Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UN Advocates a Meat Free Diet

While the US leads the world in many things, we seem to be sadly behind in the area of food.  Huge corporate interests lobby hard to keep the public from seeing just how gruesome the slaughterhouses are (if you knew, you wouldn’t eat their meat,) just how filthy and cruel the dairy farms are (if you knew, you wouldn’t eat their cheese,) just how dangerous genetically modified foods are (if you knew, you wouldn’t eat their products) and just how damaging factory farms are to our environment (if you knew, you’d go vegan.) 

Many European countries do not subscribe to some of our common food production practices; for example, they are so concerned about the risks of eating genetically modified foods that they have completely banned them.  Yet our government keeps telling us that genetically modified foods are completely healthy.  If that’s true, then why have so many countries banned them?  I don’t have a degree in agriculture but I do have a good deal of common sense, and common sense is telling me that something smells fishy.

There are many reasons to support a vegan diet, but I’m just one vegan from Gig Harbor, Washington.  You may not be swayed by me, but you might be swayed by the United Nations.

The UN is now publicly urging the world’s citizens to move to a vegan diet.  A recent UN report claims that “a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to saving the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”  The report also points out that as the world’s population approaches over 9 billion people by 2050, it will not be possible to sustain the per capita consumption of meat and dairy products that we are currently eating.  We will deplete our resources if we attempt to do so, noting that “agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions,”

For a political organization like the UN to strongly advocate the vegan diet is enormously predictive and important.  They put legs behind the vegan diet, when many are trying to convince you that the vegan diet is just something that those California hippies are still trying to push.  Perhaps those California hippies were decades ahead of their time. 

To read an important article about this UN report from England’s Guardian newspaper, click the following link:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Heroin and Chocolate

We are often told that “all things are okay in moderation.”  A little bit of chocolate, a couple of glasses of wine, a small piece of cake… As long as we eat and drink in moderation, all is well.  But is it really? 

Heroin comes from a plant – hey, it’s vegan! – yet would we argue that heroin, in moderation, is okay?  Of course not.  Heroin is addictive, and people who get addicted to heroin have a heck of a time getting off it.  Many never do, and die from their heroin addiction.

What does this have to do with chocolate?  Chocolate, indeed many other foods as well, like cheese, sugar and meat, is also addictive.  I don’t mean that in a trite way.  I mean they are totally addictive, like heroin is.  Studies show that when we eat these foods, receptors in our brains start firing off, giving us strong feelings of pleasure, just like heroin.  We start craving these foods, eat them when we aren’t even hungry, and go to great lengths to get them.  As Neal Barnard, MD, points out in his new book, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, “No one ever went to a convenience store at 9:00 at night to buy cauliflower.”  (page 37)  Why?  Because cauliflower is not addictive.  Broccoli, lentils, carrots, spinach, chickpeas … they are not addictive. We don’t have unnatural cravings for them and we don’t overeat them when they are in their natural, wholesome states. 

But let’s get back to chocolate and heroin.  Heroin snatches people into its deathly grip by firing off pleasure receptors in the brain every time a person takes heroin.  When you don’t take it, the brain starts having massive cravings, and the person will go crazy trying to get a hit so that they’re pleasure receptors will once again be satiated.  The need is so strong that they will steal from their own mother, alienate themselves from family and friends, and put themselves in danger to get the money to buy more heroin.  

And isn’t that true, to a lesser extent admittedly, with chocolate and other addictive foods?  I have, and know many who have also, snuck away with chocolate, sugar or other treats and scarfed them down alone in a secret place where they couldn’t get caught. I know people who have passed up an opportunity to go out with friends so they could stay at home with a gallon of ice cream.  A good friend ate her husband’s birthday pie – the entire pie – before he got home from work to have any himself.  Another person I know sat alone in her car in the driveway and ate a large bag of Doritos before her husband came out, knocked on the window, and said, “What the F*%& are you doing???”  Hmmm.  Sounds vaguely familiar.  In fact, sounds just like the behaviors of an addict.

Still not convinced that food can be truly addictive?  Then let me hit you over the head with this study:  Researchers at the University of Michigan did a study in chocolate bingers using the drug Naloxone[1].  Naloxone is a drug used to treat heroin addicts, and it works by blocking the receptors in the brain that heroin stimulates.  If the person is on Naloxone and takes heroin, they won’t get the high they are used to getting because the receptors in the brain won’t get stimulated.  The researchers gave the chocolate lovers Naloxone, and then put out a tray of chocolates.  Guess what?  Although this group was made up of self-proclaimed chocolate lovers, not many chocolates were eaten.  The chocolate still looked and tasted the same as it usually did to the study participants, but they didn’t get the same euphoric feeling that they usually got from chocolate, and so they quit eating them after one or two.  While it sounds like Naloxen might be your miracle drug, like most drugs, it has side effects and isn’t appropriate for the average person.

I know I’ve been blogging about food addictions a lot lately, but I have uncovered a serious truth in my life that I am convinced could help millions of people if they would take it seriously:  Certain foods are very addictive – just like heroin, even if not to the same degree.  We simply can’t keep telling each other that eating them in moderation is okay.  It’s not.  Trying to moderate addictive foods is like trying to moderate your intake of heroin, and inevitably leads to binging of these foods.  And while food addicts don’t usually die from a food overdose like heroin addicts die from a drug overdose, their continual overeating of these toxic foods leads to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other maladies … and people die of these food related diseases more than anything else in the world.  Experts believe that 70-80% of all deaths are due to food related diseases, like type II diabetes. 

Yet because food is socially acceptable, we minimize how bad it can be, and make it “okay” to eat it.  In fact, we make it not just socially acceptable, but we make it practically a requirement – you must have cake on your birthday, and you must eat turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.  This is completely unhealthy.  Should you choose to try (and try and try again) to eat these foods in “moderation,” you will fight the same losing battle you’ve been fighting most of your life. 

To break free, you simply must quit eating these foods altogether.  Do not try to moderate them, and do not splurge every now and then unless you’re willing to accept the consequences – spiraling back into addiction, spending your days starting yet another new diet and wondering why you can’t seem to control your eating.

Not everyone is addicted to food.  I know people who can have a few bites of a hot fudge sundae and be fine pushing the rest away.  But if there are certain foods, be it cookies, doughnuts, chips, pizza, or something else, that you have strong cravings for and can never seem to eat in moderation, you are almost certainly addicted. 

The good news is that you can break free.  You can break free from living in a constant state of dieting and depression – if you can stick to eating a healthy vegan diet for just 30 days.  You will probably crave certain foods for a few days or maybe even a few weeks, but if you can just stick to it for 30 days, I can just about guarantee you that all cravings will go away, and by then, you’ll also have lost some noticeable weight and will be feeling much better.  

I truly believe that 20 years from now, food addiction will be recognized by the medical establishment as a serious condition.  People are starting to speak up about it, and a few cutting edge doctors are starting to prove it (Neal Barnard, MD, Joel Fuhrman, MD and others).  But if you need more proof, quit reading and just do it – for 30 days, eat nothing but fruits, veggies, whole grains and beans in their natural forms without covering them with oil, fats, salt or sugar.  Then you can prove it to yourself.

Happy Eating,

[1] Drewnoski A, Krahn DD, Demitrack MA, Nairn K, Gosnell BA.  Taste responses and preferences for sweet high-fat foods:  evidence for opioid involvement.  Physiol Behav 1992; 51:371-9.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why I'm So Mad ...

I’m really, really mad. Most people can tell you how many days Kim Kardashian was married, yet hardly anyone I ask has heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Google it.  It will freak you out.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean where all the currents converge, a massive garbage dump has collected.  I mean a garbage dump that’s estimated to be the size of France.  And that’s just the surface area – no one really knows just how deep it goes, but it could be miles deep.  Where is all this garbage coming from?  It’s mainly coming from plastic products that somehow find their way into the water.  Plastic does not break down very easily, which is common knowledge, yet what really happens when we throw plastic products away?  If they end up in our waterways they are likely to find themselves swept out to sea with the current, eventually stopping in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  A quick Google search will instantly reveal pictures of plastic dishes, plastic Barbie dolls, and most commonly, plastic bottles, all floating around in a huge mess in the middle of the ocean, creating a massive garbage dump, the size of France, in the middle of the Pacific.  Fish, dolphins and other sea critters can get caught in this mess and die.  It’s devastating, yet very few people even know about it!

So I find myself, a concerned citizen, in that place of not really knowing what to do about it, but being very upset about it nevertheless.  I started noticing on a recent vacation to Bali that plastic bottles were strewn all along the side of the roads, on the beaches, and in people’s yards.  I went to a burrito restaurant last week and cringed as the young man donned a pair of fresh new gloves, made my burrito, then took them off and threw them away before ringing up my order.  I wondered how many gloves fast food restaurants go through in a day doing this.  I see people in the grocery check-out line putting every type of produce into those little plastic baggies – I understand putting a hundred green beans in a plastic bag (preferably a paper bag, if your grocery store offers them) but why on earth put bananas in a plastic bag?  Why put apples or broccoli in a plastic bag?  Just get them home in your canvas tote where you’ll rinse them off anyway.  Speaking of canvas totes, what about all the people still using plastic shopping bags at every trip?  At the airport a few weeks ago, I noticed an entire 4’ garbage can overflowing by 8:00 am with large plastic bottles and spray cans that people forgot they cannot carry on to the plane … and that was just one security checkpoint at one airport.  The amount of waste we are creating is horrific.

I’m no expert on the environment, but I don’t think we need to be experts to understand that a garbage dump the size of France in the middle of the ocean is not a good thing.  We vegans have all heard about how our diet benefits the environment, and we can feel good about that, but what else can we do to make a difference?  How about…

·      Commit to using canvas totes at every grocery outing.  If you forget, you must go back to your car and get them, rather than use the grocery store’s plastic bags.
·      Bring your canvas grocery totes to non-grocery stores, like Target or the book store.
·      Never allow checkers to put individual items like tooth paste or washing machine soap into individual plastic bags “for your safety.”  These products are already sealed like a vault, and they are not going to leak in your tote bag.
·      Commit to only using produce bags for very small items, like green beans, that need to be contained.  Look for paper bags instead, and request your grocer carry them if they don’t.
·      Buy a gorgeous water bottle and only allow yourself to drink from it or from a glass – no more paying for water in plastic bottles.  This tip can also save you a lot of money.
·      Commit to drinking beverages you buy in convenience stores only from fountain-style dispensers – not from plastic bottles. 
·      Just before you take your garbage out to the garbage can, clean out your cat’s litter box and just throw it in with the load going out to the garage – don’t use individual little plastic bags which then go into the garbage can anyway.
·      Instead of buying disposable plastic food storage containers (like the Ziploc or Glad brands) that you dispose of after a handful of uses, buy either non-plastic containers or more durable plastic containers (like Tupperware) that you can use years on end.

These are just a few ideas that I came up with quickly.  Yet there must be hundreds of ways we can cut back our plastic garbage.  What ways can you think of to help reduce your corner of the garbage patch?  I’d love to hear your ideas!



PS.  If you haven’t done it yet, go to my Facebook site and “like” The Vegan Next Door!  I always post when a new blog goes up.

PPS.  A big thanks to my friend Eric Depperschmidt, who opened my eyes to this topic.  J

Monday, December 12, 2011

Navigating Through the Holidays, Vegan-Style

The holidays are stressful for most people, but there are added stresses for vegans:  How do you ask your family to cook a vegan meal for you?  If they are coming to your house, do you make two meals, or request that they eat vegan?  What do you do when someone gets confrontational about your diet at the holiday table?  No worries – here are all your answers!

The first thing you must decide is whether you will be eating vegan for the holiday meal.  If you are vegan for health reasons only, you may choose to splurge at this time of year, but I don’t recommend it – one splurge usually leads to many more, which leads you straight back to your old bad habits. If you are vegan for ethical reasons, then there is no reason to treat this day differently than any other – animals suffered and were killed for these holidays just like any other day, so you obviously won't be eating meat or dairy.

The next set of decisions involves where you’ll be eating.  Is a family member hosting dinner, or will it be at your house?  If you’ll be going to someone else’s house for dinner, it’s pertinent to call the host/ess.  I always suggest offering to bring your own food; not only does this make life easier on your host/ess, it also ensures you that you will get a fully vegan meal.  Many people, with great intentions, end up using dairy, eggs or honey inadvertently when trying to cook vegan.  If you can bring a dish that is a meal all-in-one (such as a casserole,) this allows you to eat heartily and also offer some to others, so they will be able to see just how delicious vegan food can be.  If your host/ess insists on cooking for you, then make sure that he or she knows exactly what a vegan diet is.  Gracefully stress that vegan is different from vegetarian, and explain those differences.  Offer up vegan websites with holiday recipes, or offer up recipes yourself.  Again, this makes life so much easier for your host/ess.

If you are hosting the holiday dinner, then you have another big decision to make:  Will you be making one vegan and one non-vegan meal, or will you request that everyone eat vegan?  At my house, I now cook the holiday meal every year, and everyone eats vegan.  The first year I hosted, I made absolutely sure that my recipes were delicious, and didn’t make anything for the first time and risk it not tasting good.  I offered all the traditional favorites – mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, and apple pie – all made with vegan ingredients.  They just happened to be the most delicious vegan versions you’ve ever had (Thanks, WholeFoods!)  That first year, everyone crowed about how good the food was; I think they expected a dismal dinner!  But that careful preparation set me up for all the years to come.  People look forward to my dinner and know it will taste good. I always start dinner by giving gratitude for a warm house, great family and plenty of nourishing food. 

Now for a common question that doesn’t just apply to the holidays:  How do you handle confrontational family members who attack your dietary choices at the dinner table?  I hope your family is open-minded and supportive about your decision to be vegan, but if someone is not, remember these two steps:  First, remember that this is not about you.  Even if you have a long history of not getting along with this person, their issue with your diet is simply not about you.  It’s their own "stuff" coming out under the guise of your diet. 

Second, answer them in one of two ways:  First, if they ask “real” questions, such as “How do you get protein?” (Or, if they’re being cantankerous, “You can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet!  I saw that on TV last week!”) just take a deep breath, keep your cool and answer the question.  Try your hardest not to get defensive – there is no need, as your diet it great for your health, the animals, and the planet – it will hold up on it’s own without you taking a defensive posture.  There will likely be many questions, so have patience, and be solid in your heart that you’re doing the right thing for you.  If they don’t really have questions, or are clearly just trying to press your buttons and get you riled up, simply use this phrase as many times as you need to:  “If you’re truly interested in learning about the vegan diet, I suggest you read ______________ (such as Diet for a New America, by John Robbins.)  Once you’ve read it, I’d be happy to answer any questions you still have.”  This basically forces them to take action before the conversation can go on.  I’ve stalled a specific relative for years now when I used this phrase back around 2004.  He finally quit badgering me because he has no intention of educating himself on the vegan diet, and I politely told him I have no interest in having an argument with him about it until he has educated himself on the topic.  It’s worked like a charm. 

If you have a really argumentative and downright nasty person at the table who just won’t let it go, then say, “I am not asking you to change your diet, so I’d appreciate it if you would quit badgering me about mine.  Can we change the subject now, please?”  Everyone at the table will appreciate it.

One last note:  Do not solicit arguments by preaching about the vegan diet at the dinner table.  Many people will already feel threatened by your diet because they know they are not healthy and don’t want to have to face it.  If you start preaching about your diet to them, they will likely feel badly about themselves and may get defensive.  Plus, the holidays are about enjoying each other and being grateful for each other – not about asserting personal opinions onto others.  So, to avoid riling up your relatives, keep the topic off your diet unless someone else brings it up proactively.  

I certainly hope your holiday table is pleasant and happy and full of joyful people who respect each other. Remember, your decision to be vegan is doing so much good for your health, the suffering of animals and the environment, that the holidays should be extra joyful!  What a blessing to be able to share your holiday table with the people you love, eating nourishing food that supports your values.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Do YOU Have a Food Addiction?

I recently had a huge shift in awareness.  The kind that makes you wonder how you could possibly have missed it for so many years.  It has to do with food addictions.  My own, in fact, that I didn’t even realize I had. 

I have been aware of the topic of food addictions and have even blogged about it before (Food Attachments and Addictions, August 4, 2011).  Yet, I suppose I minimized it in my own head.  Yes, I love cookies, and simply cannot stop at one or two, but I only ate them about once or twice a week, so I didn’t think I was truly addicted to them.  That word seemed a bit over the top – something that described other people.

However, my great friend Emily Boller, who lost 100+ pounds on Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live diet, recently challenged me about my sugar eating.  I got to thinking about what she said, and was inspired to do some research, where I came across this little quiz.  (Note: I’ve truncated this quiz, and you can substitute “cookies/sweets” with “chips/salt” or whatever food you can’t seem to say no to):

You Might be Addicted to Cookies/Sweets If:
1.     You believe you can “control” how many cookies you ingest, yet most times are unsuccessful.
2.     You regularly have the thought that it is OK to eat sweets when ______ (blank) occurs.  (For me this was Date Night, birthdays, a weekend, I’m at my favorite vegan restaurant, my husband brings them home as a treat, etc.)
3.     You make excuses for eating sweets, blaming it on people, places and things.  (“Oh, it’s only licorice – it’s fat free!”)
4.     You start to become jealous of people around you who can eat sweets in a controlled manner.
5.     You expect a reward for staying away from sweets.
6.     You blame other people for all the sweets you eat.  (“My mother shouldn’t have let me eat all those sugary cereals growing up.”)
7.     You hang out with other people who constantly eat sweets (thus making it seem okay for you to eat them as well.)
8.     You begin to have an “I don’t care attitude” about all the sweets you eat, even though you know they aren’t good for you.
9.     You deny it’s really a problem.  (“Compared to most people, I’m a health nut!  I don’t really eat that many cookies and sweets…”)

When I answered these questions, I had this utter and profound realization:  This is me!!!!!  If this quiz helps define a sugar addict, then I am certainly an addict!  What was most shocking though, is that this little quiz didn’t come from someone’s personal blog or unverifiable source … it came from a very credible drug and alcohol website; yes indeed, everywhere you see the word “cookies/sweets” in the quiz above, it originally said “drugs/alcohol.”

Eckhart Tolle says that often times simply gaining knowledge about something will create the change you’ve been seeking.  That’s exactly what happened to me; just the knowledge that I was truly addicted to sweets caused this profound shift in my habits.  The day I read that quiz, I quit eating all refined sugars.  I suppose I was so disgusted that cookies and sweets literally had that kind of a hold on me that I wanted nothing to do with them any more.  For some reason, it seems more legitimate that cocaine could hold someone in the grips of addiction, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it be sugar.  Interestingly, about 1 in 100,000 people will die from cocaine addiction, but 70,000 in 100,000 will die from some diet-related disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes.  So food addictions are clearly not an uncommon problem.

Interestingly, in David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating, he says very clearly that salt, sugar, and fat – most especially when combined together – are very addictive.  I read that years ago and I always quote it in my lectures, but I guess I never realized that he was talking to me.  Now I know.

When I look back at my childhood, I can’t remember ever not scarfing down sugar at every chance I got.  It started with gummy bears, then moved to Ding Dongs and Ho Hos, Pixie Sticks and ice cream.  Every morning I had Fruit Loops or Cocoa Pebbles or Lucky Charms. As I grew up and became health conscious, I dropped those things for frozen yogurt (yay – a healthy treat - ha!!) and licorice (fat free!!) and eventually dropped that for my vegan treats – mainly vegan cookies and vegan ice cream.  They may not have any animal products in them, but they are packed full of refined sugars.

With this new discovery about the addictive qualities of food, I am reminded about all the lectures I have heard great speakers like Joel Fuhrman, MD, Michael Klapper, MD and Neal Barnard, MD give:  No one ever became addicted to broccoli, cantaloupe, black beans or brown rice.  These are nature’s foods, designed to nourish us and keep us healthy – not toss us in the physical and emotional throes of an addiction.

If you think you may be addicted to salt, sugar and/or fat, perhaps today is the day you will commit to setting yourself free.