I’ve become a data fiend. I read all kinds of information about diet and the role diet plays in health. I find any essay, article or scientific report that addresses these questions. As I have mentioned before, the data tends toward the very basic facts of eating: whole grains, veggies, and fruit can make a difference in one’s overall health.
This blog, a mishmash of thoughts on Buddhism, meditation, diet, exercise, and the occasional philosophical perspective, is a report of my journey, plain and simple. As I have made changes to my physical self, I’m reporting the outcomes and the progress.
So, as I have researched, read, and otherwise wondered about my particular diet plan, I am constantly checking what’s out there, the information available, and doing my own investigations on what types of foods I should eat. My primary care physician, a man who looks at my overall health and wellbeing, promoted the Whole30 diet over the plant-based diet I am on. He warned me about increasing insulin and glucose levels in my blood work as representative problems in my approach.
This idea, that whole grains in particular can result in insulin spikes and overall a concern about the glucose levels in my body led me to research this particular topic. Simply put, is there specific, established evidence that whole grains cause insulin spikes and an increase in insulin being produced by my pancreas?
Reading information in the popular press, one can find a huge number of books and articles like Big Fat Surprise, or The Case Against Sugar. Similarly blogs with reports of the danger of eating “carbs” abound from Sustainable Dish to Good Fats Blog. In one case in particular, an author promoted coconut oil as a “healthy” food warning that the American Heart Association’s diet recommendations “might kill you.”
This one phrase struck me, “Why Coconut Won’t Kill You, But Listening to the American Heart Association Might!” An author claiming that a national organization, that bases it’s reputation on extensive scientific research, is going to kill you is provocative. The author cites a blog and an organization founded by author Nina Teicholz for her primary source material.
Nina Teicholz, the author of Big Fat Surprise, suggests that eating high fat foods rich in saturated fats do not contribute to heart disease (a generalization of her work). As I researched the work of this author, I found this review. The chapter by chapter review reveals that Ms. Teicholz relied extensively on works by Gary Taubes. Taubes similarly promotes the “bad carb” idea of eating in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories. The thesis in these books, that eating certain animal proteins and saturated fats are necessary and good for one’s body, is challenged by many, if not most, studies on diet and disease.
The spread of the mantra against eating carbs or that eating fats are a “healthy choice” in a diet is widespread. In my particular case, I followed much of this prescription for years. Low carb, high-ish protein. More specifically, I have eaten, in the past, a high protein diet as a means of losing weight. It worked. I lost weight. I went into ketosis or I ate a specific set of vegetables and meat that met guidelines of low carb, high fat or protein. I ate this diet for years. I exercised. I rode in 100 mile bike races, backpacked across the Rockies, worked out at gyms, walked almost every night. I developed cardiovascular disease. A very real fact.
Was my disease something that developed as a result of animal protein and fats? I don’t know. Chemically my blood work was always good…low cholesterol numbers, slightly elevated glucose, not one doctor recommended anything other than losing the few pounds I carried.
In the six months since my MI, my switch to a plant-based diet resulted in improvement in all of my blood markers. I am testing my blood chemistry about every three months. The first test, in November, revealed Cholesterol 154, LDL 90, HDL 46, Glucose 130. In January, Cholesterol 98, LDL 40, HDL 43, Glucose 100. March 8th, Cholesterol 89, LDL 38, HDL 43, Glucose 60. The changes, as you can see from this brief sample, are significant and sustained.
The data indicate that something important is happening in my blood chemistry. What are the factors that might be affecting these changes? First, diet. I eat plants, whole grains, no oil, meat, or dairy. Completely plant-based. Second, exercise. While I exercised before the MI, I am more consistent with exercise. I added back into my exercise interval training two days a week. I spin, use a treadmill, ride my road bike, and walk each night. I have collected all exercise on a Polar V800 watch and track everything I do, day in and day out. I will upload my exercise plan in my next post. Similarly, I’ve tracked my diet and keep a tally of what I have eaten. I’ll post the spreadsheet of that as well.
Overall, it is my thesis that a low carb, high protein diet including saturated fat got me to this place. Getting me out of the trap, I switched to a plant-based diet with the hypothesis that such a diet will transform my blood chemistry and, possibly, reverse my heart disease. So far, the data indicate, but do not prove, that a plant-based diet can help transform blood chemistry. My next post will provide the details.