I'm a pretty healthy person, age 60. My body mass is in the normal range - I'm not classified as overweight or obese - and I have no obvious chronic diseases other than a touch of arthritis. I'm physically pretty active, would have said that I eat pretty well, but wouldn't say that I'm aerobically fit - the chores I do around horses are more strength than aerobic, and when I ride I almost never get out of breath. There is a history of some heart disease on one side of my family, as well as some diabetes. The other side of my family is better - my dad lived to 90 with a blood pressure of 130/70 without medication, and his death was not related to heart disease.
So until recently, I thought I was going to have a free pass. But then, in December at a regular check up, some of my numbers weren't so great. LDL was creeping up into an unacceptable range, and some of the diabetes indicators indicated that I was at increased risk. My doctor was suggesting medication, but I said I wanted to see if I could change things myself first - I'm pretty adverse to taking medications, like statins, if I can possibly avoid them because of the side effects, and because I believe the medications may well be treating symptoms rather than causes of heart disease.
Around New Year's (appropriate timing) I stumbled across a book by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. He's a GP from New Jersey who got frustrated with treating a large number of unhealthy, often very overweight patients, with heart disease and often diabetes as well, and having very little to offer them except drugs. Most of the diet plans to help them loose weight worked for only a short time and then they regained the weight or even more.
He developed a eating for life plan, which is research and evidence based - not a diet that's designed to be short-term but a life-long eating plan. Now I don't buy some things he says, but the basics are pretty sound, so I thought "why not? let's give this a two-month try and see if things improve and I feel better." So that's what I did - keep reading for the results.
Here's my summary of the plan I have been following - the core plan is for people who are seriously overweight and who are often on multiple drugs to treat heart disease and diabetes, and who need to lose serious amounts of weight - often 100 pounds+. Also, my summary is of what I decided to do, not necessarily what Dr. Fuhrman recommends, and includes some of my own choices. One thing about my plan is that it's not a diet - there's no calorie-counting, portion control or calculations required, and, even with my high physical activity level, I'm never hungry and have noticed that those "tired times of day" have pretty much disappeared.
Dr. Fuhrman's plan is based on getting the maximum nutrient bang for your calories. The only thing I have to supplement is vitamin B-12 and, in the winter, vitamin D.
To start, here's his version of the food pyramid:
You'll notice that pretty much nothing is forbidden, but the emphasis is very different than the standard American diet. This plan is high-nutrient, high fiber, low fat/cholesterol and low glycemic. A side note on protein - most Americans get way too much protein (there's some suspicion that this may lead to an increased incidence of kidney disease), and it's easy to get plenty of protein on this plan from the combined elements, particularly the beans and legumes.
Here's my summary of what I do every day (there are days where I make exceptions) - I modified his core plan to reflect the fact I didn't need to lose a huge amount of weight - the core plan would be more restrictive on olive oil, dairy, fish and nuts/seeds:
4 to 5 pieces of fruit - no sugar added - in winter frozen berries are wonderful
a giant salad - I call it "the salad as large as my head" - for lunch every day, with added raw and cooked vegs, with vinegar or lemon and some olive oil for dressing
at least one cup of cooked beans or legumes - I make a pot of beans once a week and can use this for soups or just eating, and I'm also a big fan of edamame (soybeans - in the pod or out)
some seeds/nuts - not too many as they're very high calorie - preferably raw but roasted OK too
coffee and tea (no sugar or dairy except no-fat) are fine, and I do drink some wine and beer
no white flour, no white sugar, no white rice and potatoes rarely - any bread products are whole grain (not just whole wheat flour) and all grains are whole - this pretty much eliminates most deserts (except for the occasional treat) and almost all breads and processed cereals
no added sugars, except occasional honey, molasses or maple syrup
no meat of any kind, red or white, but I do eat some fish - trying to avoid the high-cholesterol tilapia and shrimp
I do eat eggs several times a week
basically no cheese, milk or cream - I do use very small amounts of Parmesan, but rarely - I do eat some no-fat yoghurt and kefir, and also use tempeh and tofu, as well as avocados, which are high-fat in a vegetable way
basically no processed food - anything with a bar code - even if it's labelled "lo-fat", "natural" or "organic" - that doesn't mean it's good for me - this does mean I need to cook - I cook lots of vegetables - a quick steam/boil with lemon juice is great: lots of types of greens, broccoli, green beans, kale (great boiled for a short time, squeezed, chopped and mixed with vinegar, a little oil and chopped garlic), roasted vegs of all types: onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, etc. - I do use some olive oil with some of these
I'm careful when eating out, but there are decent options at most restaurants - provided I don't eat out a lot
I use my crock pot to make whole grainsI've been feeling pretty darn good since I started eating this way, and have lost some of my "belly" fat - the kind that's not metabolically good. I went for my follow-up blood test this week, and was awaiting the results with some hope.
And boy, did the results prove that this eating plan works - and this is just the first two months. Not to bore you with the details - skip if you're not interested.
LDL: dropped from 155 to 126
Triglycerides: dropped from 93 to 64
My HDL is always around 100, which is unusually high - which my doctor says is usually a good thing.
I'd say I'm certainly pleased, and find eating this way just plain delightful - and I'm never hungry. It may not be for you or your lifestyle or choices, but it sure works for me. I've started adding more aerobic exercise - the stairs in my building are perfect for that, and no club membership or exercise equipment required . . .