September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The aim of these health month designations is to educate and bring awareness to diseases and the treatment of disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100. And for men, the American Cancer Society states that about 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 1 man in 39 will die of prostate cancer. Both of these cancers are more likely to develop in older women and men. You can go here and here to learn more about symptoms, risk, treatments, etc.

 

We all know how fast things change, and cancer care is changing too. The big “C” is less frequently a terminal illness than it was years ago. Yet, the worry that a possible or actual cancer diagnosis causes remains. I remember how scared I was when the mammography center called me once to say they needed me to come back for another, more thorough screening due to unclear “spots.” Yikes! Thankfully it was nothing. And many of us know the sinking feeling when told a family member or a friend gets a cancer diagnosis. While cancer is not a good or simple thing to face, the good news is that treatments are much more successful and may not be as awful as once upon a time, and hopefully will see even more progress soon. Because of the public’s complaints about how debilitating older treatments were, almost worse than the cancer itself, medical personnel and researchers have begun to focus on making cancer a manageable disease – looking at less aggressive treatment and paying more attention to the fears and concerns of the patient. The focus is moving more toward prevention, early diagnosis, and patient experience during and after treatment. While still scary, cancer does not need to be the scariest of diagnoses anymore.

 

Of course we all know there are certain risky behaviors that increase a person’s chances of getting cancer in their lifetime: smoking, years of breathing industrial dust without a mask, overexposure to the sun, etc. But it is also believed that nearly everyone has or will have some malignant cells in their body, and why some people develop cancer and some do not is unknown to date, outside of obvious factors. For instance, a smoker is more likely to develop lung cancer than his non-smoking sibling, but we’ve all heard of people who developed lung cancer with no obvious cause. So what can one do to lessen the risk? Aside from the obvious like not smoking, minimizing sun exposure, using protective gear at work or around chemicals, did you know that excess stress and a poor diet can also contribute to cancer risk?

 

Stress is a normal part of living and usually not a concern, but sometimes it gets too unmanageable and becomes a constant and unwelcome companion. People often deal with this by smoking a lot, drinking too much alcohol, or overeating. These behaviors all may increase one’s chances of developing cancer. Chronic stress is also harmful to overall health which may leave one vulnerable to growth of malignant cells. So it is important to deal with increasing stress in healthful ways. Look for ways to reduce stressful obligations, avoid stress-inducing situations, and/or delegate tasks that are overloading you. In addition, seek ways to get a handle on your stress about things you cannot change. Learn how to meditate, learn some calming yoga poses, spend time in contemplative prayer, or set aside time for a solo walk. Do this daily! Find 30 minutes in your day to do one or more of these practices. If necessary, get professional help in dealing with stress and anxiety that you cannot manage. Help your body by relieving it of some of the burden too much stress puts on it.

 

Doctors are more and more convinced of inflammation’s role in increasing cancer risk, as well as the risk of other serious ailments like heart disease and dementia. Stress, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diet contribute to chronic inflammation. I already mentioned reducing stress, and have many times recommended regular activity/movement/exercise. A healthful way of eating reduces the chances of chronic inflammation and will help eliminate inflammation that already exists. Also, a healthful way of eating helps with weight control. Obesity increases the risk of certain cancers. What does anti-inflammatory, healthful eating look like? It looks like lots of vegetables and fruits; whole grains (not ground into flour); beans and legumes; fats such as from nuts and avocados; small amounts of high-quality animal protein if desired; and limited amounts of natural sugars (honey or pure maple syrup, for instance). Omit highly processed foods, fried food, sweetened beverages, and so forth. Common sense eating really. This is not a fad diet meant to be followed for a few weeks or months. This is a lifestyle way of eating.

 

You are your own best defense against needing cancer treatment. Pay attention to your body and what it tells you. You will be the first to notice changes that warrant investigation. Take care of your body by feeding it well, getting regular exercise, avoiding known dangers, and maintaining calm and positive outlook, filled with gratitude for the gifts you have. And we all have gifts!

 

Do you get cravings? I do! In fact, right now I am diving in to a bag of my favorite tortilla chips – Late July Sea Salt by the Seashore multigrain tortilla chips. It’s been a long day at the computer, writing my newsletter for July which is due out the end of this week. Yikes! I needed some easy energy and the brand new bag was calling my name. Does that ever happen to you?

What else do I crave, food-wise? Well, I was craving green veggies this week. I had been out of town and meals were – light, scattered, and not full of green stuff. So I wanted salads! Besides, it’s hot and salads make a cool, no cook meal often in our house. Sometimes I crave chocolate – just a piece of a good quality, dark chocolate bar. Wine – I sometimes crave a nice glass of red wine with pasta, or while I’m cooking. (I have a small poster of Maxine saying “I love to cook with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food” hanging on my refrigerator!) About four or five times a year I crave a good burger – usually I avoid beef but when this one hits, it’s pretty strong. Peanut butter calls me at lunch now and then – a good PB&J never hurt anyone, right? Soups when it’s chilly or I’m not feeling well. Cheese is another food I usually avoid but sometimes I’m driven to buy a hunk of cheddar and dig in. Not to say I don’t eat these foods other times, just that sometimes the pull is strong.

Do I indulge? Normally, yes, for two reasons. One, I feel like my body knows better than my mind at times, and I should listen to it. Maybe I’ve been unknowingly short-changing some nutrient element of food or using it up more than usual, so my body says “get some of this.” Two, I believe moderation is best in most things, so a little treat of chocolate or a burger is good for the soul. Asceticism generally leads to even stronger cravings. We always want what we ‘can’t’ have, right? It’s why so many ‘diets’ fail – they are too restrictive and often not right for the person trying the diet.

That said, these cravings don’t rule my life, they don’t cause guilt – because they are not constant, overwhelming, and harmful. When people have any kind of addiction, it can be so powerful they give over control of their life to the addiction. The cravings of which I speak are not addiction-related. If you crave something now and then and aren’t restricted medically, then go ahead and indulge! If the craving begins to rule your life, that’s another matter. But an occasional splurge is harmless and only you can decide the degree of its strength. Mostly, I think you’ll feel pretty darn good and move on with life.

So what if you have cravings for something you should not eat due to a medical condition? Like diabetics who crave dessert after every meal, or lactose intolerant individuals who really want some cheese or a glass of milk? Or what if you swore off alcohol (not addiction related) and really want to join a friend in a glass of wine, or you decided to switch to a plant based diet but that burger smells so good?

  • Willpower is essential. Many people believe they don’t have any but really what is often lacking is conviction, not willpower. If you don’t really believe in the reason you are avoiding a food it will be harder to pass on the craving.
  • Substitute something else. I might go for peanut butter on crackers when a cheese craving hits, or a handful of fresh or frozen berries instead of that ice cream dessert.
  • Distract yourself. When I am staying away from wine but feel the urge, I will make a cup of tea. The preparation occupies my mind – filling tea kettle with fresh water, getting the mug out, choosing a flavor of tea. Then I can peacefully sip the tea and no longer care about the wine.
  • Support and accountability are helpful. Maybe your friend will agree to help you by not having dessert when dining with you, and will remind you why you aren’t eating sweets.
  • Know your limits – can you have a little bit or none at all? If none, don’t keep any of the food or beverage you need to avoid nearby, and try to steer clear of places it is featured. If you are diabetic and absolutely love ice cream, don’t keep any at home and stay out of ice cream parlors! If you are refraining from alcohol, stay out of bars.

Mostly, just don’t let a craving make you feel like a failure, even if you give in to it. It’s normal! You’re human! Let it go and carry on.

Today I’d like to explore food allergies vs. intolerance vs. sensitivity. I think there is a lot of confusion around these terms and how, even if, they differ. The words are bandied about the news and Internet, along with fear-inducing warnings and questionable information. It seems more and more people have problems with certain foods, or claim they do, and it’s hard to know when the claims are serious. You may have been on an airplane where they announced “No peanuts today as there is a passenger with a peanut allergy on board.” Or maybe your child’s school sent a note prohibiting peanut-containing snacks or lunches. “Wow,” you may think, “is it really that dangerous?” For some people the answer is yes. So let’s outline the differences and similarities.

          An actual allergy to a food causes the body’s immune system to react, sometimes aggressively. The body views a protein in the food as an invader and attacks the invader with antibodies. You may be familiar with people taking an anti-histamine medicine when they have hives or itchy seasonal allergy symptoms – the histamine produced by the body in this fight against invaders causes those symptoms. However, a true food allergy can be much more serious, causing anaphylactic shock in some people. Other symptoms are less serious but can increase in severity if exposure continues. These could be skin reactions, like hives, swelling, and itching or digestive symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.

          A food intolerance does not involve the immune system. Intolerance most often means your body cannot break the food down properly in your digestive track. Milk intolerance is the most common, and is due to lack of the enzyme lactase needed to break down the lactose in the milk. Other causes of intolerance are certain food additives like sulfites or nitrites; extreme aversion to a certain food; and intolerance of naturally occurring substances like histamines. Generally the symptoms of food intolerance are gastrointestinal-related. Some blog articles point to skin disorders from intolerances but the medical sites did not list skin problems as related to food intolerance. Food intolerance will not cause anaphylactic shock.

          Food sensitivity is sometimes the term used for food intolerances, but where it is distinguished it refers more to the    discomfort some people may experience after eating spicy foods or acidic foods, or the faint mouth itchiness some people get after eating a banana but with no other symptoms. Food sensitivities also do not involve the immune system.

While allergies and intolerances share some symptoms, the main difference is the involvement of the immune system. Also, reactions from a food allergy generally begin immediately or within a short time of eating the food, where reaction from a food intolerance may not show up for hours or even a few days. An allergy causes a reaction from even a small amount of the food but intolerance usually flares up after eating a lot of the problem food. I am lactose intolerant but find I can have a small amount of cheese, for instance, without symptoms, especially if I indulge only on occasion. My experience highlights another difference – an allergy causes the reactions every time the offending food is eaten but a food intolerance often only flares up if the food is eaten often. Allergies can be life-threatening but intolerances are not.

Just as food allergies and intolerances can be outgrown or fade, we can also develop an allergy or intolerance as adults, even after eating the food for years without problems. This is very common for milk intolerance. Children with food allergies often outgrow them, especially milk, egg, and soy allergies, usually by age 6 or 10. It is less likely they will outgrow peanut, tree nut, or shellfish allergies.[1] The most common allergens, accounting for about 90% of food allergies, are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans. [Note that gluten is not listed here, even though it seems to be such a huge topic. You may think people with celiac disease(~ 1% of the US population) are allergic to gluten but it is not an allergy, rather it’s an autoimmune disease.  ‘Non-celiac gluten sensitivity’ is a fairly new disorder and one that is difficult to diagnose, as there is no test for it and removing gluten from the diet may also remove other causes of the symptoms.]

If you suspect you have an allergy to a food, you should avoid the food and seek testing to be sure. If it proves you are allergic you will need to continue to avoid the food, and other foods that may include it. If your symptoms are severe you should carry an epinephrine pen at all times.  If you suspect you have a food intolerance, the best way to be sure is to track what you’ve eaten when you experience the symptoms, and then try an elimination diet on the most likely culprits. This should tell you if you can eat a little on occasion or should just eliminate it for good. Remember to check on preparation when eating out – was the sauce made with shrimp stock and you are allergic to shrimp? I have a friend who is allergic to potatoes and has to be careful of fried foods, soups, breads, and sauces because they often have potato or potato starch, or were cooked alongside potatoes. Read labels, ask questions, and protect your health.

[1] http://blog.foodallergy.org/2013/09/13/who-is-likely-to-outgrow-a-food-allergy/

 

Most of us shy away from discussing bowel habits outside the doctor’s office; for some people even inside the doctor’s office is off limits for this topic. Yet, we all poop and most people suffer from constipation at some time or another, so why all the secrecy and reluctance to talk about it? Not good dinner table conversation perhaps, but there’s no reason not to talk about a common problem with a natural function. There’d be less suffering if people shared tips on how to get past constipation.

What is constipation? It is when the solid waste material doesn’t move through and out of the body in a timely manner, or is dry and hard to excrete. Other symptoms include gas, painful bloating, and straining to go or feeling that the bowel movement is not complete. Constipation that lasts for an extended period may lead to hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, or impacted bowels among other risks. Obviously, sudden and severe onset of constipation, especially if blood is present in the stool, or constipation that is not relieved by the usual remedies should be discussed with your medical professional without delay.

I admit to suffering from occasional constipation throughout my life, sometimes worse than others. It can really make a person cranky, to just not feel tip-top because a function that should just happen isn’t working. Speaking of normal, we are unique individuals and our bodies work within the rhythm that is right for each. Other peoples’ natural schedule of bowel movements may not be your natural rhythm. There is no “right” timing or amount; you should respect the signals from your body. That said, not having a bowel movement for a week or even for 4-5 days is a concern and you should be looking into what is going on.

What are some of the causes of occasional episodes of constipation?

  • Overuse of antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Changes in your usual diet or activities, like when on vacation or change in job
  • Consuming a lot of dairy products
  • Eating disorders
  • Not being active
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Overuse of laxatives (creates a dependency)
  • Pregnancy
  • Too often ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Excess stress

To avoid occasional bout of constipation, the general recommendations are simple lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise daily, for about 30 minutes. Exercise is essential to regular bowel movements. I find Hatha yoga especially helpful as it massages your internal organs, but a good walk helps too.
  • Drink plenty of water – 1 ½ – 2 quarts per day.
  • Eat plenty of fiber from whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal.
  • Cut back on milk and cheeses. Dairy products are constipating for some people, maybe for you.
  • If you take calcium supplements, be sure to get half as much magnesium to counter the sometimes constipating effects of calcium.
  • To relieve stress use a relaxation technique daily, especially meditation or breathing exercises. Stress interferes with relaxation of the whole body, including the bowels.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to go. Peristalsis of the bowel is the movements that trigger a bowel movement. If you ignore the urge, the opportunity may pass and lead to stool backing up
  • Do not use caffeine as a laxative. While coffee and other forms of caffeine may work as laxatives when used occasionally, when used regularly for this purpose caffeine, like the constant use of laxatives, prevents the bowels from following their own natural rhythm.
  • Don’t smoke. Nicotine affects the bowel in the same manner as caffeine.
  • Avoid constipating drugs if you can. The most common are opiates, diuretics, anti-depressants, and anti-histamines, among others.

There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Simple talk about what is often a simple problem with easy solutions. Hopefully you do not need this information often; if you do a health coach may be able to help reduce that need.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, I survived the month of WFPB – whole food plant based – eating! Ha, it wasn’t hard really, just that others around me thought it would be. As I indicated in the last update, the hardest part was eating out and having to ask questions about the choices offered. At home I was fine and tried a number of new recipes, several of which are keepers and will be repeated.

Will I stay with it? This was an experiment to see how easy/hard it would be to eat only plant-based foods. I don’t have health problems driving me to seek a better way of eating; I am not opposed 100% to consuming the produce of animals; and I already was choosing options that minimized the effects of consuming animal products. We eat a lot of meatless meals and even when a meal includes meat the portions are smaller than most people would use. I always try to buy from sources that use humane practices or fish sustainably. I know there are many people who will say that any consumption of animal produce caused pain and suffering, and I do understand that. To those people, one cannot justify the choice to not be plant-based. Still, I do feel pretty good and attribute at least some of that to focusing on my diet, so honestly I have not decided whether to stick with it or not.

“Focusing on my diet” may be what stops some folks from considering WFPB eating. By that I mean – it can be challenging since this is a whole food and plant-based (WFPB) way of eating. The emphasis is on little or no refining, eating the whole food, eating real food not replacements full of artificial or food-like contents. Did all my choices live up to this? No, I ate at a few restaurants and I use store-bought condiments at home, so not all the foods were 100% whole. But all in all, I felt like the month was mostly WFPB. I cook a lot and don’t use a lot of prepared foods, so it was less challenging for me. Of course, for people short on time to cook there are many ways to shortcut, like making extras and freezing or preparing items ahead of time on days off work. For people who don’t cook there are good options if labels are read and choices are carefully made, but many of the ready-to-eat foods are heavily refined and contain ingredients that are better to avoid. I did feel like there was more planning involved in preparing a meal that would satisfy all parties.

A few of our dinners:

                Everything Salads (all the salad veggies & fixin’s I have on hand)
                Pasta and Broccoli Leaves in Toasted Walnut Sauce (not a keeper!) with sautéed asparagus
                Veggie Pot Pie (awesome!!)
                My version of  Otro’s Inca salad
                Spicy Curry Vegetables, Black Pepper Saffron Rice, Cucumber salad
                A pinto bean-chopped veggies salad
                Veg stir fry

A lot of non-animal products exist, so one can eat plant based, but not necessarily healthy. I always tell people potato chips and sweet tea are plant based but as a steady diet not so healthy! Of course, unhealthy diets are not exclusive to vegan, or plant-based, ways of eating. Anyone can make poor choices on a regular basis. My recommendation is always to eat a variety of foods, preferably minimally refined, and eat in moderation. Want an ice cream or that decadent chocolate cake? Have it, enjoy it, share it if you can, and don’t make it a frequent habit. Not ready to give up meat or dairy products? Ok, but maybe skip the fried and scorched meats, avoid highly processed meats, and don’t have cheese on everything.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying this way of eating. If you have health issues or a family history of heart disease or cancer, it would be very worth your while to see how it works for you. Removing animal products from the diet may help you live longer and avoid killer diseases. Even if you feel you can’t cut them out completely, look for ways to minimize them in your diet. Your friendly neighborhood health coach is there to help!

My last post was about embarking on a whole food, plant based way of eating. (Again, it’s basically a vegan diet but with the emphasis on whole foods, foods in their most complete state.) I wanted to see how well I would do avoiding all animal and seafood protein, all dairy, and eggs. I did promise weekly updates but March has been a very busy month so I missed updating my progress last week.

I had stated I would try this for the month of March but actually started February 26. So it’s been three full weeks as I write this. How do I feel? Physically I feel great; lighter, not so dense. I notice I have longer periods of satiety and don’t feel the need to snack between meals. The occasional intestinal issues have improved. I may have lost a bit of weight, although that was not my aim. I believe I was not eating enough in week two since I found myself feeling lethargic, so I made sure to eat more food to get the calories I need for my activity level. Eating WFPB doesn’t mean restricted intake, I was just finding my way around a different way of thinking about meals and what to prepare, and not eating enough.

Mentally I’m a bit frustrated. The mental frustration comes from two areas. One is not having a partner in the experiment, someone to support the transition and share ideas with. Like a health coach, you ask? Well, yes, that would be a help, lol! Or someone to travel the path with me since it’s harder when those close to you aren’t willing to give it a try and don’t really understand why you want to do this.

The other area of frustration is eating out. Restauranteurs for the most part cater to omnivores, and understandably so since they are the majority. But could restaurants please, please have an entrée other than salad that is fully plant-based? One that I do not have to ask – “Is there milk in that?” or “Please omit the cheese.” One where there is flavor without resorting to ‘fake’ meats, cheese, or eggs. Certainly there are some restaurants that are all plant-based or have many options for vegans, but not often the kinds of places my dining partners want to go to. And some of those places do rely too heavily on highly processed ‘meat’ replacements – not something I want. Trust me, I understand the whys of this and trying to please a variety of palates and encouraging reluctant omnivores to try meatless eating. But I would also like to be able to go to the places we like to go and know there is something to order without a fuss. Maybe like-minded people will keep asking for better options as interest in WFPB eating increases and that will encourage chefs to add an item or two.

Have I been successful? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I am trying new recipes and some new foods, I feel great, and I know I am balancing my nutrition needs. I had one oooops! And one deliberate choice due to the frustration I mention above. The oooops was in the lovely spring lasagna I made early on – it used pesto rather than marinara sauce and I used a store-bought pesto (Kirkland’s from Costco – best stuff ever!) quite forgetting it has cheese. Oh, well. Then this past weekend we wanted to watch some of the March Madness at a local pizza place. NOTHING on the menu was cheese-free, and leaving the cheese out of any sounded tasteless and troublesome so I ordered pizza. A Margherita so there was no meat but there’s the cheese. I was quite ready to quit the whole experiment but a clearer head the next day told me to keep on it!

Has it been difficult? Well, no and yes is the answer here too. I am not a big meat eater anyway so that has not been burdensome for me. Maybe a little tiresome for my husband, as he misses some of his favorites that have chicken or fish. And I stopped using most dairy products long ago, although cheese had crept back in to our meals a little. I miss eggs more than meat or cheese. And of course avoiding cheese in restaurant meals has been a little tough. I think it does take more planning and effort to cook meals that satisfy hunger to the same extent a hunk of animal protein does. Much more prep work than popping a chicken breast in the broiler and tossing a quick salad! Here are some of the dinners I’ve eaten since the last post:

  • ‘Mexican’ salad cups – quinoa, beans, raw zucchini, tomatoes, salsa dressing in lettuce cups
  • Lasagna with beet greens filling, marinara, tofu, and vegan mozzarella-style cheese; simple side salad
  • One Pan Farro with Tomatoes; sautéed cauliflower
  • My ‘Everything’ salad – bits of all the vegetables I have on hand that work in a salad
  • Italian restaurant (veggie panini, hold the cheese)
  • Thai Noodle salad – lettuce, carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts, red bell, rice noodles in spicy peanut-ty dressing
  • Vegetarian sloppy joes on whole grain buns; cabbage slaw
  • Broccoli with udon noodles in spicy peanut sauce; Roasted Brussel sprouts in Momofuku sauce
  • Crunchy Salad – lots of crunchy vegs like raw carrot, celery, daikon radish, toasted seeds
  • Creamy carrot and sweet potato soup; spicy garbanzo fritters
  • Mexican restaurant (veggie taco, arroz side)
  • Pizza restaurant

I try to alternate hot meals vs. chilled salads, all veggies vs. veggies with beans or grains, eating in with eating out, and of course, what works with other plans on a given day. As well, the weather turned hot this past week so appetites go down. More salads will appear on the menu.

I would say a word about the meat replacement products. They can be a bridge to switching to a plant-based way of eating, especially for someone concerned about missing out on certain favorites or about not feeling full after a meal. But there are so many plant foods and so many ways to prepare them, that looking for ways to replace meat with a meat replacement may keep you from fully exploring all those plant foods and methods. Also, be careful of the replacement products – some are full of ingredients you really don’t want to eat and are highly processed. Read labels and know what you are buying.

All in all, I’m feeling good about this process and what we’ve been eating. By the end of the month I believe I’ll have the hang of menu-planning, which will simplify my food shopping. Right now I have an overabundance of vegetables in the fridge! Will I stick to it for life? I can’t say for sure, maybe I’ll know by April 1. Stay tuned for more!

What is it? Whole food, plant based eating. Basically it’s a vegan diet but with the emphasis on whole foods, foods in their most complete state. Less processed, not stripped of goodness and nutrition. Why am I writing about it? Because I decided to embark on this eating plan for the month of March! I want to see how well I do avoiding all animal and seafood protein, all dairy, and eggs. I think you will be reading a lot more about this way of eating if you haven’t already.

There are many reasons people decide to forgo eating the produce of animals: Animal rights and protection from cruel mismanagement; a person’s own health; not liking the taste or texture of flesh; religious restrictions; and some more, I am sure. I have been reading many articles on why a plant based diet is better for human health, and I want to see for myself how it affects me, if at all. I am in good shape, with a good weight, ‘good’ blood levels, and overall good health. So I don’t look for a major shift in any of that. Yet, will I lose weight, which I do not want to do? Maybe I’ll gain weight, which would be ok (as long as not too much!). Will I feel less energetic, more tired? Will my occasional intestinal distress clear up? Will I feel hungry all the time or more satiated than on my present way of eating? Will it be a lot more work cooking and planning meals? I’ll post updates each week so you can see how it goes for me. A well-rounded plant based diet does require some planning to make sure one is getting a full complement of nutrients and sufficient calories – potato chips and soda make a ‘vegan’ diet but not a healthy one!

My eating plan this month will consist of many vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses, seeds, nuts, and fruits. My last post was about raw food diets not being for me, so will have a mix of raw (salads) and cooked vegetables. I have a wide repertoire of recipes and there are thousands more available on the web. Most can be adapted to solely plant based. We eat a lot of meatless meals already, so my husband is accustomed to it. He is not fully on this ride with me, but agrees if he feels the need for meat, he can get it when we go out for dinner, about once a week. Probably the hardest thing for me to skip will be eggs – I don’t eat a lot of eggs but they can be a quick and satisfying meal or snack, so I will miss them. We are about 98% dairy free, with just the occasional buttermilk for a dressing or biscuits or maybe a little cheese now and then. So going 100% dairy free will not be tough for us. I do have some processed foods in my kitchen but not a lot and even those are minimally processed. Got to have a little convenience! Breakfast and lunch have not really changed for me. I usually have oatmeal and toast or a breakfast ‘cookie’ and fruit in the morning – I just switched to coconut oil or peanut butter in place of butter on my toast, for instance. Lunch is mostly meat-free anyway for me, consisting of leftovers or maybe a veggie patty from the freezer. I actually began the WFPB on 2/26 since Sunday starts my week of menu plans. So far our dinners have been:

  • A salad of spinach and lettuce topped with red rice, sliced celery, shredded carrot, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and vegan mayo mixed with curry powder and mango chutney
  • A variation of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Tex-Mex salad of lettuce and cabbage, black beans, corn, tomatoes, onion with an avocado based dressing
  • A veg-full soup with lentils and lots of spices
  • A veggie stack plate from a local restaurant (pita stacked with hummus, beets, garbanzos, quinoa, more)
  • Pasta with a fresh tomato sauce; sautéed broccoli leaves; sautéed asparagus
  • Red rice and black bean filled corn tortillas, enchilada style, with homemade enchilada sauce; a broccoli salad with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and spring onion in a light lime dressing; and a roasted kale, fennel , and delicata squash dish
  • Thai food from a local restaurant (Asian restaurants make eating veg easy!)
  • Spring Lasagna from Mollie Katzen’s Heart of the Plate cookbook; side salad
  • Roasted Beet and Spinach salad with walnuts

 

I am not stating everyone should give up all animal produce for all time. Humans are omnivores, meaning we can digest and assimilate food from animals and plants. Each person must decide for themselves. However, the way too much of our animal or fish protein is produced today makes the quality far inferior to the meat our grandparents ate. Factory farms where cattle, pigs, or chickens live in filthy, overcrowded conditions, are fed with feed not suitable for anyone’s consumption, and dosed with hormones and antibiotics whether needed or not and fish farms where the water is extremely contaminated, the fish are overcrowded, and again the feed is not suitable – these conditions are not how animals should live. The animals are stressed and therefore their flesh is of poor quality and reduced amounts of vitamin E, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Plenty of studies point to improved health and lower risk of modern lifestyle diseases in people who eat plant based diets. Reductions in diabetes, obesity, and some heart disease are most often cited. Some people simply don’t like the look, smell, mouth-feel, and taste of meat. And some religions prohibit eating the produce of animals. Whatever your reasons, if you have thought about ‘going veg’ give it a try, it could be interesting. Commit to a reasonable length of time – no less than two weeks – and see how you feel. I’ll post updates on my progress as the month proceeds!

I’ll begin with a confession – adopting a raw food diet is not for me! So why write about it? Well, I know there are many high-profile proponents of this style of eating so I wanted to understand it better in case clients ask about it. And since I learned some things, I thought you might like to also!

The raw food diet basically means eating foods that have not been cooked or at least not heated over ~115°F. There is no *one* raw food “diet” – the ways of following vary among adherents. Even the maximum temperature that foods can be warmed to without being considered ‘cooked’ varies. There are those who eat 100% raw food and those who eat 60-85% raw, with the remainder of their diet cooked foods. Raw meat (think sushi, sashimi, steak tartare, and some cured meats), raw (unpasteurized) dairy, and raw eggs are included by some raw foodists; many avoid these foods altogether. Some eat soaked or sprouted grains and others stick to only vegetables and fruits, nuts, and seeds. All of the plans I read about exclude processed foods, refined flours and sugars, all or most vegetable oils, and coffee. Most stress using organic produce as much as possible. One person writing on being ‘fully raw’ stated one should not eat vinegars, salt, oils, or spices, and should limit good fats like avocados and nuts, and frozen or dehydrated fruits and veggies.

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this eating style? Proponents believe that cooking destroys vital nutrients and enzymes in food, and even causes toxicity in the food, so they believe raw food has more nutrients. They believe a raw food diet helps with weight control, and that it will help new followers lose weight. It’s thought eating raw fruits and veggies can reduce acidity in the body and help alkalize it. And there are claims that raw food is easier to digest and moves through the digestive system more quickly than cooked food. Some writers made other claims about protection from other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It is said people eating raw have more energy, better skin, and lower blood pressure. Disadvantages include the difficulty of eating out, whether at a friend’s house or at a restaurant; the additional prep time needed to make a meal – more chopping, blending, sprouting, dehydrating, etc.; limitations on what can be eaten; it is more difficult to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need in the right proportions; increased risk of food borne illness and pathogens from commercially sold produce; and a follower must understand how raw differs from cooked in foods like broccoli and cauliflower, which contain compounds called goitrogens. Goitrogens may block thyroid function but are deactivated by heat, so eating lots of raw cruciferous veggies could lead to thyroid problems.

As with most health topics on the web, this one has believers and deniers, wild claims for and arguments against. I saw a whole lot of claims with no explanation of their basis in fact. I read an article of how eating this way nearly killed someone. Well-known doctors speak up for it and others speak against it. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda both promote cooked rather than raw foods. My take? I think the general guidelines for a raw diet are good, in that they include a lot of vegetables and fruits, little or no animal protein, no processed ‘junk’ food, and no refined sugars or flours. They promote organic, whole foods. Raw or cooked, eating this way is way better than the typical western diet. The plans seem flexible so they allow people who want to call themselves “raw foodies” can eat mostly raw but maybe include some lightly cooked food. And for those who do want some cooked foods, the recommendations are for light, gentle cooking – not fried or grilled to a blackened state. I question the claims of easier digestion, and this is one claim that was made without any citations of studies to back it up; in fact, articles weighing pros and cons were more likely to offer explanations of how this is not true. Claims of enzyme and vitamin loss from cooking were perhaps over-stated. Produce loses much of its nutrition the longer it waits past harvest and certainly cooking can add to that loss. Many cooking methods do not appreciably destroy nutrients, and even enhance some nutrients. A few articles stated that cooking makes food acidic, but this is not always true; also, our body determines our blood PH from many factors and constantly regulates it, and food does not change that. However, reducing some naturally acidic foods like meat, cheese and some grains is good for you, just not for your PH balance.

This way of eating is not for me because while I eat a fair amount of raw vegetables and fruits, I also like steamed veggies, hot soups, casseroles. And bread and pasta. I think the human race made giant strides in evolution because we learned to cook food, and those strides wouldn’t have happened if cooking destroyed nutrition. Many diseases that have become common in western, developed nations are due to poor eating habits, over-processed foods stripped of nutrition, and over- or under-consumption of foods due to ever changing food guidelines.

What do you think? Would you want to eat this way, or do you already?