or so of my doing it.

At that time, I was fully focused on my weight and my health and not at all on the animals. In other words, at that stage in my life, I had not yet become an ethical vegan. So, I had no qualms about making a turkey on my Big Green Egg, which I've since given to my daughter and son-in-law. But I was firm about the fact that I personally was not going to eat any turkey. Instead I made a squash stuffed with quinoa and cranberries and walnuts and it turned out to be delicious. It was so much so that my mother and my brother's wife were both looking at it enviously and saying that they would have preferred that too.

Note how that worked. I made a traditional turkey as a main course for my family, and in doing so, without any preaching from me, some members of my family noted what I was eating and they were envious of it. I would never serve turkey now. I won't even let any kind of animal food come into my house now. But if I were to serve turkey or another meat again, I would probably give people a choice as to whether they would prefer the meat or the stuffed squash for their main course. It may not turn them into vegans or whole food, plant-based eaters, but it would introduce them to the fact that delicious holiday foods were available and could be eaten without awkwardness at a family gathering.

While we all know the importance of food to our own health and many of us are aware of the dangers food also poses to the environment, the economy, our federal budget, our insurance premiums, health care, disease control, the animals and more, we need to remember that most of the population has not been awakened to these conditions. And we are not going to awaken them over the dinner table at Thanksgiving. I put that in bold italics because I think it's something to remember as we get together with others this Thanksgiving.

Our getting together with family and friends is for enjoyment, both our enjoyment and their enjoyment. It's not the time for proselytizing and arguing. The truth is, each one of us can only change ourselves. We cannot force change on others. We cannot browbeat others into submission. But what we can do is be examples to others. Examples in a non-arrogant way. It does no good to say things like, "Oh, I would never eat that" or to talk about cow's milk as cow pus. But when we quietly choose foods that are healthy, people notice. And they will ask questions in a non-threatening way. Some will realize that they could have been eating like you, and will wish that they were if only they had a little more gumption to do it. After seeing you, they'll go home with new resolve to be better at their food choices the next time they are in a situation like that. You may never know that. I'm always gratified when somebody does change because of me. But I also think there's a far greater number of people who have changed because of me, but I don't know them and I have no idea about who they are or where they live.

Here's some tips I try to use to diffuse any potential negativity and to instead have fun and possibly be an inspiration to somebody at a gathering. First, I always offer to bring something. I'm going to a neighbor's house for Thanksgiving this year and I said I would bring a sweet potato lasagna and some triple berry-chocolate nice cream. In doing so, I explained to the host that I was 100% plant-based and I wanted to bring a couple plant-based dishes that I could share with the others who were coming. Right away, I established how I would be eating and the hostess told me that she is looking forward to trying my plant-based foods.

The second thing I try to do is to be a good and gracious guest. I'll be going, not only with my two dishes big enough for a meal for me and for others to try, but also with a nice flower arrangement for the hostess' table. I will find things to compliment about the hostess and her house and I will avoid getting into arguments of any kind. In other words, I want to be the perfect guest. Everybody will know that I'm the one who brought the plant-based food. I don't need to announce it loudly or draw attention to it. Those who are interested in learning more can ask me about it. And those who aren't won't be given the opportunity to argue if I can help it.

The third thing I will do is I will put on my plate a few other foods that are not part of what I brought. I know the sweet potatoes may be loaded with maple syrup or the green beans might have butter on them. But taking one or two very tiny portions of a couple items like that will put others at ease. If I just totally stuck to what I brought, people might see me as rejecting them. And I don't want that. I'm accepting of all others and I want others to know that I'm accepting of them. We're all at different places in our life's journey. Some of us are fortunate enough to understand the importance of a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. But others are not. They have not been awakened yet.

Note: If small enough portions are taken, then they don't need to be eaten. They can just look like the remnants of food scraps left after a full plate of food (if you get my drift)!

And that brings me to my final thought on Thanksgiving. That is, the importance of giving thanks. A recent study found that people who are gracious and thankful are healthier and tend to live longer. No matter what our circumstances are in life, we all have a tremendous amount to be thankful about. One of the biggest things that I'm thankful for is the knowledge that I've gained about eating whole food, plant-based. I learned about it for my health originally, but I now also understand the effect that our way of eating has on everything around us. It is perhaps the single greatest issue of our time. And while I think there are too few people who recognize that, I am thankful that I have been awakened to that.

My goal is to help others become awakened to that as well. And many have. Many have changed because they saw the change in me. Many have changed because they've read what I've written and continue to write. But nobody has ever changed because of the inevitable argument that will ensue from talking about it at the Thanksgiving table. This season, it's time to remember to enjoy our family and friends. And to be thankful for all that we have, including the knowledge we have about eating plant-based.

Thank you and have a happy Thanksgiving weekend.

J Lanning Smith
November 22, 2017


Should Salad or Starch Be the Focus of a WFPB Meal? The Answer is Yes!

There are times I've noticed when it appears that the whole food, plant-based doctors are in conflict with each other. And while whenever two or more people are involved in anything, there will be some differences of opinions, minor tweaks in thought with others or differences in how things are done, the differences are not usually too dramatic. The main message for eating lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds stays in tact regardless. And on closer examination, I often find that what appear to be major differences at first glance are not differences at all.

In particular, I'm thinking about Dr. Fuhrman's call to make salad the focus of a whole food, plant-based way of eating versus Dr. McDougall's call to make starch the focus of a whole food, plant-based way of eating. Dr. Fuhrman focuses on the nutritional value of food and Dr. McDougall focuses on the energy and the satiety that foods provide.

So, who is right? Do we focus on the salad as the biggest part of our meal or do we focus on the starch as the biggest part of our meal. And the answer, I believe, depends on who is answering the question. If our eyeballs are answering the question, then Dr. Fuhrman is right. Our focus is on the salad because it will clearly be the largest item on our plate (or at least it should be). In fact, when I was at the recent Remedy conference last weekend, I would start each meal by filling my entire plate with salad and then putting the hot ingredients right on top of the salad. I do this at home also unless I'm substituting a green smoothie for the salad instead. It serves two purposes. First, when I do that, my salad requires no salad dressing and two, it ensures that I eat a large salad and not just make salad a sideline dish.

But what if we ask our stomachs? Our stomachs want satiety and they say that we can get there a lot quicker by having mostly starch-based foods. That's because starchy foods have a higher calorie density, so it takes less of them to fill us up.

What actually happens, or should happen on a WFPB way of eating, is we should see a large salad and a smaller portion of starch. And yet the smaller portion of starch can be, and should be, enough to be able to label our plate starch-based. Dr. McDougall says that 45% to 70% of our plate should be starch-based.

Let's take a look at what that actually looks like. Let's take a typically simple meal like rice and beans with a salad and see what we have. For such a meal of 500 calories, 70% of it, according to Dr. McDougall should be starchy vegetables, 20% non-starchy vegetables (like what you find in a salad) and 10% fruit.That breaks down to 350 calories coming from starchy vegetables, 100 calories coming from non-starchy vegetables and 50 calories coming from fruit.

In other words, 350 calories are from starch and 150 calories can be from salad (if we put the fruit on the salad). Both rice and beans are starchy vegetables. One cup of brown rice is 215 calories and half a cup of pinto beans is 122 calories. That's your starchy vegetables. Now the salad makes up the remaining calories through 3 cups of kale and 1/2 cup of blueberries.

Calorie-wise, that's a starch-based meal. But from the perspective of our eyesight, there's 3-1/2 cups of salad to 1-1/2 cups of beans and rice. The salad is over twice as large as the beans and rice. And yet the beans and rice comprise 70% of the meal, making it a starch-based meal.

So, when it comes to the centerpiece of your meal, you don't have to choose between Dr. McDougall and Dr. Fuhrman. Both are right. You need to eat large quantities of veggies, but you need to get most of your calories from starch. How about that! Instead of deprivation, both are saying to get enough of these important food components.

J Lanning Smith
November 20, 2017

What I Learned About My Visceral Fat

This past weekend I attended the excellent Remedy Food Conference put on at the Sonesta Hotel in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was a well attended event, and it was so wonderful to see a number of my readers at the event. We came together to hear some really great speakers on whole food, plant-based eating. Just a few of the many great speakers we heard from were Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Thomas M. Campbell, Dr. Doug Lisle, Dr. Ron Weiss, Dr. Steve Lawenda, Chef AJ, John Pierre, Matt Frazier, Lindsay Nixon (aka The Happy Herbivore), Kathy Hester and several more.

Not only was the conference really worthwhile, but I learned from other attendees as well. In particular, one person who I talked to during one of the meals had been to see Dr. Ron Weiss. At the time, she was overweight by more than 100 pounds and having a number of medical issues. Dr. Weiss immediately put her on a strict dietary regimen of eating at least a pound of powerhouse leafy greens every day and up to three starches of her choosing each day. She did this for the first thirty days and then he began adding other foods back into her diet. Needless to say, she did in fact lose over a hundred pounds and she regained her health back.

But one of the other things she told me was that Dr. Weiss had her order an Omron Body Composition Monitor and Scale. She did so on Amazon and by doing so was able to begin monitoring her BMI (not just her weight), her body fat percentage, her skeletal muscle percentage, her resting metabolism, her body age and her visceral fat level. I was interested in this because while I know that my body weight is in the Normal range, and by extension my BMI is in the normal range, for my height, I knew nothing about my visceral fat or my skeletal muscles. So, between talking to her and going into the next session, I ordered one of those Omron gadgets from Amazon.

And now I have it, and now I have my figures. There was a lot of good news in my initial measurements. For example, it determined my body age to be 62. While that's not as good as the 43 year old measurement I got from my telomeres measurement, it's still well below my calendar age of being just shy of 71. My skeletal muscle measurement was in the middle of the normal range, which I was happy with, and my overall body fat percentage was at the low end of the normal range, which I was really happy with.

Unfortunately, overall body fat is not as important as visceral fat. Sumo wrestlers have a lot of body fat but very little visceral fat. Consequently, even though they have that high body fat, they don't tend to get diabetes, heart disease and other ailments that many in the western cultures get. Visceral fat, on the other hand, is the fat that we don't see. It's the fat that is around our organs and can lead to failure of the organs. It's why we might sometimes see a thin person who appears healthy suddenly drop dead from a heart attack. The person was thin, but hidden within them was oftentimes a high level of visceral fat.

So, what did I learn from my initial measurements? Unfortunately, I learned that my visceral fat is outside the normal range. Not by much, but it's still high. The normal range is a level of 9% or lower. Mine was 10%. 10% to 14% is considered high and greater than 15% is considered very high.

So, even though, I have been eating whole food, plant-based for over four years now, and I've lost 150 pounds and gotten off of all prescription medicines and feel really great and healthy, I see that I have some work yet to do to bring my visceral fat level down. I consider that so important because of the dangers that visceral fat presents to us. And I don't really have very far to go to get into the normal range. I credit the fact that I have been eating whole food, plant-based for the last four years with the fact that I am that close to normal when it comes to visceral fat. But still, I do want to get down into the normal range and hopefully well below that 9% level.

So, how to do that given the fact that I'm already WFPB and already exercising quite a bit? Well, to start with, in checking online, I've learned that I may need to change my exercising. And in fact, I already had without realizing what I was doing. It seems that my brisk 3 mile walks every day weren't doing much for my visceral fat. But if I do interval training, I can do a lot for my visceral fat. Interval training is alternating intense levels of exercise with less intense levels. For example, instead of walking at the same pace all the time, I would get more benefit by walking at an intensely brisk pace for several minutes and then walking at a slow pace for several minutes and then back to a brisk pace and so on.

As luck would have it, I coincidentally started training for participating in 5K races about five weeks ago and the training program I follow alternates periods of more intense running with more restful periods of walking. In fact, that's a strategy for performing in the 5K itself, which I've learned and already witnessed myself, improves a runner's time over continuous running. So, I will keep that up and watch what happens with my visceral fat levels.

Aerobic exercise in general does not seem to help with visceral fat, but anaerobic exercise like weight training can. I've been doing yoga, but that's not considered an anaerobic exercise. So, I may need to find myself back in the gym working with weights to get in more anaerobic exercises.

When it comes to food choices, it appears that soluble fiber can also reduce visceral fat. And I'm in good shape there. My food choices are the right ones. Beans and oatmeal are two big foods that are high in soluble fiber. So, is grapefruit, which I eat a whole grapefruit every day. A couple of fats that surprised me as being high in soluble fiber are flaxseeds and chia seeds. It seems like the more I learn about flaxseeds and chia seeds, the more beneficial I find them to be. And eating them may be one case where the fat you eat is not the fat you wear. Instead, in their case, the fat you eat may be the fat you shed. I always put ground flaxseeds on my oatmeal in the morning, but now I've decided to also add it to my salads each day as well.

But overall, my diet is right on and it probably has brought my visceral fat levels down from what were likely higher levels in the past. I think, for me, I need to focus more on the exercise I'm getting at this point.

I'm really happy about running into that person, who for privacy purposes will remain anonymous here, at the Remedy Food Conference. Not only was she an inspiration, but her mention of the Omron Body Composition Monitor and Scale may have been one more lifesaver for me. I now know those numbers that I didn't know before. And I now know that I still have some work to do despite the marvelous results that I've already seen.

J. Lanning Smith
November 15, 2017

This is Your Brain on Whole Plant-Based Foods

I have written and spoken a lot about the positive changes in my weight and health that I've seen since going whole food, plant-based over four years ago. And the changes are considerable. I've lost 150 pounds. I've gotten off of three prescription medications that my doctor had told me I would be on for the rest of my life. I've seen other complications, like an enlarged prostate, heartburn, acid reflux, toenail fungus and more all vanish completely. And I attribute all of that to this new way of eating.In fact, I believe that had I not changed, I could easily be dead right now.

All of that is very factual and is supported by numbers and by physical changes. But there's another area that I believe has also been affected, but it's much less tangible and harder to say factually. In fact, all I can do is tell you how I feel or what I've observed. And that is in the areas of intelligence, reasoning and mood.

Saying that might sound a little arrogant, but I'm not saying that I'm the most intelligent person out there or even more intelligent than the average person. Nor am I saying that I can reason better than anyone else. But what I am saying is that I have observed noticeable improvements in those three areas since going whole food, plant-based.

I'm currently 70 years old, just a few months away from turning 71. As I grew older, up until maybe a year or two ago, I noticed more difficulty in thinking. When there were complicated things that needed to be figured out, I would often shy away from them. It would just seem too complicated for me to think about. If it was something that needed to be done, I would ask somebody else for help or I would hire somebody.

But in the last year and a half, I would say, I have started to notice a real reversal in that. Today, if something complicated arises, I not only don't shy away from it, but I find it to be an interesting problem that I want to figure out. I no longer feel overwhelmed by complicated situations.

Mood and a sense of well being is another area where I've noticed improvement. While I think much of that too is food related, it is possible that meditation and yoga have played a part in that too. But today I am much more accepting of situations than I would have been in the past. And I feel much more contented with who I am than I was in the past.

There have been studies that back all of this up. One of the first ones I had heard about was a prison warden in California who placed inmates on a vegan diet and violence in that particular prison went down considerably. Also, recidivism after release went down significantly. Watch a video about this here.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his new book, Fast Food Genocide also writes about this. In fact, he goes back through history and shows how diet has affected major events in our country like the formation of the white supremacy movement and the passing and implementation of the Jim Crow laws. While it's not provable that food had something to do with it, the evidence as presented by Dr. Fuhrman is convincing.

I believe that based on observations of what I've seen with myself in my own life that food along with exercise, meditation or prayer, yoga or tai chi or qi qong, and sufficient sleep can make a difference in a person's behavior, mood, feeling of well being and their intelligence. And studies are starting to back that up. It turns out that what's good for the body is also good for the brain and for our minds and sense of well being. That's a nice side effect from trying to staying healthy and eating right.

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!