Vegan Flip Flop

plants

Plants. Nature’s medicine.

Three years ago I made the conscious decision to no longer include meat, dairy and added oil in my diet. This has been one of the best decisions I have made in life, as it allowed me to regain control of my health, something I had never had prior to following a plant based lifestyle. Yet controversy seems to swirl around how I eat.

Last week as I sat eating my Jalepeno Corn Muffins (thanks to Julie) and drinking my morning tea I read an article from the UK Daily Mail, EIGHTY FOUR percent of vegetarians in America eventually go back to eating meat. This Humane Research Council studied sampled 11,000 individuals with varied diets. As it stands now, only 2% of Americans follow a vegetarian diet and 88% of the populous has never tried a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Even a smaller percentage will remove harmful ingredients such as oil, sugar and additives in their quest for health.

Of the 12% that have made the conscious shift to a plant based diet, “five out of six people return to being carnivores.” It was interesting to note “that half of vegetarians who went back to eating meat did it for their partners.” What better way to say “honey, I love you and will fill my diet full of meat, dairy and oil so I can see my health decrease and take a handful of pills in order to maintain health.”

Other “reasons” from the articles sounded more like weak-minded excuses. “I took a bite of my friend’s pizza, which happened to have bacon, and then the next morning we went to brunch, and I ordered more bacon because it was delicious.” Sure sodium and fried fat is like an explosion in your mouth, don’t mind what it will do to your health (yes, even in moderation). Others claimed they missed holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, describing it as “a sad time.” The only thing SAD is the lifestyle led by eating these foods that promote obesity.

Being plant based isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. You don’t do it “part time” to achieve your goals, only to go back to poor eating habits that put you in the predicament to begin with. I have no intentions of reversing what I have done the past 3 years of my life. This IS how I want to eat, it makes me happy, provides me great energy and allows me to build on this new found health. The desire to consume foods and ingredients I once cherished continue to be nothing more than a memory.

I don’t miss feeling terrible every day. I don’t miss the aches and pains, migraines and the handful of pills some attributed to “getting old.” I am stronger, healthier and achieving things I never thought imaginable. I owe it all to a plant strong lifestyle. So while the statistics will never favor how I eat, my personal experience tells me all I need to know. I won’t become one of those “5 out of 6” who return to making poor decisions when it comes to how I eat.

Put Down the Fork

PUT DOWN THE DAMN FORK, FATTY!

People need to put down the fork and pay attention to what is happening to their health. Many won’t, continuing to eat an industrial, Western pattern or “standard American diet,” characterized by high intakes of red meat, sugary desserts, high-fat foods, and refined grains. It also typically contains high-fat dairy products, high-sugar drinks, and higher intakes of processed meat (source).

Your worst enemy, the fork. This utensil has lead to one-third (34.9% or 76.4 million) of U.S. adults being obese. “Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death” (source). Yet with obesity numbers continuing to rise and the top 11 pharmaceutical companies seeing profits of $85 billion (in 2012), the message continues to be largely ignored.

Just over 3 years ago I was the poster boy for these “sad” choices in my diet. I failed to heed warning signs as my body was continually poisoned. Sickness and maladies plagued me, headaches were becoming a constant in daily life and my weight continued to increase. I was misguided to believe my pants and shirts, now ill fitting were getting smaller, as there were always bigger, comfortable, better fitting clothes to buy. That lifestyle changed overnight thanks to Forks Over Knives when I took control of my health

As we approach Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for. I have a beautiful wife, wonderful son, a great job, good friends and most importantly, my health. That’s similar to what some of my co-workers would say, with the except of controlling their health. As traditionally happens at the workplace, a potluck takes place and each employees provides a dish to share. This year, many wanted to pass on the early helping of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes and opted to do breakfast/brunch.

givethanksWhile sharing ideas I was taken back by the negativity, jokes and rude comments when offering plant based suggestions to share. The responses were not surprising, the entire office knows I follow a strict plant based lifestyle, which some believe is void of flavor and no fun. Through education, experience and challenging myself with plant based recipes nothing could be further from the truth. I use my wife is the measuring stick, if she eats the plant based recipes I cook and likes it others will too!

The reality of the situation, it no longer bothers me but one would think I was offering servings of poison by the reactions I receive every time we discuss food and toss out truly healthy alternatives. Why? Can’t people accept he fact they can be healthy AND happy? As Dr. John McDougall says, “People love to hear good news about their bad habits.” That is how many individuals have chosen to eat and many willingly accept the future consequences to their health. Give plants a chance and be thankful.

Midlife Crisis

keep-calm-it-s-only-a-mid-life-crisisAfter reading this article in the Daily Mail, I guess I am struggling with a midlife crisis that I never knew I was in the midst of. The “poll of 2,000 adults found that taking part in extreme sports and investing in high-tech gadgets were also indicators of reaching middle-age.” I agree with the quarter that called the term cliché, but at age 42 I did decide to change my lifestyle and improve my health, but not because of a midlife crisis.

With the exception of my family, my health is the most important thing to take care of. At age 42 I realized I was being fed more and more medication for my ailments and after two knee surgeries I could no longer stay active playing soccer. I was feeling lethargic, sick and my weight had started to balloon to 216 pounds, tipping the scale at over 220 pounds at my heaviest. Something had to change, as I struggled with migraine headaches, joint and side pains with no relevant cause, Plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Age had started to take its toll and I was feeling terrible every time I threw back a handful of medication that wasn’t the answer.

More than a crisis, this was a period of enlightenment and I feel very fortunate that something inside me clicked and told me, “this is the right thing to do.” My doctor called my decision “extreme” and my wife thought it would just be temporary. Believe me, I would have killed to have this change happen in my mid-20s rather than my 40s, but I am thrilled it happened and I have embraced it for all it’s worth.

Now, two and a half years later after changing my diet, adopting a whole foods, plant based lifestyle I no longer rely on medication or my family doctor. My health is through the roof, so to speak and the blood work results support positive change in my life. It took just 10 months to shed 44 unwanted pounds, losing nearly 4 inches in my waist! More importantly my total cholesterol( TC), which was peaking at 264 in July, 2011 decreased to 130 just a year later. That’s a drop of 134 points, something my doctor had no answer for, especially when I told him it was accomplished without his medication.

Now, nearly two and a half years later I am more active than I have ever been because I have more energy and want to experience more things. I took up running last year and accomplished a half marathon under 2 hours in August, 2013. That race was a personal challenge to confirm everything I was doing. Yet that didn’t satisfy me. One month later I participated in my first Tough Mudder event. Talk about a great time and challenging yourself, while supporting an entire team. To date, nothing like it has compared!

After the half marathon my training was derailed due to shoulder surgery and I was not able to run the California International Marathon, which would have been my first. I decided to “think big” and go ultra. Just 2 months ago I participated in my first ultra event, running 31.7 miles across Mt Diablo in Northern California. What am amazing high, one that has me yearning to run longer and achieve greater.

Who needs a new sports car? I’d rather buy that for me wife, I am truly experiencing the best life has to offer now that I control my health and continue to push my body to new limits. I am living life as never before, setting new goals to achieve. At no time did midlife crisis ever enter my mind. If this is what one feels like it, then I am loving life.

SOS Free?

SOS_ButtonWith sweeping changes to my life over the past two years, I realize I am still struggling when it comes to what I eat. For the most part my way of eating has improved immensely, following a whole foods, plant based diet. Many people I talk to tell me they couldn’t eat like I do. Others think my decision to eat this way are considered extreme and could not “give up” their favorite foods. My results can’t be refuted, 44 pounds lost and 134 points off my total cholesterol, just two indicators I point to when it people question how I eat.

Yet there are still skeletons lingering in my pantry, which I haven’t completely addressed. Many people I speak with can’t understand going a meal without meat. For me, meat wasn’t difficult to cut but struggled mightily with cheese, looking for options. Not even the vegan options were any better than the dairy selections. Alcohol was another barrier that I have hurdled numerous times. When I didn’t see a drop in my triglycerides, I cut out all beer and saw that number decrease.

While learning how to cook food that supported a plant based diet I decided to cut out all added oil. No longer did I need this fat when roasting or sauteing vegetables. No reason to oil  or spray a pan to cook my food when there is parchment paper or a silicon mat to cook on.

Oil is just part of the “forbidden triad” coupled with sugar and sodium that I continue to limit and cut out of my lifestyle. Oil contains no nutritional value, could even be considered a junk food. One teaspoon (4g) is 40 calories, which is all fat. Dr. John McDougall has a saying, “The fat you eat, is the fat you wear.” That has become a motto I have tried to attain since changing my diet 2 years ago.

While sodium doesn’t have an RDA, “Americans eat too much [of it], commonly consumed as salt. High sodium consumption raises blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the nation’s first and third leading causes of death, respectively” (Source). Sodium, like oil and sugar is in nearly everything you eat. Pull a can or box off a shelf, even “healthy” options and sodium and sugar will be there.

We all need a small amount (e.g., between about 180 mg and 500 mg per day) of sodium to keep our bodies working properly. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1500 mg of sodium per day as the Adequate Intake level for most Americans and advises everyone to limit sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day.” Chances are your intake will exceed this number daily unless your diet doesn’t contain processed foods and you don’t own a salt shaker.

While I haven’t regulated sodium I have attempted to watch that number when grocery shopping and cooking. While I never add salt to ANY recipe, I use substitutes such as light soy sauce, tamari and miso, but these aren’t any better when it comes to the amount of sodium. Light soy sauce has approximately 1006mg in 1 tablespoon! Tamari is no better when it comes to the amount of sodium, the difference being the amount of wheat between the two sauces.

The worst offender of the bunch, sugar. Pick up an unsuspecting bottle at the store and chances are you will see ‘High Fructose Corn Syrup’ as one of the top ingredients. “HFCS had been discovered in the 50s, but it was only in the 70s that a process had been found to harness it for mass production. HFCS was soon pumped into every conceivable food: pizzas, coleslaw, meat. It provided that “just baked” sheen on bread and cakes, made everything sweeter, and extended shelf life from days to years. A silent revolution of the amount of sugar that was going into our bodies was taking place” (Source).

Sugar and solid fats sets the stage for potential health problems, such as poor nutrition, weight gain, increased triglycerides and tooth decay. The USDA recommendations for sugar are 5 to 15 percent of your daily calories. “In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consume one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a whopping 180 pounds of sugar per year” (Source)! The American Heart Association recommendation is more stringent, approximately 6 teaspoons for women (100 calories) and 9 teaspoons for men (150 calories). Many Americans consume 22 teaspoons daily. Sugar also comes in different names; cane juice, cane syrup, corn sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, nectars, honey, malt syrup and molasses.

Recently I have noticed my sugar intake has increased, a cookie here, chocolate bark there. Before I know it the cookies are gone and the bag of bark is empty. It’s been bad, the tight reins I had control of seems to have loosened recently and I my eating habits have not been as clean as I want them. I lay blame solely on myself and recognize that I need to make changes and get off the sugar dependency. I could cite other reasons but it’s me who continues my health and my recent decisions have been poor.

While change can start immediately I am still struggling with the left shoulder and physical therapy. Come January I am going to start running and lifting weights again as I train for some of the adventures I will participate in 2014.

Measure My Health

measure-healthHow does one measure healthy? If you are skinny, you might consider yourself healthy. Some who claim to “eat clean” seem to think they are health. Eating low carbo or low fat, selecting “lean” or “grass fed” animals possibly makes one believe they are healthy. I now measure my health in terms of my blood work results. I have been doing this since I changed my diet back in 2011.

No doctor, diet or article can replace the evidence for changing my lifestyle to a plant-based, whole foods diet. The results have been nothing short of amazing! Some individuals I communicate with claim any change in my diet would have shown positive results in my blood work. Maybe they are true to a degree, but I don’t believe I would be at the same level of health if I were still eating a diet that consisted of animal products, dairy and oil.

When I was 39 years old I decided to start getting yearly physicals, as I had a myriad of ailments that were causing my problems. Along with an ACL replacement in my right knee I had abdominal pains, as yet undiagnosed Plantar Fasciitis, constant migraine headaches, what was thought to be arthritis in my left hand and lateral epicondylitis or “Tennis elbow.” It wasn’t until I was 41 that I realized I was sick, overweight and in considerable pain.

Previous blood work results revealed I was not seeing any improvement in my health. My weight, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol continued to rise. No longer was diet the solution. Enter statins (Read LDL is Bad). These were short lived, as I suffered leg cramps, which is a common side effect along with headaches (possibly related to the continual migraines), gas, heartburn and stomach problems. Who knows what else this medication was doing to me! Without consulting my doctor I stopped taking simvastatin and attempted to make further changes in my diet, but found myself feeling hungry.

As I continued to look for alternatives to medication, I started to change how I cooked. Just one month after my physical in July, 2011 I wrote, “Since my physical I am reevaluating how I eat. I’ll be honest, my diet is not good, but it’s not too terribly bad. I know, I don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and probably drink a bit too much beer on my days off. But I really avoid sweets and don’t over eat, which seems to be a common problem in the U.S.

While changing what I ate helped, seeing some early success (dropping 4 pounds) was really nothing but a facade, as I continue to use cheese and oils, while looking for vegetarian offerings that my wife would enjoy. I had limited success with a few casseroles, pasta dishes and soup. They were “lighter” but honestly not much healthier than how I had been eating. It would be 3 months later before viewing Forks Over Knives and making radical changes in my diet that would change my lifestyle forever.

Now some 19 months later I continue to reap the benefits of a plant-based whole foods lifestyle as taught by Dr. John McDougall. This journey of “enlightenment” has been nothing short of amazing on the road to health. I probably overstate this every time I speak about the improvements in my health. Every day I feel better than the last, no longer eating to live, but living to eat.

Blood work still plays a major part in my health, as it does many like-minded individuals I communicate with in certain plant-based circles. Since changing my diet I look forward to getting blood drawn and more important wait like a kid on Christmas Eve to get the results and see how my numbers have changed, hopefully for the better.  I haven’t had much luck getting my physician to sign off on blood work other than my physical. Thankfully he has wanted to follow up on a few other numbers (Vitamin D) and I had a few additional tests outside my yearly physical.

Last month, at the insistence of my wife I finally decided to look into life insurance. Being in good health it was something that I figure I did not need, but she wanted the reassurance that IF something went wrong (not health related) that she and my son would be taken care of. I guess that is something I take for granted and don’t really think of. So I started researching life insurance and the companies that offered it. When I settled on a company I called and spoke with a representative, who provided me with the details on term life insurance.

After a series of health and lifestyle questions, she informed me I would be required to get blood work done. Excellent! Another opportunity to check the “health” of my blood. I was excited at the prospect. I received the results yesterday and have started reading through them and comparing them to previous results. Based on my July 31, 2012 results my numbers were trending down. This was the last blood test I had taken. Results from that test:

July 31, 2012
Weight: 172 pounds
Chol: 130 mg/dL
Trig: 162 mg/dL
HDLC: 35 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.7 H
LDL: 63 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 95 mg/dL

The only number last July that was still a concern was the Triglycerides level at 162 mg/dL. It was also the only number my doctor commented on telling me to cut back on carbohydrates, specifically potatoes. Uh, okay doc. Needless to say I did not follow his “recommendation” and continued to eat a starch based diet, as promoted by Dr. McDougall. The big change between July, 2012 and now is the level of exercise. I had gone from 3 days a week with some cardio work to lifting weights 3 days a week and running 3-4 days week. The level of weight lifting has increased greatly since October and running has been routine for the last 2 months.

May 8, 2013
Weight: 175 pounds
Chol: 146 mg/dL (+16)
Trig: 136 mg/dL (-26)
HDLC: 44 mg/dL (+7)
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.3 H (-0.4)
LDL: 63 mg/dL (+11)
Non-HDLC: not measured

Starting with weight, it’s no surprise I have seen an increase from my low of 172 pounds. My goal weight was 175 pounds and I have been within a few pounds of that since hitting my goal weight. With any luck I will see an increase in weight as I continue to add muscle to my body, while reducing my body fat. The hydrostatic test is scheduled for June 20.

My total cholesterol increased from my all time low of 130 to 146. I am not sure why or how this number increased over the last 9 months since my diet does not include meat or dairy. The only answer I can come up with is the fact I use nuts and nut butters on a regular basis. Knowing these both contain oils and fats, I do use them in moderation (with my cheese sauces), but have found an acceptable alternative (white beans). Avocados would be the only other culprit of a high saturated fat food. Those are used more infrequent and usually as guacamole.

I am pleased with the drop in Triglycerides by 26 points (now 136), this appears to be well under control. In my assessment it was the amount of alcohol I was drinking that led this number to remain elevated. While I haven’t cut the beer out completely, I no longer drink a 6 or 12 pack while working around the house and finding alternatives, such as Crystal Geyser or La Croix to quench my thirst. I will need to look at the “normal range” provided by my doctor, not quite sure when 136 would fall, but based on the Mayo Clinic anything under 150 is normal. The Chol/HDLC Ratio dropped as well, which indicates a lower risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Overall, I a continue to be pleased with the progress I am making. I continue to follow the plant-based, whole foods way of eating with very little cheating or straying too far away from what got to me this level of health. Like life, there is always room for improvement and I will continue to work towards making myself “heart attack proof” as Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn talks about in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

Both HDL and LDL increased in the past 9 months. I am not trying to get stuck on the LDL (or bad) being increased, as the overall total cholesterol number is still below 150 (146). Interesting to note that even with the 11 point increase in the LDL it is reflected as “LOW” on the results