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.



Have you ever heard the saying that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans? I re-read this old quote today in a book I bought, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Whole Foods but Where Afraid to Ask by Christina Pirello. It caught my interest because I am looking for recipes made with whole foods (aka veggies and real spices) and not fake veggie food. It just seems to me that fake vegan cheese is just as bad as any other processed food and is counter intuitive. The author does have some soy (aka tofu based recipes - there are 31 recipes that have tofu in them out of a 296 page book) but there are plenty of recipes with titles such as Colorful Vegetable Bundles, Spicy Vegetable Soup with Corn Tortillas and Apple-Filled Acorn Squash with Curried Hempseeds. I find cooking daunting in my busy days along with my children who like to complain if the food served to them is different; but I see the need to get better and figure out a compromise between all of us involved.

On the first page the author, Christina Pirello says, "If we disconnect with nature, our life grows dead and empty. To see food only as fuel to operate our bodies is to create profound impoverishment of the spirit. We can achieve intimacy no greater than that with our food. It joins with us, becomes us, helps create our character." I know plenty of meat-eaters with good character; but I think what she is saying is when we live our lives with purpose, when we see food as something more just the feeling we get when the receptors on our tongues relay the information to our brains that we not only feed our bellies but our human spirit. It made me think of my intentions with food and otherwise. (I have an opinion, right or wrong, that perhaps making plans is foolish, but a better way might be to live with intentions.)

Side note about plans: I have trouble with the concept of long term planning because I couldn't plan my young son's cancerous brain tumor. There was no way to see that coming and in that powerful moment all I knew was my intention, hope, and the sheer force of will. The only cancer that I knew of in my son's genetic make-up was in my family, my paternal grandfather who smoked (I hear a lot) and ended up dying of lung cancer – so from a genetic standpoint I couldn't even reason it. On the other hand, my dad's stroke, not really planned - but genetics, lifestyle and stress were all things I could see brewing in the cauldron.   I  had thought if it did happen, it wouldn't be until his 70's; another 10 good years away. Yet, these examples of the types of stuff that has made it difficult for me to come to terms with the word 'plan' for anything more than the short term. For me, knowing my intentions helps me to stay emotionally available to change with the circumstances and maybe, in a way, helps protect from the disappointment of failed long term plans.

1. My intention with going to school for Dietetics is to make a difference. Last night it came up in a conversation that if I work in the hospital most people will not be receptive to the nutritional instructions I may someday give. This is not a new thought for me. A week doesn't not go by when I don't notice someone either at a restaurant, walking into a store or even at a concert where I don't see the effects of stroke, cancer or other chronic diseases in the faces and bodies of some of the people I pass. I'm paying attention. I notice. And for some reason it moves my soul. When I see those who are battling chronic disease, I lose a couple of tears and it doesn't seem fair that they have to spend the later part of their life not living with all parts functioning. I feel, if the super huge ice cream chocolate cookie attack wasn't as addictive as cigarettes to a smoker we might have a few less obese, a few less stroke survivors dragging a leg or holding an immovable arm. This includes the hamburgers and fries we pick up through the drive though. I would like to see if our society was healthier would we be happier? I think happiness has to start from within and if we don't feel good, I can see how being happy maybe a struggle. Maybe it will only be one person's life I make a difference in. If so, I guess it is one more life that is lived a little healthier, spending a little less money on meds and hopefully able to spend a little bit of that money on leisure and not suffering from some form of paralysis the last 10-20 years of their life.

2. It is my intention to define moderation. It seems almost everything should be okay in moderation. Or is it? I hope to one day answer this question here. I am still looking for and uncovering an answer.

3. It is my intention to be an example navigating healthy food, becoming and staying fit, having healthy relationships and finding meaningful work. It is those four things I believe make a healthy life. It is my intention to share my struggles, as honestly as possible, because there are days my sugar addiction over takes me, stress overcomes my abilities to get the most out of my day.

It is never my intention to be an expert. Only to share what I have learned so far and the choices I am making. I am an evolving human, on a journey and, some days, (especially when raising 3 boys seems CRAZY) an adventure.

I do understand the difficulty of navigating food choices. The whole state of 'Nutrition-ism' can seem like an uncertain joke at times - perhaps because fad diets that have failed many. We learn to cook from our family, our culture also. It can be very personal, especially when we are struggling.

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways -- WINE in one hand -- strawberries in the other -- body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOOOOHOOOOOO!!! WHAT A RIDE!!!" – Author Unknown

In the same moment I can understand the quote above. To me life is about feeling good as many days as I can. It’s about being able to run up the stairs to check on my kids, it’s about being able to do the same thing with my future grandkids someday. It’s about feeling good in my skin; it’s about my dreams to travel to Prague, South America, Rome, the southern part of France and being able to walk as much as I choose as I discover the different parts of the world. It is about being the best I can be for the loves of my live, the people who I care deeply about and care about me – who it would pain for them to see me suffer. It is about being able to prove to myself that I am capable to running a marathon if I want to or just decide to take up surfing a little later in life, and being able to. I enjoy living the most when I am able to enjoy life’s experiences with those people around me, sometimes new people and sometimes with those who can complete my sentences. I loved trying skydiving in my 20’s so much I did it a couple of times and probably would have done it more if it hadn’t been cost prohibitive for me; risk is not a foreign idea to me. I enjoy pushing limits, so I do understand the quote above in that sense. Yet, it is difficult for me to understand the concept of eating for the current moment all the time, on a daily basis (I understand an evening out with friends – I understand the yumminess of a warm chocolate chip cookie) and seems like giving up on happiness in a way to me. I, myself, struggle with chocolate chip cookies and cake, oh…I do. But I try not to excuse it – I know I won’t feel good later - especially if I don’t stop myself. There was a point when I could see that the path I was heading to was the same as my relatives with diabetes - for me it was then the excuses seemed inexcusable

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meatless Monday...A Meal Idea and Elvis Peanut Butter Bananna Sandwich for dessert

Even going meatless for one day will make a difference, for you and the earth. If you click on the title above it should take you to a cool video on that inspires how one day can make a difference.

Lately, my favorite quick veggie meal to make is a Thai style stir fry.  I put the frozen veggie in a skillet with just a little bit of water (maybe 2-3 Tablespoons) and let warm on medium heat for 3-4 minutes (make sure there is just enough water to keep it from sticking but not too much, you don't want a rice/veggie thai soup). I then add Trader Joes frozen brown rice.  I just open the bag and place it in a skillet. I then add some of the sauce. I do it different combination's; sometimes I add the Peanut Sauce and Szechuan Sauce (careful - its spicy and will kick you in the pants). Other times, I just add Tamari and a little bit of Agava Necter to make a traditional Soy Sauce stir fry. Sometimes I mix all three.  I typically only have to add about 2 Tablespoons of each sauce. I'm not very good at measuring when I am making recipes up on the fly. I just try to eye ball it.  Remember, you don't want soup! Stir often.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What to Serve When Company is Coming Over?

Yesterday we celebrated my oldest birthday with a party of our friends and family. I have wrestled with what I serve in my house when we have company over. (Heck, I struggle with what to feed my family on a daily basis.) So finally, this past month, I have settled one of my struggles. I decided that I will not prepare meat when company comes over.  This is not an easy decision for me because I don't want to push my choices on others. My purpose is to set an example, to show it can be done. Because if we could cut into some pharma profits by getting healthier I'd be happy.

I can only think of two people over the age of 55 that are not diagnosed with some chronic disease in my life. I've started to realize that the change needs to start somewhere. That change needs to start with me. If I really love those around me I will do my best to provide the healthiest opportunities for them I can while still enjoying the fruits of life… so to speak. It started a couple of weeks ago when I had a couple of the girls from my soccer team and their families over. I tested the waters with my idea that I could provide a plant based meal for more than 15 people and have everyone enjoy it. The feedback I got was positive, so I repeated most of it for my oldest birthday celebration. I did bend and get pizza along with the roasted vegetables I served make-your-own fajita style. And of course there was birthday cake. I choose not to do goodie bags because I honestly was lacking creativity this year. I did not want to fill bags full of candy and hand them out to the kids, and I didn't want to buy a bunch of cheap, lasts-only-for-a-minute toys. The later because I feel it is wasting the resources and money. I typically throw the stuff out within hours that it arrives in my house.

Chronic disease is an umbrella term that encompasses: obesity, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, diabetes mellitus. There are other chronic diseases such as different types of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, even some mental disorders which are thought to have a diet/lifestyle connection.

According The World Health Organization (WHO) report of Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease, "79% of all death worldwide that are attributable to chronic disease are already occurring in developing countries." (WHO 4) WHO also projects that by 2020 "chronic disease will account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide…The number of people in the developing world with diabetes will increase more than 2.5-fold, from 84 million in 1995 to 228 in 2025." (WHO 5).

Most experts agree that chronic disease is largely preventable (WHO 5). "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)



Cause of Death
Diseases of the Heart
Cancer (Malignant Neoplasms)
Medical Care
Stroke (Cerebrovascular Disease)
Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
Diabetes Mellitus
Table 1 - Leading Cause of Death in the United States (Campbell & Campbell 16)


According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell,

Both diabetes and obesity are merely symptoms of poor health in general. They rarely exist in isolation of other disease and often forecast deeper, more serious health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and stroke. Two of the most frightening statistics show that diabetes among people in their thirties has increased 70% in less than ten years and percentage of obese people has nearly doubled in the past their years. Such an incredibly fast increase in these "signal" diseases in America's young to middle age population forecast a health care catastrophe in the coming decades. It may become an unbearable burden on a health system that is already strained in countless ways. (Campbell & Campbell 14)


In 1972 a community based CVD prevention program began in the province of North Karelia in Finland due to their high CVD mortality rates. The initial goal was to achieve a substantial decline in coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality, especially among middle-aged men through promoting cholesterol lowering dietary changes and a stop smoking campaign. A massive community approach was initiated through health services, voluntary organizations, local media, businesses and public policy. There was a considerable decline in CVD (and cancer) mortality (over 60%) among the male population in North Karelia throughout the program and beyond. "The experience of the North Karelia and Finland as a whole is a major demonstration that premature mortality from modern epidemics of CVD and cancer can be greatly reduced" (Puska et al. 424).



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.
World Health Organization. Diet , Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Rep. The World Health Organization, 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.



Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Importance of Love -- for our Health

I have this powerful memory of my (then) 7 year old son, in a hospital gown, with blood still stuck in his baby-fine sandy blond hair left from brain surgery earlier that week.  It was dark outside and our family was gathered around him, trying to keep his spirits up as he fought the pain.  Along with the monitors, creamy white walls and pastel privacy curtains, we were also surrounded by a ton of little stuffed animals and gifts from family, friends, church and even strangers.  There, in the middle of his 5th floor hospital room, in a uncomfortably hard, but sturdy, chair I watched as my son struggle to sit upright for the first time since his surgery. He sat and started to read the cards his classmates made for him that someone had dropped off while he was sleeping.  I will forever remember the happiness, love and the warmth I saw fill his tired soul as he read those simple handmade cards from his second grade classmates. One of the little girls even signed her name with 'Love, so-and-so'. In that moment the struggle to sit upright got a little less as he went on to read the jokes (and giggled at) the boys wrote and the kind words from the rest of the girls. 

The cards and all other little mementos of positive thoughts, letting him know he was surround by love, were just as important to his healing as anything else we were doing. They gave him power I couldn't alone; the doctor's couldn't, nor could his dad alone. It was almost a years' worth of months that accumulated a collective effort to not just heal Kevin through modern medicine, but also through love. I believe it worked.

Since then, I have believed strongly that love can heal physical ailments and mental anguish. And science is proving it (love it when really smart people prove me right). An article in Scientific American this past July talks about how healthy relationships increase survival up to 50%. It mentions that, "Social support has been linked to lower blood pressure, and a diverse collection of contacts is associated with better immune system functioning. The list continues to grow, she says, now encompassing other bodily processes such as wound healing and inflammation."  

In a 2005 Newsweek article, Dr. Dean Ornish, author of The Spectrum also the founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute said, "… love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well. If a new medication had the same impact, failure to prescribe it would be malpractice. Connections with other people affect not only the quality of our lives but also our survival. Study after study find that people who feel lonely are many times more likely to get cardiovascular disease than those who have a strong sense of connection and community."  

There is little control to how your social structure holds up in times of crisis. But what we do have control of is who we decide to be when someone we know is faces a crisis. The outreach and kindness of the community that we live in was also a huge lesson in how to react when I see others facing their times of trial. It is my tendency to want to keep to myself, mostly out of fear of saying something wrong or offending and a bit of fear of having to endure another painful loss. But it is also so hard for me not to be the shy girl. It takes every ounce of confidence I have to overcome the decades of being initially shy. Now more than ever I see the importance of overcoming this. Love is complicated.

In Monday's newspaper, within the Sexetera advice column a person wrote in asking if they should end a relationship that had just begun because in the fall the guy returns to school. Mia's response I thought was adroit, "Let the relationship play itself out. If you two are meant to be together, it'll last and if you're not, well, at least you saw it coming. If you're smart, you'll enjoy getting to know this guy but not invest too many emotions until you see where things are heading. One way to do this is by investing in your own future as well as a potential love affair. Why not? He's looking out for himself by furthering his education. I hope you're doing the same." Steve, the other writer for the column asked, "What is wrong with getting hurt?"

The point is that healthy, good, complex friendships and relationships are collectively a part of the happiness formula and a healthy life. There is a challenge and an art to balancing and blending a life with other adults. Throw in some kids and we are knitting a complicated design. It seems to me, if it all is handled enough compassion and understanding, sprinkled with just the right amount of independence and dependence that our relationships with others have the capability to extend our lives, to keep us, and our loved ones, living healthy…. maybe even greater than anything else we do to improve our health. 

I recently had a nightmare about one of my children drowning. I woke up still feeling the loss even though that child is the one who woke me up from that dream. (I can't say he isn't wearing a life jacket even when he takes a bath.... Just sort of kidding.)   Loving anyone, even our own children, can make even the strongest of people feel vulnerable.

There is an inherit risk when we give something  (or fear the loss). But most especially when what is given is something as precious as the influential emotion, love. I think it is interesting studies show when we don't (wisely) take that risk and say, "What's wrong with getting hurt?" we actually hurt ourselves more in the long run. How ironic.     


Articles referenced in this post: