When someone does something crazy, something that nobody understands, they sometimes say they “went off the deep end”. Many of you reading this will probably think that this is what has happened to me in regards to diet. That’s OK. I would have been right there with you up until recently.
As I mentioned in my last post, I had reached a crisis in regards to my health. I had some new knowledge that I needed to deal with. Knowing for sure that plaque was accumulating in my cardiovascular system (Calcium score of 148) was quite different from knowing intellectually that I was at risk for heart disease. The question I faced was: “What am I going to do with this knowledge?”
For the past several years, I have found the words of the serenity prayer to be helpful in guiding my decisions. It goes like this:
“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
So, unconsciously, I applied these words to my current situation. Was this something I cannot change? I certainly cannot change my genetic makeup, I cannot change my age, or my past. Obviously, I cannot change the fact that I can be seemingly in good physical condition and still have heart disease. So I should stop worrying about those things.
So what can I change? I began to think, and I did recall a video I had watched called “Forks over Knives”. In it, a man who was suffering with advanced heart disease had adopted a plant based diet and seen an amazing improvement. When I watched the video, I thought that this was remarkable, and afterward, we changed from having one meatless day a week to two. However, I really loved Barbecue and Pizza, and we had a lots of cheese in our diet, and I was really quite happy with the way we ate. At the time, I had concluded that eating a vegan diet was too extreme for me. Besides, I did not have heart disease, I thought.
However, now the situation had changed. No longer can I deny that I have a life threatening condition. I decided to do some more research. I looked into the two doctors featured in the video, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Colin Campbell. Both had written books. I ordered the books. The first book I read was “The China Study” by Dr Campbell. In it, he explains how he had analyzed health patterns around the world, especially in China, and found that the instance of Heart disease and cancer in areas of China where they followed a plant based diet was much lower. He also discovered that casein, the animal protein in dairy products, was highly correlated with the instance of certain types of cancer. Since I had grown up on a dairy farm, this did not set well with me. Could it be that our beloved diet was making us sick? Is the government actually recommending a diet that causes heart disease and cancer? Why am I even considering such radical notions? Well, there was evidence to back up his claims, so I decided to read the book by Dr Esselstyn. His book focuses on Heart Disease. In it, he claims that one can prevent and reverse heart disease by adopting a “whole foods, plant based diet”. He did a small study with remarkable results. All of the participants, who had previously had a heart attack, or a stint or bypass, and who stuck with a whole foods, plant based diet, did not have another cardiac event. Some people dropped out of the study, and reverted to a typical western diet, and they all had further heart issues.
Well, I decided, what do I have to lose? There are lots of people who criticize the “Forks over Knives” diet. The criticism, for the most part, does not dispute that it works, but rather, they say it is too hard to follow, and that we cannot expect large numbers of people to adopt such a radical approach. And radical it is! The approach condenses down to these rules.
- Eat nothing with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, fish or eggs).
- Eat no dairy products.
- No oil of any kind. Not even “heart healthy” oils such as canola and olive oil (Later writings relax this a bit to allow cooking spray).
- Avoid most nuts and avacados. (Again, later slightly relaxed)
- Avoid refined grains and sugars (no white flour, no white rice) .
- Eat all the other fruits, vegetables and whole grains you want. The more colorful the better.
Note that these rules are essentially the ones used to reverse heart disease during Dr. Esselstyn’s study. I know that there are questions about whether the diet has to be SO radical. Some say that sugar and carbs are really the problem, and that fats don’t matter. Some say that a little fat free dairy is OK. Some say that you need omega 3 fatty acids and to avoid omega 6 fats. The debate is still raging. New discoveries are being made every day. I don’t know. What does seem clear is that the above diet did work for the participants in the study. Could it work for me too?
Maybe there was something I could do. Maybe, even though heart disease runs in my family, and I am approaching 60, maybe I can do something to improve my odds of staying healthy through my 50s, 60’s and 70’s. I really do have some things I would like to before I check out.
I decided to try it. I was going off the deep end.
In the next entry, I will give an update on how it’s gone so far.