09 July 2010

Why I Eat Meat – Part 1




















A lot of my friends who have known me for many years may be surprised to learn that I have started eating meat again after being a vegetarian for nearly 20 years (vegan and macrobiotic for about 7 of those). I frequently find myself having to defend this position, which I fully understand, having been a former enthusiast for animal rights and a vegetarian lifestyle. My reasons are varied and complex – but the biggest would have to be for health reasons. I’ve stated many times over the course of this blog that being a vegetarian, vegan, raw foody, etc… never made me a healthier person, and I question to this day if it even contributed to my declining health.

I had a heart attack when I was 39-years-old for reasons that still no one can explain. When I tell people that I was a vegetarian, a marathon runner, a devoted practitioner of Ashtanga yoga, and never had a weight, cholesterol, or blood pressure issue in my life – they are even more perplexed. After my first heart attack, I was put on the Dean Ornish /NO-FAT diet. This diet was basically vegan and meant no meat, dairy, or oils of any kind. I ate nothing but fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains. I had another heart attack two years later.

After that, I modified my diet to include “good fats” like olive oil, fish, and avocados. I incorporated non-fat dairy and other low-fat foods into my meals and increased my intake of soy products (which at the time was being touted by the medical community including the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy food). I still didn’t eat any red meat or chicken. I ate egg whites, a lot of whole grains, salmon, tons of vegetables, fruit, tofu, beans, nuts, tempeh, fake meat products made of wheat gluten, and helped myself to desserts that were “vegan,” “raw,” and anything that was made with agave syrup, soy, canola oil, and spelt. This was supposedly the perfect Mediterranean “heart healthy” diet. I had another heart attack five years later and then needed bypass surgery.

So why now have I changed my diet yet again to now include meat, animal fat, full-fat dairy and egg yolks? It sounds like a recipe for another heart attack, doesn't it? Well, actually no. I don’t believe it is. After spending the last 3 years combing through the medical literature that addresses the “lipid hypothesis,” I have come to the conclusion that it is all… inconclusive. It has never been proven that cholesterol causes heart disease. It has never been proven that animal fat raises cholesterol. It has never been proven that red meat causes heart disease and cancers. It has never been proven that vegetable fats are healthier than animal fats. It has never been proven that soy is healthy. It has never been proven that agave syrup is a “health food.” There have been correlations between all these things. But anyone that knows anything about science knows that correlation does not equal causation.

So here is what I do know:
  • I know that sugar spikes insulin and that insulin spikes cause the body to store fat, cause inflammation, lower the immune system, and tax the body and all of it’s functions. This is the same mechanism that, in time, can also lead to the development of type-2 diabetes. No one is debating whether sugar is bad. We know it is – and that is in all of its forms – synthetic or not: fructose, sucrose, honey, maple syrup, agave, etc… are all high-glycemic foods and raise insulin the same way.
  • I know that grains and carbohydrate-rich food turn quickly into sugar in your body, which also lead to spikes in blood sugar. I know that whole grains and refined grains both spike blood sugar (fiber or not) at the same rate, in the same way.
  • Wheat and polyunsaturated vegetables oil also cause inflammation in the system and are linked to auto-immune conditions like celiac disease, chrohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, dermatitis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Inflammation is now being considered the strongest risk factor for heart attacks and heart disease.
  • Soy is not a health food and causes hormonal imbalances and fertility problems in both men and women (and boys and girls), which is why the American Heart Association has now pulled all their endorsements for soy products.
  • 75% of Americans are vitamin D deficient, and vitamin D deficiencies are also linked to cancer and heart disease. The two major sources of vitamin D are animal fat and the sun. 


  • Carnivores in my family lived long, healthy lives. Vegetarians in my family did not. 


  • Cultures who still subsist on hunter/gatherer diets have the lowest (some non-existent) rates of chronic diseases in the world (Inuits, Kitavan, Masai, etc...)
  • 

Our ancestors lived on animal protein and fats, little sugar, no vegetable fats or other refined foods, and fewer grains than we do today – and exhibited much lower rates of chronic diseases.
  • Many vegetarians have vitamin D, vitamin B, iron, and amino acid deficiencies. And I suspect that all of these deficiencies may pose a greater risk to one’s health than meat and fat consumption. 


  • Children under 5 who are deprived from animal protein suffer from malnutrition - often resulting in wasting, stunting, and in worse cases - death (see Doctors Without Borders study below).
All this is to say that I now eat meat. I don’t want to have to depend on grains and high-glycemic foods for energy. I don’t want to experiment with processed soy and other fake foods for my protein sources. I no longer want to be deficient in vital nutrients that combat and prevent diseases. I want to feel full and energized after eating a meal, and not sleepy and craving more breads, pasta, and sweets. I no longer want to be the person who asks for everything on the side in restaurants and has an anxiety attack if there is butter involved. I no longer want to feel the debilitating exhaustion of the afternoon crash after eating a high-carb lunch (or brunch). And I no longer want to feel the rapid heart beat, the angina pain, and the fear of having another heart attack – that accompanies my blood sugar spikes. 



So what about animal welfare, and the environment, and all of the hormones and antibiotics that are ever present in most meat and dairy products? 



Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3.

In the meant time, here are some fun resources:


Gary Taubs on PBS - transcript
The Cholesterol Myths
Dr. William Davis' take on cholesterol
The Dirty Little Secret of the Diet-Heart Hypothesis
Debunking the China Study
Soy Alert!
Vitamin D Council
Saturated Fat in non-industrial cultures
Read about the Masai!
Agave syrup is not a health food!
Doctors Without Borders on childhood malnutrition

34 comments:

Seth said...

Steph,

I FEEL you. I experienced similarly dramatic health problems as a vegan/vegetarian. And yet, when I finally began eating meat again, after eight years, my health improved dramatically.

We've spoken of this before: our shared histories. Even then, I find it interesting that my experience and conclusions so closely align with your experience and conclusions. We both became ill as vegetarians and only regained our health as meat-eaters.

As far as the humane concerns of eating meat--well, I'm sure you'll go into this in your future posts, but I think that a compassionate consumer of the highest quality meat, such as local, grassfed beef, does more for animal rights than any vegetarian can ever hope to do. Money talks...

Bravo! I love this post.

Stephanie said...

Seth, this means a lot to me. Thank you for the validation and always sharing your similar health experiences. It helps!

themarquezfam said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post Steph and I can't wait to read parts two and three! Thanks for the great links too. So much information out there! I'm forwarding this to Jay!
Love ya,
Sharon

Mark Lee said...

I'm delighted to read this personal, powerful "Meat-eater's Manifesto." You're hardly "a former enthusiast for animal rights." You source your meat very carefully, and the animals that form the basis of that part of your diet were probably about as happy as animals get.

Most of the more compelling contemporary arguments against meat seem to have less to do with meat as principle than they do modern methods of raising, harvesting, and processing meat (meat as practice). I'm looking forward to the other parts of your trilogy.

Celeste said...

Stephanie,

I've enjoyed reading your blogs. I think it always comes down to doing what feels right for you and your body. There's also a great book that came out a while back - Eat Right for Your Blood Type. As it turns out most of the foods I'd already decided didn't make me feel so good were foods I weren't right for my blood type. I'm a type O and definitely need to eat meat, but not potatoes, dairy, corn or gluten.

Also there is a lot of info on line and even youtube about just how important Vit. D is which I'm glad I happened to come across last year. I started taking 10,000 IU daily then and was just had some lab work done and my levels came back in the normal range - which tells just how much I needed it.

I strongly believe in doing your own research and being your own doctor and figuring out what works for you regardless of what you might be told.

Look forward to reading more of your blogs.

Celeste

lisa said...

well done, steph -- can't wait for parts 2 and 3!<3

Thea said...

We've spoken extensively about this, so you'll remember me telling you that my grandma smoked at least one packet of untipped cigarettes a day until she was well into her sixties, cooked with lard, ate red meat, drank lots of tea, and loved her sweets and rich tea biscuits. BUT, she always had veg with her meals, ate at least one piece of fruit a day, walked everywhere - and I mean EVERYWHERE. She died in her sleep at 94 of, well, old age. She never suffered with arthritis, osteoporosis or any other degenerative disease. Had all of her marbles until the very end.

We've become so dependent on other people telling us how we should live our lives - what's good for us/what isn't - that we're becoming increasingly disembodied. We're losing touch with the very skin we're in. We're growing increasingly mistrustful of the subtle messages our bodies are always trying to send us - its likes and dislikes. Our bodies cry out to be heard, day in, day out, but are mostly drowned out by the external onslaught of profit-driven propaganda. No two bodies are the same. What works for one won't necessarily work for another. Which is why I've always had a major issue with the diet industry.

Don't get me started. Great post, by the way. Mark's right - packs a punch. You tell 'em Stephie. xo

Stephanie said...

Sharon - I'm so glad you read this!

Mark - You're right, and I almost feel like I don't have to write parts 2 and 3 since most people already know how to source happy and humanely slaughtered animals that is appropriate for food.

Celeste - I'm not sure I buy into the blood type thing so much, but like both you and Thea mention, I do think we need to listen to our bodies and eat what makes us feel good. My belief, for the most part, is that the human body was designed to receive the optimal nutrition from meat consumption. I think we can survive as vegetarians, but not thrive. This has become all too apparent to me in my work, as I have seen too many babies and young children die without the proper nutrition. I'm glad to hear that you've gotten your vitamin D sorted out. I think everyone should get tested!

Lis, Thea - Thanks for your support, goils. We keep doing the best we can, right?

And Thea, I love the image of your gran puffin' on a big old ciggy while having her afternoon tea. I think there are two things to learn here: that there is something to be said about the power of traditional foods, and that with the proper nutrition and strong foundation, some people (as an exception, but not as a rule!) could survive the toxic load of nicotine their whole lives. A young person today on the standard American diet (SAD) wouldn't stand a chance.

Primal Toad said...

This was absolutely beautiful. I feel incredibly blessed that I am only 22 and am able to say that the primal lifestyle found ME.

I did not go through anything like a heart attack, but I did have severe stomach cramps in January of this year for a few days and was very close to going to the emergency room. I did NOT and instead avoided all grain foods for 3 days. I started feeling better. I then started to eat grains again and did not feel so great.

This led me to believe that grains are NOT good for us and I finally jumped on the primal/paleo bandwagon after reading Mark's Daily Apple for 4 months. I have been primal for 3 months and will never look back.

In short, I enjoy lots of animal foods alongside veggies, some fruit (especially summer), few nuts and seeds as snack along with a fair amount of olive oil and avocados.

Thanks for this post. I will be giving it plenty of love next Saturday for my saturday link love post.

Keep spreading the word. I am excited to read about part 2 and part 3!

Mary said...

Good for you, Stephanie.
I didn't eat meat for two years once because I had a friend who was a cow. I do recall starting to eat it again because I kept getting sick.
Well, it turns out my body doesn't make any D on it's own and I live near the rain forest. Now I take it daily.
Being a type 3 diabetic(meaning these days that I am now both type 1 and 2,) I must be aware of what anything I eat does to my glucose. Can't say I don't give in to temptation, but anything made of wheat flour sends it higher and for longer than anything else. I've learned that eating food in it's true form is what is good for me. If it's a slab of meat, I need to see the flesh. No deep fried gonads dipped in ketchup for me. I try to eat as much cinnamon as possible because it helps, and I seek raspberries all year because they help me. Seems to me that 'real food' it's what we all should be eating, and if it's processed, it's not food anymore. Don't I sound healthy? Not really, but I'm better. Were I to give up the butter and cheese, I'd be doing it right. But I'm Danish. What's a girl to do?

Stephanie said...

Thanks, Primal Toad. It sounds like you have a head start on good health. If only I knew what you know when I was your age...

Mary, I think I would have a hard time eating beef if I were also friends with the cow. I'm still trying to reconcile my love for animals and my choice to eat them. I'll try to expand on that a bit more in my next post but for now, I'll just say that I honor the animals I eat and thank them for providing me with good nutrition. I also try to only eat meat I source myself, which comes from local Amish farmers who treat their animals very well and slaughter them in a humane fashion.

Don't give up the butter and cheese just yet, Mary. I would lose the occasional sugar cheats before I gave up good healthy fats.

Flying Mermaid said...

Aside from the heart attacks, I know we've traversed many of the same dietary paths, and come to the same conclusions along the way, having stumbled across lots of the same information.

Although I was never a full vegetarian, 30 years ago I gave up red meat, eggs, dairy, and even healthy oils. Some years ago I added back the oils (specifically olive, macadamia) but in the last year or so I've begun to eat local, organically raised lamb and goat. After so many years of deprivation, every time I chomp that yumminess feels like a holiday.

I also agree about soy, but it's not only a hormone issue. Being so far removed from stores, I'd found it to be a very convenient source of long-storage protein, and wound up with lowered thyroid as a consequence. They wanted to put me on thyroid medication, but I read up, got off the soy, and my thyroid rebalanced on its own.

Looking forward to the next parts -- I miss you and your more regular words!

Stephanie said...

FM! It's nice to see you, my dear. Thank you for always reading - as infrequent as I post these days. My work and personal life have become so busy that I'm afraid my writing has taken a back seat.

I know I risk getting slammed over this, but I believe that as a lot of us get older and have already lived the idealistic vegan life, we begin to see health problems arise as a result and are faced with the brutal reality of evolution - the way our bodies were truly designed.

It's still not easy for me to eat animals. I see a chicken leg and it reminds me of my cat -and I get sad and freaked out. But at the end of the day, I don't think we can let our sentimentality change our biological nature. I just think it's naive.

I miss you too. I recently had a peak at some of your gorgeous photos of the desert and your impassioned poems that accompanied them. So very nice.

B.K. said...

For years after college, I was following the low-fat/no-fat/no cholesterol idea. Everything was heart healthy, so to speak. It was also high carb and full of sugar and/or corn syrups. I gained weight. I could not drop it. I was tired, had bronchitis all the time, allergies, constipation, you name it. But I was eating "the right things". Fast food was only an occasional treat, after being a staple for so long. But I was gaining more weight. Too tired to exercise. Then came the symptoms - diabetes in 2006. I thought "why"? Then I went on a crash-diet much like Atkins. I ate what came out of the garden, no white or rooty, and ate real cheese, meat, eggs. Lots of salads, no dressings. Olive oil, fish, anything low-carb and not processed. The weight fell off,fast. In 2 weeks, my overnight BG was 75. I lost 60 lbs or so. I've been eating this way for 4 years now. Weight stayed off. Back to a 31" waist and ~149 lbs at 5'8". Luckily, I avoided heart attack, but my GP at the time did mark up my big "anxiety attack" and collapse (out of town) to being a light stroke. Not too many know this. I can't begin to describe the change in eliminating grains and starches and high carb, insulin spiking foods. It's sad that the AHA and ADA still recommend this high carb grain-loaded diet and despise fats. For me, this new diet "bad" as it is, probably extended my life!

Stephanie said...

B.K. - thanks for sharing your experiences. Happy about your weight loss and I hope the diabetes is under control too. I forgot to mention the lovely side effect of giving up sugar, grains, and breads - the weight loss!

Steve Cooksey said...

Stephanie,

Love the post... I always enjoy reading the viewpoints of those that found "paleo", especially those that traveled a different path than myself.

Thanks!

Stephanie said...

Steve, after just glancing at your bio, it looks like we came to this place perhaps on a very similar path. Sometimes it takes a life-threatening illness for us to make a real change. I'm just grateful that I was able to tap into a supportive and knowledgeable community that has helped me make better choices.

Flying Mermaid said...

It's maddening to try so hard to remain healthy, to do the responsible thing, keep up on the latest stuff out there, and constantly come across such conflicting information!

On one hand I feel like, what the fuck, why is it so hard for experts to figure this shit out, man on the moon, blah blah blah. But possibly part of the problem is that there IS no real answer, as not only do different bodies have different needs, but those needs change as we age.

In reading about BK's journey in and out of diabetes, I'm reminded that I, too, reached a BG crisis, though I hadn't eaten any of the things that caused hers in YEARS. Mine seems to have been caused more from HOW I ate -- much too much at a time, and not often enough -- combined with eating TOO MUCH FRUIT! Now whoever heard of eating too much fruit?

Never heard of that happening to anyone else, but then I've never heard of anyone being able to put away as much at a sitting as I can, either.....

Stephanie said...

FM, you are right. We don’t really know, because the literature changes every year… and it’s so hard to decipher what has been influenced by corporate marketing from what hasn’t. Even what may look like independent research, can be heavily funded by some big industries. But we do the best we can, and sometimes let our instincts speak louder than advertising.

I think it’s helpful if we look at our bodies from an evolutionary perspective. We know that industrial food has no place in any being’s diet. We know that chronic diseases began during the age of agricultural development and industrialization. Even foods like fruit, are today industrialized, in the sense that seeds are cross-bred to produce sweeter, new varieties that never existed before. The only fruits that were available to humans before the agricultural revolution were wild berries and even those were eaten seasonally. So yes, I can imagine that too much fruit could cause serious blood sugar problems. Our bodies developed over the course of two and a half million years as hunter/gatherers, while our bodies are only still trying to adjust to an industrialized diet that has only been around for about 10,000 years – not nearly enough time for any type of permanent adaptation to occur. Check out Loren Cordain’s groundbreaking report, “Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century” at: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/81/2/341

Anne said...

Dear Stephanie,
I came across your blog quite by accident (I was actually looking for images on Ellis Island and the potato crop disease in Ireland – I teach English in France) and I was drawn by your acute awareness on food. I share so much of your insights on food that I would like to share some of mine, and I will do this in two parts because I have quite a lot to say! A few years ago, I was teaching English to postgraduates majoring in food safety, at the same time, I was pregnant, and with my husband and a few friends we had just created an AMAP (an association for a locally sustained agriculture) so for all these reasons, I became deeply interested in food (not that I wasn’t before, I am this kind of person who feels the need for a “balanced” diet) but this time, I really wanted to know more: What, exactly is a “balanced” diet? Many of my friends are vegetarian: is this the “right” way to eat? Etc, etc… So I dug into specialized magazines and websites, books written by prominent nutritionists and recommendations from various health boards and departments… Well, I must say that I got the shock of my life: I read absolutely EVERYTHING and THE CONTRARY OF EVERYTHING: meat is bad, meat is good, carbohydrates are bad, carbohydrate are good, fat (or soy) is bad, fat (or soy) is good, sugar is bad, sugar is good (well, actually not too much of this one really!) and so I realized – as you did – that we definitely don’t know how to feed ourselves, which is a shame, really, since food is simply our fuel for life! Nevertheless, after all this reading, I came to a few conclusions which I find reliable and which I would like to share with you.

Anne said...

First, we definitely ARE meat eaters. Eating meat has been part of the human diet since we climbed down the trees and it probably lead a major role in the development of our brain, causing us to move from the state of "ape" to that of "human". We do not have the digestive tract of the cow, hence are not able to rely solely on vegetal for our subsistence.
Second, although we do have to put meat on our menu, the amount we need is incredibly small. Most studies I read tend to agree that 1gramme of animal protein per kilo of weight per day is enough. (If you weigh 60 kilos, 60 grams of meat OR fish OR egg OR dairy produce each day is enough to keep healthy) So the real question - as far as environment and animal welfare is concerned - is not really should I eat meat but rather how much should I eat?
Third, I'd like to give you two anecdotes I came across in the course of my extensive "food-reading": No animal on this planet is 100% vegan. As an experiment, pregnant mares were fed with clean hay, that is so say hay from which the small bugs and bug eggs that are naturally present in it had been removed. None of the mares gave birth to a living foal. The second anecdote is about a community in India who has the reputation of surviving on a vegan diet. While these people who still live in India are reasonably healthy, the members of that community who immigrated to England have been found to develop severe food-related diseases. Doctors and nutritionists who have studied the phenomenon came to the conclusion that in England, these people had adopted the western hygienic habits and carefully washed the food before eating it, whereas in India, the food was eaten as it was, with is bugs and bug eggs present in the salad or on the vegetable skin and that intake of animal protein - however small - was apparently sufficient to keep that community healthy.
Third, I am lucky enough to live in France, were we can buy organic vegetables and meat from our local farmers and were a carrot really tastes like a carrot. I spent a year in America (Wisconsin) back in 1989-1990 and I must say that your food puzzled me like no other had (and I had travelled around a bit). Everything I ate tasted "processed". Your cheese that isn't cheese and butter that is not butter (I Can't Believe it!) and egg that isn't egg is really disturbing for a European palate! When you honestly think about it, what do you think is suitable food for you body: that which comes from the earth or that which comes from a factory?
Fourth, I will finish by saying that I consider myself as a traveller, which, coming to think about it, really means that I am prepared to eat whatever my host puts on my plate and, as you mentioned, being the fussy one who doesn't want this and cannot eat that simply doesn't fit my personality. The world is a vast territory of discoveries, of different tastes and flavours, and you Americans - or at least your food industry - seem to have forgotten this a little!
I wish you the best luck in your search for a healthy living. I you want more information on locally sustained agriculture, you will easily find some on the web (they started in Japan in the 60's or 70's they are now really spreading in France and I know they exist in America too)
Anne - FRANCE

Stephanie said...

Hello, Anne. I'm so happy that you came across this blog and am happy to read comments from the perspective of someone who doesn't subscribe to the Standard American Diet, nor feels that vegetarianism is the answer.

I remember reading several studies on the evolution of human’s brain size and how the discovery of fire and consequential cooked meat was largely responsible for our superior intelligence, but somehow this archeological evidence is becoming lost in any modern discussion of nutrition. It seems that this idea of a vegetarian diet being the most healthy has begun to permeate the discourse in international food aid and is being exported from the US to the rest of the world. My recent experiences in academic discussions of food security and sustainability revolve around “teaching” developing nations to eat more vegetables and grains. It’s really laughable since we are the ones with chronic diseases and they are the ones who may be food insecure – but still exhibit the lowest rates of heart disease and cancers in the world. Meanwhile US food aid in the form of subsidies (corn and soy) is an inadequate diet for children and we see rates of malnutrition and mortality in recipient countries only rising every year.

In a recent discussion on the Global Food Crisis at New York University, the theory of a vegetarian diet being the only sustainable diet went uncriticized (exept by me). I raised the question of “where in the world has this vegetarian model been tested?” The answer was (and always is) “southern India.” So I find it fascinating that you have found evidence that these small amounts of protein in the form of little critters is enough to sustain their obvious need for protein, since their migrant counterparts don’t fare as well when relocated. Do you have any studies I can cite on that subject or is that purely anecdotal still?

Anyway, thank you for your very helpful comments. My family is from France and I’ve spent a lot of time living and eating in several European countries, and I’ve always marveled on how much fresher, healthier, and tastier the food is. The traditions of eating are healthier as well; however I fear that more and more of Europe is now adopting American eating habits, such as “low-fat” dairy products and fake soya substitutes, which is really unfortunate.

Andrew said...

Ratio of fats / protein / carbs vary from person to person. I find eating protein powder with each meal has improved my health as a vege. It certainly eliminates the problems of any grain being high GI.

And as for nutrients missing, this is not a problem if we are informed and know which foods to eat to get the full range.

And of course wholewheat grains are still superior in terms of nutrients / phytonutrients. Numerous health problems have been associated with veges who eat processed grains and dairy.

Nothing bad about what you are doing. I would make sure you eat meat from grass fed animals that are not injected with hormones. Otherwise, good luck.

I feel for you, as you did everything right, and had attacks like this. I will certainly be taking my health more seriously as I sound much like you were. I will watch / get tests for inflamation, acid balance, and take tests for missing nutrients. All of which of course can occur on a vege or a meat eatting diet. I already take 5000IU for vit D daily.

I try not to eat processed grains or sugars. But could do better!

Good luck on the new diet, and don't forget that grass fed meat is best!

PS. it could also be the dairy in the diet making you unhealthy, after reading the likes of the China Study I am considering going Vegan. There are plenty of full amino acid vegan protein powders about.

I'm staying vege for now and reminding myself that many of the healthiest people on earth are veges such as the Okinawians. And there is great debate over what we evolved to eat. The key issue that does seem to be fat/carb/protein ratio.

Andrew said...

also, have you heard of http://www.jonnybowden.com/

someone who is not SAD or vege, but very healthy eating.

Stephanie said...

Andrew, the Okinawans eat pork.

You may also want to read Denise Minger's critique of the China study:

http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/07/07/the-china-study-fact-or-fallac/

LaDue & Crew said...

Hi Steph, We wrote back and forth a bit a ways back on Facebook(we went to JFK together years ago. Ever since I happily stumbled onto your blog, I do pop in a bit- especially glad that I did so today ;)

I am so glad you are writing about this. I feel like I am at a confusing point in my life. I'm 47 with elevated cholesterol and an A1C of 6.4. My father and his father before him had heart attacks at age 41. My father has type I diabetes, as well as aunts and uncles. While I am doing well in an exercise boot camp,and from a weight standpoint, looking better and feeling stronger, I am at a loss as to what is "safe" and appropriate for me to eat.

Through my insurance I had seen a nutritionist (who was at least 75lbs overweight herself), and feel that the "balanced whole grain and fats diet" makes me feel as if I need a nap by 10a.m.

So where does one go? I want to wake up and not immediately feel as though I need a nap, and be energetic throughout the day.

I have 4 children- 26,20, 14, and 5 years old. So I need to make sure that I am not "just here" for my younger children, but that I have enough energy to be an active part of their lives when I get older.

What diet, or way of eating, do I believe..?

Stephanie said...

Hi Janet! I'm so glad you wrote this. I think you need to balance your belief in your doctors and modern medicine with some of your own nutritional intuition. If the diet that this nutritionist put you on is making you feel bad/tired, than this is not the diet for you. I'm also guessing that this is not the nutritionist for you either. I think there are a few things you can do on your own so you won't have to pay out of your insurance for more nutritional advice:

- cut out all sugars and refined carbs. This means honey, maple syrup, and agave too. I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners but they won't raise your blood sugar, so once in a while won't hurt. For carbs - this means all bread, baked goods, pasta, grains, potatoes, corn, and legumes as well. There's no danger in this. They have little nutritional value and your body won't miss them. The upside will be weight loss, decreased blood sugar and triglycerides, and normalized cholesterol. The downside is that you will probably crave them in the beginning - but rest assure, those cravings will go away after a few days.

- Fill up on lots of fresh vegetables (except for potatoes and corn), lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs and healthy fats.

- What are healthy fats? organic butter and cream, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, pork lard, chicken fat, and other animal fats.

- What are unhealthy fats? margarine, vegetable shortening, processed vegetable oils (including canola, safflower, soy, peanut, and most seed oils).

- minimize milk and cheese because they contain a lot of milk sugar (lactose). Try full-fat cream in your coffee instead, or raw milk cheeses as dessert once in a while. Full fat yogurt is also good. I don't recommend "non-fat" or "reduced fat" anything. Those products are highly processed with most of the nutrition removed and they're higher in lactose and sugar.

See how you do on this. You can try eliminating one thing at a time and see how your body responds. I would also get your numbers checked a few months in to make sure everything is looking good. Get your Vitamin D checked too.

You may also want to supplement with some fish oil and some vitamin D if it's low. Try to walk or do some exercise every day - including a little weight lifting or yoga once or twice a week. And finally, get some sun! Vitamin D deficiency is one of the biggest indicators of degenerative diseases. Forget the sunscreen and just go out for 10-20 minutes or so a day.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to email me if you need any resources or more information.

Stephanie said...

Oh Janet, also.. I would keep fruits to a minimum as well. Low-sugar fruits like berries are okay once in a while, but see if you can cut back in the beginning. Reducing sweet foods altogether will help take away your sugar cravings.

LaDue & Crew said...

Thank you so much! It makes sense- and I agree very much so about the low-fat, non-fat, substitution like foods. I am going to try all of your suggestions, and will write back to you after my lifestyle is adjusted and I have another CBC. I'm oddly excited to try all of this. In the past, I dreaded having to make dietary changes, but I am so sick of feeling lethargic all of the time, that I can only look forward to it. Thanks again!

Stephanie said...

Janet, for inspiration check out Mark Sisson's Primal Challenge. His guidelines echo mine (or mine echo his!).
http://t.co/erKCrNoQ

Scott Miller said...

I posted this in another forum on health:

~~~~~

A former vegetarian learns the hard way that it's an unhealthy diet:

Why I Eat Meat – Part 1
http://youarewhatieat.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-i-eat-meat-part-1.html

Why I Eat Meat – Part 2
http://youarewhatieat.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-i-eat-meat-part-2.html

Part of what she writes: [i]"I don’t want to have to depend on grains and high-glycemic foods for energy. I don’t want to experiment with processed soy and other fake foods for my protein sources. I no longer want to be deficient in vital nutrients that combat and prevent diseases. I want to feel full and energized after eating a meal, and not sleepy and craving more breads, pasta, and sweets. I no longer want to be the person who asks for everything on the side in restaurants and has an anxiety attack if there is butter involved. I no longer want to feel the debilitating exhaustion of the afternoon crash after eating a high-carb lunch (or brunch). And I no longer want to feel the rapid heart beat, the angina pain, and the fear of having another heart attack – that accompanies my blood sugar spikes. 
"[/i]

Sadly, she makes a few mistaken assumptions, the same assumptions that are the bedrock of the cholesterol-is-bad mythology. For example, she thinks, like the vast majority of cardiologist and nutritionists, that lower cholesterol is unhealthy. The PRIMARY PROBLEM with the medical community when it comes to heart disease is that they don't seem to understand that LDL comes in numerous forms. Animal fats only lead to the formation of the good forms of LDL. Plant oils lead to the formation of the bad types of LDL. It's beyond comprehension that the medical establishment doesn't seem to know this. They just see all LDL as bad, and statins are the cure.

Stephanie said...

Scott, I don't think cholesterol is unhealthy, in fact quite the contrary. Where in my writing do you see that?

PassantGardant said...

The biggest medical fallacy today is that dietary cholesterol is a problem. It's not a toxin that you consume too much of and must somehow purge. Cholesterol is an essential molecule that the human body naturally manufactures to build cell walls and hormones. The reason someone has cholesterol in their bloodstream isn't because they've consumed too much fatty foods, but rather because their vascular system is suffering damage, and cholesterol is like mortar to fill in the cracks.

High cholesterol levels are a symptom of other damage, not a cause. Targeting the symptom does not address the underlying cause, which may be stress, poor nutrition, oxidative damage, disease, etc. Taking Crestor may clear the body's highways of excessive build-up, but leaves behind cracks and potholes which the cholesterol was originally meant to fix. That could lead to aneurysms, strokes, and other symptoms of vascular decay.

The far healthier and more rational approach to addressing a high cholesterol level is to improve vascular health. The way to do that includes ensuring adequate consumption of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, omega-3 fatty acids, essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, probiotics, etc.

One of the leading causes of vascular disease is homocysteine, a toxic, pro-oxidant amino acid which forms as a normal part of metabolism. Homocysteine in the blood is reduced via adequate dietary intake of folic acid and vitamin B12. Usually, consuming meat in moderation provides these nutrients and keeps homocysteine in check.

Vegans must supplement with folic acid and vitamin B12 to avoid vascular damage from elevated homocysteine levels.

PassantGardant said...

Another dangerous myth is that large amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are good for you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Omega-6 and omega-3 fats counteract each other (they compete for the same metabolic enzymes). Omega-6 fats produce pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes, while omega-3 fats convert to anti-inflammatory resolvins and omega-3-oxylipins.

Many studies have proven significant beneficial effects from omega-3 fats on arthritis, cardiac arrhythmias, depression, blood triglyceride levels, myocardial infarctions, prostate cancer, and other maladies. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential and must be consumed in some quantity. It's the ratio that's important.

Our diets are already significantly skewed toward omega-6 fats from soy, corn, safflower, etc. This is probably why chronic inflammatory diseases have been on the rise. We know that cultures which consume large amounts of omega-3 fats from a primarily seafood diet are much healthier than those who subsist on the "typical American diet" composed largely of corn and soy.

Vegan diets ramp up this disproportionate intake to an extreme by replacing healthy saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats like soy.

In 2010, a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies including 348,000 subjects found no statistically significant relationship between cardiovascular disease and dietary saturated fat. In 2009, a systematic review of prospective cohort studies or randomized trials concluded that there was "insufficient evidence of association" between intake of saturated fatty acids and coronary heart disease. Moreover, studies of Pacific island populations who obtain in excess of 50% of their total caloric intake from fully saturated coconut fat, which they consume at every meal and snacks in between, and who consume virtually no polyunsaturated vegetable oils, have almost non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease. In fact, cardiovascular disease is exceedingly uncommon throughout all of the regions where coconuts are consumed extensively. When individuals from these populations migrate to an area consuming a "Western diet" which is high in polyunsaturated vegetable oils and comparably lower in saturated fats, they have an increased risk of atherogenesis!

The only people explicitely recommending the consumption of large amounts of polyunsaturated fats and reducing saturated fats are government agencies and affiliated organizations. You have to wonder if that has something to do with the massive American corn and soybean lobbies. There's no scientific reason to either avoid saturated fats, particularly the medium-chain saturated fats which have been proven to have beneficial effects, or to make an effort to consume more corn or soybean oil. Cultural evidence suggests that diets high in monounsaturated fats, medium-chain saturated fats, or omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest, and that the American diet is the worst. Scientific studies have confirmed these observations.

I feel really sorry for people who are too trusting of these "authorities" and pursue a dangerously unhealthy course. It's often young models and actresses who suffer "inexplicable" heart attacks often attributed to drug use (even though no drugs are found in their systems) after going vegan for "health" and "conscience" reasons. E.g. Brittany Murphy. What's truly perverse is that they probably ramp up their "healthy" regimen the sicker they get and go into a full-blown tailspin. The best thing for someone in that condition would be to eat a whole cow liver to replace the dangerously depleted nutrients.