More Data, More Facts

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.

Photo on 3-13-18 at 2.44 PM
Daring to Test Where Few Have Gone Before

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.

The Shocking Truth of a Plant-Based Diet

I waited for about 30 minutes for my cardiologist to arrive.  Poked and prodded by a nurse prior to his visit, I sat through a litany of questions about my health, diet, exercise, and general well being.  Sitting behind a desk and furiously typing into a computer, Denise asked again, “wait, you are not eating any meat?” Yes, I responded.  “And no dairy?” Right.  She typed more information into the system.  “Your scores are above the number that is the highest score…something must be wrong.”  We went through the questions on diet again.  She entered the information.  Silence.  “Huh,” she said, “I’ve never really seen anything like this.”

After testing my blood pressure, weight, and height, she entered more data into the system and instructed me to “wait for the doctor.”  New blood work had arrived and the numbers showed more improvement and revealed what folks could see, the transformation of my body.  I had a load of questions for my interventionist cardiologist. Honestly I did not expect to get much traction with these questions; I was pretty sure what was going to happen…the 5 minute consultation.  That’s what WOULD have happened had I not been prepared to stop the doctor in his very brief analysis of my progress.

Sometimes, being prepared before you enter the doctor’s office is the most important step in taking control of your health.  What I’ve found is that doctors, nurses, and most other health care professionals care about fixing you and then moving on to the next topic.  Once you are in maintenance mode, taking care of yourself, they are much less interested in your health.  So, when you have an appointment, do all of the research you can and ask as many questions as you can reasonably fit into the visit.

So, when the doctor walked in, with an assistant who took notes the entire time, it was meant to be very brief.  How are you?  Any symptoms? Want to get a stress test?  If not then see you in 6 months…..that’s when I said, “I have a few questions.”  Once I started my litany of interrogative statements, the doctor was dismissive. “You are on a vegan diet? Doesn’t matter.”  “Okay, Dr. X, but my blood work? Can you explain the differences simply based on the drug therapy?”  “Doesn’t matter.  Just keep losing weight.”  “Okay, what about the threat of Lipoprotein A?  I’m testing for that in a month?”  “Why?  It doesn’t matter.”  “Okay, but what about Niacin as a means of controlling the spread of Lipo(A) if the numbers are elevated?” “Just stay on a statin.  That takes care of everything.” “But, Dr. X, the data shows…..” “Not important.  Now, let’s listen to your heart.”

This brief summary of back and forth is the gist of what happened.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a good interventionist doctor and fixed a serious problem I experienced.  And, he was not interested, at all, in what I’m doing.  Now, the money question, “Drs. Esselstyn and Ornish have shown in their studies that heart disease reversal is possible with this diet.  What are your thoughts?”  I got him.  That question slowed him down a step.  “Yes, there is some data supporting that idea, but the mechanism for plaque buildup is already in place in you and changing that would require changing your blood chemistry.  Not likely in your case.  You have a particular set of genetics that is working against you.  If you have symptoms, give me a call.  See you in six months.”

Did you read that?  Changing my blood chemistry is exactly what this diet does.  Altering the very structure of how my body develops plaque and reversing the process is why I began this journey in the first place.  My doctor was not interested, at all, in what is changing in my body.  If he was, he would see the dramatic changes happening internally.  The most recent one?  The drop in glucose and insulin levels.  All on a plant-based diet.  All including whole grain carbs.  Not one ounce of meat, dairy, or fat that doesn’t come from plants.  No olive oil.  No oils at all.

Lentils, romaine, home-made hummus, and, of course, Sririacha!

Here’s the shocking truth; if you follow, strictly, a plant-based diet, it is possible you can see similar results.  I’m my own test case.  I am a study of one.  My diet may not extend to the vast majority of humanity.  Truth is, all I hear is how “radical” my diet is.  At work, at school, at home, every single place I go, everything I read says what I am doing is virtually impossible.  In my search for a clinical cardiologist, of the three I have talked to, they all said to me, “you are in the top 1% of patients” or “wow, that’s remarkable you have been able to keep that up” in addressing my heart disease.  What?  How can I be in the 1% of anything?  Is that really true?

That’s the story for today.  I still face many hurdles in my health.  I still have to lose weight, still have to exercise, still have to stay focused and involved in my health.  As for the folks who say it’s impossible, I’m saying: watch me.

The Space Between Us

Imagine for a moment all of the space, air, light around us.  You are walking down a street, sitting in the building you work in, or watching TV in a room.  Around you is what you perceive as space.  In your mind, you understand the space to be outside of you.  As if all of the openness in the world exists in some kind of open pasture or meadow, or in some great expanse stretching out in front of you for miles and miles.  When I was 19, I distinctly remember driving down a highway in western Nebraska near Scottsbluff, the sky filled with a bright blue sky and dotted with clouds.  The road appeared miles in front of me as if I could actually see the horizon.  Complete spaciousness.  I remember stopping the car on the side of the road and just being in that spaciousness….wishing I was the spaciousness I perceived.

Kurjey Lhakhang near Jakar, Bhutan

In the Uttaratantra Shastra, I read a passage that brought to mind the whole idea of spaciousness.  Simply put, we perceive spaciousness outside of ourselves, when, in fact, the spaciousness is a part of us entirely.  In our dualistic minds, we imagine that to be spacious we have to be in that meadow or field or witnessing that open sky before us.  In fact, we are as spacious as that sky above us.

I raise this idea in the context of my busy, deluded mind, trying to make sense of the world around me.  Nothing seems to make any sense.  Donald Trump is president, assault weapons are not banned worldwide, I suffered through a traumatic event, a friend died from a disease he did not know he had, and on and on.  My guess is that you could add to the list.  A list that might reach forever pretty quickly.

And yet, spaciousness. That we are, in fact, one with all things.  That there is no distance between who we are and who we are sitting next to…AND that there is no space between us, at all while at the same time existing in this space and time.

Do those two ideas work together?  No space between us and spaciousness?  For those who have been lucky enough to achieve a state of being, the mind opens to the spaciousness I’m talking about; that the spaciousness is within us as well as outside of us…or, rather, it is all one.  Using that idea, that we are one with spaciousness, then we are also one with each other….a kind of interconnected, unified spaciousness that we all exist in.  It’s remarkable.

When trying to overcome my fear and self-loathing, I sit with that fundamental idea: that I am spacious, that my mind is open and expansive.  There is no separate me or separation between in here (mind) and out there.  Similarly, there is no difference between my suffering, pain, anguish, happiness, love and anyone else’s.  My suffering and their suffering is the same in the sense that it’s all suffering.  I reach out, in my mind, to those people who are struggling and offer to take on that suffering in the hope that they can find happiness.  In that moment, there is no space between us.  We are not separated by space or time; we are there, together.  We are all together…laughing, hurting, feeling, and wondering when it will all end.  What we have between us is the shared experience the wonder of the moment and the chance to help heal our wounds.

That, to me, is what being spacious means.

Clean Eating: Liberation Through Food

Yea, I know the title of this post is stretching two complementary but very different ideas and melding them into a coherent mess.  I’ve read about the whole idea of “clean eating” and that phrase is defined in so many ways.  Here is how I’m defining this idea: eating a plant-based diet with no oil, dairy, or meat products.  The “clean” part of clean eating is the fact that I’m consuming foods which help alter, reshape my body chemistry; in a sense cleansing my internal mechanisms.

I’ve read that the eating plan I am on, a plant-based diet, improves the function of endothelium, the cells lining arteries and veins.  The increase in NO production improves the flexibility and smooth, slick characteristics of the cell lining.  So, in a very real sense, the plant-based foods are transforming my circulatory system.

I created a series of foods this week that fits this approach and that tasted great (my test is my 11 year old child…will she eat it?).

Here are the examples for this week.

Hummus and Lentil Wraps. The images below show my homemade hummus using green peppers, curry powder, garlic, and garbanzo and cannelloni beans.  I added spinach and romaine lettuce, lentils, and Sriracha sauce for some spice.

These wraps hold together well and are made with whole grains.

Veggies and Whole Grain Pasta

Sauteed veggies (squash, mushrooms, onions, carrots, and garlic cloves).  Whole grain pasta and a no-oil tomato sauce with basil.

Veggie, No Cheese Pizza

Using my standard sauté technique with balsamic vinegar reduction, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne spice to taste.

The prepared pizza crust is from Rustic Crust.

This flatbread works very well as a pizza crust.

Hope you enjoy the ideas.  It’s been fun trying out new recipes.

The Path to Individual Liberation

I’m borrowing the title from Chogyam Trungpa’s book The Path Of Individual Liberation (Judith L. Lief editor, 2014) because the fact is to achieve any kind of state of awareness we have to understand and truly know where our foibles sit, lay, exist.  The book is a source of practice for me and, since reading it a couple of years ago, is one place I return to over and over again to gain clarity and focus on the path.9781611801040

I titled this blog The Path TO Individual Liberation because there are specific actions one can take to go in the direction of such a path.  In particular, the way TO liberation and awareness comes from some specific tasks one must take on to reach that state of being.  For this particular blog post, I’m focusing on my neurotic and crazy mind.

I’ve been in and out of meditation practice for years.  For the most part, my practice is stable, however, at times my crazy mind intrudes on my daily existence and things go sideways.  I think you understand what I mean: a comment from a colleague or friend or family member sends me reeling toward anger, resentment, sadness, or extreme happiness or joy.  I tend to think that the pendulum swing of emotions caused by these interactions are somehow natural or normal.  In fact, those swings in reaction are part of my problem.  Why have those wild swings when someone says something?  For me, it’s because of attachment.  I grab onto the statement, saying, phrase and chase it down….it makes me happy, sad, angry, etc.

Those reactions are, according to Trungpa, examples of the neurotic mind.  These emotional upheavals, kleshas, are part of the reason our minds are so reactive.  He says, “People have different emotional temperaments….They want to achieve something.  Therefore they express themselves in terms of three basic poisons of passion, aggression, and ignorance…” (135).  He encourages us to watch our state of mind as best we can.

I’ve experienced these reactions so often.  If I’m very aware of my mind, I can watch these reactions rise and fall within my daily life.  If not, I don’t understand my reaction until much later.  After becoming aware, I face the reactions of regret, anger at my own reaction and etc.

Stabilizing my mind, really coming to terms with what my mind is doing in any given moment, is one key to understanding and practice.  Thich Nhat Han offered that labeling thoughts is one way to become aware of what is happening in my head.

One very specific way I have come to understand my mind is through what Sogyal Rinpoche calls “Self-Tonglen”.  In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Rinpoche says that we can imagine ourselves as two aspects; one that is loving and compassionate (A) and one that is fearful, hurt, and maybe resentful (B) “Now, as you breathe in, imagine that A opens his or her heart completely, and warmly and compassionately accepts and embraces all of B’s suffering and negativity and pain and hurt. Moved by this, B opens his or her heart and all pain and suffering melt away in this compassionate embrace.” (217).  Being compassionate and kind to yourself helps heal the break in your own mind, accepting what has happened and what you think as a fleeting experience or thought.  Really embracing yourself….I have experienced the healing practice.  It is valuable.Tibetan_Book_of_Living_and_Dying_cover

Further, once you have worked on those thoughts and emotions that torture you, extending your mind outward, realizing that everyone is experiencing those same troubles, allows you to extend that compassion you gave to yourself to those around you.    In Tonglen for Others, Rinpoche says,  “Now, just as in the practice of loving kindness, gradually widen the circle of your compassion to embrace first other people whom you also feel very close to, then those whom you feel indifferent about, then those you dislike or have difficulty with, then even those you feel are actively monstrous and cruel. Allow your compassion to become universal, and to fold in its embrace all sentient beings, all beings, in fact, without any exception…” (217).  That practice of Tonglen takes me out of my neurotic mind and into the world outside of me and mine.  This one simple approach can make a real difference in your life.

Having experienced serious health concerns and the very real daily experience of dealing with kids, students, colleagues, family, and friends, these paths forward have helped me understand my own mind and, to a great extent, release my attachment or grasping on these various neurotic thoughts and emotions.  I offer these thoughts as just one way to find some clarity.  Good luck, fellow human.



Weight Loss: Piecing it Together

I’ve always read with interest the conundrum behind weight loss.  Science says that it’s pretty straight forward: eat less, move more.  Burning more kcals than you consume is the so-called “simple math” of weight loss.   And yet.  Well you know the story: folks want to lose weight and cannot for a wide variety of reasons.  Personally, I’ve never subscribed to the whole diet as weight loss scheme simply because when I did use such a diet it was almost impossible to maintain.  I distinctly remember a diet that combined beets, hot dogs and the like…some kind of chemical reaction in your body produced weight loss.  The crazy thing was, that ridiculous diet worked!  Sure, but who wants to eat hot dogs and beets all the time?

I started an eating plan, the plant-based one, and folks told me I would never lose weight on that plan.

“Too many carbs; you cannot lose weight eating carbs”

“The only way to weight loss is by eating protein; lots of it”

“Low carb diets are the only guaranteed way to weight loss”

You have heard all of those phrases I am sure.  So,  like always, I went to the research.  The body of evidence that reveals the success of dieting on a variety of diets is extensive. You will find studies that support weight loss on almost any diet plan.  This article offers perspective on many eating plans.  Other articles offer quite biased perspectives.  For example, the Whole30 folks are committed to their program (a lifestyle program rather than a diet).  They claim dramatic physical and mental changes as a result of this eating plan.  By contrast, folks are equally adamant that a plant-based diet is the way forward.

Entering into the debate on this issue was an essay written by Nina Teicholz and response Dr. Dean Ornish.  Teicholz is a journalist, Ornish an M.D. who has administered a series of studies on diet.  The debate between the two is intense and filled with invective.  The article is a fascinating look at the debates between plant-based diets and low carb diets.  I’ll leave you to judge the outcome.

All of these studies, diet’s and plans can have very real consequences on human lives.  From my perspective, I cannot follow the advice of a journalist like Nina Teicholz when faced with science and research based analysis of what to eat.

Further, after a lot of research on these various plans, I chose the plant-based approach based on the research.  Then I tested my body; I AM a test subject on the plant-based diet. I follow the diet (eating plan) strictly.  Further, I increased exercise, moderately, from what I had done before.  Then I checked my blood work and used my body as evidence of the success (or not) of the plan.  Here’s what I have found: all markers for everything from glucose and insulin to calcium and etc are improved, dramatically.  Cholesterol (156 to 98) trigycerides (95 to 76) LDL (90 to 40), HDL (43) all excellent.  Blood pressure down dramatically (140/78 to 118/60)…weight loss a consistent 1.5/2 lbs per week.  The plant-based diet works in all of the ways that Ornish, Campbell, and Esselstyn have said.  Their data and my data match.

As I move forward on this plan, I’m very curious to see a change in stenosis or restenosis of the stent repaired artery.  Ornish et al claim that I can see significant improvement in stenosis over time.  If I can get some funding, my plan is to check stenosis directly using a heart cath procedure.  Those tests will come in a couple of years.  In the meantime, I feel good.

Finally, the weight loss question.  As I mentioned, I am losing weight, consistently.  I’m eating carbs; a lot of carbs compared to the other low-carb diet plans.  Based on descriptions from those practitioners, I should have NO luck losing weight; and yet, here I am, dropping pounds each week.  Does it come down to moving more, eating less?  The fact is, I’m eating a lot of food….veggies, fruit, grains, beans, lentils.  Good lord I’m eating a lot.  However, the food is low calorie, and I can eat vast amounts of these foods and still lose weight….especially as long as I avoid the processed foods.  So, I eat whole foods, like the Whole30 plan, but none of the artery clogging fat and meat.

Further, exercising consistently is one of the factors in this whole process.  For me, that means 45-65 minutes 5 to 6 days per week.  I workout at a facility and walk about 2 miles  3 nights a week.  My movement has increased (although not dramatically).  I track my workouts and the calories burned just as a way of measuring my progress….I burn about 2500 kcals per week in exercise.  Combined with the eating plan, my weight loss is 1.5 to 2 pounds each week.  I’ve found I can slow down or speed up weight loss simply by changing, slightly, my food intake….using this experiment, I dropped all grains for 5 days and saw weight loss increase that week to 3 pounds; I did the same with salads…dropped the salads and stuck just to grains and legumes with about the same 3 pound weight loss that week….SOOOOOOO, maybe the science is right: that eating less and burning more calories equals more weight loss!  Wow.  Science is cool.

Finally, here’s my question: what diet, what eating plan are you willing to bet your life on?  Seriously.  If, like me, you have faced the very real prospect of death, then which diet is the one that will, more than likely, improve your chances of survival?  Are you willing to bet your life on a diet filled with animal protein and saturated fat? Does such an eating plan jive with what the data tells us?  Does a plant-based diet make sense based on the science?  I’ve made my choice…..the proof will be in whether or not I’m able to survive into the future…..THAT is a story I’m interested in seeing through to the end.

Whew.  I’m kind of DONE with the whole diet thread.  I’m moving back into my philosophical discussions about practice and mind….those ideas are, it seems to me, more important, ultimately, than what I eat!

May you be happy, may you be well!

The Protein Illusion

“When we dump a load of protein in our body, our liver’s like, “Whoa, look at all this! What are we going to do with it all? We can’t just waste it, we’ve got to do something with it!” So our liver starts pumping out IGF-1 to tell all the cells in our body “It’s growin’ time! Be fruitful and multiply. Spare no expense, go crazy—look how much excess protein we got to work with!”

As I have mentioned, I have been on a plant-based diet for a few months now.  In that time, I have checked blood work and seen the positive results of the change in diet.  Combined with my exercise routine, the plan is working as proscribed by numerous M.D.s and Ph.D.s in the fields of nutrition and cardiology.

In the past week, I visited my primary care physician, a man who is very much a wholistic practitioner that includes scientific understanding of disease processes combined with an approach that treats the whole body and mind.  On my last visit, we talked extensively about my diet and his thoughts about what that diet can mean, in the longterm, for my health.

The Consultation

My doctor is convinced, based on research presented in peer-reviewed studies, that a low-carb, plant-based diet WITH animal protein is the best approach to dealing with most physical illnesses (combined with appropriate medications).  I questioned his approach by pointing out my particular success in applying plant-based eating.  Here is the gist of what we discussed: that glucose and insulin, he believes, has a stronger impact on the development of disease that we formerly thought.  By staying on a plant-based diet, he has seen spikes in glucose and insulin levels in patients.  That rise in insulin and glucose can lead to more problems with various inflammatory diseases and especially with Atherosclerosis.

AND…and my blood work indicates that my plant-based diet is not revealing any of the problems suggested by folks in support of low-carb, animal protein diets.  I discussed this discrepancy with my doctor and he said, “You cannot argue with success.  Your blood work flies in the face of some of the data presented by the science.”

So, I went to the research.  What information is out there that a low-carb, animal protein diet is BETTER than a plant-based diet?  Hmmm.  My doctor suggested I look closely at the Whole 30 diet.  Here’s what I found (with links to the studies):

The Whole30 Diet

First, the Whole 30 diet is quite different from what I am doing right now.  The author states, “Eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days.”  She says to remove, “sugar, grains, dairy and legumes” the very things I am eating (well, not sugar, but still).  The claim is that I will have energy and feel better.  The assumption is that I don’t have energy.  Am I lacking in energy?  Not at all.  My weight loss with exercise is an almost constant 2 pounds per week.  I feel good.  AND my blood work reveals that eating beans and grains have helped reduce inflammation dramatically.  WHAT?  Am I some anomaly? Some freak of nature that processes food differently?

I turned to more in-depth work.  Expanding my search, I entered the phrase plant-based vs low-carb diet and the FIRST hit was this article: Plant-Based Diet vs. Low-Carb Diet.  Here’s the money quote: “The June 21, 2012 issue of the British Medical Journal presented the latest updates on the long-term health hazards of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, and reported that, ‘In particular, women had a 5% higher incidence of cardiovascular disease (heart disease) for each tenth of an increase in the low carbohydrate-high protein score, yielding a 62% higher incidence among women in the highest categories of low carbohydrate-high protein diets compared with the lowest.'”  Simply put, does the paleo diet or Whole 30 diet presents serious problems for those of us facing heart disease?

Digging a bit deeper, another blog found the large scale medical study in Germany concerning these questions.  The author proposes that low-carb diets fight cancer because of the glucose question….cancer feeds off of glucose and low carb diets reduce the glucose.

Wow.  Confused yet?  Let’s get into those pesky questions about cancer, heart disease and the like: can a food-based diet prevent diseases?  One article that attempts to bridge the gap can be found on a blog related to good health.  The money quotation on this site is: “The research shows that a low carb diet is no better than the standard American diet (S.A.D.) in terms of preventing cardiovascular disease.  The high levels of animal fat in this diet are pro-inflammatory and we know that damages arteries.”  Key phrase we KNOW that damages arteries.  Notice too the “pro-inflammatory” phrase.  Didn’t the Whole 30 folks state that their diet was “anti-inflammatory”?  WTF? In fact, the research on this one topic, animal fat and protein and its affect on arteries, is extensive.  Search it.  See what I mean?  It’s everywhere!

OK, but we have the other question about cancer that the Paleo folks and low-carb folks keep harping on.  Just last month, a Harvard study of 115,000 people revealed some basic facts about low-carb, and especially fat in diets.  Here’s the information in abbreviated form: “Researchers noted that higher intakes of the most common saturated fats—lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid—were associated with a boost in the risk of coronary artery disease of up to 18%. But replacing just 1% of those fats with the same amount of calories from polyunsaturated fats, whole grains, or plant proteins was associated with a 6% to 8% lower risk.”  OK, yea, but that cancer thing?  Where’s THAT evidence?

Animal Protein and Its Effects

Let’s get scientific.  The evidence linking animal protein and cancer is extensive regardless of the promotional efforts of the low-carb folks.  An ongoing study at the Cancer Research Institute is isolating Neu5Gc, a sugar that appears in certain meat (red meat, organ meat, etc).  Current research is showing that Neu5Gc promotes inflammation and other serious immune responses.  As the research scientist, Dr. Oliver Pearce states, “But in this case, the cellular chemicals floating around in an acute inflammatory environment can lead to disruptions in normal cell activity in the surrounding epithelia, and this is what can increase the risk of cancer over time.”  Yikes!

Here’s a clear statement that references the problem from the MD Anderson website: ” While no diet choice will guarantee that you won’t develop cancer, cutting meat can help you lower your cancer risk. The American Institute for Cancer Research promotes a plant-based diet. Two-thirds or more of your plate should be plant-based foods.”  The quotation continues, “That’s in part because plant-based foods contain phytochemicals, the nutrients that you’re immune system needs to fight off diseases like cancer.”

That information, from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, pretty much provides a  very clear, concise explanation that supports plant-based eating.

But let’s put that information into very practical and specific perspective.  In my case, my inflammation is extremely low, my other markers of health, cholesterol, C-Reactive protein, homocysteine, and on and on are all excellent.  Does that mean I’m in the clear?  Of course not.  I’m taking supplements (like B-12, Magnesium, D3, Omega 3 in flax seed, etc) and watching the food I eat everyday.  I am told that such a diet is “impossible” to maintain.  Really?  That statement has not proven true for me at all.  I have to plan what I eat and be aware of what I consume, but that’s not some crazy hard thing to do….having self-control is all about being healthy, right?



Daily Questions and Answers

In certain moments an internal dialogue starts up when faced with food that is, for lack of a better word, bad for your diet and eating plan.  Last night, I made nachos for my daughters and made them as clean as possible: not a lot of cheese, chips that were baked, not fried, and fresh salsa.  Nevertheless, for me, the saturated fat in the nachos was not the best option and while I was tempted to partake, I did not.  What was the thing that kept me from ingesting this tasty treat?  What was present, in my mind, to replace the temptation?

Each time I am tempted to eat something that is not on my eating plan, the thing I bring to mind is my hospital visit.  I think about laying in that bed, unsure of what my situation was, wondering at what doctors might find.  That unsure feeling of what was happening to my body and what I could do to correct, adjust, or alter my path.  Those moments of foggy perception I keep with me when I am faced with a food choice.  It’s, simply put, this idea: I never want to be unsure again…at least in this way…in terms of my health.  That’s why I stay vigilant on the path of eating what I now know is good for my body and my particular situation.

The Many Vegetable Choices in Bhutan

In a similar way, I stay focused on my practice using the same basic approach; if I veer off of the path of enlightenment for all sentient beings I am actually letting down many people who rely on those of us who seek to make things better.  I often think that if we all just cared for one person other than ourselves we would heal the entire world…if we were focused on the needs of just one person over our own needs we would find a transformed community.

Now I’m not here to lambast anyone at all; we all make choices and I have as well.  The simple fact is that it’s clear we face many choices that take us in one direction or other that doesn’t really help those around us or ourselves.

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.