Monday, October 24, 2011

Why Oil is NOT Healthy

We have been taught that oil – especially olive and canola oils – are heart healthy.  They are good for us, and we should swap out butter and margarine and cook with these heart healthy oils instead.   However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth. 

The heart healthy rumor about oil came from the study that coined the “Mediterranean Diet”, The Lyon Diet Heart Study.  In this study, all 605 patients had survived one heart attack.  The patients in the treatment group were told to eat a “Mediterranean Diet,” high in fruits, vegetables, breads, beans, nuts, and seeds.  They were told to go light on dairy products, fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and wine.  They were also told to add in olive oil, for its monounsaturated fats.  The people in the control group were given no dietary advice, and ate a diet typical of most Westerners, particularly high in saturated fat.

The study had very good results:  The people on the Mediterranean diet were 50-70% less likely to experience any kind of cardiac ailments.  Since olive oil was specifically recommended in this study for it’s monounsaturated fat content, this is where the belief that olive oil is healthy originated.

But what we don’t hear about the Lyon Diet Heart Study is this little factoid:  Fully 25% of the people on the Mediterranean diet had either died or experienced a new cardiac event during the four-year study.  That’s one in four people on the Mediterranean diet!

Compare this to Caldwell Esselstyn’s diet, which is vegan with no oil or other fats included.  The patients in this study had suffered from an average of about three cardiac events before the study started.  Of all of his patients that fully adhered to his diet, there was not one further cardiac event in twelve years

If you want further proof, here’s another compelling study:  A group of students’ arteries were tested after eating a 900-calorie breakfast, to see the effects of fat on the blood vessels’ ability to dilate and contract.  Our blood vessels need to be able to expand and contract to regulate blood flow to the organs that need it most.  Half of the students had a fat free breakfast of 900 calories, and the other half had a fatty breakfast of 900 calories.  After breakfast, the student’s arteries were tested to see how quickly their arteries could bounce back after being restricted for five minutes.  The arteries of the group that had no fat in their breakfast bounced right back after being constricted for five minutes; but the arteries of the group that had the fatty breakfast took up to six hours to regain their ability to dilate and contract normally.  All oil, my friends, is 100% fat.  Even olive oil. 

Heart disease is not really a disease of the heart; it’s a disease of the blood vessels that occurs when blood (and the oxygen it carries) cannot get to the heart because the vessels are blocked up and compromised.  When a blood vessel to the heart gets clogged up and closes, then the heart does not receive any blood, and a heart attack occurs.  Our vessels are probably the most important part of our overall health, and fat undoubtedly has a negative effect on our vessels – even “healthy” oils, because they are still 100% fat.  Therefore, many doctors, including Caldwell Esselstyn, recommend no oil in the diet.

I’ll finish with my personal experience with Dr. Esselstyn.  After being vegan for 4 or 5 years, I stood up at a conference and asked Dr. Esselstyn this question:  If I am 100% vegan and therefore not ingesting any cholesterol, why does my cholesterol remain so high at 230 mg/dL?  He challenged me to get the oil out of my diet.  He said that “eating fat causes the body to manufacture excessive amounts of cholesterol,” even if those fats come from plants.  I honestly didn’t believe him, but agreed to his challenge anyway.  My cholesterol had never been below 200 mg/dL, even when I first had it tested at 19. 

After just one month on his oil-free vegan diet my cholesterol fell to 151 mg/dL, and my LDL was so low that it was imperceptible on the cholesterol test!  When I added oil back in to my diet, my total cholesterol jumped right back up over 200 mg/dL again, and my LDL to 120 mg/dL.  For me, this is personal proof that really hits home:  Oil is not healthy!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tomato Eggplant Appetizer

When I first got married and started having a little fun in the kitchen I came across a recipe for an appetizer similar to this one.  Now I don’t follow any recipe and instead just wing it on my own, but it’s always a crowd pleaser and it’s simple to make.

1 Eggplant (about the same diameter as your tomatoes)
2 Large tomatoes
4 Yellow Peppers
1 Jar Whole Roasted Red Peppers
Chives – a few long ones and many diced pieces for garnish

  • Slice your tomatoes and eggplant, creating 8 full pieces each. 
  • Slice your yellow bell peppers and roasted red peppers into similarly-shaped round pieces, about the size of your tomato slices.  I know this is a little challenging, but just do the best you can.  You may want to use a hollowed out soup can to get the right size, and “trace” your knife around the pepper, using the can as your guide.
  • Spray olive oil and a little bit of salt and pepper on each side of your eggplant and yellow bell peppers.  Broil each side until soft and hot.
  • Start by placing a piece of eggplant on a plate, then stack a tomato, yellow bell pepper, and roasted red pepper, another piece of eggplant, yellow bell pepper and top off with a slice of tomato. 
  • Pour your favorite vinaigrette over the top and sprinkle with chives.
  • Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Animal Transportation

Ever wondered how pork gets to Hawaii?  Me either.  But if you knew, you’d probably start writing letters to the local papers, as I recently found myself doing. Laurelee Blanchard, who runs the Leilani Farm Sanctuary in Maui is a great friend of mine, so I was thrown into this topic recently as she fought hard with other animal rights activists for the plight of the pigs … and found huge success.

Hawaiians love their pork.  It’s one of their favorite cultural meals.  Next time you vacation in Hawaii, take notice how on Sundays the local parks are taken over by large families as the BBQs are fired up for a day of family fun.  Perhaps the thing I like most about Hawaii is this strong focus on family and friendships.  However, as the smell of BBQ pork starts wafting through the air over the pristine beaches, I can’t help but assume that most Hawaiians don’t know how their pork got to Hawaii either.

Until recently, most pork sold in the state of Hawaii came from live pigs.  This sounds great – get your meat as fresh as possible and all – but we don’t often think about how our dinner is transported.  According to Laurelee in an article recently published in the Maui News (October 8, 2011):

“A transported pig's journey begins with a nearly 24-hour-long truck ride from Iowa, Montana or South Dakota to a holding facility in Vacaville, Calif. Hundreds of pigs are kept at this facility for several hours before being transported, via truck, to the Port of Oakland.

The pigs are then crammed onto a vessel where they are provided neither straw nor other bedding to protect them from extreme temperatures or slippery flooring. There is only one livestock attendant onboard responsible for caring for as many as 920 pigs. For approximately five days, the animals are forced to live in their own feces, urine and vomit, and even amid the corpses of other pigs until the dead animals are thrown overboard by the livestock attendant.

Upon arriving in Honolulu, it is usually several hours before the pigs are unloaded from the ship. They are left suffering in the heat with minimal ventilation before they are transported, via truck, to the Hawaii Livestock Cooperative slaughterhouse, which has been cited numerous times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the inhumane handling and slaughter of animals, where they are slaughtered and processed.

As if the extreme animal suffering weren't enough, scientists, as well as health and food safety officials, have noted that the stress of long-distance transport of live animals increases the animals' susceptibility to disease. This, in turn, increases the risk of food-borne illness and disease transmission to humans who consume meat from these animals.”

We don’t like to know about these things, because then we have to think about them.  Yet, the plight of a pig’s journey is quite similar to most animals who end up in our meat supply.  You can literally see chickens stuffed into cages with their heads poking out the sides of a huge transportation truck as it flies down the freeway at 60 mph.  Cows also can endure very long trips that can last as long as 36 hours, forced to stand the entire way, often with no access to food, water or bedding.  They might be driven like this through the 110° heat an Arizona summer or the -10° freeze of a Minnesota winter.  These are conditions that we wouldn’t dream of putting a human through, so why would we do it to animals?

Fortunately, thousands of pigs have received a victory at the hands of Laurelee Blanchard and the other animal rights activists who spent so much time to save them from this suffering:  Three of the main supermarkets on the islands now refuse to purchase pork that has been shipped live from the mainland.  All of these supermarket chains have vowed to buy frozen pork instead.  Interestingly, this may end up shutting down the only slaughterhouse on Oahu.

Yet, while this is a major victory for animal rights activists, it is, perhaps, a somewhat minor victory for the animals:  Not only do the pigs live their entire lives in a concentration camp-like hell, they are still slaughtered at the end of it.  And as I just pointed out, there are billions (no exaggeration here) of other animals like chickens and cows that also live a life of hell, only to be transported for hours in harsh conditions to their death at the end of the road.

So, this is one of the many reasons that I am vegan:  To save other sentient beings from as much suffering as I possibly can.  I’d like to live my life as a poem of compassion for others – humans and non-humans alike.

I think the biggest success about Laurelee’s efforts may be in how far she is spreading the word about compassion, and urging us all to reach deep inside to our sense of humanity … and decide not only to quit eating pork transferred alive for long distances, but to quit eating animals and their products altogether.  My hat is off to you, Laurelee!