Understanding of Nutrition

I don’t profess to “knowing it all” when it comes to nutrition. In 10 months I have only scratched the surface but would like to dig deeper and gain a better understanding of nutrition and the role food plays in our diet. For my discussion today, diet does not imply restricted eating to lose weight (although that is a result), but rather the food and drink regularly consumed by an individual. When it comes to nutrition, people are not sure what to believe as there is a world of misinformation being disseminated by special interest groups, industry, government, authors, doctors and other sources that it can mind boggling. Just who can you trust to give you a straight answer as it relates to food and you health?

While I don’t have a good answer for you, I do believe in the research conducted by T. Colin Campbell, PhD. Campbell “is an American biochemist who specializes in the effects of nutrition on long-term health. He is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, the author of over 300 research papers, and the co-author of The China Study (2004), one of America’s best-selling books about nutrition (source).”

I learned about The China Study when I viewed the documentary Forks Over Knives last September, but it wasn’t until April of this year I purchased the book (read my review) and read it for the first time. It was an eye opening experience. The numbers alone are staggering! The research is presented in an easy to read and understand format. Yet millions are unaware of this book or worse won’t subscribe to the plan outlined in order to improve health.

Individuals are resistant to change. Many believe what they were taught in school about nutrition was correct, eating from the basic food groups or following a food pyramid will keep them healthy. But is that really the case? “Overweight Americans now significantly outnumber those who maintain a healthy diet…almost a third of the adults twenty years and over in this country are obese.” This cited from The China Study and the outlook is even worse as American eat out more and spend more time in a sedentary position, watching TV, playing video games and on computers.

Heart disease will kill one out of every three Americans. According to the American Heart Association, over 60 million Americans currently suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.” Yet many turn to the medical establishment to “cure” them of this disease. The U.S. spends more money for health care than any other country in the world (over 1 trillion dollars in 1997), yet the U.S. is ranked 37th best in health care system performance. All this money. As I have experienced, my doctor seems to be motivated by money more than the health of his patient.

As of the writing of The China Study, the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer was medical care. This from a nation that spends more money on health care than any other nation in the world. How can that be? It doesn’t need to be this way, but people must “shift thinking toward a broader perspective on health, one that includes a proper understanding and use of good nutrition.”

Many people are under the misconception that foods such as meat and dairy must be included in their “healthy diet” or they will miss out on key nutrients that we need as humans. Principle #3 from The China Study: There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants. Case in point, the chart to the right comparing foods (500 calories of energy). Which would you rather eat for your health? Food A provides more antioxidants, fiber and minerals, which marginally less in protein. It’s no surprise to reveal Food A (equal parts of tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas, potatoes) is plant-based, while Food B (equal parts of beef, pork, chicken, whole milk) is animal based. Why wouldn’t you chose to eat the healthier option?

Moderation is no longer a way of eating I subscribe to because many American’s can’t limit their intake of “bad food.” Dr. Campbell cites, “the lower the percentage of animal-based foods that are consumed, the greater the health benefits.” While eliminating all animal-based products is the goal, Dr. Campbell says not to stress over it. For me and my health, it was all or nothing but I did give myself transition period that helped me cut back and cut out foods that I did not want to eat, namely meat, dairy and oil. Was it easy? No, but “moderation, even with the best intentions sometimes makes it more difficult to succeed.”

Many individuals I talk to regarding food, nutrition, diet and health always include “I can’t” or “I won’t” when I bring up a plant-based diet (lifestyle). Their reasons vary as to why they won’t try something different to improve their health or lose weight. I challenge many to give it 30 days following a plant-based diet, but to date, no takers. I even bring up the 12 day program that Dr. McDougall promotes on his site, but many feel as if they will be hungry.

My goals when I started were to improve my blood numbers by lowering my cholesterol and get healthy. Never did I believe I would have such radical results inside a year that my doctor couldn’t find anything wrong me during my last physical in August. The key, learning nutrition and thinking outside the box when it comes to what I ate.

Unfortunately this is very hard for some individuals. I overheard a gal at work say, “Ask Roberta, she has tried all the diets.” Again, it comes back to nutrition and learning what is should be consumed and what should be avoided and why. No need to count calories or subtract points or even be hungry. In ten months, if I was hungry it was because I was not eating enough good food daily. People will look at what they CAN’T eat as opposed to what they CAN eat.

As I have started to get a better feel for cooking without oil, meat and dairy, you can now toss in sugar and salt. None of these ingredients need to be in food to make it taste good or satiate you. I do continue to provide samples of my cooking to some of the women who are looking for a “healthy alternative.” Unfortunately I don’t think any of them will take me up on diet I follow. No longer is my goal to convince people that what I am doing is right. I am more focused on getting people to realize what is healthy and what isn’t.

I use work as an example again, another co-worker, Michelle says “I work out all the time, but I can’t lose weight.” Then she tells me how she cooks and eats. I give her some options and the first thing I mention, cut out the added oil to your cooking. No sooner do I say that and she seems lost as to how to cook without oil. It’s a teaching moment. She was given some other information this week from a low-carb follower, “don’t eat oatmeal or bananas” for breakfast. Huh? When did these foods suddenly become not good for you? When you need to limit the amount of carbohydrates you consume for fear these will make you fat, that is when. I reiterate, some people need to re-learn nutrition in order to take control of their health.

I know I won’t change the world when it comes to how I eat. I am very thankful to finding a healthy solution that works for me. Sure I give up a few foods, but I do believe I have become a better cook the past 11 months. My wife would probably agree with me, even though she won’t eat everything I prepare. That’s fair enough. More than following a plant-strong lifestyle, if people would pay more attention to what they eat and how some of the bad foods affect your health they would be better off in the end. It is my hope to plant a seed in people to understand nutrition.

Plant-Based & Kid Friendly

While deciding on what to comment on today, I found a Facebook entry from Dr. John McDougall regarding an article in the New York Times that exploits “the tragedy of a family and to spread commonly held, but scientifically incorrect, information on human nutrition.” Back in 2007, Dr. McDougall responded to Nina Planck’s story, Death by Veganism in a letter to the editor, as well as addressing individual points on his website.

This time around, Ms. Panck continues her misinformed ways in a story titled, A Choice With Definite Risks. Again, without much scientific citation, she continues to support her 2007 position, in which a vegan diet is inadequate for babies and children. Unfortunately this is an op-ed piece that fit for the circular file. I find it rather appalling that the NYT fish wrap allows for this sort of piece to be printed. Again without citation and based on her credentials, which include “farmers’ daughter, food writer, farmers’ market entrepreneur, local foodist, and advocate for traditional foods” she continues to push and promote the standard American diet.

Articles like this should no longer come as a surprise, yet they do. When books like The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn are citing scientific data promoting a plant-based diet, some hack submits a pro-SAD piece and suddenly the American public reaffirms it’s eating “healthy” with all the meat, dairy and fats in their daily diet.

I had intended writing about trying to cook plant-based meals for my son. Guess I should no longer consider this since this lifestyle isn’t “adequate” for babies and children. I disagree with her, citing Dr. McDougall’s comments from 2007.

My son has expanded his palette over the course of nearly 6 months. Thankfully he, unlike me at his age, does like vegetables and fruit. Still, we have quite a bit of “bad food” as I call it, in the pantry. He is aware, but doesn’t understand why I consider it bad food. I am attempting to teach him nutrition, since I know his schooling won’t provide him a chance to learn there are other ways to eat and grow up healthy.

Many sites I find seem to tout their foods, “kid friendly” but looking at what is offered I find it hard to believe that picky kids eat many of these recipes. I could be wrong and probably am. My son is now eating more of what I make, but at times I do find myself falling back to the old habits and feeding a pizza or chicken nuggets. I have started making him sliders using Morningstar Sausage Patties. We does enjoy a hearty meal of rice and beans, as well as bean burritos. Last night he ate nearly half a sweet potato! So the changes, while slow are coming.

I make a real effort to leave the sugar out of his school lunch. After looking at what some of his classmates are eating as a snack, it’s quite surprising to see all the sugary snacks and drinks parents are sending to school. I usually end up making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a cheese sandwich. Much like dinner, there are times the processed foods end up in the lunch box. His snacks usually consist of a banana or strawberries, with a small bottle of water.

So while he isn’t McDougall compliant, there are changes happening. It’s more of a matter of getting rid of the “bad” and unhealthy snack foods. Since nutritional labels are so misleading, it’s easy to give your kids foods are appear healthy, but aren’t. Fruit snacks are a prime example! The first 3 ingredients, “Fruit Juice, Corn Syrup, Sugar” and a bit further down “Dextrose.” Yet the nutritional facts will show ZERO fat with 12 grams of sugar in 1 serving.

It’s more a matter of parents educating their children and not buying those types of foods. It can be difficult and easier to reach for something processed and toss it in the microwave. In my opinion, you are doing your child a disservice when it comes to their nutrition. I feel bad when I nuke my son’s processed meal. I want him to grow up healthy and strong and not have to wait 42 years to make the right decision as is relates to his health.

My Challenges of Going Plant-Based

I am shocked, the New York Times has an article titled The Challenge of Going Vegan today. First, I hate labels. I feel that calling myself “vegan” carries a negative connotation with it and immediate affiliation with PETA. I do however like to tell others I am “living plant strong” or “I eat a plant based diet.” Regardless of what you call me I can relate to the challenges of “going vegan” but not for some of the silly points in the article.

Use any search engine and type in “vegan recipes” or “vegetarian recipes” and one of the first things you will notice, the use of dairy, soy, tofu and most damaging, oil in vegan cooking. The common misconception is that vegan cooking is healthier. In my experience (all of 5 months) it can be, but continuing to cook with dairy and oil can be counterproductive and will continue to promote cancer and heart disease. See my article I wrote last month called Fat Vegans.

Next, I don’t get a shit which celebrity or athlete are “singing the benefits of a vegan diet.” It’s seems to be make headlines when some star promotes a vegan lifestyle. Following what these people do is ridiculous. If you want to change your diet…you lifestyle, then you do it for YOUR reasons, not because your favorite soap opera star did it.

It’s nice to see The China Study mentioned in the article. In my opinion this book should be a must read for EVERY American! While the article cites “meat consumption as the social cultural norm” it’s never too late to take health into your own hands and start living to eat. It’s not easy making a switch to a plant-based diet. In my case I gave myself a 3 month transition period in order to gain more knowledge and learn how to cook without meat, dairy and oil.

Unfortunately the articles fails when they begin citing “expensive” soy products. Personally, I think it’s wrong for those who are carnivores to immediate think soy and tofu are the alternatives to beef and chicken. They aren’t. In 5 months I have probably bought two soy products, these are not a staple in my “vegan” lifestyle.

When it comes to price I will also disagree with the article. I find my family and I are saving money when we go to the market. Why? We aren’t needed to pay for meat and dairy products, which quickly add it. It’s great to roll though those departments. I find that I can spend less and buy more when it comes to vegetables, legumes and tubers. The nice thing is being able to buy in bulk. We now buy 10 pound bags of potatoes, 8 pounds of onions, 5 pounds of pinto beans and 5 pounds of couscous, just as an example.

Being socially accepted has probably been the most difficult part. In my opinion, why should anyone care how or what I eat? They shouldn’t. I am now to the point where I will accept the comments and jokes are continually directed to me. Cooking for friends can be difficult. While I haven’t hosted a dinner party for carnivores, I have taken a few dishes to parties and many have times I have come how with no leftovers. People have commented on my three bean salad and tri-colored couscous salad. These are great dishes that can accompany any meal. I can guarantee the potato enchiladas I make would fill even the fiercest carnivore I know. Still many are under the misconception they need to eat meat to survive.

As for making a lifestyle change, I can’t call it a diet because it’s so much more than “just a diet” you must do it for YOUR reasons, not to be socially accepted. After learning, should I relearning nutrition and educating myself on what promotes heart disease and cancers making the decision to give up meat, dairy and oil wasn’t difficult. I mentioned a 3 month transition period earlier, this allowed me “break the rules” and still feel good that I am following a lifestyle that will promote a healthier lifestyle. Meat and oil were easy to give up, dairy was more difficult.

I found giving up cheese to be the hardest food to do without. I love the smell and taste of the wide varieties of cheese, which I would use in many dishes from pasta to casseroles. One thing I have learned, the use of substitutes for plant-based cooking. Now I use nutritional yeast combined with other ingredients to a make cheese sauce. Sure, its’t NOT real cheese, but after a few months it takes on a cheesy flavor. The longer I go without eating meat, cheese and oil, the more I enjoy my culinary experiences from the real flavors of the foods and spices I cook with.

While I would love to see everyone making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle, I know that will never happen. The meat and dairy industry back the USDA, who set the nutritional guidelines to keep Americans fat and unhealthy. It’s really a sad state of affairs when the nutritional guideline set are promoting a very unhealthy lifestyle. Not sure I will live to see a day where plant-based, whole grain lifestyle is the norm, but I am grateful I found it after 42 years. It’s never too late to start and the change doesn’t have to take place overnight.

Behind Door #2

Many people I talk to don’t understand why I have given up meat…and dairy…and oil. All they hear is, “you are vegan?” I don’t even try to explain a plant-based, whole foods lifestyle. It relates to FINALLY, after 42 years deciding to take my health out of the hands of doctors and into my own hands. While I haven’t been severely sick or injured often, I have used medical services in the past. Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise the level of service provided seems to be deteriorating. “Seven years ago, the World Health Organization made the first major effort to rank the health systems of 191 nations. France and Italy took the top two spots; the United States was a dismal 37th” (source). It is estimated that the US spends $2 trillion annually on healthcare expenses (source).

As I have read in The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and some papers written by Dr. John McDougall much of this expenditure is not geared towards nutrition or prevention. “The health insurance companies and the big pharmaceutical corporations are raking in gigantic mountains of cash and yet the quality of the health care that we receive in return is rather quite poor” (source). The numbers are staggering when you look at the quality of medical care many individuals receive.

Unfortunately a good many number of doctors and medical facilities are not about finding the root cause of an illness, when they can prescribe medication or invasive surgery. “Nearly half of all Americans now use prescription drugs on a regular basis according to a CDC report that was recently released. According to the report, approximately one-third of all Americans use two or more pharmaceutical drugs, and more than ten percent of all Americans use five or more drugs on a regular basis.” It does not have to be this way for a majority of people. Yet doctors don’t want to see healthy people, since they don’t make them or “Big Pharma” any money. Only sick people do. (NOTE: Here are 50 U.S. Healthcare Statistics That Will Absolutely Astonish You)

Thanks to diet (or radical lifestyle change, as seen by many of my friends) I am now on the road to a healthy lifestyle. I feel great! Unfortunately I am still battling a left knee injury from soccer that has slowed me down for the past 40 days. During that time I have been to the doctor’s office twice, seen the orthopedic surgeon three times (totaling 12 minutes), gone through 3 weeks of physical therapy and finally, yesterday received my referral for an MRI. In my opinion that should of happened about 3 weeks ago. Then again, I am not a doctor.

As I wrote a few days ago, the physical therapist is of the opinion I have a mensical tear, NOT osteoarthritis as diagnosed by the orthopedic about 3 weeks ago. The pain has yet to improve when going through physical therapy. So in the words of my orthopedic surgeon, “congratulations you win what’s behind door number two.” That being an MRI. We will see what, if anything the MRI reveals. I am still of the opinion there is something torn in the knee and physical therapy confirmed by nagging feeling. I am still shocked at the lack of complacency by the orthopedic surgeon. To show he did care, he inquired about the numbness in my right knee, which had the ACL replaced in 2009 and tingling in my right toes. Needless to say, the numbness is still there, but he was happy to hear the tingling went away. Thanks doc! Guess I am the first to end up with a numb knee after surgery.

The China Study

It’s been almost 5 months since I purchased The McDougall Program by Dr. John McDougall. Last week I made the decision to pick up a copy of The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. It’s one of those books that is usually referenced when talking about a starch based diet. While I am only about 282 pages into the book, there have been some very enlightening comments made by the author. His work with the China Study was groundbreaking and complex, in terms of scope. Yet the results are rather astounding, especially coming from a “standard American diet.”

I figured I would highlight some of enlightening details from the book:


  • Drugs and surgery don’t cure the diseases that kill most Americans.
  • Your doctor probably does not know what you need to do to be the healthiest you can be.
  • Our health care system is clearly not the best in the world, even though we spend far and away, the most money on it.
  • [Cancer] Promotion is reversible, depending on whether the early caner growth is given the right conditions in which to grow.
  • The results of these, and many other studies, showed nutrition to be far more important in controller cancer promotion than the dose of the initiating carcinogen.
  • …nutrients from animal-based foods increased tumor development while nutrients from plant-based food decreased tumor development.
  • Lower blood cholesterol levels are linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer and other Western diseases, even at levels far below those considered “safe” in the West.
  • …there is a mountain of scientific evidence to show that the healthiest diet you can possibly consume is a high-carbohydrate diet.
  • Everything in food works together to create health or disease.


These just scratch the surface though, the scientific reasoning behind The China Study and the numbers presented are staggering. Dr. Campbell stresses through out the book a plant-based diet leads to better health.

While I am not quite done with the book, I am interested in learning more about nutrition after reading The China Study. So much so, I am considering enrolling in T. Colin Campbell‘s online courses for a certificate in plant-base nutrition through eCornell. No idea what doors this will open, if any, or where it will lead. I do think it is a great opportunity to learn and expand my knowledge of a plant-based diet.