Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cowspiracy


From time to time, I would like to add in book or movie reviews that I think are helpful. Here is a movie review of an important documentary that I believe all Americans should watch.

Documentary, 2014 (90 min.)


This film by Kip Andersen looks at the primary cause of green-house gas production: animal agriculture. Andersen explores the levels of destruction that factory farming has on the earth and the environment. He asks the question, "Why are environmental groups ignoring this?" He points out the real inconvenient truth behind Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

Throughout the movie, Andersen tries to meet with large environmental groups like Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, Oceana, and the WWF to see what their position is on animal agriculture being the main cause of environment destruction. Time and time again, he is turned away. He also attempts to talk government officials with the same basic results. In between, you get commentary from experts willing to talk about the real issues. Finally, Andersen intermingles cases where the animal agriculture business has used influence, intimidation, and even murder to protect their turf. He notes that groups continue to focus on fossil fuels as the cause which animal agriculture is responsible for a much higher percentage of green house gas emission.

If you consider yourself an environmentalist, then you should probably watch this movie. If you are concerned about climate change, then you should probably watch this movie. And after you watch this movie, you might want to consider eating plant-based more often.

Available on Netflix and Amazon as of this post.

Read Greenpeace's after the movie release response here.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

My Trinity of Good Health


One of the main reasons why I eat plant-based whole foods is because I want to eat healthy and feel good. Therefore, it is only natural that I am also seeking out other ways to feel healthy. As I feel fitter and healthier, I have found what I call my "Trinity of Good Health." This trio works well for me. Your mileage may vary.

Doing Tai Chi


In 2004, I started doing Tai Chi with the Taoist Tai Chi Society, Columbus (Ohio) Branch. I did Tai Chi with TTCS until 2009 when life sort of got in the way. In 2016, I started the year by going back to the TTCS and starting to do Tai Chi with the Palo Alto location. Since then, I have been going regularly and recently became a beginning instructor. In addition, I am now the Palo Alto location leader.

The reason why I do Tai Chi is that it has helped me tremendously to loosen my back, strengthen my legs, improve my balance, and most importantly, help me to relieve stress. When you do Tai Chi, you are focused on the movements and your body positions. You have to concentrate, so Tai Chi becomes a moving meditation. And there is a lot of stretching and strengthening, especially in the back. After a Tai Chi class, I feel completely relaxed and in what I call a "blissed out" state. That is what keeps me coming back for more.


Doing Yoga


I have been doing yoga on and off since I was in college. My first experience with yoga came in a class on Indian religion and culture. As part of the class, in the last 10 minutes, we were invited to learn some yoga practices like pranayamas (breathing techniques) and yoga asanas (postures). I remember using an old blanket since I did not have a yoga mat and really enjoying doing yoga.

In Columbus in the early 2000s, I started doing yoga regularly, as in taking classes. Yoga teacher extraordinaire Kit Spahr introduced me to Yin Yoga and it was love at first asana. Yin Yoga involves stretching the tendons and ligaments (yin in Chinese medicine) as opposed to stretching the muscles (yang in Chinese medicine), You passively let gravity do the stretching and you just relax into it. You are stressing the tissues and it takes patience and practice to learn to relax into certain poses. At the end of class, you feel all melty and relaxed. In Columbus, I mainly did Yin and Restorative yoga, with an occasional Hatha Yoga class thrown in.

Again, at the end of 2009, life got in the way, and I put my yoga practice on hold. I occasionally did yoga at home, but did not take any classes or do a sustained practice. My yoga mat mostly collected dust. So after restarting my Tai Chi practice in 2016, I decided to kick off 2017 by restarting my yoga practice. I especially like Yin and Restorative yoga, but I have also been exploring more active yoga classes to pair with the Yin and Restorative. I have tried Iyengar Yoga, but I am not really sold on it. For now, I am adding Hatha and Vinyasa classes to my yoga practice. I really enjoy taking yoga at Prajna Center in Belmont, CA. IT has the most wonderful energy and atmosphere.


Eating Plant-Based


Obviously the third part is eating a healthy vegan diet. I cannot speak for every person, but I know for myself that when I eat plant-based whole foods, I feel better. My body is lighter and healthier. My skin and sinuses are better. I sleep better.

This may sound strange, but I really feel that the cells of my body are happier when I eat a plant-based diet. It is as if the actual cells of my body are saying, "Yes! This is what we want!" After I eat a healthy vegan meal full of veggies, I feel the same happy, blissed out feeling that I feel after a Tai Chi or Yin Yoga class. That is what motivates me to continue eating healthy plant-based meals.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Why Say No to GMO?



GMO stands for genetically modified organism and refers to "living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods." (reference) While a wide variety of GMOs exist, I want to focus on the those that we consume as food.

According to the USDA, over 90% of the corn, soy, and cotton produced in the USA is genetically modified. The same reports indicates that the two primary types of genetic modification are insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. The former reduces the need for sprayed on insecticides because the insecticide is "built in." The latter allows the spraying of herbicides that kill all weeds and unwanted species and leaves just the desired crops for harvest. Let's examine how these could affect the food we consume.

The primary argument against the use of GMO crops is that they increase the likelihood of allergies and inflammation. While the links are controversial and there are studies on both sides of the issue, the contention is that since these genetically modified plants are actually producing insecticides, humans are consuming produce with built-in poisons. For example, the USDA report linked above indicates that corn has been genetically modified to be toxic to corn rootworm and corn earworm pests. If it is toxic to worms, how can we be certain that it is safe for human consumption.

The Reason Why I Say No to GMO


The main reason why I avoid GMO products like corn, soy, and wheat lies in the second main use of genetic modification: herbicide resistance. Basically, corn, wheat, soy, and other crops have been genetically modified so that they are immune to the effects of glyphosate. You may not have heard of glyphosate, but you have probably heard of Roundup weed killer.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization, after extensive research, classified glyphosate as a type 2A carcinogen (2A = probably causes cancer in humans). Other type 2A carcinogens include DDT, anabolic steroids, and creosotes. (Complete WHO list here.)  While the EPA in the USA says that Roundup is safe for garden use, that does not refer to ingesting Roundup. And if you are eating GMO corn, wheat, soy or other crops, you are probably ingesting glyphosate residues. Here is why.

If you have ever used Roundup on the weeds in your lawn or garden, you know what a powerful herbicide it is. It kills everything green. Well, everything green except for those genetically modified crops. So the farmers spray the GMO crops with loads of glyphosate which kills everything except the crops. This makes for easy week control and easy harvest. Unfortunately, that means there is glyphosate in the bread (wheat), vegetable oil (soy), and Doritos (corn) that you are eating.

In the end, the decision is yours as to whether you want to consume GMO foods or not. I invite you to inform yourself first. As for me, I prefer to be Roundup and GMO free.

For an examination of the Pros and Cons of GMO crops, please see this Healthline article.

PS: FYI, on the WHO report linked above, "Consumption of red meat" is also a type 2A carcinogen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Coconut Oil Healthy or Harmful?


Like the good for you or bad for you debate surrounding eggs and milk, a perennial debate follows the benefits and ills of coconut oil. Let's examine this controversy and I will show you why I consume coconut oil almost every day.

The Argument Against Coconut Oil


The primary argument against coconut oil is that it is primarily a saturated fat. We know that some saturated fats, like animal fats (butter, lard, etc.), lead to elevated cholesterol levels which in turn can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. In fact, the American Heart Association advises against using coconut oil among all other saturated fats. The "truth seeking" website Snopes weighs in on the controversy here.

However, there is also scientific research that shows coconut oil "reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol levels and increased HDL cholesterol." LDL is the "bad cholesterol" and HDL is the "good cholesterol." This link explains the difference.

My concern over the AHA's ban on coconut oil lies in the main corporate sponsors of the AHA. Without big corporate sponsors, most large non-profit organizations could not continue and the American Heart Association is no exception. If you check out their annual report, you will see that several big pharmaceutical companies (AstaZeneca, Bayer, and Phizer) and Monsanto. Monsanto is the controversial company that has patented the seeds for corn and soy among other agricultural crops. So, if Americans start eating more coconut oil and less corn or soybean oil, that might cut into Monsanto's profits. If people start getting healthier by eating coconut oil, the pharmaceutical companies will not see as many drugs. Sadly, I feel that the inherent conflict of interest here makes me suspicious of the AHA's recommendation.

The Case for Coconut Oil


To me, the most exciting potential benefit of coconut oil is in the treatment and possible prevention of degenerative brain conditions like dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Here are some studies showing the benefits of coconut oil: herehere, and here.  One theory on how this works is that the neural pathways that connect brain cells are made of the substance called myelin. Myelin is composed primarily of cholesterol and when the body cannot create myelin, you get brain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's  and MS. Hence, the belief is that the fatty acids in the coconut oil are used in the creation and regeneration of myelin. Even for those without a diagnosed brain disease, studies show that it helps improve memory.

In addition, the consumption of any healthy fat, be it coconut, olive, avocado, walnut, or almond oil, is going to help your skin, hair, and nails. In addition, like other oils, you can apply coconut oil directly to the skin as a moisturizer. It also acts as a mild sunscreen. Studies recently appearing also show other benefits to include: improves digestion, reduces insulin resistance, reduces inflammation, reduces joint pain, suppresses appetite, and acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. In particular, studies demonstrate the effectiveness of coconut oil to kill the fungus Candida Albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans (link and link).

My Thoughts


In the end, the decision is yours as to whether you want to include coconut oil in your diet. Personally, I am on the pro-coconut oil side of the fence.

If you want to get your health and vitality back on track, I invite you to sign up for my FREE Get Healthy Now Strategy Session. 


Additional Links:

Dr. Axe
Healthline
Organic Facts
Eat This, Not That
The Guardian
CNN
Time magazine


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Vegan vs Plant-Based



Recently, in the US, 6% of the population identify as being vegan. However, the word vegan may conjure up images of someone with long hair, tattoos, and dressed in hemp clothing. However, this is not consistent with the majority of people who identify as being vegan. As a result, many people are now using the term "plant-based" as opposed to vegan to refer to their eating choices. Let's look at the differences, which may seem superficial at first, but are actually quite important.

Vegan


The Vegan Society defines being vegan as "a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose." As you can see, the focus here is on avoiding cruelty to animals rather than healthy eating. The main thing for eating "vegan" is to make sure that animals are not harmed in any way in any food or products used. Because healthy eating is not the focus, often people eating vegan can have serious nutritional deficiencies.

I have personal experience with vegan eaters, whose primary motivation is ending animal cruelty, having a very poor nutritional diet. Many unhealthy processed foods such as French fries, potato chips, and even Oreo cookies are vegan. It is very common for vegans to eat too many  starches and carbs, and not enough healthy proteins or fats. Because of this, in addition to lacking in vitamin B12 and iron, they also deficient in many other vitamins and minerals.

Plant-Based


The "plant-based" diet (aka plant-based whole foods diet) "is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil." Originally developed by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn to treat patients with coronary heart disease and later endorsed by Dr. Joel Furman, Dr. Neal Barnard,  and T. Colin Campbell, this diet focuses on eating whole plant-based foods, but strives to exclude animal sources of protein and fat. In its pure form, it also limits fats of all kinds, but for those who do not have heart disease, you can include the consumption of healthy plant-based fats like virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and virgin coconut oil.

In addition to avoiding animal-based foods such as meat, fish, dairy, or eggs, this diet aims to eliminate processed foods of all finds as well as sugars. Potato chips and Oreo cookies are definitely not on this diet. Following this plan will help you lose weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and still get all the vitamins and minerals that you need. You may still want to take a B12 supplement if you don't eat nutritional yeast every day and possibly and iron supplement.

Vegan or Plant-Based


So, which is best? Nutritionally, the whole foods plant-based diet is the way to go. This will provide you with a balanced, healthy diet that is truly sustainable. If you became vegan for ethical reasons, because you love animals, that is great. You can continue to do all the things that you do like not using leather or consuming honey. I would just also try to follow the whole foods, plant based diet. It is like vegan+ because you are still eating vegan, but you are also eating healthy.

Not quite ready to give up animal products 100%? You can do it in steps.

Step 1 - Eliminate dairy products and processed meats. With the possible exception of ghee, your body is not really designed to digest dairy products. Lactose intolerance is actual natural. If you have to eat meat or fish, try to limit it to wild animals (bison or venison), grass-fed beef, or wild caught Pacific salmon. Also, eliminate processed sugars and carbohydrates like cookies, crackers, etc.

Step 2 - Eliminate all animal products but eggs. Eggs should be bought locally from free-range farmers if possible. Try getting your eggs at the farmer's market and talk tot he farmer about the feed (ideally plant-based) and the living conditions of the chickens. Another alternative is to raise chickens yourself. This is a trend that is becoming more common even in urban settings. This way, you can be sure of the source of the eggs. At this stage, you want to eliminate as many processed foods as you can.

Step 3 - Finally, cut out all animal products. In addition, you want to eliminate all unhealthy fats and carbs. As much as possible, use whole grains like brown rice, millet, or quinoa in place of white wheat flour. Use healthy fats like olive, avocado, coconut, or nut oils. Eliminate deep fried foods and use oils sparingly in cooking. The goal here is to eat foods in as natural a state as possible.

You can do it! Any steps that you take to eating healthier are worth it. If you need help or advice, please contact me through my website and I will be happy to help and support you.