The truth shall set you free. And keep you alive.
I didn’t like the results of my health check-up. My heart rhythm was out of whack and I was having trouble with erections. I went to my doctor expecting to get some kind of pink pill for my heart and a blue pill to get my erections back on track. Instead of giving me pills he asked about my life. He wanted to know about my stress levels, how my relationship with my wife was going, whether the down economy had impacted my income, whether I was sleeping well, and how often I exercised.
He also wanted to know what I was eating. “You’ve put on some weight since I saw you last,” he told me. “I’d like you to see a cardiologist to better understand what’s going on with your heart. It may also tell us something about your erections, since the blood flow is all part of the same system.” He actually seemed more concerned about my diet than he was about the other problems. “Listen, all the new science is telling us that what we put in our bodies is way more important than most people believe,” he told me. “Change your diet, change your life.”
Growing up, I was a big meat eater. It was the 1950s and all those who lived in suburban Los Angeles had big freezers in the garage with sides of beef and other meat stacked high in frozen blocks to be thawed and eaten at a moments notice. I was a small kid growing up and my mother thought that eating meat would make a man out of me. We had meat, literally, three times a day. She’d serve hamburgers for breakfast, a lamb chop or chicken for lunch, and steak for dinner.
There was also a manly view of what not to eat. Fruits and vegetables were for girls, mostly. My mother ate them, but for me and my father she served white potatoes and white rice. She told me that some fruits were necessary so we got applesauce with some of the meals.
I didn’t get any taller “eating like a man,” but, like most of the kids in the neighborhood, I put on weight. I was very active in sports so I was able to keep my weight down. But over the years it kept creeping up. I’d try various diets, but I liked the idea of being manly. I had images of “man the hunter” killing wild animals and eating the meat over a campfire. It took me a while to learn the truth.
The Truth Shall Set You Free and Keep You Alive
My first shift of understanding came when I read John Robbins book, Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth. I was touched by the cruelty and violence that was present in the meat we eat and its impact on the community of life on the planet. “We don’t realize,” says Robbins, “that in every Big Mac there is a piece of the tropical rainforests, and with every billion burgers sold another hundred species become extinct. We don’t realize that in the sizzle of our steaks there is the suffering of animals, the mining of our topsoil, the slashing of our forests, the harming of our economy, and the eroding of our health.”
The second shift occurred when I read The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. According to a New York Times review, “The book focuses on the knowledge gained from the China Study, a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine that showed high consumption of animal-based foods is associated with more chronic disease, while those who ate primarily a plant-based diet were the healthiest.”
Former President Bill Clinton cited the book in explaining how he lost 24 pounds by converting to a plant-based diet in hopes of improving his heart health. We all remember good-old boy Bill stopping in fast-food restaurants to get his daily fix and get up close and personal with the electorate. Clinton traces his decision to change back to the morning in February 2010 when he woke up looking pale and feeling tired. His cardiologist quickly brought him into New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to insert a pair of stents. One of his veins had given out, a frequent complication following the quadruple-bypass surgery he had undergone in 2004.
The third shift occurred when I came to understand that the meat I had been eating wasn’t “real food.” When many Americans think of farm animals, they picture cattle munching grass on rolling pastures, chickens pecking on the ground outside of picturesque red barns, and pigs gobbling down food at the trough. But most of the meat we eat comes from large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). If we are what we eat, I wondered what we were eating.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Just like other factories, animal factories are constantly searching for ways to shave their costs. To save money, they’ve redefined what constitutes animal feed, with little consideration of what is best for the animals or for human health. As a result, many of the ingredients used in feed these days are not the kind of food the animals are designed by nature to eat.”
Just take a look at what’s being fed to the animals you eat.
- Same Species Meat
- Diseased Animals
- Feathers, Hair, Skin, Hooves, and Blood
- Manure and Other Animal Waste
- Drugs and Chemicals
So, what should we eat if we want to stay healthy? To get answers I turned to an expert I knew I could trust. David L. Katz, MD., MPH, is Founding Director Yale University Prevention
Research Center, Editor-in-Chief Childhood Obesity Journal, and author of newly published Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well. He says we can reduce our risk of every major chronic disease – heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia, and obesity – by an astonishing 80 percent – more than any drug or intervention could ever hope to do.
Doing it is simple, but not easy. He offers ten rules to follow and then gives you the skills you need to follow them:
- Avoid fast food.
- Drink water, not lots of soda and juice.
- Eat lots of salads.
- Exercise every day.
- Make sleep a priority.
- Avoid mindless eating. Eat only when eating is your primary activity.
- Eat real food. Avoid foods that contain ingredients an eight-year-old can’t pronounce.
- Plant what you eat. Go off the “see food” diet. Eat only what you intend to eat.
- Tell everyone you’re committing to a new way of eating.
- Choose what you chew. Take healthy snacks with you wherever you go.
It’s your choice. You can live long and well or die sicker and younger. It’s your choice. I’ve followed my doctor’s advice. I’ve changed the way I eat. I’ve lost 15 pounds in two months. I feel better than ever. My erections are back and my heart hasn’t missed a beat. Eating real is a great way to live.
Photo Credit: amanosamarpan /Flickr