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!