My Plantcentric Journey

Archive for April, 2012

Have a friend battling breast cancer?

I would give her Rena Tarbet’s new book, There is Life After Breast Cancer.

Rena is a Stage 4 Breast Cancer survivor since 1975!  It is an inspirational book to help during the critical time of just being diagnosed.  Will you be a victim or victor.  Rena is certainly a victor.

Tips for Going Veggie

Tips for Going Veggie

 10:57 PM  Vegetarian

fresh vegetables

Laurie Maxwell, 26, of Chicago, who gave up red meat at the age of 12 for animal welfare reasons and then became a vegan five years ago, said she has never had any health issues from not eating meat.

“If anything, my skin is clearer, and I have lots of energy and vitality. People tell me all the time how young I look and how healthy I look. I have low cholesterol and I’m a good weight. So yeah, I’m very healthy.”

Vandana Sheth, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian and lifelong vegetarian, said the No. 1 concern of people thinking about becoming vegetarians is whether they can get enough protein, calcium and other nutrients on a vegetarian diet, but it is quite easy to get these nutrients from natural foods.

“Though supplements may be something to consider if you feel you can’t meet your nutritional needs naturally, if you are consuming the right foods, [supplements] are 100 percent not necessary,” she said.

For those just making the switch to a vegetarian diet, Kimberly Thedford, senior research nutritionist at Northwestern University, said imitation meat, also referred to as meat analogue, meat substitute, mock meat and faux meat, might be a good way to break the habit of eating real meat.

“I think the idea of completely reworking your diet is a little overwhelming,” she said. “You have to re-educate yourself.”

Read More : Non-animal Sources of Key Nutrients by Vanadana Sheth

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Sugar: The Bitter Truth

This video is about an hour and a half long, but well worth watching.

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Get the Skinny on this Noodle!

Love Love LOVE these!

Get the Skinny on This Noodle!

  • Posted by: Rachel Beller MS, RD
    Biggest Loser Nutritionist

You may have already heard that Tofu Shirataki noodles support a skinny waistline as they are super low in calories and carbs (1/2 bag = 20 calories, 3 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of fiber). Betcha didn’t know there are even more healthful benefits! Some studies, including two published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggest that the konjac fiber found in these noodles may lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol and also potentially help keep blood sugars in check.

I love that they can be found at most general markets at less than $1.50 a bag and come in different varieties from angel hair to macaroni. A personal favorite of mine and The Biggest Loser contestants is to stick to the long, thinner noodles. The key is to first rinse them out in a strainer, and then get creative by adding them to soups or tossing them into stir-fries with colorful vegetables. My trick is to substitute half of my whole-wheat pasta serving with shirataki noodles, creating a 50/50 low-calorie split. The contestants loved tossing the noodles in marinara and sprinkling in some parmesan cheese – YUM! Isn’t it the best when healthy meets delicious?


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The New York Times, Nina Planck, and Safety of Vegan Diets

The New York Times, Nina Planck, and Safety of Vegan Diets

by  on APRIL 23, 2012 in UNCATEGORIZED

Last week brought more shoddy coverage of vegan diets from The New York Times. This time, it was a debate about the safety of veganism. And it didn’t occur to the Times to solicit opinions from anyone with actual expertise in vegan nutrition.

At the center of the discussion was food writer and farmer’s market expert Nina Planck, who excels at making sweeping, unsupported observations about nutrition. She is woefully uninformed and spectacularly unconcerned about her lack of knowledge and credentials.

Planck believes that we have “extraordinary needs for nutrients not found in plants,” –including vitamins A and D, omega-3 fats, and carnitine–which translates to a need for what she refers to as “synthetic supplements.” I imagine that in referring to these supplements as “synthetic,” she’s hoping to convince us that they’re somehow inferior to the “real nutrients” found in food.

But let’s look at that. Vegan sources of the long chain omega-3 fats DHA and EPA aren’t synthetic; they’re derived directly from microalgae.  The DHA in fish ultimately comes from exactly the same source.

It’s the same with vitamin B12. Whether it ends up in a pill or a pork chop, it was produced by bacteria. The big difference is that the B12 in pills isn’t bound to protein, which turns out to be a good thing for bioavailability. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends vitamin B12 supplements for all people over the age of 50 since, in older people, B12 is better absorbed from pills than from animal foods. So much for the “supplements aren’t as good as food” argument.

I’ve written before about animal products versus plants for vitamins D and A. Vitamin D is very poorly supplied by foods and although you could technically get enough from fish, it’s not realistic or sustainable to do so. As a result, all of us, vegan and meat-eater alike, have to depend on fortified foods (the vitamin D added to cow’s milk is no more “natural” than the vitamin D in almond milk) or sun exposure or supplements. Vitamin D is an issue for everyone, not just vegans.

And since Americans get between a quarter and a third of their vitamin A from plant foods, they’d be in trouble if plant sources weren’t effective. The Institute of Medicine affirms that vitamin A needs can be met completely from plant foods. (But hey—these are just the world’s leading vitamin A researchers, so you can’t really expect them to know as much as a farmers’ market expert!)

Planck’s big concern is about babies and children, though, and she says that the breast milk of vegetarian women is dramatically lower in DHA than that of omnivores and also doesn’t provide adequate carnitine. Carnitine is an amino acid, but not an essential one since humans can manufacture it. There is no reason to think that vegan or vegetarian women would produce breast milk that is low in carnitine.

Some research shows that milk of vegetarian women is lower in DHA, though, which is not surprising.  But it’s higher than what has been provided by the infant formulas that have nourished generations of healthy babies. And, breastfeeding vegetarian mothers can easily raise DHA levels of their milk with supplements.

Planck says “The most risky period for vegan children is weaning. Growing babies who are leaving the breast need complete protein, omega-3 fats, iron, calcium and zinc. Compared with meat, fish, eggs and dairy, plants are inferior sources of every one.”

Yes, weaning is a critical period in infant feeding, and yes some animal foods do contain more protein, omega-3 fats, iron, calcium, and zinc. But does it matter? We don’t need “as much as possible” of every nutrient; we just need enough. So, if plant foods can provide enough, who cares whether some animal products have more?

If she wants to make the case that it’s easier to meet needs for some of these nutrients with animal foods, I can’t argue with that. That doesn’t mean that vegan kids can’t or don’t get enough. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have great data on the nutrient intake of vegan children. But we do know that vegan diets can indeed meet the nutritional needs of children. And it’s not as though omnivore children never have nutrient deficiencies.  In fact, excessive consumption of cow’s milk places toddlers at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Many U.S. children also don’t consume enough calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, folate, or vitamins A, C and E.

There is so much misinformation and confusion wrapped up in Planck’s two sentences about soy, that I’m not entirely sure how to decipher them. She says: “Soy protein is not good for a baby’s first food for the same reason that soy formula is not good for newborns. It’s a poor source of calcium, iron and zinc — and much too high in estrogen. It also lacks adequate methionine which babies and children need to grow properly.”

First, who says soy formula isn’t good for newborns? Babies grow and develop just fine on soy formula which has been around for nearly 100 years. And it’s fortified with all of the things—calcium, iron, zinc, methionine (and carnitine)—that Planck believes is missing from it.

As for soy protein as a “first food,” does she mean a first solid food? I’m not sure whether she’s confused or is just trying to confuse, because nobody recommends tofu or other soy products as a first solid food for young infants. First solids are nearly always enriched cereals. And as babies are weaned, they are introduced to a mixed diet of grains, legumes and veggies, making concerns about individual amino acids irrelevant.

Her information on vitamin B12 seems to come exclusively from an online article by a licensed acupuncturist who says that “studies consistently show that up to 50 percent of long-term vegetarians and 80 percent of vegans are deficient in B12.”  The “studies that consistently show” this turn out to be one study of 66 vegetarians and 29 vegans in Germany and the Netherlands. Other research doesn’t come close to confirming those percentages. The fact is that vegans who don’t supplement with B12 run the risk of deficiency. Those who take a supplement don’t.

There’s nothing new here. Nina Planck doesn’t like vegan diets and she doesn’t know nutrition science. That’s always a dangerous combination. The Nina Plancks of the world can’t be stopped from writing what they like, but it’s deplorable that the New York Times would provide them with a platform.

Edited to add: Thank you to Dr. Reed Mangels, author of The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book for giving me feedback on this post before I published it. Reed is THE expert on vegan nutrition for children and pregnant women.

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The Mediterranean Diet Myth – Vegetables, Fruit, Naturally Low Caloric Density, Hard Physical Work, Yes! Olive Oil, Nuts, Seeds, & Chocolate? I Don’t Think So!

The Mediterranean Diet Myth – Vegetables, Fruit, Naturally Low Caloric Density, Hard Physical Work, Yes! Olive Oil, Nuts, Seeds, & Chocolate? I Don’t Think So!

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I Thought Those High HDL’s Were My Ace in the Hole – Until I Read Dr. Lawrence Rudel’s Research

The Green African monkeys metabolize fat in the same way as humans, so they’re good stand-ins.. 

At the end of five years, their autopsies showed that the monkeys who were fed monounsaturated oil (olive) had higher HDLs (the good cholesterol) and lower LDLs (the bad cholesterol) than the ones fed the saturated fat diet.  The big surprise here:  Both groups had exactly the same amount of coronary artery disease.  The higher HDLs & lower LDLs of the olive oil group were meaningless.

Dr. Lawrence Rudel

If you received this post via email, click here to get to the web version with all the links–and to post a comment.

One week until my Utah “Centenarian Strategies” presentation–and except for some minor tweaking, it’s finished!

After May 3rd I’ll be back to blogging!  I’ve really missed it.  Posting on Facebook is just not the same.

I wanted to share a few slides that help explain why in spite of eating what I thought was a healthy diet–and exercising regularly–my weight continued to climb as I got older.

Maybe you’ve noticed the same thing yourself–& wondered why.

My weight continued to climb.

My cholesterol continued to climb.

My blood pressure continued to climb.

The Myth of the Mediterranean Diet – It Can Get You Fat

After seeing the Greek islands for myself last May, I understood why the Mediterranean Diet got its reputation for being heart healthy.  Steep hills, homegrown food, and isolation.

Imagine living on a craggy isolated Greek island, post-World War II.  You had to walk up and down steep hills everyday to tend to your garden and your animals.  There was no processed food coming onto the island.

You lived off of what you could grow yourself–tomatoes, greens, vegetables, fruits, and the wild purslane (high in omega-3s) growing on the hillside.  Sure you had a little cheese, fish, wine & olive oil–and fava beans.

You were heart-healthy because you worked hard, ate lots of plants, a little fish, and a little wine.  And that heart health came in spite of the olive oil–not because of it.

What’s the real story behind the virtues of the Mediterranean Diet?

The authentic post-World War II Mediterranean diet of Crete–lots of physical labor coupled with lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and just a little bit of olive oil, wine, & fish.

Br J Nutr. 2004–when researchers went back to Crete to look at the health of the islanders 50 years later–the group with the highest olive oil (MUFA) consumption had the highest heart disease, and those with the lowest olive oil intake had the the lowest heart disease.  Click here and here for more about why olive oil & the monounsaturated fats aren’t exactly health food.

The data on which the Mediterranean Diet is based came from the 1950’s.

At that time the people on the Isle of Crete had the lowest all-cause mortality. It was post-WWII, they were poor, didn’t have a lot to eat, ate mostly fresh fruits & veggies from their gardens, walked 9 miles a day, worked at hard physical labor and the highest consumption of oil was 3 TBS a day–and small amounts of fish. Big difference from how we live today.
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Drs. Lawrence Rudel, Dean Ornish & Robert Vogel on Olive Oil

  • Vogel:  Contrary to our hypothesis, our study found that omega-9 (oleic acid)–rich Olive Oil, impairs endothelial function after eating.  If you’ve been using olive oil because you think it’s healthy, it’s time to think again. The olive oil constricted blood flow by a whopping 31% after a meal in a Vogel’s study.  Dr. Robert Vogel
  • Rudel:  Rudel ran a five year study feeding olive oil and saturated fat to African Green monkeys.  The monkeys metabolize fat in the same way as humans, so they’re good stand-ins.. At the end of five years, their autopsies showed that the monkeys who were fed olive oil had higher HDLs (the good cholesterol) and lower LDLs (the bad cholesterol) than the ones fed the saturated fat diet.  The big surprise here:  Both groups had exactly the same amount of coronary artery disease.  The higher HDLs & lower LDLs of the olive oil group were meaningless.  Rudel later repeated the study on rodents, and got the same results.  Dr. Lawrence Rudel
  • Ornish:  It’s 100% fat and 14% of it is saturated. At 120 calories a tablespoon it’s very easy to eat too much of “a bad thing”.  It won’t raise your LDL as much as butter or other saturated fats will,  so it might look like it’s reducing your cholesterol, but it’s still raising it.  It’s just not raising it as much other fats would!  It’s the omega-3’s that reduce inflammation and are “heart healthy”, and olive oil has very little omega-3, maybe 1%. It’s mostly omega-9, which has been shown to impair blood vessel function. 

The Myth of High HDL’s

There’s no doubt about it.

Eat a lot of nuts & olive oil, drink alcohol & you’ll raise your HDL’s.  But, are all high HDL’s created equal?

Turns out, there’s good HDL & there’s bad HDL.  Bet you didn’t know that!

It’s not about how high your HDL’s are.  It’s about how effective they are–and that’s called “Efflux Capacity”.

The HDL Catch-22:  HDL is altered in the presence of systemic inflammation and its ability to inhibit inflammation & transport LDL becomes compromised.

  • Nuts are loaded with inflammatory omega-6s, that could impair HDL.
  • Belly fat is an engine for inflammation, that could impair HDL.
  • Olive oil is inflammatory, and may impair HDL.
  • The typical Western DIet is inflammatory, and may impair HDL.
  • A diet devoid of vegetables & fruit is inflammatory, and impair HDL.
  • A diet where the omega-6s (found in oil, nuts, saturated fat, animal products, & processed foods) far exceeds the omega-3s (found in flax, chia, greens, vegetables, & fish) is inflammatory, and may impair HDL.
  • Worry less about how high or low your HDL’s are–and worry more about what you’re eating that’s inflaming your blood vessels.

Read more about HDL’s & Efflux Capacity here.  A must read!

Read more about Olive Oil here.

Check Out the Omega-6 to Omega-3 Content of Nuts & Seeds

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Chart Created by Joanne L. Mumola Williams, PhD, Foods for a Long Life

The ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio should be between 1:1 to 4:1, to prevent inflammation–and it’s not so easy to do!  The typical Western diet has a ratio of 17:1.

Oil, nuts, seeds, corn-fed animal products, trans-fats, & processed foods are the biggests sources of inflammatory omega-6’s.

The more omega-6’s you are eating, the harder it is for plant-based omega-3’s like greens/flax/chia to convert into the kind of omega-3’s you need to prevent inflammation!

But, if you cut out the oil & nuts–then the chia/flax/greens REALLY DO CONVERT into DHA and EPA–the kind of anti-inflammatory omega-3s we need for a healthy brain/arteries/body.   I had mine tested.  I know that plant-based no-added oil or nuts really works!

Why I Gained Weight & Inflammation on the Mediterranean Diet

Eating just a small 1/3 cup of almonds a day.

Eating just a few squares of super-dark 85% cacao chocolate a day.

Eating just 3 TBS. of olive oil a day. I used it to cook with, to roast vegetables, in my salad dressings, & as a “dip” for my bread.

I had no idea how much fat & calories were in these Mediterranean gems until I tracked them for this presentation slide.

846 extra calories a day from chocolate, nuts, & olive oil.

84% of those calories are from fat.

21% of those calories are from saturated fat.

I was consuming 84.3 grams of fat  (21.1 grams as saturated fat) just from nuts, olive oil & chocolate – and that’s a conservative estimate.

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The Veg-Heavy Green Smoothie Snack Compared to Handful of Almonds????  No Contest!!


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Compare the Nutrients in the Green Smoothie to the Nuts?

For some perspective–those 5815 mgs of omega-6’s from almonds are practically a day’s worth–although it’s relative to how many omega-3’s you consume.  If you’re also eating tahini, more nuts & seeds, oils, meat, & processed foods—you can only imagine what your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio looks like!

Anyone as surprised as I was from these statistics?

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7 Top Sources of Plant-Based Protein

My Top 7 Sources of Plant-Based Protein

I say it all the time. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not only possible to optimize your health on a plant-based diet; when done right, I actually recommend it.
But where do you get your protein?
I field this question constantly. Despite deeply ingrained but misleading conventional wisdom, the truth is that you can survive without meat, eggs and dairy. Believe it or not, you can actually thrive, and never suffer a protein deficiency. Because no matter how active your lifestyle, a well-roundedwhole food plant-based diet provides more than enough protein to satisfy the body’s needs without all the artery-clogging saturated fats that dominate the typical American diet.
I speak from experience. As a vegan endurance athlete, I place a high tax on my body. And yet my plant-based diet has fueled me for years without any negative impact on building lean muscle mass or recovery. In fact, at age 45 I continue to improve and am as fit, healthy, and strong as I have ever been.
Here’s a list of my top-7 plant-based foods high in protein:
1. Quinoa: 11g Protein / Cup
A grain like seed, quinoa is a high protein alternative to rice or pasta, served alone or over vegetables and greens. It provides a good base for a veggie burger and is also a fantastic breakfast cereal when served cold with almond or coconut milk and berries.
2. Lentils: 17.9g  Protein / Cup
Delicious, nutritious and super easy to prepare. Trader Joe’s sells them pre-cooked and I’m not afraid to just eat them cold right out of the package for lunch or a snack on the run.
3. Tempeh: 24g Protein / 4 Ounces
A fermented soybean-based food, tempeh is a healthy protein-packed alternative to it’s non-fermented cousin tofu. It makes for a great veggie burger and doubles as a tasty meat alternative to meatballs in pasta, or over brown rice and vegetables.
4. Seitan: 24g Protein / 4 Ounces
An excellent substitute for beef, fish and soy products, one serving provides about 25% of your RDA of protein. But not for those with gluten sensitivities, as it is made from wheat gluten.
5. Beans (Black, Kidney, Mung, Pinto): 12-15g Protein / Cup
I love beans. Great on a veggie burrito, in chili and soups, on salads or over rice with vegetables, beans of all varieties are a daily staple of my diet.
6. Spirulina: 6g Protein / 10 grams
A blue-green algae, spirulina is a highly bioavailable complete protein containing all essential amino acids. At 60% protein (the highest of any natural food), it’s a plant-based protein powerhouse that finds it way into my Vitamix blends daily.
7. Hemp Seeds: 16g Protein / 3 Tbsp
With a perfect ration of omega-6 and omega-3 EFA’s, hemp seeds are another bioavailable complete protein rivaled only by spirulina. A simple and great addition to a multitude of dishes, from breakfast cereal to salads to smoothies to vegetables and rice.
Bonus: Here’s a little inspirational video!

Published April 11, 2012 at 4:45 PM
About Rich Roll

Rich is a two-time top finisher at the Ultraman World Championships and in 2010 was the first person (along with colleague Jason Lester) to complete EPIC5 – 5 ironman-distance triathlons on 5 Hawaiian Islands in under a week.
His inspirational memoir FINDING ULTRA: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself (Crown / Random House) hits bookshelves May 22, 2012 and is currently available for pre-order.
For more on how Rich fuels his family and training, check out his and his wife Julie’s plant-based e-cookbook JAI SEED – a beautiful coffee-table style cookbook for the digital iPad set that contains 77 glossy pages of plant-based nutrition information and easy to prepare recipes certain to satisfy even the most finicky family member.
Follow Rich on FacebookTwitter or at

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