Friday, November 19, 2010

Rachel's Vegan Taco/Chili

I was working on trying a raw veggie/fruit week and the cold weather got to me. I'm pretty sure  I was born in the wrong state. And somehow I have yet to leave this frozen tundra. 
So I made tacos because what else warms up a cold body better? Okay, I could think of a few other things, but I am not spending my whole day at the gym (as much as I would like to). A spicy taco made life a little bit warmer for a few minutes. 

Note: this could also be put in the slow cooker in the morning and you can come home to a chili in the evening.

Veggie Taco (or Chili)

1 chopped zucchini

1 chopped yellow squash

(Chopped carrots optional – cook longer if adding carrots)

3/4 to 1 cup of fresh salsa

¼ a cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 can of rinsed and drained red kidney beans

1 can of rinsed and drained black beans

½ packet of Trader Joes taco seasoning or equivalent seasoning packet

¼ - 1 cup of water or vegetable broth – use your judgment if your making chili or taco's

Throw everything in a pot, stir occasionally over medium heat.

NOTE: Eyeball the water (or broth) to make sure you have enough so nothing burns.

Cook on stove top for approximately 15 minutes or until it seems done to you.

I add Agar-Agar to thicken it towards the end.

Oh – almost forgot

This is the vegan 'cheese'. It is soy and casein free.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

When Love and Determination Wins

This morning I was listening to an iTunes U podcast about Democracy. The Yale Professor was discussing Rousseau's social contract and it had me thinking about all of the crazy messages we all get blasted with at election time, especially all the talk about the constitution lately. And, I did think about writing a personal analysis of history.

Then my afternoon happened. Shortly after lunch my ex-husband and I had a meeting at the school to go over our son's I.E.P with his teacher and resource room teacher. His IEP (Individualized Education Plan) was put in place upon his return from cancer treatment. It is a plan that has acted as a vehicle to help him with the cognitive problems and deficits resulting from his brain surgery and treatment. Kevin missed all of 2nd grade and the beginning of 3rd grade.

I am not sure if I can even adequately describe the experience I want to share here.

The backstory before Kevin's diagnosis:

Kevin's dad and I started the divorce process when Kevin was 6 months old. We both have had to make compromises to give Kevin the best that we can. We have had to learn to work past hurt feelings and learn to work together in our own ways. It isn't always pretty but we have figured it out. When I married Kevin's stepfather, Mike, he was happy and eager to accept responsibility for sharing in the effort to raise Kevin. We all have our quirks, we all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses.

So fast-forward to the time shortly after Kevin's diagnosis and brain surgery. I was an emotional wreck, as probably most mom's would be finding out that their child has cancer and requires some pretty scary treatment. I was busy negotiating and learning the hospital system as quickly as possible while trying to still care for an infant and trying to spend each moment I could by Kevin's bedside. Kevin's dad still had work to balance and he did the graveyard shift majority of nights while Kevin was at the Children's Hospital. Kevin's step-dad and I shared daytime duties some overnights when Eric needed a break, typically overlapping. As we fell into our groove, as the shock wore off, one afternoon I watched Kevin's step-dad reading to him and saw how it calmed him down. His aunts read to him when they came to sit by his bedside, his grandmothers, his grandfathers. Kevin starting going through book after book, probably enjoying the familiar voices carry his thoughts far away from a strange nightmare of a situation into whatever make believe world resided in those books.

Kevin doesn't remember much from the 9 months of treatment and he doesn't remember much from the months shortly after that. Even though we tried to continue his education the best we could – with weekly visits from a private teacher – I don't really think much stuck. But Kevin hasn't been a wimp either. He has worked hard to overcome and catch up. His dad and I have spent hours working with him, we've hired tutors. The same that we are doing still with the motor coordination we are still working on with him.

At Kevin's I.E.P. today Kevin's teacher pointed out something I had never grasped in my somewhat frantic effort to try to make sure Kevin still had a future – now in 5th grade Kevin is doing grade level work - amazing! The only thing he requires is a trip to the resource room to take some tests, at his discretion. He is allowed extra time for his tests, but from the report today he isn't requiring the extra time as much. The teacher pointed out Kevin basically skipped all of 2nd grade and apart of 3rd and caught up by 5th grade. That took my breath away….. because he has.

In my score sheet for Kevin, love and Kevin's determination gets a million points and cancer gets 1. Take that cancer!

In my Danish-heritage induced tendency toward optimism, I have to think that if a bunch of adults (ex-husbands, ex-in-laws, new in-laws, family, friends, teachers, strangers, etc.), some of who according to society norms are supposed to dislike each other, are able to shun "normal" and work amazingly well together (I think my ex-husbands dad is one of the best peacemakers I know) to take care of one sick child – I ask what could our country do if we only lived up to our capability to look out for one another?  

I also can't help but mention, if we can all put our differences aside to help one child overcome a terrible disease, I know its on a much larger scale, but why can't our country do a better job of coming together for the good of those still unemployed? How about for those facing cancer without health insurance? For those who lose their health insurance in the midst of a health crisis?

I see such contradictions in some groups where they are the first to volunteer and help; sometimes those groups are the first to vote down legislation that would allow everyone access to health care and help make our country much more economically competitive with majority of developed countries.
I may see the world differently than most; I have seen kids suffer terribly, I've watched parents lose their children in very painful deaths that can take months, I almost lost mine this way. I also have seen the amazing power of  community spirit.  In honor of what those children have to go through, it is with their fighting spirit in mind,  I hope to leave this world a little better and bring a different perspective to the conversation.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Your Brain’s Capacity Limits, Dopamine, and Food

I am fascinated by the marvelous transmission system that our  nervous system, including our brain and neurotransmitters, is. Typically, the internal processes seamlessly forms that which we are throughout our daily lives are.  The orbitofrontal cortex, located just above your eyes (light blue in the graphic below), is an important brain region for the processing of rewards and punishments,  a qualification for the complex yet flexible emotional and social behavior which has contributed to the evolutionary success of humans.

But first I have a complaint. While reading science and psychology articles this week about dopamine and how our bodies have been made to signal pleasure to our brain I detected a removed tone about the "other". It is often "the obese" or "the addictive" people that are referred to. To me, it sounds dangerously elitist. Perhaps it is the style to which science is written for journals and publications; but I take issue with it because it also pointlessly segregates. 

Biologically, it is this, our attraction to sex and high calorie foods that has kept our species going through the ages. Some of us are more susceptible than others but, especially when it comes to food majority of us are prone to over-indulging. (Typically, people with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex have a harder time disengaging from impulsive behavior.)

And these statistics suggest we are all susceptible:

Cancer deaths are projected to double in the next two decades. A report issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that by 2030, there will be almost 21.4 million new cases diagnosed annually and that there will be over 13.2 million deaths from cancer. (Science Centric. Web. 2010)

In the 2006 American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity one third of more than 500,000 cancer deaths each year can be attributed to diet and physical activity habits. (Kushi, et al 254) …hum…seems like we need a wakeup call…that "other" person is the majority of us.

What about the alarming rise in instances of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. (HELLO!?!?!)

The Invisible Person

not pregnant
Well, I am done talking about the invisible person.  I am going to throw myself into the group of "other". I love my chocolate chip cookies and controlling food impulses can be challenging for me. I have been known to eat a whole plateful of cookies on days I feel overwhelmed and lack impulse control. I gained 60-ish pounds with each of my 3 pregnancies. I was also raised with a mother who told me that it was highly likely I would someday be overweight too. And  she was right. The genetics for being overweight lie within my DNA.  I got to experience it for the 9 months my weight went up and the 9 (or maybe more) months I worked to get it off - three times. One side note about each of my pregnancies, I did eat more meat and processed food during those times. I wonder if my brain was low on dopamine during this huge hormonal shift?

Programed to be Open to Change

There is hope.  We do know that just because the genetic code for something such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, etc. lie within our DNA molecules does not mean that our bodies will express (or turn on) that gene. It is about choices, sometimes our choices and sometimes our reaction to other people's choices that affect our lives. 

One somewhat new science finding  - one that gives me hope -  is neuroplasticity (aka cortical re-mapping) which is the thought that the brain is malleable; that the brain has the ability to change as a result of experience. It takes place in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. It is here we evaluate negative things, which may lead us to a change in behavior.

The realization that preferences are something that can be hard to free ourselves perhaps is the first step to making better choices in the long run. Likewise, understanding that our brains have a capacity limit is also important.

The Limits of Self Control

Science journalist and author of How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer, during a 2009 interview on NPR told Terri Gross:

"…. we should definitely be conscious of the fact that we have limited machines, that our brain isn't omnipotent and that it can only take in so much information at any one time.
One of the studies I talk about in the book concerns a study done by a Stanford psychologists who - they had two groups of people. One group they had memorize a two-digit number; the other group they had memorize a seven-digit number. Then they marched these two groups down the hall and gave them a choice between two snacks.
One snack was a rich, gooey slice of chocolate cake. The other snack was a responsible fruit salad. The people who memorized a two-digit number were twice as likely to choose the fruit salad as the people who memorized the seven-digit number, who were twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake. And the reason is that those extra five digits - doesn't seem like very much information at all, just five extra numbers - so overwhelmed the prefrontal cortex that there wasn't enough processing power leftover to exert self-control.
So that gives us a sense of just how limited in capacity our brain actually is and I think points to the fact that we should absolutely be aware of these limitations.
So that doesn't necessarily mean, you know, you have to block out information and never use Google. I think it just means that we should be aware of this and that if you've had a hard day at work or if you're trying to - you know, if you just spent all morning on a crossword puzzle, then be aware that your willpower's going to be a little bit weaker, that especially these rational faculties of the brain are very limited in capacity."


For me, it helps to understand the biology of what is causing me to go back for yet another chocolate chip cookie even when I am full.

In May of 2009 host, Terri Gross, of NPR's radio show Fresh Air interviewed Dr. David Kessler author of The End of Overeating, pediatrician, former FDA commissioner, and former Dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California. 

During the interview Dr. Kessler explained. "We used to think of - food was something we ate to fill us up, to satiate us. But in fact, much of the food that we're eating, this trifecta of sugar, fat and salt, stimulate us. And what we now see is the science that shows that much of the food that we're eating, this very highly palatable food, is excessively activating the neurocircuitry of many of our brains. We used to just think that, you know, food tasted good, but we now know what's behind that, and for many of us the reason we keep on eating is because of this sustained stimulation."


So what is happening when we bit into something sweet, salty and with a good chuck of fat within it?

From the PBS show Moyers on Addiction:

"Different parts of the brain govern different functions. Here, you can see the areas of the brain that control such things as movement, thought, judgment, memory, and "reward," or the feeling of pleasure that comes after one does something enjoyable (tasting a piece of cake, receiving a compliment from the boss)." (See this link for an animation)

On the same website dopamine is explained as:

 "One important neurotransmitter involved in the experience of pleasure is called dopamine. Here, dopamine, shown in yellow, is produced in the neuron shown at the top and packaged in containers called vesicles. As an electrical impulse arrives at the neuron's terminal, the vesicle moves to the neural membrane and releases its load of dopamine into the synaptic cleft. The dopamine crosses the gap and binds to receiver sites, or receptors, on the membrane of the next neuron. When dopamine occupies a receptor, various actions take place in that neuron so that a new electrical impulse is generated in this neuron, and the "message" continues on. After the dopamine has bound to the receptor, eventually it comes off again and is removed from the synaptic cleft and back into the first neuron by reuptake pumps. (For normal nerve transmission, it is important that the dopamine not stay in the cleft.)" See this link for an animation.

Many of our key bodily functions have evolved (or were designed; depending on the belief system at hand) to help us to survive and continue our species. Dopamine is released while consuming rich, salty, fatty food. Being attracted to high calories foods has helped our numbers explode into an estimated 6,872,597,995 humans walking this earth (estimate as of October 2, 2010). But this is what is starting to kill us now because "food" companies have figured out that if they process fruits, grains, vegetables, even meat (think chicken nuggets) mixed with salt and fat enough we will become addicted to their products. And those products affect who we are, who we become. They affect our moods, our weight, and our lives.

Author, Gary Wenk, points out in his 2010 book, Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, that "the drugs you take, the foods you eat – can affect how your neurons behave and, subsequently, how you think and feel."

An interesting fact also is the power of human touch. Touch can light up the same area of the brain. But I think I will leave this topic for another day or you can learn more here.

One last thought. Almost every time I open "food" that is in a package I consciously know what I am doing to myself. And for me, that is half the battle….on most days.

As I finish writing I find I am reaching for the chocolate pie in the fridge (I'm only having one though!). I think my brain has reached capacity and impulse control has become questionable; and I still have lots of studying for midterms to do!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cancer, Diet and Lifestyle

In the United States, 1 in 2 men will battle some form of cancer in their lifetime, 1 in 3 women will face cancer in their lifetime. Cancer will steal youth and life from some 1,545 children diagnosed in 2007. In the United States in 2007, approximately 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer. Early estimates for 2009 hypothesize that 10,730 children were diagnosed last year. This makes cancer the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States. (NCI Cancer Fact Sheet "Childhood Cancers")

The World Health Organization cites,

In the year 2000, malignant tumours were responsible for 12 % of the nearly 56 million deaths worldwide from all causes. In many countries, more than a quarter of deaths are attributable to cancer. In 2000, 5.3 million men and 4.7 million women developed a malignant tumour and altogether 6.2 million died from the disease. The report also reveals that cancer has emerged as a major public health problem in developing countries, matching its effect in industrialized nations. (WHO Global Cancer Rates)


The cancer process involves the initiation, promotion, malignant transformation and tumor progression. Chemicals called carcinogens can turn otherwise healthy cells into cancer cells within minutes. Most carcinogens are industrial byproducts but nature does form a few, such as Aflatoxin. Another way for cancer to initiate is by miscopying of the cell during the dividing process that can cause a dangerous mutation. At the second stage, promotion can take years to progress depending on the type of cancer. It is as these cells multiple that the tumors become visible and detectable. Yet, in order to grow and proliferate cancer cells also require the right environment. According to Dr. Campbell, "Promotion is reversible, depending on whether the early cancer growth is given the right conditions in which to grow. This is where certain dietary factors become so important. These dietary factors, call promoters, feed cancer growth. Other dietary factors, call anti-promoters, slow cancer growth." (Campbell & Campbell 50) Dr. Campbell's thoughts are echoed by the 2006 American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity that points out "nutrients in the diet can protect DNA from being damaged."


According to the 2006 American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity one third of more than 500,000 cancer deaths each year can be attributed to diet and physical activity habits. (Kushi, et al 254) The ACS guidelines also recommend, "consume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources" along with adopt a physically active lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight. (Kushi, et al 256) Which seems like common sense; common sense that can be hard to find the tools to implement.


During two of NIH research projects (one human, one animal), that Dr. Campbell took part in as a Nutrition Researcher, discovered (when studying the promotion stage of cancer) that low-protein diets could

..reduce tumors though the following mechanisms:
  • Less aflatoxin entered the cell
  • Cells multiplied more slowly
  • Multiple changes occurred within the enzyme complex to reduce activity
  • The quantity of critical components of the relevant enzymes was reduced.
  • Less aflatoxin-DNA adducts were formed. (Campbell & Campbell 53)


The China Study, a study of 170 villages in rural China, Dr. Campbell also discovered, "As blood cholesterol levels decreased from 170 mg/dL to 90 md/dL. Cancers of the liver, rectum, colon, male lung, female lung, breast, childhood leukemia, adult leukemia, childhood brain, adult brain, stomach and esophagus (throat) decreased...Most American's know that if you have high cholesterol, you should worry about your heart, but they don't know that you might want to worry about cancer as well." (Campbell & Campbell 78-79)



It is through our diet that we get the nutrition that provides for our cells to function. It is just common sense that a healthy diet is the apart of the arsenal of weapons for chronic disease prevention. But 'healthy diet' is a term that has broad, generic meaning and, depending on any given persons knowledge about diet and nutrition, can be very different from person to person. Factors such as tradition and religion play a part in how diet and nutrition intergrades' on an individual level. The World Health Organization acknowledges that eating habits transfer from one population to another quickly in our shrinking world. "Modern dietary patterns and physical activity patterns are risk behaviors that travel across countries and are transferable from one population to another like an infectious disease, affecting disease patterns globally." (WHO 5)

Studies have showed that a flexitarian diet can be just as beneficial as a vegetarian diet in warding off the popular chronic diseases of our culture, including cancer. But I am of the personal opinion that looking at your genetic genealogy is also a good way to make educated decisions about what choices will increase or decrease your own personal risk.


Diet is an important key component, as is physical activity, the quality of our friendships, our ability to have compassion for one another, and the way we process stress in our lives. In a recent article in Scientific American, "Forget Survival of the Fittest; It Is Kindness That Counts" the author interviewed Dacher Keltner, director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratoryabout his new book,
Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Keltner new book weaves together scientific findings with personal narrative to uncover the innate power of human emotion to connect people with each other. He argues is the path to living the good life. (Scientific American Feb. 26, 2009)


On page 2 of the interview Keltner describes how, "The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system.  It is a bundle of nerves that originates in the top of the spinal cord, it activates different organs throughout the body (heart, lungs, liver, digestive organs). When active, it is likely to produce that feeling of warm expansion in the chest, for example when we are moved by someone's goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music. University of Illinois, Chicago, psychiatrist Steve Porges long ago argued that the vagus nerve is a care-taking organ in the body (of course, it serves many other functions as well). Several reasons justify this claim. The vagus nerve is thought to stimulate certain muscles in the vocal chamber, enabling communication. It reduces heart rate. Very new science suggests that it may be closely connected to oxytocin receptor networks. And it is unique to mammals.

Our research and that of other scientists suggests that the vagus nerve may be a physiological system that supports caretaking and altruism. We have found that activation of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of compassion and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share a common humanity.  People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state, we have found, are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism—compassion, gratitude, love, happiness. Arizona State University psychologist Nancy Eisenberg has found that children with elevated vagal tone (high baseline vagus nerve activity) are more cooperative and likely to give. This area of study is the beginning of a fascinating new argument about altruism—that a branch of our nervous system evolved to support such behavior." (Scientific American Feb. 26, 2009 web)

He also mentions that, "Meditating on a compassionate approach to others shifts resting brain activation to the left hemisphere, a region associated with happiness, and boosts immune functions.

Talking about areas of gratitude, in classrooms, at the dinner table or in the diary, boosts happiness and social well-being and health."


All of this takes me back to a year after my son's diagnosis with a cancerous brain tumor. And though I feel strongly that diet is a key component, it is one component in the overall picture. As I was looking back and reflecting what really helped Kevin make it through that very tough road, I recalled this vivid memory I wrote about on our family blog,
"I have this powerful memory of Kevin, in a hospital gown, with blood still stuck in his hair from the surgery, and just barely enough balance to sit in a chair. It was dark outside, so probably evening, and our family was gathered around Kevin. We were surrounded by a ton of little stuffed animals and gifts family, friends and strangers had sent. Someone had just brought in the cards his 2nd grade class had made for him. There my son sat, in a chair maybe for the first time since his surgery, reading the cards his classmates made for him. I will never forget the smile I saw as he read the cards. One of the little girls even signed her name with 'Love, so-and-so'. I saw Kevin's spirits rise in that moment. Those little handmade cards meant the world to him. They gave him power I couldn't, the doctor's couldn't, his dad couldn't. Only his classmates could and did."


It is empathy, an ability to work together and communicate that seems to separate us from other species. It also seems to play a key role in our health. So maybe it's a good idea to share your healthy habits and meals with others; make time and space to for friendships. It may just keep you (and them) a little bit healthier.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Easy Grilled Veggies

Labor Day weekend; the turning point to the end of summer; summer toys start to get put away while temperatures start to fall  and we prepare for falling leaves. 

The last month or so I have pulled out an old college memory  -  how I learned to grill whitefish -   and am working it into a way to easily grill veggies (with minimal  mess). There are things about this that still need to be perfected, but I will give you the pictorial overview with a few written instructions below, if you find variations that work better - I'd love to hear. 

One last thing before I start, this is my favorite way to make fajita's for a crowd. You can make everything individually and everyone can pick what they want to put in their custom fajita. I didn't do fajita tonight. I have been out of town for 13 days and just used veggies from my garden to make a simple veggie dinner.




So here we go.

You will need:
 - parchment  paper, 
 - aluminum foil, butter (or, in my case, vegan butter or olive oil),
 - some spices. I like (no, LOVE) Traders Joes 21 Seasoning.  It has no salt in it and no preservatives.  

1. Chop your veggies.  (However you want; I'm not a control freak.... most of the time - if you can handle a knife, you can chop your veggies however you want.) Just keep in mind the thicker the slice the longer it will take to grill.

2. Prepare your first 'bag' by placing a sheet of aluminum foil down first, then place a sheet of parchment paper on top.  The parchment paper is going to be enclosed by the aluminum foil when this is complete.

broccoli, butter and seasoning
green peppers, onions, olive oil and seasoning
sweet potatoes with cinnamon, butter and a little bit of sugar

fold parchment paper around your veggies

fold aluminum foil around parchment paper

close ends and you have a bag!

place on grill and flip about every 4 minutes

So far I have found that sweet potatoes take the longest to grill - about 20-25 minutes if the grill is pre-heated.
Everything else seems to take about 15 minutes, but carefully check (without burning yourself) before removing from the grill. Each grill can be a little different.

Note: I boiled the corn tonight - that I haven't experimented with the bag concept for corn on the cob....yet.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Case for a Vegetarian/ Flexitarian Diet

The American Dietetic Association released a statement in July of 2009 "The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians." (Craig et al. 1)

Correlation between diet and chronic disease is strong enough not to ignore. The World Health Organization argues that, "This rapid rate of change, together with the increasing burden of disease, is creating a major public health threat which demands immediate and effective action." (WHO 5) People around the world are consuming a diet comprised of densely fat, high caloric, low nutrient foods to the point to toxicity, to the point of causing costly chronic diseases. The diet and lifestyle patterns of cultures that lack the epidemic chronic diseases give a baseline for healthy living. 

Moderation is a relative word. The recommendation to eat meat and dairy in moderation could mean once a day to one person and to 3-5 times a day for others. When, really, it could be an ounce once a day, a cup a day. There is a strong need for clearer, braver recommendations. Removing or reducing refined foods will take education and a cultural shift. The need for a better public intervention is beyond great and as the study in Finland proves is achievable

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) information sheet on Diet and Diabetes mentions, "Animal products contain fat, especially saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, and certain forms of cancer. These products also contain cholesterol and, of course, animal protein…animal protein can aggravate kidney problems and calcium loss. Animal products never provide fiber or healthful carbohydrates." (PCRM 2) The PCRM is a vegan-promoting organization but I don't think their views are not justified.

For over 30 years Dr. John McDougall has been a pioneer in associating diet with chronic disease. A the age of 18 Dr. McDougal suffered a stroke after years of eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). Dr. Campbell author of the China Study interviewed Dr. McDougall and retells his story.

"Many of his patients' health problems were a result of chronic illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer heart disease and arthritis. John would treat them as he was taught, with the standard sets of pills and procedures, but very few of them became healthy. Their chronic disease didn't go away, and John quickly realized that he had severe limitations as a doctor. He also started to learn something from his patients: the first and second generation American's from Asia, the ones who are more traditional Asian staple diets of rice and vegetables, were trim, fit and not afflicted with chronic disease that plagued John's other patients. The third and fourth generation Asian American's, however, had fully adopted American's eating habits and suffered from obesity, diabetes and the whole host of other chronic diseases." (Campbell & Campbell Campbell 330)


    Through his continuing his education into medical graduate school Dr. McDougall started to question more experienced doctors about the role of diet into chronic disease prevention and treatment.  Even 30 years later diet in relation to health is still a controversial topic in the medical field. One mother, when speaking to her son's oncologist, inquired about the role of nutrition and diet (along with chemo and radiation) in helping her seven year old son overcome the cancerous brain tumor he had been just diagnosed with, the renowned Oncologist brushed off anything more than tracking calories as important for the moment.


A comparison of diet recommendations from the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association reveal that all put fruits, vegetables and whole grains at the their top dietary recommendations for prevention and management of their prospective diseases. 

"There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants". The Plant–Based Foods part of the chart below is based on equal parts of tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas, and potatoes. The Animal-Based Foods part is based on equal parts beef, pork, chicken, and whole milk. It is used to demonstrate that there is a distinct nutritional difference in plant based foods and animal based foods. It also shows that a person gets more nutritionally out of a plant based food diet and, really, only gives of the cholesterol that one gets from an animal based food diet. (Campbell & Campbell; Campbell 230).

Plant-Based Foods
Animal-Based Foods
Fat (g)
Beta-carotene (mcg)
Dietary Fiber
Vitamin C (mg)
Folate (mcg)
Vitamin E (mg_ATE)
Iron (mg)
Magnesium (mg)
Calcium (mg)
Table 8 Plant vs. Animal Nutrients (Campbell & Campbell; Campbell 230)


Overall, fruits and vegetables offer low-energy density (fewer calories relative to volume) and for a more sedentary lifestyle of industrialized and developing nations may offer a healthier choice with less chance of chronic disease.


Correlation between diet and chronic disease is strong enough not to ignore. The World Health Organization argues that, "This rapid rate of change, together with the increasing burden of disease, is creating a major public health threat which demands immediate and effective action." (WHO 5) People around the world are consuming a diet comprised of densely fat, high caloric, low nutrient foods to the point to toxicity, to the point of causing costly chronic diseases. The diet and lifestyle patterns of cultures that lack the epidemic chronic diseases give a baseline for healthy living. Moderation is a relative word. The recommendation to eat meat and dairy in moderation could mean once a day to one person and to 3-5 times a day for others. When, really, it could be an ounce once a day, a cup a day. There is a strong need for clearer, braver recommendations. Removing or reducing refined foods will take education and a cultural shift. The need for a better public intervention is beyond great and as the study in Finland proves is achievable. 

Dr. Campbell says, 

In a publication from the famous Framingham Study, researchers conclude that for every three addition servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the risk of stroke will be reduced by 22%....If every three servings lower the risk by 22%, the benefits can add up fast (risk reduction can not exceed 100%) (Campbell & Campbell 221).

The vegan or plant based dietary practices offer the most hope right now for future generations to avoid this epidemic of chronic disease plaguing the populous of European descendants and currently finding its way into all populations. The need for a more plant based food system in urban areas is apparent. Though there is still room for meat and dairy on our plates, but perhaps once a week as opposed to every day would be enough to make a big initial impact to chronic disease. 

The fact that diet can affect which genes get expressed during the life-cycle clearly demonstrates the need for as much cell protection as possible. There are no promises that diet alone will allow one can avoid disease completely. There are other factors such as physical activity and having a strong, supportive social environment that allows a person to process stress in a healthy manner that also play a part into health that were not addressed in this paper. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges that diet is the one input most people have control over (WHO 4-5). 

It is my curiosity if a city with a population the size of Manhattan reduced their meat and dairy consumption to once a week and replace it with low-fat, real, plant based options what would the global health benefits be? Could it be enough to change the epidemic? Would it be enough to start to wipe out chronic disease in a few generations? It is through understanding food and having social programs in place that our culture can stop consuming a diet comprised of densely fat, high caloric, low nutrient foods to the point to toxicity thus becoming healthier and more productive.

In Michael Pollan's book in Defense of Food one of his recommendations is to "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves." (Pollan 162) but he also mentions that research has shown Flexitarians also to be as healthy as vegetarians. So to eat meat and other animal products on occasion has shown to be just as healthy as a vegetarian diet. 

Ultimately, "..plants are apt to be more than the sum of their nutrient parts." (Pollan 165)




Barnard, Neal. et al. A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes 29.8 (2006). Aug. 2006. Web. 7 Apr. 2010.
Craig, Winston J., "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets" American Dietetic Association. July 2009 Volume 109 Number 7 Web
World Health Organization. Diet , Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Rep. The World Health Organization, 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.
            Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food, London.: Penguin Press, 2008. Print

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The American Diet

The Standard American Diet has become well known as SAD. Researchers and clinicians like to use the acronym because the standard American diet is associated with the prevalence to obesity and high chronic disease rates.

Quick Statistics below were taken verbatim from the American Heart Association 2006 Update on Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics:

  • The average daily intake of dietary cholesterol in the United States is 269.6 milligrams (mg). For males it's 323.5 mg and for females it's 218.9 mg
  • In 1999–2000, among children ages 2–6, 20% had a good diet, 74% had a diet that needed improvement, and 6% had a poor diet. For those ages 7–12, 8% had a good diet, 79% had a diet that needed improvement, and 13% had a poor diet.

  • Between 1977 and 1996, portion sizes for key food groups grew markedly in the United States, not only at fast-food outlets but also in homes and at conventional restaurants. One study of portion sizes for typical items showed that:
    • Salty snacks increased from 132 calories to 225 calories.
    • Soft drinks increased from 144 calories to 193 calories.
    • French fries increased from 188 calories to 256 calories.
    • Hamburgers increased from 389 calories to 486 calories.
  • Between the years 1985 to 2000 daily calorie consumption increased by 12% or roughly 300 calories. Of that increase mainly refined grains accounted for 46%, added fats 24%, added sugars 23%, fruits and vegetables 8%, with meat and dairy overall declining 1%.
  • The recommended daily intake of dietary fiber is 25 g or more. Americans consume a daily average of 15.6 g of dietary fiber (17.8 g for males and 13.6 g for females)
  • Analysis of participants in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) showed that cereal fiber consumption late in life was associated with lower risk of incident CVD, supporting recommendations for elderly people to increase consumption of dietary cereal fiber.
  • In 2000, 81% of men and 73% of women reported eating fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. More than 60% of young people eat too much fat, and less than 20% eat the recommended 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • The highest proportion of adults who consumed fruits and vegetables at least 5 times a day were those age 65 and older, whites, college graduates, those actively engaged in leisure-time physical activity, and nonsmokers.
  • Recent studies support the intake of up to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • From 1994–96 for children ages 6–19, only 14% met then-current USDA Food Pyramid recommendations for daily fruit intake (2–4 servings per day). Only 20% got enough vegetables (3–5 servings per day).
  • In 1980, about 50% of high school seniors reported eating green vegetables "nearly every day or more." By 2003, that figure had dropped to about 30%
(Thom et al. 45-47)

"In America, 15-16% of our total calories comes from protein and upwards of 80% of this amount comes from animal based foods. But in rural China only 9-10% of total calories come from protein and only 10% of the protein comes from animal based foods" (Campbell & Campbell 73-74). Comparing American's to a place where the rate of chronic disease is much lower.


Fat and Cholesterol


The World Health Organization compared regions of the world and found Europeans and North American's have the highest fat intake since the 1960's and also have the highest incidents of chronic disease, diseases that can be controlled through nutrition. Even though American's are eating a little less meat in the last 10 years, residents in North America (and Europe) still eat considerably more animal protein than other area's coupled with a propensity toward high-fat, sugary foods and snacks making SAD a time bomb that has already gone off; just few are recognizing the boom. 

According to Chizzolini et al., "Nutritional guidelines suggest that dietary fat should provide between 15 and 30% of total calories and that saturated fats should be limited to between 0 and 10% of caloric intake." The authors go on to say, "Epidemiological and clinical studies have suggested that high-fat diets, regardless of their fatty acid distribution, increase blood cholesterol concentrations." (Chizzolini et al. 119) Cholesterol is linked to CVD, diabetes and other chronic diseases.


Animal protein is, for the most part, the only way for humans to get cholesterol into their bodies. Plants do contain trace amount of sterols whose structures are clinically the same to those of animal-based cholesterol, but it would take 1,247 pounds of vegetables to squeeze out one ounce of cholesterol. The average lean piece of chicken has about 81 (mg/100g) (Chizzolini et al 121). "Blood cholesterol is clearly an important indicator of disease risk. The big question is: how will food affect blood cholesterol?" (Campbell & Campbell 80) Cholesterol is found in animal based foods and in contrast plant based foods lower cholesterol in humans while also containing no cholesterol (Campbell & Campbell 80). 

As blood cholesterol levels in rural China rose in certain counties the incidence of "Western" diseases also increased. What made this so surprising was that Chinese levels were far lower than we had expected. The average level of blood cholesterol was only 127 mg/dL, which was almost 100 points less than the American average (215 mg/dL)….In the U.S., our range is around 170-290 mg/dL…There is a myth that there might be health problems if cholesterol levels were below 150 mg/dL. If we follow that line of thinking, about 85% of the rural Chinese would appear to be in trouble…Lower blood cholesterol levels are linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer and other Western diseases, even at levels far below those considered "safe" in the West. (Campbell & Campbell; Campbell 78)


American's now consume 300 percent more cheese since the 1970's (Bennett 3). Nutrition researcher, Dr. Campbell, argue that "casein affects the way cells interact with carcinogens, the way DNA reacts with carcinogens and the way cancerous cells grow." (Campbell & Campbell 65) Dr. Campbell contends that according to his research that milk products promote cancer growth.


A study conducted by the CDC approximated in 2005 that 32.6% of the U.S. adult population surveyed consumed fruit two or more times per day, and 27.2% ate vegetables three or more times per day. (CDC 2)

AgeConsumed Fruit 2 or more times per day
35-44 years old27.9%

Table 5 - American Fruit Consumption (CDC 2)
Consumed vegetables 3 or more times p/day
Table 6 - American Vegetable Consumption (CDC 2)


Sugar Intake

Sugar intake has clearly been on the rise over the centuries.

  • In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year.
  • In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consume one-half pound of sugar PER DAY, 180 pounds of sugar per year! (Johnson and Grower 416)
Just a brief look at the increase of consumption over the decades it's easy to understand the obesity epidemic. According to the authors of Skinny Bitch "sugar is like crack, and food manufactures know that if they add it to their products, you'll keep coming back." (Freedman and Barnouin 27-28) According to Freedman and Barnouin, "The United States is the largest supplier of sugar-laden foods in the world" (Freedman and Barnouin 29). This paper will not have the opportunity to broach the issue with artificial sweeteners and the issues that can arise from these "calorie free" sugars. It maybe wise the heed the saying, "There are no free rides" as this should be correlated with the artificial sweeteners.


According to the USDA report of Sweetener Consumption, "The U.S. consumption of sugars added to food items increased by 23 percent between 1985 and 1999" (Haley et al. 1). In a time when the typical lifestyles use less energy for survival the demand for sugary foods has increased in contradiction to our energy output widening the American waistline.


It seems Americans are not getting a clear message of what type of nutrition it takes to maintain a healthy, disease free body. Granted there are no guarantees, and there is always exceptions such as the odd 80 year old, 2 pack a day smoker, that seems like he/she will live forever. But those cases are few and far between. The intensive program launch in North Karelia (mentioned in the Chronic Disease section near the beginning of this paper) proves that with an effective plan (coupled with strong leadership) to educate the public the average American's health can be turned toward a better direction (Puska et al 419). Side effects from an effective real plan would be would be less burdened health care system, increased productivity with less work days lost, and Medicare would require less tax payer dollars. 




Bennett, Jannequin. The Complete Vegan Kitchen. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007. Print.
Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M. Campbell. The China Study: the Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Dallas, Tex.: BenBella, 2005. Print.
Chizzolini, R., et. al. "Calorific Value and Cholesterol Content of Normal and Low-fat Meat and Meat Products." Food Science and Technology 10 (1999). 25 Oct. 1999. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.
Freedman, Rory, and Kim Barnouin. Skinny Bitch: a No-nonsense, Tough-love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! Philadelphia: Running, 2005. Print.
Haley et al. Electrontic Outlook Report from the Economic Research Service. Sweetener Consumption in the United States. Distribution by Demographic and Product Characteristics,
2005. USDA. August 2005 Web. 5 April 2010

Johnson, Richard J., and Timothy Gower. The Sugar Fix: the High-fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 2008. Print.
Thom, Thomas et al. "Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2006 Update." Circulation E151 113.E85 (2006). American Heart Association. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.
United States. Center for Disease Control. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Adults - - United States, 2005. CDC, 16 Mar. 2007. Web. 7 Apr. 2010.
World Health Organization. Diet , Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Rep. The World Health Organization, 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.