Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why a whole foods plant-based diet?

The dietary evolution I have undergone in the past year has led me to a lifetime commitment to a low fat vegan way of eating. When, for the past 20+ years, I was a traditional vegetarian, consuming milk products, eggs and lots of vegetable oils, my non-meat diet stood out in a crowd. My eating generated some questions and conversation at social gatherings and when out with friends at restaurants. But, the impact that my eating had on friends, family and associates was minor compared to the reaction I get now that I have eliminated all animal foods, most processed foods (even veggie burgers and veggie dogs), most refined sugar and all added oils, including the so-called "good" oils like olive and safflower oils. Low fat vegan eating has certainly gotten people's attention.

Actually, I like to refer to my eating plan as a whole foods, plant-based diet, the terminology that T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D uses in The China Study, the work that had the biggest impact on my decision to change to this diet. The China Study provides solid research behind the finding that the healthiest populations in the world subsist on a diet consisting of mostly starches, fruits, and vegetables with no or very few foods derived from animals. The work of physicians pioneering in the relationship between diet and health such as Dean Ornish , John McDougall, MD, and Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD have also been very influential.

Dr. McDougall has been especially important in providing me with loads of great health information relating to two topics he is passionate about. First, is the low fat vegan diet and second, and equally important, is his commitment to very conservative medical practice. Dr. McDougall, a Board Certified Internist, believes that a healthy diet is the key to good health and the avoidance of prescription drugs and surgery. All these physicians have demonstrated that diet is of critical importance in both prevention of and recovery from chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes, to mention just a few. Dr. McDougall provides loads of valuable diet and health care information free on his website.

Good health is my goal, as well as doing my part to save the planet, combat global warming, and prevent abuses and cruelty to animals. The question that many ask is why have I gotten so "extreme" in my eating. I can see where people would view a whole foods, plant-based diet as extreme because most of us grew up with the habit of eating lots of animal food, dairy and fatty foods. This way of eating is central to our Western culture. Unless we grew up in the rare family that was committed to a plant-based diet, we follow the Western diet (SAD) and that, to us, is the norm.

Now that I have become comfortable with plant-based eating I view SAD as extreme and there is no way I would return to that way of eating. But, my evolution has been a very long one. For over 20 years I followed the lacto/ova vegetarian diet and before that a traditional SAD. I also have been a regular exerciser. For the past several years I have enjoyed long distance recumbent cycling. Fortunately, I have had no major health problems.

But still I struggled with my weight. While I have never been obese, as I got older my weight settled in around 200 pounds, about 30 pounds heavier than desireable for my 5'11” frame, especially for optimal cycling performance, not to mention my health. My blood cholesterol readings have stubbornly stayed in the 200-220 mg/dl range, and my LDL cholesterol in the high normal range. Although a recent heart CAT scan showed my heart health to be good and my risk of heart disease to be low, physicians have suggested I go on a cholesterol lowering drug, something I am very reluctant to do. Another of my goals is to stay off of prescription drugs and most supplements for life. I have had minor health issues -- a benign ( I think) heart arrythmia (skipped beats), and occasional Acid Reflux. I also have an unfavorable family history. My father died at age 52 following his fourth heart attack.

The primary driver for the whole foods, plant-based diet was my high cholesterol combined with my family history. Although my heart health is pretty good, I don't want to take any chances as I move into advanced age. I am now 65. I want to ride my bicycles to a very advanced age and maintain excellent health as long as possible. I also want to serve as a good “role model” for friends and family. This diet change has thus far had a very positive impact on my health, but, frankly, is initially a major, difficult transition. Perhaps my example will be helpful to others in making this very rewarding change.

I started the eating plan on 7/16/07, about 3 months ago. My weight has dropped from 192 to 171 and my cholesterol dropped over 50 points to 167 mg/dl. It is too soon to make final conclusions, but the initial results came quickly and are quite impressive. My heart arrythmia is gone, and my acid reflux has disappeared. My cycling endurance and recovery has also improved. I wonder whether the heart arrythmia was from lots of refined sugar, most of which I have now eliminated.

These results more than justify what now seems like only minor sacrifices in giving up dairy products and fatty foods. My eating plan, based on information from John McDougall, MD is summarized as follows:

  • A starch based diet with fruits and vegetable
  • No added fats of any kind
  • No animal based foods
  • Reduce refined sugar to a minimum
  • Reduce processed foods, including soy based veggie burgers and veggie dogs, to a minimum
On this blog I will report on my continued progress and document issues that develop. I will also share recipes. My goal is to be objective and informative.

1 comment:

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