When my friend Barb called to see if I wanted to go to Rip Esselstyn's local book signing on Wednesday night I said, "Sure."
But then I changed my mind. I was already working late 2 nights this week--I don't need a signed copy of a book and besides, I figured I already knew everything he was going to say. "What more is there to know?" Wrong!
I changed my mind again when Ann Esselstyn called me at work--she wanted me to meet her son. How could I say no? I'm so glad I went!
This wasn't just a "book signing". Rip is one terrific speaker. He's funny, articulate, motivating & knows his stuff! He had slides and video and he talked and answered questions for over an hour to an overflow crowd. His dad, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn was close at hand when questions turned medical.
I didn't take notes--I stood the entire time--but believe me I learned a lot. And talk about getting motivated. In the audience were patients of Dr. E's whose health was given back to them by simply changing their diet--and there were also just regular folks, young & old who were following Rip's plan and have seen their weight drop, their cholesterol levels & blood pressures drop, and their energy surge.
So here's what I remember from the Q & A after Rip's talk. Sorry--I checked most of the stats, facts & cholesterol numbers that I could--except for those of the husband/wife team at the end of this post! Next time I'm taking notes.
What about olive oil? My wife & I use it on our toast now. I thought that was supposed to be good for you?
Oils are the most concentrated source of calories on the planet. Yes, they're plant-based, but they're also just extracted calories. Olive oil is 120 calories per tablespoon--14 grams of fat, 10-17% of it saturated. It will make you fat & promote heart disease! According to Dr. E, EVOO will inflame the endothelial cells of your blood vessels--which is bad news. For the complete explanation read, "I'm going to miss my olive oil. Who knew it wasn't so healthy after all? Drs. Esselstyn, Ornish, Vogel & Rudel Did."
What's wrong with dairy products? How are you supposed to get your calcium to prevent osteoporosis?
A plant-based diet, with lots of leafy greens, like kale, collard, spinach & Swiss chard, is one of the best sources of calcium. Truth be told, the calcium in the leafy greens is more bio-available to the body than the calcium from dairy, and you'll need less of it. We can only absorb about 20% of the calcium from dairy products. And the counter-intuitive fact is: animal protein (dairy & meat) acidifies the blood & causes calcium to leach out of the bones to neutralize it. It's hard to believe, but true. The rates of osteoporosis are highest in countries with the highest dairy consumption. For a more complete explanation read, "Osteoporosis prevention. A diet higher in fruits & vegetables & low in animal protein & grains."
Do you recommend any vitamins or supplements?
Ideally, we should all be getting our vitamins & minerals from whole real foods--vegetables, fruits & grains. Study after study has shown disappointing results from "extracted" vitamins, like E, C, betacarotene, & selenium. Spend your money on real food.
However, Dr. E recommends that everyone take 1000 IUs of vitamin D3 & 1000 mg of calcium daily, and a multivitamin to insure adequate amounts of B6, folic acid & B12. Vegans need to make sure they are getting enough B12. Rip takes 500 mcg of B12 a day--best if it's chewed or dissolved in the mouth. It's also found in nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk, & fortified cereals.
What about fish or fish oil capsules? Don't we need our omega 3's?
Fish oil isn't a panacea and it can raise total and LDL cholesterol levels, increase your chance for hemorrhagic stroke, and suppress your immune system. If the fish oil is rancid it releases disease-causing free radicals. Better to rely on ground flaxseed meal, walnuts, soybeans, and green leafy vegetables. There are vegetarian forms of omega 3's, like the all important DHA (a must for pregnant women, babies & brains)--click here for more info. And bottom line: Where do the fish get their omega 3's? From feeding off of plankton--microscopic plants.
What about the famous Okinawan Diet or the Mediterranean Diet? Those diets all use oils and the people in those countries live the longest.
Those diets are very high in fruits, vegetables & whole grains compared to the typical American diet! It's not the oil that keeps the Okinawans healthy, it's everything else they're eating. And as for studies of the Mediterranean Diet--it is better than the standard American diet and the American Heart Association diet--but bottom line: added oil doesn't improve your health--it contributes to cardiovascular disease.
Do you recommend eating only organic fruits & vegetables?
Surprisingly, Rip eats mostly conventional produce. According to him, given the economy & high cost of organics, it's just not an option for many of us. Better to spend your limited resources on high quality produce than to get too hung up on organic vs. conventional. Dr. T. Colin Campbell says, a plant-based diet trumps environmental carcinogens every time when it comes to disease prevention--maybe that's one way to look at it. But if you're able to buy organic, here's the Environmental Working Group's ranked list of produce with the most pesticides.
Is a plant-based diet OK for young children?
Rip's son eats plant-based and his wife Jill ate plant-based throughout her pregnancy. Their son weighed in at a healthy 8 lb., 7 oz. The latest edition of the best-selling classic, "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care" recommends a plant-based diet for children age 2 and over. As Rip says, "If you start them young, your kids will develop a palate that appreciates the subtleties of the plant foods."
What kind of weight-loss & cholesterol drops did you see with the Engine 2 Diet?
Average weight loss after 28 days was 14 pounds for men, 6-8 pounds for women. But, Rip says keeping a food log is crucial, otherwise you tend to cheat. Average cholesterol drops were a 40% drop for LDL (the bad stuff) & 30% for total cholesterol. So what's it going to be? Prescription drugs with potential side effects or a plant-based diet with benefits galore?
What about restaurant eating? What about traveling and airport food?
Plan ahead--and don't be afraid to ask the restaurant to prepare foods without oil. One of Dr. E's patients offered this fabulous advice: Tell the waiter that you are "Highly allergic to oil of any kind--that the chef must leave it out!" He has even used this subterfuge at The Cheesecake Factory of all places, and it worked.
One man in the audience even brings his own uncooked whole wheat pasta to his favorite restaurant & the chef gladly cooks it for him! When traveling, Rip is a fan of bringing along Larabars, Barbara's Wheat-free Fig Bars, nuts, whole grain pretzels, fruit, & Odwalla bars. My personal travel favorite is Dr. McDougall's breakfast cups.
For a terrific guide to help you find healthy airport restaurants check out this 2008 survey from the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine.
What about soy products? Soy cheeses?
Soy in its most unprocessed states--that's fine--like edamame, tofu & tempeh. Stay away from soy cheeses--most use casein, which is the main protein found in dairy products & has been shown to be cancer & tumor producing. Also, steer clear of the processed soy products with long lists of unnatural ingredients--like soy hot dogs & buffalo wings.
What's the difference between Rip Esselstyn's book, "The Engine 2 Diet" & Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn's book, "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease"?
Rip's book is written for the average guy or gal. He calls it, "The red-neck firemen guide to good health". It's a quick read, easy to understand, and aimed at folks who are used to eating a typical American diet. It's got the kind of recipes to appeal to the 20-30-40 somethings. Dr. E's book is the more scholarly medical explanation of plant-based prevention--aimed at people who are staring heart disease in the face. But there's no way my 20-something kids would read it. They would read Rip's book! Personally, I like them both. They're the perfect package.
What's the difference between Rip's diet & Dr. E's?
Rip calls his diet "Plant Strong" & his dad's diet "Plant Perfect". Rip includes nuts, seeds, & nut butters in his meal plan--Dr. E--the purist--does not. As Rip says, "Even though nuts are nutrient dense, they are also dense in fat--almost 80%--and are little calorie bombs. Therefore, limit your nut intake to half a handful a day if you're trying to lose weight or drop your cholesterol."
Remember, Dr. E's audience is middle-aged or older--all of whom have some degree of heart disease--whether they know it or not!
I'm mostly vegetarian, eat a little bit of cheese & I'm a runner. What would this diet do for me?
I met a fifty-something husband & wife at the book signing. The husband had diagnosed heart disease & type-2 diabetes. They have been seeing Dr. E for 2 months now and they are eating plant-based. I'm sketchy on the particulars here for the husband, but he said he was taking diabetes medication twice a day and since switching his diet to plant-based he's dropped the dose to once a day & is taking only 5% of what he originally took. His weight & cholesterol have both dropped considerably & he expects to eventually be off of all of his diabetes medication.
As for his wife, who was already slim, eating right & exercising--she dropped all added fats & cheese from her diet & went plant-based. With just that little change, within 2 months she is at her slimmest (she looked great-not anorexic slim), and her pesky cholesterol that had climbed to over 200 from hormone replacement therapy & age is now down to 150. Her previously elevated blood pressure is now in the low range without medication. She's a true believer.
And this couple was just one of many who stood up to tell their success stories of weight loss, cholesterol, triglyceride & blood pressure drops from just switching to plant-based.
Time for some oatmeal with hazelnut milk, flaxseed meal, walnuts & dried cranberries for breakfast! Followed up by my Green Smoothie mid-morning snack awaiting in the fridge.
If you get a chance to hear Rip Esselstyn speak, don't hesitate--just go!