Friday, March 14, 2014

Somewhat OT on Diet and Health

This is perhaps only slightly OT, since I believe that my family and horses deserve that I be the best I can be for them.  I listened to a radio program recently - it was very amusing - about topics one should never discuss in company because they are just plain boring - one was health and the other was diet, and this post includes both, so I guess that makes it boring.  But I'm not bored by it, and maybe some of you may be interested.  (Caution - I am not a doctor, and nothing here should be taken as medical advice.)  First off, I should say that this is what I do and what is working for me - however you eat and live your life is up to you to determine.

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 grains
I'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 . . .


  1. Congrats on your health improvements, you are dedicated! We are making healthier changes little by little at our house.

  2. in our family, nutrition and diet are a favorite topic, at least with me, my mom, and my sister. i'm sure it drives the husbands mad. in my family it is always true that we feel better and lose weight when we cut back starch. on a simple day-to-day basis, the less starch i have, the better i feel, even if it's not zero starch. in america i'd be even fatter, because it's harder to find healthy foods (and they allow things that are forbidden here). you know how you have to drain ground beef fat after cooking? in germany there is nothing to drain, ever. even with ground pork. (makes for some dry burgers..) anyway you've inspired me to try to eat more head-sized salads! i planted a bunch of rucola and hope it does well this year.

    i wanted to thank you again for your blog and hope you keep writing, your experience is always helpful to me, as i realize how little i actually have after all these years. i think that's cuz i rode mostly one horse and did mostly one thing with him: )

    i wish you'd take some photos of the massage/touches you've been doing - especially the hip/SI sway thing. rocking a horse gently by alternating pressure on that area is something i've always done, but i'd love to see your method.

  3. Good post and it's in line with what my dietitian suggests. She is not too keen on diet regimens, mostly because people find it hard to stick to them. So the concept is to change your eating style to make eating the right kinds of foods a habit.

    And getting that exercise--riding included--is a significant factor in a healthy lifestyle.

  4. I read the combined post late last night and nodded to myself over your dietary changes. If the whole nation ate like this, we could probably pay off the national debt with the savings – savings in healthcare, lost wages, lost productivity at work, etc. Of course, the fast-food joints would go out of business, but maybe there would be more work in small agricultural endeavors (don't get me started on giant agri-businesses who poison the soil and our bodies with their petroleum-based fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and genetically modified organisms!). Live long and strong!

  5. Well done. We're not as organized, but that's close to what Betty and I do. We're big on portion control as a way of controlling calories. Keep up the good work. Dan

    1. Dan - one thing I really like about my eating plan is that, with the exception of certain high calorie items like nuts/seeds and no-fat dairy, you can eat as much as you want of the vegs and fruits - no portion control required so I'm never hungry.

  6. I generally don't eat grains at all or sugar. So no bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, etc. I generally aim for the 80/20 rule and most of the time do even better than that. Jason and I also don't keep any kind of potato chips are other processed snacks in our house, even for Carter. Meat/fish/poultry, eggs, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and a very small amount of dairy (I cook with butter sometimes and we eat a small amount of cheese). I never have to count calories and I wear a size 2.


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