Monday, October 28, 2013

One Year

October 28, 2012 was the day we began our 1-month trial of a whole food, plant-based diet. We had watched Forks Over Knives in September 2012 and were greatly impressed with the massive amounts of scientific research and clinical studies that were presented in the movie. They were not approaching their dietary recommendations from an animal welfare point-of-view - it was based on the pursuit of health. It was eye-opening to learn that many of America's "Top Killers" (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity/overweight) are largely PREVENTABLE and even REVERSABLE through diet.

It really clicked with us: what you choose to put in your mouth 3+ times per day can have a profound impact on your health. Even more of an effect than family history or genetics. The food you consume can determine which genes are expressed and which are suppressed. Given the diseases and ailments that run rampant in both sides of our families, we were easily convicted to at least give this diet a try. We committed to trying this diet for one month, after which we would evaluate whether or not to continue.

You see, we were always interested in improving our health.

 photo Before_zpse4261e4b.jpg
Before Pictures

Michael, My Husband
Michael grew up loving to work out and play sports. He's always been very active, and fortunately had a fast metabolism to keep up with his energy. But little did he know, he was slowly killing himself from the inside out. At the age of 24, his cholesterol was 218 and his blood pressure was high. His doctor was already starting to mention medication. Michael, always against taking lifelong medication, refused. He asked for ways to help with these conditions besides medication, but was not given helpful or effective advice. He received the usual advice: fish oil supplements, eat healthier by eating "lean meats" and "low fat" foods, and exercise regularly.  

But this is useless advice.

Exercise alone cannot help prevent heart disease and strokes. Not when you are still consuming unhealthy foods 3+ times a day.

In addition to high cholesterol and blood pressure, Michael had a lifelong skin condition called keratosis pilaris, which are small red bumps on his upper arms and thighs and his stomach. He even saw a dermatologist about this condition and was told that there is no cure for it. He was told there is a prescription medication for it, but he didn't recommend it because it can cause liver damage. So Michael accepted that there was nothing more he could do about it.

He also had a constant fungal infection on his toenails, and periodic recurring fungal infections on his feet (athlete's foot). He was told by his doctor that these are inevitable conditions that all men will eventually develop, and that unfortunately for some men, they develop it earlier in life. So Michael accepted that there was nothing more he could do about it.

And like any average American, he took his multivitamin every day.

Michael also lived with some fears about his future health. His father died in his 40s from melanoma (skin cancer). His mother had breast cancer and polyps removed from her colon when she was in her late 40s. His uncle had died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. Overweight/obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure all ran in his family. Like his family, Michael LOVED to eat. The fattier and richer the food, the better. Remember our first post about how Michael ate 2 lbs of steak and side dishes the night he met my family for the first time? Trust me, this boy loved his meat, dairy, and fatty foods.

But when he was told that his cholesterol was high, he was eager to lower it naturally, without taking prescription medication. We tried to cook more at home, choose chicken over beef when possible, select low-fat or non-fat dairy products, and eat everything in moderation. We made the best choices in what food to eat based on the information we knew at the time.

But it didn't work. His cholesterol in August 2012, just before starting a whole food, plant-based diet was 208 - still considered high. His blood pressure was still high. He still feared that one day he might develop cancer like both of his parents had.

Well guess what?

After one year of eating a whole food, plant-based diet, here are the changes that took place in Michael's health:
  • Cholesterol is 146
  • Blood pressure is normal
  • Eliminated his keratosis polaris
  • Eliminated his recurring fungal infections on his toenails and feet
  • Off all prescription and over the counter medications/vitamins/supplements
  • No longer fears a future of heart disease or cancer
  • He's leaner and fitter than ever

Christine, Yours Truly
I grew up in a home where vegetables were what came from a can. I had no idea what herbs and seasonings were, because my family and I didn't care for much flavor. The only fresh fruit we would have on occasion were bananas, apples, and grapes. I learned how to "cook" at a young age - heating taquitos in the oven, cooking canned soups and packaged Ramen noodles on the stove, and making boxed mac-and-cheese. A meal in our home was always a large meat item with two side dishes. But we ate out often, either at fast food or sit-down restaurants.

I had a big sweet tooth. My typical dessert each night was a 16-oz glass full of Blue Bell ice cream. I would be ecstatic when my mom would purchase boxes of candy bars for me from Sams. Candy, cookies, ice cream, brownies...pretty much any sweet was my favorite.

By my senior year in high school, I was overweight. I began exercising sporadically and trying to restrict portion sizes and count calories to lose weight. My metabolism picked up as I became more active in college and I was able to maintain a fairly skinny body without worrying too much about it. But after I married, my weight would yo-yo in the same fashion as I would focus on restricting portions/calories versus not. I still indulged in a plethora of sweets each day. It made me so irritated how my husband could eat as much fatty food as he wished and not gain a pound, while I felt like I was eating a handful of food and still overweight.

I also had struggled most of my life with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It "ran in my family" (something I no longer believe...I think poor eating habits ran in my family, not this irritable bowel syndrome), so I accepted it as something I would have to live with the rest of my life. And let me tell you, this was sad news to me. My IBS was a serious hindrance to my life. The way it affected me was that I would eat something (and I could never discern a pattern of what triggered it) and within 30 minutes, I would NEED a restroom, pronto! The intestinal cramping was awful and debilitating, leaving me feeling dehydrated and weak after each episode. Not to mention, it was simply embarrassing for me. I would live in fear of eating out of my home if I knew I would not have safe access to a restroom soon afterwards. Sometimes I would have episodes in the middle of the night, multiple ones, that would cause me to feel exhausted the next day from the lack of sleep. And on average, I would have an episode 2-3 times per month. It was definitely a big part of my life. We even made up a code name for it so I could tell Michael and he would know that it's time to leave and find a restroom immediately.

I also had acne through my teenage years...and well into my 20s. I felt embarrassed that as a 28 year old, I still had acne. I mean, shouldn't that go away after you're done with puberty?? I certainly know of friends who had worse acne than me, but I'm sure if you've ever had acne, you can relate to how embarrassed you felt with even one pimple. My entire forehead would be covered with small pimples. I was very self-conscious about this and tried a variety of treatments over the years. I used Retin-A Micro (topical gel) most recently, but stopped when my husband and I decided to try getting pregnant because that cream can cause birth defects.  So my acne returned as we tried to conceive.

And about trying to conceive, my hormones were totally out of whack. I had a history of 7-8 day long periods, heavy bleeding, and painful menstrual cramps. I took the birth control pill for about the first 2 years of our marriage, but it caused me to be depressed, have no sex drive, and have symptoms similar to pregnancy (nausea, tender breasts, fatigue). Later in marriage, when we started trying, we were having difficulty conceiving, so I had various tests done on myself to find an answer. My progesterone (female hormone, works in conjunction with estrogen through a woman's cycle) was low, so my doctor prescribed me a topical progesterone cream to rub into my forearm every night. He never told me WHY my progesterone was low in the first place, and I never thought to ask.

Desperately wanting to get pregnant, I was willing to do anything. I took dozens of over the counter pills, vitamins, and supplements. But my cycles were still out of whack and irregular.

I then began developing recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs). If you've ever had one, you know how much of a nuisance they can be. I saw a urologist to try to figure out what the deal was because I was doing everything hygienically to prevent them. Her answer was simply that some women are more prone to them, and it's inevitable. Again, it was something I feared I would have to accept for the rest of my life.

I also feared developing cancer someday. My family history was riddled with disease. My paternal grandfather died of stomach cancer when I was too young to really remember him. My paternal grandmother is my only living grandparent to this day, and she unfortunately has had several falls, hip replacements, broken wrists, and is losing hearing and eyesight. Though she's lived to 93, she's not been physically able to enjoy all aspects of life due to her frail and delicate state. My maternal grandmother had breast cancer, emphysema, high blood pressure, was obese, and died of a stroke in her 70s. My maternal grandfather had high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and died of heart disease in his 80s. I did not want this to be my fate, but feared it was inevitable.

But guess what?

After one year of eating a whole food, plant-based diet, here are the changes that took place in my health:
  • Lost 40 lbs
  • I'm in the best shape of my life (lean and toned)
  • Cholesterol is 112
  • Eliminated lifelong battle with IBS
  • Eliminated recurring UTIs
  • Complexion is much clearer
  • Shorter periods (5-6 days)
  • Lighter bleeding
  • Eliminated menstrual cramps
  • Progesterone is back to normal level WITHOUT any medication/creams
  • Off all prescription and over the counter medications/vitamins/supplements
  • No longer fear a future of cancer, stroke, or heart disease
 photo IMG_8551_zpsec52f0e0.jpg
After Pictures

For us, what started as a one month trial of a whole food, plant-based diet quickly showed us that we discovered something incredible and undeniable. We had found the key, the true answer, to unlocking the door to better health. And it wasn't as difficult as we feared it would be.

We love the food we get to eat. There was certainly an adjustment the first couple of weeks, but our taste buds have changed. We do not get bored with the food we eat because nature in its divine creation has all the variety we could ever need. When you remove all the fat, sugar, and highly processed flavors that mask many standard American foods, you learn to appreciate the taste of a simple potato. You can distinguish the difference in flavor between a russet and a Yukon gold potato. Dino kale versus regular kale. Gala apples versus golden delicious.

And the biggest part for us is the freedom that comes in knowing that we (human beings) have so much more control over our health than what many people believe. You are NOT a victim of your family history and genetics. But you can be a victim of your poor eating habits, even if you've been told they are wise habits (low-fat, lean meats, heart-healthy oils, etc.) We too thought we were making good choices and were frustrated that we would have to accept certain ailments in our health, but now we know better. We know that what we choose to put in our mouths day in and day out can have a huge impact on our health. And we are so thankful to God that He gave us the open heart and mind to give this diet a try. It has forever changed our lives!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Summer Deliciousness

Now that we're headed into fall, I wanted to share all of the yummy goodness that we enjoyed over the summer. This is tagged with the label, "So What CAN You Eat," because as you can see below, we are SO deprived [sarcasm]...

 photo 2013-06-19121653_zps1d16687f.jpg
Mexican Medley

 photo 2013-06-19194133_zpse0a9e5bf.jpg
Baked potatoes topped with salsa and nutritional yeast, with steamed veggies

 photo 2013-06-21200101_zpsa5078467.jpg
Oil-free homemade potato chips

 photo 2013-06-22203415_zpsab5e5fe2.jpg
Whole Grain, Gluten-free, Oil-free, Vegan Bread

 photo 2013-06-29121317_zps2f3c93a9.jpg
Veggie Stir-fry with Chickpeas

 photo 2013-07-11123957_zpse1510a3e.jpg
The ginormous baked potato I ate with salsa at Jason's Deli

 photo 2013-07-17220556_zps2951a9cb.jpg
Peach Cobbler

 photo 2013-07-17220948_zps00b32cc1.jpg
More Peach Cobbler...ahh, summer peaches...

 photo 2013-07-24201338_zps3a916f39.jpg
Herbed Purple Sweet Potatoes

 photo 2013-07-31194840_zps285fe5fa.jpg
Performance Mix, courtesy of The Plant Eater

 photo 2013-08-12064740_zps20476859.jpg
Oatmeal Dessert with Peaches, Bananas, and Blueberries

 photo 2013-08-22210154_zps65672e05.jpg
Pumpkin Soft-serve Ice Cream (homemade)

 photo 2013-08-25141918_zpsfbd770f4.jpg
Hash Brown Potatoes (oil-free)

 photo 2013-09-05124043_zps397477ef.jpg
Black Bean Soup

 photo 2013-09-08174250_zps1dcf5413.jpg
Chickpea Tacos and Spanish Rice

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Memes

Since the 10-part What About the [blank] Diet? series was a bit serious in nature, I thought it was a good time to bring some humor into the mix. And to make Mondays as fun as possible, I'll post a humorous meme every Monday morning to hopefully bring a smile to your face. Life is so much more fun if it contains regular doses of laughter!

 photo batman_zpsd6834188.jpg

Monday, September 2, 2013

Part 10: What About the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet is based on the idea that humans are hunter-gatherers and should eat a diet that sustained human life during the Paleolithic era (think caveman). The notion is that humans genetically evolved to eat as a hunter-gatherer and should never have adopted a grain-based diet in conjunction with the discovery of agriculture. The Paleo Diet was created by Dr. Loren Cordain and is organized, has an official website, mobile apps to determine if something is Paleo-friendly, and multiple books and cookbooks. Something that you should know up front is that all of the "published research" listed on the Paleo Diet's website include Dr. Cordain as an author. Now, surely you can understand my skepticism at his claim in stating that the Paleo Diet is supported by unbiased research. To put it more bluntly: if a researcher (Dr. Cordain) is financially benefited from the outcome of his/her study, then there is a financial conflict of interest that must be called into question. His claim would go a lot further if he also referenced the research of other people, not including just his own research. But even so, his research and health claims are seriously flawed, as I will elaborate on in this post.

Based on the Paleo Diet's website, here are the foods that Paleo followers can and cannot eat.

 photo Paleo_zps5b5d71d4.png

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The Paleo Diet recommends unlimited vegetables, meat, eggs, fish/seafood, oils, and nuts/seeds. It also recommends eliminating potatoes, legumes, whole grains, dairy, refined sugars, salt, and processed foods. The Paleo Diet recommends limiting fruit if you are overweight or insulin resistant. Though there are some positive aspects to this diet, it will not lead you to optimal health.

What's Good and What's Bad?
While there are some good recommendations within the Paleo Diet (unlimited vegetables, avoiding refined sugar and processed foods, and eliminating dairy), what makes this diet especially difficult to unravel is that Dr. Loren Cordain mixes partial truths with lies to promote his agenda. The following sections focus in more detail on some of Cordain's food recommendations.

Meat (and Eggs)
The Paleo Diet is off track to recommend unlimited amounts of meat. If you've read the previous posts in this blog series, then you should already know where I'm going with this topic. Eating an abundance of meat leads to an over consumption of protein, which puts strain on your liver and kidneys and weakens your bone health as your body strips calcium from your own bones to neutralize the high acid diet. (This essentially means that you are urinating your bones into the toilet!)

What surprises me the most about the Paleo Diet is that Cordain actually talks about this issue on his website, but he ends it with a FALSE CLAIM: "The Paleo Diet recommends an appropriate balance of acidic and basic (alkaline) foods (i.e., lean meats, fish and seafood, fruits, and vegetables) and will not cause osteoporosis in otherwise healthy individuals. Indeed, The Paleo Diet supports bone health." Consuming meat (and fish and eggs) WILL result in a large acid load on the body. Large acid loads lead to bone loss due to calcium excretion through the urine because of the excess protein. Dr. Cordain says that you simply eat vegetables and fruits to neutralize this acid load. Let's look at a comparison of 250 calories eaten from meat versus grain, and see what implications this has for our diet.

Meat vs. Grain - Which is Better?
Chicken Breast
Brown Rice
You can have 50% more
rice for the same calories.
+26.21+5.38Chicken is 4.9x
more acidic than rice.
46.976.76Chicken has 7x
more protein than rice.
*Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) = 0.49 Protein + 0.037 Phosphorus - 0.021 Potassium - 0.026 Magnesium - 0.013 Calcium
*Nutrition content sourced from CHRON-O-METER

As you can see, the Paleo dish (chicken) results in 5 times the acid load on the body compared to rice. So you would need to consume 5 times more vegetables to neutralize the acid load of meat compared to rice.

Additionally, the chicken provides almost 7 times the amount of protein which is also hazardous to health. As stated previously, human protein needs are very low (~5% of calories). An abundance of protein harms your bone health. This study shows that when daily protein intake doubled (from 35-78 g/day), the bone loss via urinary calcium excretion increased by 50%.

Another detriment of consuming high amounts of meat, fish/seafood, eggs (and dairy for that matter) is that you will easily consume too much cholesterol. Recall the Fun Facts about Eggs from Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet? -- eating just two eggs will result in consuming more than the USDA's recommended maximum cholesterol consumption of 300 mg -- and this maximum consumption amount is 300 mg more than what people need to be consuming! Animals (including humans) produce their own cholesterol as the body needs it, so consuming extra is senseless and downright harmful.

Fun Facts about Heart Disease and Diet
The preponderance of scientific evidence clearly shows a link between blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

The Framingham Heart Study showed that people who maintain lower cholesterol levels have lower incidences of cardiovascular disease.

Specifically, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has shown (1,2,3), using low-fat whole food plant-based nutrition, that every single patient who followed his diet remained free from heart disease decades afterward.

In fact, this link is so widely known that most Americans would easily tell you that their cholesterol should be kept as low as possible.

Fish (and all other Seafood)
The Paleo Diet focuses heavily on its recommendation to consume lots of fish (and recall that in general, fish have 1.5 to 2 times more cholesterol than other meats). The FALSE CLAIM is that "perhaps the single most important dietary recommendation to improve our health and prevent chronic disease is to increase our dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids which are found primarily in fatty fish." This is incorrect, if you recall from Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet?, fish, animals, and humans do not create omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids -- only plants create them. Hence, omega-3 fatty acids are not "found primarily in fatty fish", they are created exclusively in plants. Avoid the harmful aspects of eating fish (fat, cholesterol, and mercury) and skip the middleman -- eat plants directly for all your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid needs!

He goes on to claim that fish can help reduce your risk of heart disease, improve brain health, and other conditions. These claims are FALSE primarily because fish are mostly fat, cholesterol, and mercury and these harmful substances overshadow benefits provided by any omega-3 and omega-6. Here are two articles that elaborate more about the hazards of eating fish: 1 and 2. As discussed above in the Fun Facts section, whole food plant-based diets (devoid of fish!) have been clinically shown to prevent and reverse heart disease.

The Paleo Diet also recommends "healthful" oils. I'll save you the confusion, there is no such thing...

Oils add no nutrients; only fat. Oils are 100% fat, and fat is fat (see Fun Facts about Olive Oil in Part 1: What About the Standard American Diet?). There's no such thing as good fat or bad fat or heart-healthy oils. All fat is bad for you if consumed in excess, as I've described previously. Plant foods naturally contain small amounts of fat, so there is simply no reason or need to add pure fat (oils) to your food.

Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are recommended as part of the Paleo Diet. Similar to oils above, I would caution eating unlimited amounts of nuts and seeds. Yes, these foods contain healthy nutrients -- flax seeds are a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids, but they are higher in fat than other plant foods, and should be consumed less often than other plant foods like potatoes, whole grains, and vegetables that have trace amounts of fat. This is especially true if seeking to lose weight. See the Fun Facts about Fat in Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet? where it describes the fat content in 1 oz of walnuts.

Carbohydrates (Potatoes, Whole Grains, and Legumes)
The Paleo Diet creator condemns all high-carbohydrate foods. Dr. Cordain only includes a single paragraph containing four arguments. Cordain says he does not recommend these foods because of the (1) "glycemic index and glycemic load," (2) "low micronutrient density," (3) "high antinutrient content," and (4) "potential stimulation of autoimmune diseases." ALL FOUR OF THESE CLAIMS ARE FALSE. Let's break this down further.
  1. Glycemic Index/Load: IGNORANT - The whole obsession with glycemic index/load is completely misguided and only causes widespread confusion and poor eating habits. Fat causes diabetes, not sugar.

    Recall the Fun Facts about Fat in Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet? that says it's extremely inefficient for the body to store carbohydrates -- which are either complex or simple sugars -- as fat. But fat is stored effortlessly by the body, and when you have too much fat, it pads your blood cells, blocking the insulin from accessing the cells to "unlock" energy. An excess of fat is what leads to insulin resistance -- because all the chunky fat has plugged up the key holes!

    You want your blood sugar to spike after consuming carbs because that indicates your body is receiving energy (that the insulin successfully reached the keyholes in the cells)! Please take the time to read this very informative article by Dr. McDougall.
  2. Low Micronutrient Density: FALSE - Micronutrients are defined as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. I'll brag yet again about the plain and simple russet potato. It is a complete food - chock full of vitamins B6 and C (among others), calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. In fact, one experiment in 1925 showed that two adults (25 year old man and 28 year old woman) who ate white potatoes only for 6 months "were in good health on a diet in which the nitrogen [protein] was practically solely derived from a potato." All plant foods and only plant foods, including potatoes, have phytochemicals ("phyto" means plant in Greek), which includes things like antioxidants.
  3. High Antinutrient Content: WRONG - I'll simply say that as long as you cook your grains (which is a guarantee because they are inedible otherwise), then you do not need to worry about this antinutrient phobia. Dr. McDougall wrote a great article debunking this phobia as well.
  4. Potential Stimulation of Autoimmune Diseases: WAY OFF BASE - Whole food, plant-based diets have been shown to slow the development of autoimmune diseases, not stimulate them.

Potatoes, legumes, and whole grains are vital for energy, fiber, vitamins, nutrients, and sufficient calorie intake each day. These foods make up the bulk of every one of our meals, that's how important and healthy they are. Do not fall prey to the fad diet scare tactics, such as those listed above.

It's wrong for Paleo to forbid salt. There is no sound evidence to suggest that a sodium-free or low-sodium diet is beneficial for one's health. In fact, the opposite has been shown. Here's an interesting article about the salt phobia.

Bottom Line:
In short, the Paleo Diet is not healthy for you. Diets that recommend unlimited meat and are low in starches, whole grains, and legumes are essentially low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diets, which have come up frequently in this blog series. These types of diets will harm your body's health in the long-run by promoting heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and many other illnesses. Furthermore, Cordain's clever blend of partial truths and lies gives people a false sense of assurance that their diet is health-promoting when it is in fact destroying their health.

In Conclusion:
A whole foods, plant-based diet is the key to better health because it is:
  • Sustainable - You can eat it for the duration of your life and at any stage of your life (in utero, newborn via breastmilk, baby, toddler, child, young adult, adult, and elderly)
  • Beneficial - Lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight; raises antioxidants; regulates hormones and pH levels; contains all the nutrients your body needs, without consuming an excess; provides ample energy; better for the environment
  • Affordable - Whole grains, legumes, and starches are the bulk of the diet, and are also cheap to buy

If you are currently eating or have tried to eat any one of the 10 diets I've covered, I hope you see the benefit to adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet instead. If you are interested in learning more about going plant-based, I would be delighted to assist you.

Previous -- Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, August 26, 2013

Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet?

Spoiler alert: At the end of the movie The Sixth Sense the main character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, realizes that he is yet another dead person that Cole can see. Cole told him earlier in the movie that the dead people "only see what they want to see." Malcolm suddenly becomes aware of all the details he missed to indicate that he was no longer alive, such as his wife dining alone and not answering him. One set of events, but two points-of-view. Two different views that see the same event in different ways.

The Mediterranean Diet is very similar to this concept. The Mediterranean Diet is known popularly as the fish, olive oil, and red wine diet, because that is one viewpoint that has been taken with regards to the results of several medical studies on this diet. But the other viewpoint that is grossly overlooked is that the bulk of the actual Mediterranean Diet is a whole foods, plant-based diet with lots of physical activity. Because of these two drastically different view points, many myths have been perpetuated about the health benefits of consuming the Mediterranean Diet. In today's post, I hope to clear up some of these myths and point you to the truth.

The Mediterranean Diet originated from an American nutritionist, Ancel Keys, who led the "Seven Countries Study" in the late 1950s. The "Seven Countries Study" evaluated the health status, diet, and lifestyle factors of populations from seven different countries. One of these countries was the island of Crete. In the study, Keys learned that the population of Crete had significantly lower rates of heart disease than many other countries, including the United States. Now here is where "The Sixth Sense" dichotomy comes in...

At the time of the study, the population of Crete was primarily agricultural (high levels of physical activity) and ate a diet consisting of mostly whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, with some fish, red wine, about 3 Tbsp of olive oil per day, and limited amounts of meat and dairy.  One point-of-view is that the fish, olive oil, and red wine were the "super foods" that kept this population healthy. Another (my) point-of-view is that this population was healthy in spite of the small amounts of fish, oil, and red wine (and meat and dairy) that were consumed. In other words, their primarily whole foods, plant-based diet and physically active lifestyle protected their health from the detrimental habits of consuming little to moderate amounts of oil, fish, meat, and dairy. Not the other way around. In fact, as it pertains to heart disease, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has shown that the reversal of arterial blockages (i.e. a true cure to heart disease) is made possible on a whole foods, plant based diet that is very low in fat and excludes meat, dairy, and oil.

But this is not the news that people want to hear. As Dr. John McDougall says, "people like to hear good news about their bad habits." Hence, fish, olive oil, and red wine to the rescue!

What about the population of Crete today? They continue to consume fish, olive oil, and red wine, but have adopted a more Westernized diet (higher amounts of meat and dairy in the diet) and reduced the amount of physical activity since the country became more industrialized. The population's health has declined. This phenomenon has been observed in other populations as well, such as Hawaii.

However, the Mediterranean Diet continues to be very popular today. The non-profit company Oldways, founded by K. Dun Gifford, continues to provide information about how to adopt the Mediterranean Diet. Sadly but not surprisingly, K. Dun Gifford passed away in 2010 at age 71...from a heart attack. The sad part is that the man who created his company to promote healthy eating suffered from the effects of unhealthy eating. So let's discuss the benefits and detriments of eating the Mediterranean Diet according to the pyramid below.

 photo mediterraneandiet_zpsb691a8b1.jpg

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
Today's Mediterranean Diet consists primarily (base all your meals on these foods) of fruits, vegetables, mostly whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and olive oil. Fish and seafood is recommended at least two times per week. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and other dairy products are recommended in "moderate" amounts "daily to weekly." Red meats and sweets are recommended less often. Physical activity is also recommended, but no specific amounts are provided.

What's Good?
It's wonderful that the Mediterranean Diet consists largely of a whole foods, plant-based diet. Lots of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are recommended. I love how they say to "base every meal on these foods," though I would omit the olive oil completely because all it does is add unnecessary fat to the diet (recall from Part 1:What About the Standard American Diet? that 2 Tbsp of olive oil per day produces 24 lbs body fat per year). An easy way to switch your thinking when adopting a plant-based diet is to plan your meals around a whole grain, starch, or legume as opposed to planning meals around a meat item.

I also like how the "sweets" are recommended occasionally. I love my sweet treats, but they should be kept as treats, not a regularly consumed item.

It is also nice to see that the Mediterranean Diet recommends regular physical activity, though it would be nice to see some specific recommendations on frequency and intensity. I recommend at least 5 days per week, at least 45-minute sessions, aiming to keep your heart rate in your target zone (you're out of breath enough that you can still talk, but would rather not). I also recommend a variety of physical activity: weight-training, cardiovascular, and yoga/stretching.

What's Bad?
The recommendation to eat fish at least twice per week is misleading advice. I recommend eliminating all animal products, including fish, from your diet. Fish is commonly, but mistakenly, considered a health food or as one of those mythical "super foods" that surely everyone must need because of all the "good fats" and omega-3 fatty acids. Let's look at the real story about fish.

Fun Facts about Fish
In general, fish contain 1.5 to 2 times more cholesterol than chicken, pork, or beef.

Plants make all omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Fish, animals, and humans do not create omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
This means that fish get these fatty acids from eating plants.

Skip the middleman by eating plants directly, avoiding the harmful fat and cholesterol!

I also recommend avoiding dairy. That's why I think the recommendation to consume "moderate" portions of dairy products is very poor advice (it's also very vague). Dairy is not a healthy food to consume, even in small amounts. It's high in fat, cholesterol, sugar, estrogen, and concentrated animal protein.

The notion that olive oil is "the good kind of fat" is just plain silly. Yes, there are different forms of fat, but fat is fat (recall Fun Facts about Fat from Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet?). The human body creates, from other nutrients, all forms of fat needed except two: omega-3 and omega-6 which, as described above, are only created by plants. Plant foods and whole grains do contain small amounts of fat, more than enough for your bodily needs. There's simply no good reason to include extra fat in your diet.

You must also be aware that certain plant foods are unusually high in fat. Avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and olives are examples of this. These higher fat plant foods still contain healthy nutrients, but also contain very high levels of fat. If seeking to lose weight, you should limit your intake of these foods to a couple times a week. Even if you are at your optimal weight, these higher fat plant foods should not be consumed every day.

Animal products of any kind are not beneficial to a person's health because of the high-fat content, cholesterol, and acid load it puts on the body from the excess protein consumption. The Mediterranean Diet would look perfect if it omitted the meat, fish, dairy, and olive oil, as opposed to making those items the "hero" of why the Crete population was healthy in the 1950s. It is such a shame to overlook the real hero of their former state of health: the whole foods, plant-based diet.

Bottom Line:
The original Mediterranean Diet (Crete population in the 1950s) consisted of a very physically active lifestyle and a primarily whole foods, plant-based diet with limited amounts of meat and dairy. The decreased health of this population as it adopted a more Westernized diet while continuing to consume fish, olive oil, and red wine supports the notion that it was not the fish, olive oil, and red wine that kept the population healthy -- it was the plant-based diet that had a protective effect. As it stands today, the popular Mediterranean Diet recommends consuming olive oil, fish, meat, and dairy -- all of which are unhealthy for you. A whole foods, plant-based diet is the key to better health, not added oils, fish, or red wine.

Here is an interesting video clip of Dr. Pam Popper (The Wellness Forum) speaking about the Mediterranean Diet myth.

Next -- Part 10: What About the Paleo Diet?
Previous -- Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, August 19, 2013

Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet?

The raw foods diet originates from Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who in the late 1800s discovered that he could cure his own jaundice by eating raw apples. The theory is that cooking foods removes all the nutrients and vitamins from it (but this claim has not been supported through scientific evidence).

 photo rawfoodpyramid_zps61c49861.png

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The raw foods diet consists of uncooked (not heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit) vegetables, fruit, sprouts, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and cold-pressed oils. Although not shown in the above pyramid, a "raw foodist" may not necessarily be vegan, but may also consume raw fish, meat, unpasteurized milk, cheese, and other dairy products.

What's Good?
Those that avoid consuming all animal products (vegan raw foodists) also avoid the over consumption of animal protein, which is very beneficial for a person's health.

Furthermore, eating a diet full of plant foods is very healthy, but a strictly raw foods diet lacks certain plant foods that are inedible in their raw state (i.e., rice, potatoes, beans). In other words, Michael and I eat raw foods some of the time, but we do not eat raw foods 100% of the time, because we know it's also important to consume whole grains and starches (which require cooking to become edible). I'll explain more about this shortly.

The raw foods diet is also low in processed and refined foods, which is a healthy trait.

What's Bad?
The main drawback to a raw foods diet is that it is extremely difficult to consume an adequate amount of calories from whole, plant-based foods because certain high-calorie plant foods are inedible in their raw state. Many whole grains and starches are automatically eliminated from a raw foods diet because no foods can be heated above 115 degrees.

This point brings up a common question or concern that I have heard from friends. I usually hear something like this: "But I have a friend who went vegan for a time and became so skinny/weak/emaciated that he/she had to stop." My response is usually, "I'm not surprised," which puzzles the person. I then go on to explain that it is entirely possible (and I would argue, common) to technically be vegan, but not eat a health-promoting diet. As I mentioned in Part 7: What About the Vegan Diet?, a vegan is commonly found in one of two ways: the junk food vegan or the starving vegan.

As I discussed in Part 7, a junk food vegan is common because there are so many convenient high-fat, highly-processed vegan food options that are available.

The starving vegan is the result of the person trying to live on vegetables and fruit alone. The problem with that is that vegetables contain about 200 calories per pound and fruit has about 300 calories per pound. Though these two food groups are very healthy and should be consumed often, they should not be the largest food group consumed because it is difficult to consume enough of them to get all the calories you need each day (recall from Part 7 that you would have to eat 10 lbs of vegetables and 6-7 lbs of fruit each day if you needed 2,000 calories per day to maintain your weight, and athletic/active individuals often require 2,500 or more calories). This is why I recommend that whole grains and starches make up the bulk of your diet, and then supplement with vegetables, fruit, and other plant-based foods.

I'm not surprised the person's friend "who went vegan" and tried to live on vegetables and fruit alone ended up so skinny, weak, and emaciated...because they slowly starved themselves into poor health. I usually end the conversation by posing the rhetorical question, "Do Michael or I look emaciated and sickly?" The answer is no, because we eat mostly whole grains and starches, coupled with vegetables and fruit.

A raw foods diet is essentially a starvation diet, unless the person intentionally eats higher-fat raw foods. But this is not a good solution either.

If the raw foodist consumes large amounts of high-fat raw foods in an attempt to consume enough calories each day, the person will eventually end up in an unhealthy state. The cold pressed oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives are very high in fat, which would help a person avoid starvation, but is not beneficial for one's health in the long run.

Fun Facts about Fat

Our bodies store fat easily to ensure survival in times of famine.
But famine in the U.S. is not a reality,
so fat and more fat continues to be stored in the body.

Eating carbohydrates does not result in weight gain because your body
burns off excess through body heat and energy before storing as fat.

Only with extreme over-consumption will your body convert carbohydrates to fat,
but it is a very inefficient process that requires 30% of the calories
consumed just to complete that process.

But fat is easily stored by the body,
requiring only 3% of calories consumed to complete the process.
The fat you eat is literally the fat you wear!

The over consumption of fat can lead to obesity, type II diabetes, and arthritis.

80% of the calories in nuts and seeds are from fat.
1 oz of walnuts (a small handful) contains 183 calories, 153 from fat (84% fat content)
Eating just 1 oz of walnuts every day would result in consuming
5,490 calories -- or more than 1.5 pounds of body fat -- each month!

Eating a diet that requires you to consume large amounts of high-fat foods to eventually maintain your weight is not sustainable in the long term. For example, if an overweight person needed to lose 20 lbs to reach their optimal weight, they could easily achieve that eating a raw foods diet by eating mostly raw fruits and vegetables and little to no high-fat raw foods. But after the person reaches their optimal weight, they would be required to consume more calories to prevent additional weight loss. By restricting themselves to raw foods only, they would be "forced" to consume high-fat raw foods to get more calories. It would be a bodily experiment on one's self to determine the exact amount of high-fat raw foods that must be consumed each day to maintain the person's weight. This is impractical and unnecessary. Why not eat a whole foods, plant-based diet consisting of naturally low-fat carbohydrates (whole grains and starches) and vegetables and fruit? Unlike nuts and seeds, whole grains and starches have lots of fiber that help a person regulate how much food to consume, without having to monitor how much body fat is constantly being accumulated. Isn't effortless weight loss and maintenance more appealing?

The final point I want to make is that food is meant to be enjoyed. If you choose the right kinds of food, then you should have the freedom to enjoy every bite to satiety. I think I would become miserable eating nothing but unseasoned, raw foods every day. Sure, I enjoy the occasional raw broccoli florets for a snack, but I do not want to only consume raw vegetables. Salads? Delicious, but I tend to get tired of salads if I eat them everyday. Fruit - that makes more sense to eat raw, but I still enjoy cooking fruit on occasion. For instance, this summer we discovered the simple, yet delicious dessert of sauteing some sliced peaches in water with cinnamon and oats. A raw foods diet seems very limited to me.

Bottom Line:
Though raw foods can be very healthy, eating a 100% raw foods diet is not. Whole grains, legumes, and starches, which are necessary for adequate calorie intake and proper weight maintenance, are inedible in their raw state. Eating an entirely raw foods diet either leads to starvation or too much fat intake in order to consume enough calories -- neither result is health-promoting or beneficial for losing/maintaining weight. A whole foods, plant-based diet (centered around cooked starches, legumes, and whole grains) is the most health-promoting and results in effortless weight loss and maintenance.

Next -- Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet?
Previous -- Part 7: What About the Vegan Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Part 7: What About the Vegan Diet?

Veganism is not only a way of eating, but a way of living. People who consider themselves "true vegans" avoid harming or taking anything away from animals in every way. Not only do they avoid consuming any form of animal products in their diet (no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy), they also refuse to purchase clothing, shoes, linens, household/beauty products, etc. that are made with animal products or tested on animals. There is some debate amongst vegans about whether it is or is not okay to consume honey. Sometimes vegans will boycott an entire company and its products if even one product is tested on animals or uses animal products. It's no wonder that vegans are often viewed as crazy hippies or aliens from another planet.

 photo vegan_vulcan_zps4b26c73a.jpg
(Photo Source)

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
Similar to vegetarians, vegans likely feel good about no longer contributing to the negative environmental and ethical mistreatment impacts associated with the meat and dairy industries (read my Stewardship series to learn more about this).

In general, vegans avoid consuming any food or beverage or using any product that contains animal products or derivatives of any kind -- a few examples are no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, beeswax, bones, gelatin, lard, lanolin, casein, and whey.

What's Good?
It's very good to eliminate animal products from your diet. I also like that vegans go the extra mile to ensure that no animal products are contained in packaged foods they consume. This is one of the most difficult aspects of eating opposite to most Americans, but the vegan's passion fuels them to ask questions about ingredients. Furthermore, it would likely be easier for a vegan to adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet because they are already committed to avoiding all animal products and investigating what is in the food they eat. Their decision to not contribute to the meat and dairy industry have a positive impact on the environment.

What's Bad?
The problem with a vegan diet is that it's defined by what to avoid rather than what foods to pursue. As I mentioned in Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet?, simply eliminating all animal products from the diet is only half the picture. In other words, eating a strict vegan diet does NOT necessarily mean that the person is eating a healthy diet. The end result is usually one of two outcomes: the junk food vegan (discussed in this post) and the starving vegan (I'll address this briefly in this post, but you should also read Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet?).

The starving vegan usually exists because the vegan consumes most of their calories from vegetables and fruit, rather than whole grains and starches. Vegetables contain about 200 calories per pound; fruit contains about 300 calories per pound. I don't recommend counting calories, but hypothetically, if you need 2,000 calories per day to maintain your weight, do you realistically think you could eat 10 lbs of vegetables or 6-7 lbs of fruit every day? That would be pretty difficult.

The junk food vegan is also very common because they eat a diet full of fat and processed foods.  Technically, the food I choose to eat is vegan (no animal foods), but I would not want to consume many of the popular vegan commercial foods because they are very processed and high in fat.

There are many "vegan junk foods" on the market today, making it very easy and convenient to continue eating processed and high-fat foods after adopting a vegan diet. Tofurkey, vegan cheeses, Oreos, soda drinks, french fries, potato chips, and much more are technically vegan friendly foods. But are these foods healthy for you in the long run if consumed regularly? No!

Fun Facts about Vegan Junk Foods
 photo VeganJunkFoods_zps1821c34d.png

You may notice the rightmost column "Isolated Soy Protein," and wonder what that is. Many vegan junk foods use de-fatted soy as an ingredient to help replicate meat. But using these isolated soy proteins is very harmful for your health, and leads to the same diseases as the animal foods diet. You can recognize isolated soy protein if you see anything like soy (or pea or peanut or whatever plant food) "defatted soy flour," "textured soy flour," "textured vegetable protein," "soy protein concentrates," or "soy concentrates." These fake soy foods have been stripped of their original nutrient makeup and design, which should naturally include fiber, carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Isolating the protein and removing all the other beneficial "stuff" creates a fake food product, which can harm your liver, kidneys, and bone health similar to high amounts of animal protein. Just to be clear, natural forms of soy like soybeans, edamame, soy milk, soybean sprouts, soy sauce, soy flour, tempeh, tofu, and miso are okay because they have not been made such that the protein has been isolated. The Clif Builder's Bar in the table above is the best example of what to AVOID because its ingredients list says:

"Soy Protein Isolate, Beet Juice Concentrate, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Rolled Oats, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa, Organic Soy Protein Concentrate, Vegetable Glycerin, Natural Flavors, Organic Almonds, Rice Starch, Cocoa Butter, Inulin (Chicory Extract), Organic Flaxseed, Organic Oat Fiber, Organic Sunflower Oil, Soy Lecithin, Salt."

It's important to watch out for how much processed, high-sugar, high-fat foods you consume. Oils are unnecessary and 100% fat. Refined sugar can easily be over-consumed if not careful. Preservatives and chemicals are prevalent in many packaged foods. Highly processed and enriched foods have been stripped of their nutrients. Always look at the entirety of the diet instead of simply the elimination of a few foods. And always read every ingredient label carefully!

Instead of only focusing on avoiding all animal products (avoiding them is good, but incomplete), focus on pursuing whole, plant-based foods. Try new whole grains you might never knew existed (quinoa, millet, buckwheat). Embrace a newfound love for starches and complex carbs -- let the potato be your new best friend, just don't melt vegan cheese and crumble gimme lean on it. And of course enjoy lots of vegetables and fruit.

The vegan has already won a huge battle by voluntarily giving up all animal products and passionately questioning what ingredients are in food and other products. So take the next step by actively pursuing whole, plant-based foods without any added oils.

For additional reading, Dr. John McDougall has a great article about the unhealthy vegan.

Bottom Line:
Eliminating all animal products from the diet is a wonderful step in the right direction, but it is only half the picture. A vegan diet is not the same thing as a whole foods, plant-based diet because many processed/junk foods are technically vegan, but are not health-promoting. But the vegan is already much closer to a plant-based diet than the average American, so I encourage all vegans to switch your thinking towards pursuing whole, plant-based foods rather than focusing solely on avoiding all animal products. A whole foods, plant-based diet trumps a vegan diet any day of the week.

Next -- Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet?
Previous -- Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet?

You may be surprised to learn that there are a variety of vegetarian diets. The table below shows the five basic types of vegetarians and what they will or will not eat, although this table is not exhaustive because I'm sure there are individuals who are combinations of these types.

 photo vegetarians_zps8a5df135.png

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The basic component of a vegetarian diet is the avoidance of animal flesh. As shown above, there are various types of vegetarians who may also choose to avoid fish, eggs, or dairy products. Semi-vegetarians are the least restrictive and are simply defined as people who make an effort to consume less animal products. Vegans are considered the most restrictive and are covered in more detail in Part 7: What About the Vegan Diet. People who decide to become a vegetarian usually do so based on ethical, environmental, and/or health concerns. But since the vegetarian diet is not an organized or commercially advertised diet like the previous five diets, there are no standardized dietary recommendations to discuss here. Nonetheless, I will discuss the good and bad consequences of eating a vegetarian diet.

What's Good?
By eliminating land animal flesh from the diet, the vegetarian is on the right track in terms of  reducing the amount of protein that many humans over-consume (humans only need enough protein to comprise 5% daily caloric intake).

Eliminating fish in addition to land animal flesh is another step in the right direction, and also reduces the person's fat intake and chances of mercury poisoning. In general, fish has 1.5 to 2 times more cholesterol than animal flesh. Furthermore, plants make all omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids...not fish! More on this in Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet.

Also avoiding the consumption of eggs is a great step because eggs are very high in cholesterol and fat, in addition to being high in animal protein.

Fun Facts about Eggs

One large egg contains 185 mg cholesterol and has 64% fat content
The USDA recommends consuming no more than 300 mg cholesterol per day

In other words, if you consume TWO EGGS per day,
you have already exceeded the 300 mg cholesterol limit
2 eggs for breakfast = No more meat or dairy for the rest of the day!

Even if you consume one egg for breakfast,
you must not forget that eggs are used in many packaged foods such as:
breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, mayonnaise, salad dressings, soups, sauces, etc.

It should be called the terrible egg!

Avoiding dairy is a wonderful step in the right direction, because dairy is especially concentrated in animal protein and is high in cholesterol, sugar, fat, estrogen, and antibiotics that lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria (recall Part 4's Fun Facts About Milk).

Beyond the health benefits that some vegetarians may realize, vegetarian diets also help reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with the meat and dairy industries. Vegetarians may also feel better about not contributing to the death or mistreatment of animals for their food. To hear more about these types of issues, you can read my Stewardship series.

What's Bad?
As described above, being a type of vegetarian that still consumes animal flesh, fish, eggs, and/or dairy products is a step backwards. The over-consumption of animal products in general (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) lead to an excess of protein, which puts strain on your liver and kidneys and increases the acid load on your body. The increased acid load results in weaker bone health over time. That over-consumption also leads to increased fat and cholesterol intake, which promote heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. I recommend that all dairy, meat, and fish be eliminated from your diet.

Perhaps the most important point of today's post: just because you avoid animal products in your diet does not mean you are consuming a healthy diet. Animal products are one type of food that should be eliminated, but it is not the only type of food that determines your overall state of health.

Does the vegetarian still consume oils? Processed and enriched foods? Are they avoiding carbs? Are whole grains missing from the diet? If the answer is yes, then the vegetarian is off track. As I have mentioned before, moderation is not the answer - you must look at the entirety of your diet. Simply following a vegetarian diet is only half the picture.

Bottom Line:
Although eliminating some forms of animal products from your diet is a step in the right direction, it does not necessarily mean that you are consuming a healthy diet. Dairy should not be consumed by any human being, so the lacto vegetarian is severely off track. Animal flesh, fish, and eggs are best avoided as well. The healthiest diet is a whole foods, plant-based diet.

Next -- Part 7: What About the Vegan Diet? 
Previous -- Part 5: What About the Weight Watchers Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, July 29, 2013

Part 5: What About the Weight Watchers Diet?

The Weight Watchers diet is a unique approach to weight-loss. They do manufacture and sell pre-packaged food items (in addition to partnering with some restaurant chains that offer Weight Watchers menu items), but their main focus is on the community support (in person and/or online) and proprietary system of calculating the "point value" of various foods. Depending on the individual metrics of the consumer, an upper limit of points per day is assigned. The interesting part about Weight Watchers is that there are "no forbidden foods," but with their new (as of 2010) Points Plus system, they assign a higher point value to foods they deem as a poorer choice and a lower point value to better choices of food (which they view as foods high in protein and fiber "to fill you up").

 photo ww2_zpsa6c5aac6.jpg

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
With the current Weight Watchers plan, all fruits and "non-starchy" vegetables are zero points, meaning that you can eat unlimited quantities each day. They encourage 3 meals plus snacks to be consumed per day within your individual point allotment, but they leave it up to the consumer to "spend" their points however they please. Consumers are encouraged by the new Points Plus value system to choose more "good" foods throughout the day than a few "bad" foods. In other words, it's the idea that you get to eat a larger quantity of food per day if you choose "healthier" foods than if you choose "unhealthier" foods. The consumer can enter the foods they consume into the online points calculator to determine the value and keep track of their daily consumption. When you sign up, you provide your age, gender, weight, and height. They then assign you a daily points allotment, which will be at least 1,200 calories per day.

What's Good?
The community support aspect is a wonderful feature of this diet. Everyone needs support. I wish we had a local support group of people who eat the way we do so that we would all be encouraged and help one another. Sigh...maybe some day!

I like how the diet is built around encouraging healthy food choices by assigning lower point values to healthier foods. They correctly assign higher point values ("costs" more to consume) to foods high in fat and simple carbs (sugar), but as I will explain shortly, the calculations are flawed and misleading.

Another good thing about this diet is that, unlike the Nutrisystem diet, this diet can be continued for life if the consumer felt so inclined. There are point calculators online that could be used after canceling the paid membership. This ability to calculate Weight Watchers points after canceling membership may help reduce the yo-yo-ing effect that South Beach and Nutrisystem would likely cause.

What's Bad?
First, the way the point values are assigned to various foods is extremely flawed. Weight Watchers claims that their food points assignments are based on the latest scientific research about what's healthy and not healthy, but when you plug in actual foods and calculate a point value, you will quickly see that this is not true -- or at least they are not basing their calculation formula on sound scientific research. They mislead you into thinking that "high protein" foods will help you feel full - this is incorrect, especially if from an animal source. Protein alone does nothing to create a sense of fullness, but fiber does create a lasting and satisfying sense of fullness. Remember from Part 2: What About the Atkins Diet?, animal foods contain ZERO fiber.

Yes, you will eventually get full eating zero-fiber meat, but you will consume more to reach satiety than you would if you ate fiber-rich foods. This flawed points system could cause confusion and mislead the consumer into thinking that just because one food has a low point value, it must therefore be healthy. Likewise, I think it would only be human nature to try to avoid foods with higher point values because you want to consume more food than less each day. Here's an example of the flawed points assignments using this calculator:

Food: 1/2 cup dry whole grain rolled oats
Fat (g): 3
Carbs (g): 27
Protein (g): 5
Fiber (g): 4
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 4

My Comments: Oats are a whole grain. They are such a healthy food choice! If I am not able to have my Super Smoothie for breakfast, oatmeal is my next choice for breakfast (although, the very last thing I add to my Super Smoothie is to stir in dry oats because I am obsessed about oats!) When we cruised to Alaska, oatmeal was my breakfast every day. It's easy to get almost anywhere, cheap, delicious, fills you up, and lowers your cholesterol. In my opinion, 4 points seems high for such a healthy food choice.

Food: 1 large russet potato
Fat (g): 0
Carbs (g): 64
Protein (g): 8
Fiber (g): 7
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 7

My Comments: Are you freakin' kidding me?! 7 points?!?! The potato is also a wonderfully healthy food choice. It has NO fat, is high in fiber and protein and full of complex carbs to give you lots of energy. It is seriously one of the best food choices you could make. They should really assign the potato ZERO points like vegetables and fruit to encourage more people to eat potatoes. The problem is that people often add things to potatoes that are terrible for you, like cheese, butter, sour cream, and bacon bits. But the potato itself is so good for you. We regularly eat a baked potato topped with oil-free salsa and nutritional yeast - a delicious and filling lunch or dinner with very little effort. Heck, you can even buy a plain baked potato at Wendy's!

Food: 1 cup skim milk
Fat (g): 0
Carbs (g): 12
Protein (g): 8
Fiber (g): 0
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 2

My Comments: Do you SEE my point yet?! Skim milk - chock-full of cancer-growing casein, acid-loading and bone withering animal protein, artery-clogging cholesterol, estrogen, and antibiotics is assigned only 2 Weight Watchers points. Outrageous! It should be assigned a point value of 200, that way, if you consume a cup of skim milk, you're not allowed to eat for the rest of the week. (I'm not really that sadistic, but seriously Weight Watchers folks - get up to speed on the preponderance of the scientific evidence that dairy is terrible for people; don't bury your head in the sand or make false claims that's it's okay to consume. Their claim that "there's no strong research" to support the ill effects of consuming dairy is just plain WRONG! This Weight Watchers article contains terrible, terrible advice.)

Food: 1 cup roasted chicken breast
Fat (g): 5
Carbs (g): 0
Protein (g): 43
Fiber (g): 0
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 5

My Comments: I find it sad that Weight Watchers assigned less points to chicken than to the potato. They clearly and foolishly believe in the whole "lean meats are healthy" myth. There is no such thing as lean meat. All meat contains cholesterol, fat, and puts an acid load on your body due to the high animal protein content. Furthermore, meat offers ZERO carbs for energy and ZERO fiber to help you feel full.

Weight Watchers uses this formula to calculate the Points Plus value of foods. (Note that when I plugged in the above examples, I got the same point values for everything except the potato...for the discriminated potato, I calculated 8 points using the precise formula!) As you can see from the formula, Weight Watchers penalizes fat content the most. But then it penalizes carbohydrates more than protein. Fiber content is the least penalized. This prioritization explains why the chicken breast received a lower point value than the potato. Remember that excessive amounts of protein, especially from animals sources (meat, dairy, eggs, fish), leads to an increased acid load on the body and strain on the kidneys and liver. Continuing this over consumption of protein over time will lead to decreased bone health, increased cholesterol, fat, and increased chances of other chronic illnesses.

The "Improved" Weight Watchers Algorithm
Weight Watchers should instead penalize too much protein by increasing the multiple from 16 to something like 25 and decreasing the carbohydrates multiple from 19 to 5 (make it the same as fiber). This would give the potato a point value of 3, oats 2, and not allow any dairy (kick the skim milk to the curb). Chicken would get 7 points and 1 Tbsp of olive oil would get 4 points...might as well kick them to the curb also! I hope I have shown you how ludicrous this points system is.

Weight Watcher's idea of "healthy" food choices are: whole grains (excellent!), lean meats (hazardous!), low-fat dairy (dangerous!), and unlimited fruits (excellent, though you shouldn't go overboard with this by consuming nothing but fruit!) and non-starchy vegetables (excellent, but starch is not the enemy!)

Fun Facts about Starch
What is Starch?
Starch is a complex carbohydrate.
All carbohydrates are forms of sugar.
Starch is essentially long chains of bonded sugar molecules (glucose).

Benefits of Starch
No cholesterol
Enduring energy
Satiety (feeling of fullness)
Very little fat (1-8% of calories)
Humans are Designed to Eat Starch
Amylase is the enzyme that breaks down starch into sugar.
Humans have 6-8 times more salivary amylase than other primates.

Starch (Carbohydrates) Don't Make You Fat; Fat Does
A 2001 study showed that women (both overweight and lean)
who were overfed simple sugars by 50% of their normal daily food intake
only produced 4 grams of fat. At 4 grams of fat gained per day, it would
take 4 months of this type of overeating to gain 1 pound! So it is virtually
impossible to gain weight even while overeating carbohydrates (sugars).
Examples of Starchy Foods
Grains: wheat, rice, corn, oats, millet, barley
Legumes: beans, peas, lentils
 Starchy Vegetables: carrots, potatoes, winter squashes, artichokes 

"Starchy" vegetables are not encouraged as profusely as "non-starchy" vegetables. This is why the potato was assigned such a high point value. But as you can see above, starches and starchy vegetables are just as crucial to a health-promoting diet as non-starchy vegetables.

Although I see why Weight Watchers says "no forbidden foods," which probably helps the consumer feel less micro-managed, I do not see the point of allowing downright unhealthy foods. This again brings up the flawed opinions of Weight Watchers experts who base their decisions on the "latest science". The preponderance of the scientific evidence reveals that dairy, even in small amounts, is harmful to humans. This is not new information, yet popular fad diets shy away from recommending such "radical" dietary changes.

Weight Watchers is yet another example of a calorie restricted diet. I entered my personal information into this Weight Watchers assessment and I would be allowed to have 20 points per day, plus 35 bonus points to spend however I want during the week. 20! That would go by so quickly based on the Weight Watchers current points system, and would likely leave me feeling miserable at dinner after already spending my day's points and being forced to eat a tiny portion. Remember me telling you that calorie restriction only leads to short-term weight-loss and misery? I hated restricting my portion sizes and counting/limiting calories. Miserable!

In the past, I used to try to keep up with Livestrong's My Daily Plate to track all my foods. That was a free service and I had enough trouble as it was remembering to enter everything. How much more of a hassle would it be to enter foods into Weight Watchers and pay money for it? I've said it before and I'll say it again, I would much rather eat delicious, filling, fiber and nutrient rich foods to my satisfaction and lose weight effortlessly than worry and stress about points, calories, portion size, etc. If you're willing to invest all that time and energy into tracking those things, why not redirect those efforts towards making truly healthy food choices (that actually work in the long-term) and preparing those foods at home? 

Bottom Line:
Though Weight Watchers offers the benefit of community support and encouragement, their Points Plus assessment of which foods are healthy versus less healthy is seriously flawed and could mislead the consumer into thinking that certain foods (dairy, meat) are better choices than others (potatoes). At the end of the day, why not invest the time, money, energy, and self-discipline into a diet that will benefit your health in the long-run, help you lose weight and keep it off, and does not require calorie or portion restriction? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Next -- Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet? 
Previous -- Part 4: What About the Nutrisystem Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, July 22, 2013

Part 4: What About the Nutrisystem Diet?

The Nutrisystem diet is a portion-controlled diet that aims to help the consumer lose weight and improve their health with the most convenience and no-hassle. This is accomplished by offering a membership program (for a cost to the consumer) that includes delivery of pre-packaged food products and access to helpful resources and guides. The main claim of the diet is eating high fiber, low fat foods with fewer calories. Below is a photo of their most basic membership plan that includes a one month supply of meals. The membership packages can be cancelled at the consumer's request or when the consumer reaches their desired weight goal. The program helps equip the consumer with knowledge on how to maintain their new healthy lifestyle following completion of the program.

 photo nutrisystem_zps8b0369f2.jpg

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The Nutrisystem diet recommends eating 6 meals per day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and dessert. The membership program includes pre-packaged food products for all of the meals, except the morning and afternoon snacks. (They provide suggestions on what the consumer should eat as their morning and afternoon snacks and encourage supplementing the other meals with fresh fruit, vegetables, protein, and milk.) The Nutrisystem diet offers a very large selection of pre-packaged food items for the 4 meals it covers. Meals are conveniently microwaved. The consumer is allowed to hand-pick which menu items he/she desires to eat, or can let Nutrisystem representatives select food items for them. Nutrisystem also offers targeted membership packages (vegetarian, 60 years and older, diabetic plans). In general, the women's food plans limit the total number of calories allowed per day to 1,200; for men, it's up to 1,500. They recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, and provide fitness plans and other support to help the consumer achieve this.

The food itself is low in sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats, and is made up of 55% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 20% fat. The foods claim to be high in whole grains. They instruct the consumer to supplement daily meals with a total of 6 servings of fruits and vegetables, 3 servings dairy or protein, and 2 servings fat. Foods not allowed with the Nutrisystem diet include alcohol, sugar, white bread, candy, cakes, and processed foods. (I italicized this, because I'll address this point shortly.) An example of a 1,200 calories-per-day meal plan consists of:

Breakfast: Nutrisystem breakfast entree, 1 serving fruit, and 1 serving dairy or protein
Lunch: Nutrisystem lunch entree, 1 serving salad, 1 serving dairy or protein, 2 Tbsp fat-free salad dressing
Snack: 1 serving fruit, 1 dairy or protein serving
Dinner: Nutrisystem dinner entree, 2 vegetable servings, 1 salad or fruit serving, 1 fat serving
Dessert: Nutrisystem dessert

What's Good?
Recommending multiple meals per day, rather than just 3 meals per day, is a wonderful attribute of this diet. They also do not shy away from carbohydrates, which frankly is a relief to see in a modern weight-loss diet. Carbs are not the enemy. Complex carbs are the body's main source of energy. I'm glad to see that the Nutrisystem diet is not also a low-carb diet. The diet also encourages at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, in conjunction with their meal plans. I doubt most of the Nutrisystem customers actually follow this recommendation, but at least Nutrisystem is recommending such frequent exercise and they promote that there's more to overall health than just what you eat.

What's Bad?
In short, a lot.

First, calorie restriction does not work and is not a healthy way to lose weight. Starving the body into losing weight only results in short-term weight loss or a life of misery. I recall my own efforts in the past at counting calories and trying to self-limit my caloric intake to 1,200 calories per day. How in the world are you supposed to keep an accurate calorie count when you cook meals at home or eat out? It is extremely difficult to keep up with in daily life. Even using tools like Livestrong's My Daily Plate can only get you so close to the actual number of calories you're eating. And do you realize how easy it is to reach 1,200 calories in one day (if choosing calorie-rich; nutrient-deficient foods)?! There were days I reached that limit at lunchtime. Golly, that was so discouraging. I remember serving myself tiny, tiny portions and still feeling hungry afterwards. Looking over at Michael's plate full of food with his skinny body used to make me so MAD! It was a real struggle for me to have the discipline to keep track of my calories all day and have the self-control to stop at my upper limit. Eventually, I gave up trying, and the weight piled back on. That is just no way to live life.

Following my first point, the Nutrisystem diet is designed for convenience and no-hassle. Microwavable foods require almost no effort. I can certainly see why this diet is appealing to the modern, busy consumer. But what happens once they conclude the program? Eventually they will have to make food decisions on their own and prepare their own meals. Going from being spoon-fed most all meals to having to cook for yourself is asking for a set-back. Unless the person really takes ownership of their meal planning and begins to count calories and self-limit, they are likely to gain all the weight back. Just like my previous argument about the South Beach diet, who wants to have their weight yo-yo-ing all over the place?

My third argument is about the food content itself. The pre-packaged foods are advertised as being non-processed, high in fiber, low in fat, full of whole grains. This is a bold faced lie. I tell my clients that you have to learn to completely ignore every single advertising claim on the front (and sides and back) of food packaging. You can only trust what's contained in the ingredients list. So let's have a looksy. I have chosen a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert food item from the Nutrisystem diet. I selected the food items below based on what appears to be reasonably "healthy sounding." I know that is extremely subjective, but I did my best to select foods that I used to think were reasonably healthy, like "lean meats."

My take on this: The first ingredient is great. The second is basically "apples with a preservative," followed by sugar, more sugar, artificial flavors (there's nothing "natural" about this), salt, cinnamon, and an artificial coloring agent. Yes, the first ingredient is presumably a whole grain (though it should literally say "whole grain oats" if it is in fact a whole grain.) In summary, this has the potential of being a healthy, high-fiber breakfast meal, but all of the preservatives and artificial ingredients reveals that it is a processed food. It would be much better to prepare oatmeal at home, add some fresh chopped apples, a little honey, and cinnamon.

My take on this: Oh dear...that's a bunch of ingredients. When you see "enriched," you should not think that's a good thing. You're not enriching anything, especially your health. Furthermore, when you don't know what something is or how to pronounce it, it's probably not good for you (glyceryl monostearate, hydrolyzed corn protein?!) Lot of preservatives and artificial flavors. And here's what I find most appalling and sad about this lunch item: it contains zero fiber. Zero! Being only 110 calories with 20 from fat (this means the meal is 18% fat) and no fiber is giving you fat but not filling you up. So sad. And there are ZERO whole grains too. Plus, the high amount of animal products results in an over consumption of protein, fat, and cholesterol, which can lead to poor health.

My take on this: Again, that's a whole lot of ingredients and appears highly processed and full of artificial ingredients and preservatives. Plus, there are added oils, little fiber, and zero whole grains. This dinner meal is 26% fat. Just like the lunch, the high amount of animal products results in an over consumption of protein, fat, and cholesterol.

My take on this: Again, "enriched" does not enrich anything about your health. Rolled oats? Excellent, that's a whole grain! Followed by raisins (good, not great - concentrated sugar), butter (yeah, that's real healthy), eggs, added fat, sugar, preservative, more sugar, even more sugar, whey protein (dairy product), baking soda and powder, preservatives, cinnamon, maple flavor (not maple itself, just the artificial flavor). Oh, and this one little cookie is 40% fat. Yikes! I can make a dairy-free, egg-free, oil-free, white sugar-free oatmeal raisin cookie that tastes delicious and doesn't have all of these preservatives, artificial, and harmful ingredients.

And finally, recommending (or at least, selling) 20% fat food products (or as I've shown you, sometimes higher than that!) is not health-promoting. Eating the diet I recommend gives you all the fat you need. You do not need to add additional fat from animal foods and oils! These food products are basically junk foods. And they recommend supplementing these junk foods with 3 servings of dairy or protein and 2 servings of fat per day! Did you know that the fat percentages of milk are calculated by weight, not content? That's right folks, 2% milk does NOT mean there's only 2% fat content. And if you're curious, click on the links below to view how much cholesterol and sugar is also in each type of milk.

Fun Facts about Milk
1 cup (8 oz) of the following types of milk has:

Whole milk: 146 calories, 71 from fat = 49% fat
2% milk, a.k.a. "reduced fat": 122 calories, 43 from fat = 35% fat
1% milk, a.k.a. "low fat": 102 calories, 21 from fat = 21% fat
Skim milk, a.k.a."non-fat" or "fat-free": 83 calories, 2 from fat = 2.5% fat

All milk, especially skim milk, contains casein (animal protein)
which has been scientifically linked to cancer tumor growth

Bottom Line:
The Nutrisystem diet offers convenience at the price of good health. Although short-term weight loss may occur due to calorie-restriction, it is not a long-lasting, healthy diet to follow because of the lack of whole grains and fiber, and the added oils, preservatives, artificial ingredients, and high-fat content. For the price of the membership plans, your money would be better spent purchasing health-promoting, plant-based foods and preparing meals at home that fill you up, satisfy hunger, and allow you shed pounds without the hassle of counting or restricting calories. I have said goodbye to 35 pounds lost once and for all, without the torture and deprivation of counting calories or limiting portion sizes. You can too. If you would like assistance with how to adopt a plant-based diet, plan meals, and cook within your time constraints, I would be delighted to help you.

Next -- Part 5: What About the Weight Watchers Diet?
Previous -- Part 3: What About the South Beach Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series