In the Heart of the Plant-Based Diet

I’m not one to gush about diets and such.  We all choose our paths to good health and eating.  I’m also convinced that making a choice for your health is one based on your own ideas, insights, and research.  What I am communicating here is what I am eating, specifically, and what the impact has been on my body and mind.  The following details are meant simply to tell my story in hopes that someone will benefit from this knowledge.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I switched to an entirely plant-based diet based on my research into heart health.  The food I constructed for myself is based on recipes and ideas in Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and The Prevent Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook by Anne Crile Esselstyn and Jane Esselstyn. I did not follow, exactly, the recipes in the cookbooks; I used them as a guide to create meals quickly in my busy life.

Briefly, I prepared salads and hot meals by adding just about any vegetable I could find.  I scanned the cookbooks for ideas about combining foods and settled on eating wild and brown rice, a quinoa blend of grains and seeds, and heating vegetables in a pan using a wide variety of spices.  I wanted to create meals that were as simple as possible to prepare and store in the refrigerator so that I NEVER had to think about what to eat.  I found that if I had to think about what to eat, I made poor food choices.  So, I made lots of food.

As these images show, I assembled my rice, veggies, and then extra firm tofu in that order.  I seasoned the rice with tumeric, cumin, cayenne, and onion powder.  The veggies  I used apple cider vinegar as a stir-fry sauce and added a variety of spices to that base…as the veggies cooked, I added a bit of water…what you see in this photo are veggies that have been refrigerated for a couple of days…the color is fading.  The veggie mix included celery, mushrooms, multi-colored carrots, onions, and bell peppers.

I’ve found that onions are an excellent way to use the natural oil from that plant in cooking; cook the onions first with a bit of vinegar or water and they make I nice stir-fry base to add the other veggies….of course, if you want veggies to come out equally crunchy, add the firm veggies first and then the softer veggies later….that makes them equally firm and delicious.

Many people at work have asked me about breakfast as that is the one area they are very concerned about.  The thing is, on a plant-based diet, oats and grains are on the menu!  So, rolled organic oats or steel cut oats are great breakfast foods with fresh and some dried fruits.

I just want to pause for a minute and talk about grains.  In the United States, the craze about not eating grains has become a kind of mantra.  My guess is the meat industry has pushed out a message that meat is the answer to all our dieting ills.  For a while, I was completely convinced that eating protein was the key to weight loss and good health!  Yikes!

Here’s the thing; the whole protein thing was so ingrained in me that when I read about a plant-based diet I was shocked that it could be healthy.  What about getting enough protein or gaining weight as a result of eating grains?  Weren’t we paleo people at heart?

Here’s a truth for you to digest: once I switched to an entirely plant-based diet, I started shedding pounds.  In the first 10 days I lost eight pounds….just like that.  Now I’m on the two or so pounds a week weight loss.  I exercise intensely at least four days a week for any least one hour per session.  AND, and it’s not the exercise that looses the pounds; that’s only about 500 calories per session….it’s the food that is helping my body.

Search the internet for the phrase Protein Myth….see what you find.  Then check out Forks over Knives and see how body builders can build muscle without protein supplementation.  Once you start looking at the data, the scientific data, you find a very interesting picture of what a plant-based diet can do.

The science behind plant-based diets is available although not extensive.  The National Library of Medicine holds numerous articles that use a variety of technical jargon to explain the impact of plant-based diets.  The Nutritional  Update for Physicians offers some insight to these diets.

A number of studies have been done including the Dr. Dean Ornish program. “In the Lifestyle Heart Trial, Ornish10 found that 82% of patients with diagnosed heart disease who followed his program had some level of regression of atherosclerosis. Comprehensive lifestyle changes appear to be the catalyst that brought about this regression of even severe coronary atherosclerosis after only 1 year. In his plant-based regimen, 10% of calories came from fat, 15% to 20% from protein, and 70% to 75% from carbohydrate, and cholesterol was restricted to 5 mg per day.”

Studies have found that plant-based diets have shown specific positive outcomes for people facing diabetes, heart disease, and other health related issues.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study on this topic stated that benefits for a plant-based diet are clear and specific.  Other studies have offered similar proof for the plant-based diets in general.  The key is that one can find a decent amount of information on the benefits of the diet regimen.

OK, so what about me?  I’ve lost about 30 pounds on the plant-based diet.  My blood pressure is better than its ever been at around 115/60.  Other important changes include HDL and LDL, and a wide variety of additional physiological changes.

Emotionally, I feel like I am making a real change in my life.  The physical changes are important and I am still struggling with fear; the very real fear from dying, tomorrow, from some unknown and undiagnosed heart condition.  That’s where my Buddhist practice comes in.  Without my constant and focused attention on Vajrayana and, in particular, Vajrasattva, I would be, literally, lost in my mind.  So, chants and prayers, meditation and attention to the state of my mind and the attempt to bring about awareness is my constant and specific focus.

This aspect of my  life is the most challenging.  Becoming still enough to bring about the nature of mind AND to not have ego ruin the whole thing takes enormous energy.  Nothing about Vajrasattva and Vajrayana practice is easy.  Nothing.  As an aside, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that somehow you are going to find some calm resolve in the heart of meditation.  Only when awareness dawns and becomes a stable aspect of your being can you even begin to say that you are happy, calm, and etc.  Even then you have to stay vigilant.

Be well, my friends.  I will update health and diet information as well….finally, I will post successful recipes along the way in case you are interested….like the following veggie lasagna I made yesterday!

Preparing the Veggies for the Lasagna!

The G-Funk Veggie Lasagna

Grab any kind of vegetable you can find….I used the following veggies for this dish:

1 orange/yellow and 1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and sliced into about 2″ lengths

3 multi-colored carrots, cut into small rounds

2 yellow squash cut into small rounds

1 yellow onion, diced

8 large white mushrooms, sliced

2 cans of dice tomatoes (or just dice about 8 Roma tomatoes)

1/4 cup of any prepared pasta sauce (no oil is best)

1 package of brown rice lasagna pasta

Pre-cut all veggies and place them in a bowl.

Usually I put more dense veggies in a pan sooner; in this case, I put them a sauté pan (a deep one in my case) all in together and cooked them for about 15 minutes in about 2.5 CM of water and a splash of balsamic vinegar (more if you like it).  COVER the pan and allow the water to steam the veggies.

Add spices according to your taste, for this recipe I used:

2 tbsp of Tumeric

1 tbsp of Cumin

2 tbsp of Cayenne

1 tbsp of Black Pepper

1 tbsp of Onion power

5 garlic cloves, sautéed FIRST in the process

Cook all of the veggies etc for about 15 minutes on medium high heat; cover to ensure the water boils into a steam.

In a separate pot, heat about 6 cups of water, bring to a boil and add the lasagna….the pot needs to be big enough to hold the pasta and not have it break.

Once it’s all completed, drain the pasta and cool it off with water…then:

Lay the pasta in rows in a 9×13″ glass (oven approved) pan.  Add the diced tomato and sauce mixture by spreading a small amount (about 1/3) over the pasta.

Add the veggies (about 1/3 of the total)…repeat for the next layer.

For the final layer, put the veggies on TOP of the last layer of pasta…once all of the veggies are down, add the rest of the diced tomato mixture to the top.

Bake the dish on 375 degrees, covered with aluminum foil, until the mixture is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving….for those who like, add grated soy cheese or top with a kale/spinach mixture.  Enjoy!

My Ever Changing Body

When I wrote this title I was reminded of The Style Council song, “My Ever Changing Moods”.  The lyric is really wonderful and one line speaks to me and my particular changing moods, “Bitter turns to sugar, some call a passive tune / But the day things turn sweet, for me won’t be too soon…”  The video is a flashback to 80s and cycling….awesomeness.

The song, for me, harkens to an idea that goes right along with Buddhist thought: the idea of impermanence and the ever changing conditions we find ourselves in.  Our own bodies are ever changing, never the same from moment to moment.  Filled with food or water or something else; empty, drained, a whole variety of physical experiences changing and moving day after day, even minute after minute.

In the past couple of months, I have changed my body radically.  If you saw me in August and then jumped forward to today, you would find someone who looks different….30 pounds of flesh burned off of my silly bones.  Internally, you would find changes to oxygen uptake, muscle strength and endurance, and chemical changes that are equally dramatic.

I developed an exercise routine that has been a powerful shift in my daily movement regime.  I move a lot more than I did just three months ago.  I stretch and push and ride and run and MOVE for hours during the week.  All of this movement has reshaped my body to the point that I can now move more efficiently.  What do I mean?  Here’s an example: in the morning I wake up about 6:00 AM, get out of bed and take the dogs out.  As I walk downstairs, I step on six steps to a landing and then through the den and out the back door.

Before I started this shift in physical exercise, when I walked downstairs I had to grab the handrail.  I woke kind of woozy, and needed some support to balance.  Now, I walk down the stairs without need of support, foot stepping on each step one at a time with a feeling of stability and strength.  That one subtle change has made me feel better…I can’t tell you why.  A small change that adds to my mental well being.

The other thing that I’ve noticed, and in fact noticed today, was that I do not breathe as hard as I work out; I’ve just become aware that, when pushing hard during exercise, my heart rises but my breathing rate rises slowly.  Today, with my heart pounding at 140 BPM, I was not out of breath.  I pushed myself on a spin bike, hard, testing my strength and fitness.  The feeling was surprising, shocking even.  What had happened to me?

The best way to describe these changes is to start with a basic idea: that it had been years since I had exercised in such a way that I could measure, in a very specific way, my progress.  Since November, I’ve been hooked to machines and measured my progress using a Polar watch that measures my workouts, heart rate, cadence, steps, etc.  The information is interesting to see in that I can watch what I do and how long it takes me.  I’ve also seen how my body reacts, through graphs, and noticed that I don’t work as hard to exercise at the same rate.

All of the numbers really just boil down to how I feel.  When I exercise, I feel good…positive, strong.  Those changes did not take long to kick in at all.  Maybe after three weeks; I started to feel better.  I noticed that I walked a bit taller, stood a bit stronger, and really felt like I was stable in some way.  It’s a feeling I took for granted for a long time.  Now, I’m more confident in my body.

The lovely benefit of these physical changes is the changing mental capacity to continue my practice.  My body has changed my mind, in effect.  I’m capable of staying in meditation longer with less physical discomfort.  Too, being on a strictly plant-based diet fits within the context of my Buddhist practice.  Simply put, I’m using my eating as a form of Vajrasattva purification.  In fact, the whole idea of purification, as I’ve discussed, has these various levels of engagement.  In a sense, Vajrasattva is very much about basic, intermediate, and deep levels of purification.  My eating plan fits nicely within that context.

Finally, each night, before I go to bed, I dedicate these changes and purification to all sentient beings struggling with their own maladies and illnesses.  I completely understand the fear we go through when faced with a health crisis.  I sincerely hope that my practice can make a difference.

Be well my friends.



Transformation through a plant-based diet.

Ok, so it’s time to jump on a proverbial soapbox and talk about plant-based eating and diet.  Since August, I began a campaign to transform my body through an eating plan that made sense for me.  If you are anything like me, mindful eating was about as far away from what I did as possible.  Sure I ate foods which were considered “healthy” or “good” food and avoided food that was “unhealthy” or “bad” food.  The problem, I discovered, was that “good” and “bad” food are terms determined not based on scientific principles but on a whole series of essays and articles written by folks who are either not trained or have a personal story to tell about their transformation.  In fact, you are going to read one of those stories right now.

The truth is I ate in a variety of ways.  I ate for comfort, sustenance, exercise, hunger, or as a part of a group.  Sometimes I chose foods deliberately and sometimes not.  I generally ate veggies and fruit more than meat and bread.  In August, I decided enough of this crazy eating!  This change coincided with my renewed effort on Vajrasattva practice.  I was (and am) determined to make a difference in my life and in the lives of those around me.

So, I changed my eating plan.  Included much more plant food and even less non-plant food.  I avoided certain foods I knew were harmful.  In particular, I read a huge amount of scientific evidence that showed internal physical changes as a result of changes to diet (and exercise).  I followed the Dr. Gundry diet and stuck to it for months.  I lost weight and began to transform my body.  My blood work changed. All of the markers of so-called “good” health came back positive.  Triglycerides 95; Cholesterol 154.  The changes to eating were showing up on internal diagnostic tests.  The transformation was working!

Ah but was it?  I’ve said before that I experienced a heart episode and the placement of a stent in a coronary artery.  Fun.  Here I was transforming myself and them BOOM!  What had I done wrong?  Where did I go off the track?

Simply put, I went off the track 20 years ago…never changing my diet in ways that supported a healthy heart.  Even though I had made significant changes, those changes were recent and not effective at dealing with the real problem.  And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  We are often addressing one problem, when a completely different problem arises.  We are using a screwdriver when we need a wrench; a spoon when we need a fork.

My heart event cast doubt on my eating plan.  Was I eating the right foods?  Was food even something I could use as a tool for good health?  So many questions I asked.  I dove into the research.  I searched for answers to these and many other questions.

The main question for me was: can someone arrest and/or reverse heart disease?  The funny thing is, this so-called “disease” isn’t a disease at all, I uncovered.  The spread of plaque in my veins and arteries is directly related to choices I made.  Hardly a disease at all.  In fact, stopping the spread of these pieces of fatty substances and cells in my body is directly related to food we eat.

Think about that: through a specific kind of eating, we can stop fatty cells from building up along the lining of our arteries and veins.  This atherosclerosis happens as a result of what we eat.

The skeptic in me asked, repeatedly, is it possible to deny my genetics and, in effect, reprogram my body to do what I tell it to do….to fight DNA?  I jumped, head first, into a very specific diet and eating plan led by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.  His approach connects to a larger study done by other scientists and doctors called The China Study.  In effect, Dr. Esselstyn promotes a plant-based diet without dairy, meat, nuts or oils.  Almost all vegetables, grains, fruits are part of the eating plan.


The test, for me, was this: would such an eating plan have any affect on my blood work?  Was it possible to make such a change in such a way that I would be able to see any improvement in my internal, physical health?

So, as a personal, human experiment, I began my campaign: plant-based eating.  I ate salads that included lots of veggies, also wild rice and brown rice, quinoa, all kinds of veggies including onions, kale, squash, whatever.  I didn’t follow recipes and instead first stir-fried (without oil) everything.  I used water, vinegar, garlic, and a variety of seasonings to make what I was eating taste better.  I added cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, bay leaves, all kinds of spices in a variety of combinations.

One of my first meals on the plant-based diet.

Further, I grabbed The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook.  I made chili and a variety of others meals and got into being as creative as I could with what I had available.

After two weeks of eating (and exercise), my blood work was transformed.  Actually transformed: Triglycerides from 95 to 74; Cholesterol from 154 to 98; LDL from 90 to 40; HDL 47 to 43.  In his book, Dr. Esselstyn stated that dramatic changes could happen; honestly, I didn’t believe that it was possible to see such a radical change in such a short period of time.

As I switched to the diet, the change also hit my body as I dropped, in two weeks, 7.8 pounds.  I had already lost about 20 pounds since August on the Dr. Gundry diet.  Now, I was seeing even bigger changes AND was eating and feeling satisfied with food.  I wasn’t hungry!

Psychologically, I feel better as well; my mental health has improved, markedly, over these weeks.  I can sense that I am making some kind of difference in my life.  Honestly, it’s been a long time since I felt like I could make any kind of difference in my own life (more on THAT idea later).

If you have read this far, good on ya.  My story of transformation is my own and who knows if anyone will face a similar experience.  I am here to say, however, that change can happen and you (we) have the ability to do it.