Category Archives: Plant-Based Diets

Benji Kurtz Lost Over 100 Pounds In A Year By Eating A Plant-Based Diet

CNN just profiled Benji Kurtz, a man who lost over 100 pounds by eating a low-fat, whole food, plant-based diet:
Light Bulb Goes On: He Lost 100 Pounds With Plant-Based Diet, CNN, 28 July 2014

Dr. McDougall also profiled him, in a letter written by Kurtz himself:
Benji Kurtz: A Relatively ‘Healthy’ Obese Person

On Memorial Day weekend, 2013, Kurtz weighed 258 pounds. His highest weight was 278. Kurtz is 5’5″ tall. He was severely obese. He began by eliminating animal food and lost about 50 pounds. The rest came off after he stopped cooking with oil: “I was still eating oily pastas with fried tofu chunks.” And now, a year later:

“I’m down 110 lbs from when I started last year. From my all-time highest weight of 278, I’m nearly half-gone! My BMI is 24.4, and I weigh 146. My cholesterol is at 167 mg/dL, my HDL is 53 mg/dL , LDL is 99 mg/dL, triglycerides are 71 mg/dL, and glucose is 83. My blood pressure 117/77 mmHg and my resting pulse is 54 bpm.”

Kurtz was eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. He ate oatmeal for breakfast. He ate red lentil chili, baked potatoes, split pea soup, steamed vegetables, and pastas for lunch and dinner. He ate fruits, nuts, and seeds in between.

“He discovered that he could eat as much as he wanted of the right foods and not gain weight. His new way of eating felt more like abundance than deprivation.”

His cholesterol dropped from over 200 to 167, his blood pressure dropped, his health insurance rates dropped. His energy levels increased, so did his ability to taste:

“Once you start eating this way, your palate totally changes,” Kurtz said. “You are tasting food the way food was supposed to taste in the first place. Like a film has been lifted off your taste buds.”

And:

“I don’t crave foods I no longer eat. I’m not going to bed hungry. Everything about life is better.”

These last two points about taste and cravings aren’t often addressed. Cravings change. Dr. Doug Lisle explains this in his book The Pleasure Trap. We crave the foods we eat. We stop craving the foods we no longer eat. If we continue to eat animal fat, we will salivate over animal fat. We are, in effect, “trapped” by our perceptions, and by behaviors based on those perceptions. This is the part people don’t appreciate. They think life will be hard without “______” and what’s the point in living without “______.” They don’t take the plunge and discover that “______” was just a perception and that it can, quite literally, disappear.

Some before and after photos of Kurtz:

Benji Kurtz Weekly Weigh-InBenjiKurtz4

BenjiKurtz3BenjiKurtz6

Study: Plant-Based Diet Reduces Diabetic Neuropathy Pain

DiabeticNeuropathyDiabetic neuropathy is weird. It’s also called diabetic nerve pain but I’ve seen it take forms other than pain … tingling or itchiness, a sense of cold or hot, even burning, a feeling of bugs crawling on your arms and legs, numbness and loss of feeling that comes and goes. That’s in the extremities, the fingers, toes, arms, and legs. Neuropathy also goes on inside the body, in the gastrointestinal tract (bloating, difficulty swallowing, gastroparesis which is difficulty emptying the stomach, sluggish bowels/constipation or diarrhea), in the brain (dizziness, memory problems, insomnia), the urinary tract (dripping or incontinence), the sexual organs (erectile dysfunction), the eyes (blurry vision). It’s pervasive. No tissue or organ that is innervated is left untouched.

Diabetic neuropathy doesn’t just develop in people with diagnosed diabetes. It’s happening in people on their way to getting diabetes … people with prediabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, impaired fasting glucose, people who don’t yet know they have metabolic abnormalities, people who think their indigestion was from eating gluten-containing bread, or their tingling fingertips are from wrapping dental floss too tightly. In fact, it’s the sensations of neuropathy that often send people to the doctor and lead them to discover their diabetes.

Antidepressants, analgesics, and good glucose control can lessen pain, but there isn’t a therapy that treats the underlying cause.

However … There was a small study several years ago that found complete pain relief in 81% of participants who ate a low-fat (10-15% of calories), high-fiber, vegan diet:

Regression Of Diabetic Neuropathy With Total Vegetarian (Vegan) Diet, Journal of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine, 1994

“This study reports alleviation of the sharp, burning pains characteristic of systemic distal polyneuropathy (SDPN) patients with adult-onset (Type II) diabetes mellitus (AODM).

Twenty-one patients with known AODM and SDPN, average age 64, were trained in a low fat (10–15% of cats), high fiber, total vegetarian diet (TVD) of unrefined foods and conditioning exercise in a 25-day in-residence life-style program.

Complete relief of the SDPN [neuropathy] pain occurred in 17 of the 21 patients in 4 to 16 days. The numbness persisted, but had noticeably improved. Weight loss averaged 4-9 ± 2-6 kg during the 25 days. By the 14th day, the fasting blood glucose level averaged 35% lower for the 11 patients who were above 6-6 mmoll1, and the insulin needs had dropped in half the patients. Five no longer needed hypoglycemic agents. Also, serum triglyceride and total cholesterol had decreased by 25-0 ± 23% and 13 ± 15% respectively (p <0-01) in 2 weeks.

Follow-up studies of 17 of the 21 patients for 1-4 years indicated that 71% had remained on the diet and exercise programme as advised in nearly every item. In all except one of the 17 patients, the relief from the SDPN had continued, or there was further improvement.

In our opinion, these results appear to be related to a factor(s) in the TVD, and not necessarily to an improved glucose control, since the serum glucose was not under good control until about the 10th day.”

So, there was something about the diet, apart from its ability to lower blood glucose, that reduced pain. This, to me, is the kind of startling finding that should have been pursued. Twenty years later, it’s still being reproduced. Here’s a presentation from this year’s annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators:

A Dietary Intervention for Chronic Diabetic Neuropathy Pain, American Association of Diabetes Educators Annual Meeting, 6 August 2014

Vegan Diet Eases Diabetic Neuropathy Pain, MedPage Today, 8 August 2014

Bunner et al. conducted a small trial in patients with type 2 diabetes and diabetic neuropathy. Patients (n=15, mean age 57) were randomized to either a low-fat, high-fiber (goal: 40 grams), plant-based diet plus vitamin B12 supplementation, or to B12 supplementation alone.

With good adherence (five of seven diet patients were fully adherent), those on the diet had significantly greater improvements in McGill Pain Questionnaire scores than those on B12 alone (P=0.04), Bunner said.

They also had significantly greater reductions in body mass index (BMI) compared with controls (P=0.01).

There were other benefits to the plant-based diet but since the study was so small and since medication changes weren’t consistent across groups (e.g. both lowered cholesterol but those on the plant diet lessened lipid drugs, while controls increased lipid drugs) it was difficult to ascertain an effect.

Go back and look at the symptoms at the beginning of this post and tell me they’re not worth trying a low-fat, whole food, plant-based diet.

If All You Ate Were Potatoes, You’d Get All Your Protein And Essential Amino Acids

I feel compelled to republish the following post from 6 years ago because people keep asking me how you can get enough protein by eating potatoes.

PotatoEAAs3

Me and my potatoes.

Doug asked:

“I still don’t understand why more care isn’t necessary to avoid deficiencies of the essential amino acids. Is it the case that these amino acids are present in all fruits and vegetables? (I didn’t think this was so, but you mentioned on that other thread that thinking has changed in this regard.) Or is it simply that easy to avoid a deficiency of an essential amino acid by consuming any mixture of fruits and vegetables?”

I would answer “Yes” to Doug’s last question. I thought it summed up the facts well.

Plants are capable of manufacturing all 20 amino acids, which include the essential amino acids (EAAs), although amounts vary. I checked a number of foods (potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, corn, rice, oatmeal, beans, and others) and found all EAAs in each of these foods. Even an apple which is listed as having 0 grams of protein has all the EAAs, albeit in small amounts.

Since I said in an earlier comment, “No mixing of foods is necessary. If all you ate were potatoes, you’d get all your amino acids,” I felt obliged to back it up. Below is my back-up.

  • The first column lists all 8 EAAs for adults.
  • The second column lists the World Health Organization’s recommended intake per body weight.
  • The third column lists the specific RDI for a 120 lb adult.
  • The fourth column lists the amount of each AA in a medium potato, with skin.
  • The fifth column lists the amount of each AA in 5 medium potatoes.
  • The last column lists the % of recommended intake (for a 120 lb adult) for each AA when 5 potatoes are consumed.

PotatoEAAs1
Some notes about this chart:
– The WHO’s recommended intakes represent the minimum amount for an individual with the highest need, multiplied by a factor of 2 for safety. So these are high amounts to begin with.
– Methionine + Cysteine = Total Sulfur Amino Acids
– Phenylalanine + Tyrosine = Total Aromatic Amino Acids
– WHO: World Health Organization
– EAA: Essential Amino Acid

For a 120 pound adult, five potatoes (960 calories) supply over 100% of the recommended intake for all essential amino acids. They also supply 25 grams of total protein.

It’s pretty difficult for an adult to eat a whole food, plant-based diet that doesn’t provide all the essential amino acids, as long as caloric needs are met.

Finally – The pool of AAs that our body uses to manufacture its own proteins isn’t limited by what we eat. Normal daily turnover of our cells provides a substantial pool from which to draw amino acids. Bacteria that line our colon also manufacture AAs, including EAAs, that we can utilize.

It is a misconception that plants provide “incomplete protein.”

Related: In Defense Of The Potato

In Defense Of The Potato

I think potatoes are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re full of potassium (40% more than bananas), vitamin C, and fiber. They’re low in calories and they’re fat-free. They provide resistant starch that feeds intestinal bacteria, supporting a healthy gut microflora, characteristics of which (e.g. production of short chain fatty acids) have been shown to lower blood glucose and body fat. And they taste great!

Here’s Dr. McDougall defending the potato:

And here’s Chris Voight, the man that Dr. McDougall mentioned who ate nothing but potatoes for 60 days, about 20 potatoes a day. He lost 21 pounds. His cholesterol dropped 67 points. He lost body fat. His blood sugar came down. His triglycerides came down. Every lab value measured “either stayed the same or got better.”

Voight says, and I agree, that against a backdrop of a high-fat diet, potatoes, actually most high-carb foods can be a problem. In a whole food, plant-based diet, where less than 15% of calories come from fat, potatoes stand out as an excellent food.

Related: If All You Ate Were Potatoes, You’d Get All Your Protein And Essential Amino Acids

President-Elect Of The Heart Rhythm Society Endorses Plant-Based Diets

DrJohnDayDr. John Day is President-Elect of the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS, 2014-2015) and was program director for the Society’s 2014 Scientific Sessions in May of this year.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common abnormal heart rhythm, affecting ~2.3 million adults in the US. About 9% of people over the age of 80 are thought to have it. AF increases the risk for stroke fivefold.

Dr. Day caused a stir at the HRS conference by stating, “Does AF even need to happen?” He thinks it can be prevented by a change in diet (to predominantly plant-based) and lifestyle.

Is Atrial Fibrillation Necessary? The Most Important Study Presented at the Heart Rhythm Society 2014 Scientific Sessions, John M. Mandrola, MD, Medscape, 11 May 2014

During a session entitled “How to prevent and reverse AF,” Dr Day gave one of the most unusual talks I have ever heard at a medical meeting. He started with a personal confession:

“Until a few years ago, my life was about ablating AF, thousands of ablations, three per day. In the process of this, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought as to how the patient got AF or what was happening to my life.”

Next, as he showed images of his diet at the time—doughnuts, pizza, and soda—he told the audience:

At age 44, my health had hit rock bottom. I was overweight. I had developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, palpitations, insomnia, and even an autoimmune disease. And I was taking five medications. Something had to change.”

He described trying the usual diets and solutions, even the “gluten-free thing.” Not much happened. Then he got interested in the famous book The China Study:

“I became fascinated with some of these rural Chinese villages where people lived long lives, free of heart disease and cancer. I speak Chinese, and we visited these places multiple times.

What I learned has taken my life in a whole new direction.

My entire perspective of AF has changed from one of ablation to one of … does AF even need to happen?”

Let me remind you that Dr Day is about to lead the world’s most influential electrophysiology society.

Then he showed an incredibly professional four-minute video of a Chinese village. [I’ve embedded that video below.] Alongside rolling streams were smiling 100-year-old Chinese women. A calm female voice narrates …

“They have such a sense of peace about them.”

Then this, in Dr Day’s voice:

“Whether you are 40, or 50, or 60, or 70, it’s never too late to make changes.”

The video stops, but Dr. Day continues:

I began to slow down. I started looking at the big picture, eating real food, sleeping. My extra weight came off without trying; my cholesterol fell nearly 100 points; my BP dropped 30 to 40 points and my CRP went below 1.

“I now take no medications. I feel good.”

In an interview with me the next day, Dr Day said he thinks (in most cases) AF may be unnecessary.

Dr. Day is writing a book about his experiences in rural China. In the video below, he documents some of those experiences. I love the interviews at the end where people who have obviously lived long lives say they are happy and do appear to be happy. There are aspects to life in a rural Chinese village that just don’t translate to life in a big American city. We live and work by the clock, in climate-controlled buildings. We eat industrially-produced food. But I think there are still lessons here. In calling this a trailer, it sounds like Dr. Day has a documentary up his sleeve. I hope so!

The American College of Cardiology1 and the Heart Rhythm Society are not wacky, fringe groups. They are mainstream medical establishments. And their upcoming Presidents have respectively come out in favor of plant-based diets. Not low-carb diets, not Paleo diets, not even the diets recommended by the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association. These respected, credentialed physicians are advising the consumption of plants. I’m beside myself.

1 President-Elect Of American College of Cardiology Promotes Vegan Diet After Lowering His LDL From 170 To 90 In 6 Weeks

President-Elect Of American College of Cardiology Promotes Vegan Diet After Lowering His LDL From 170 To 90 In 6 Weeks

AmericanCollegeOfCardiologyDr. Kim Williams is a cardiologist and professor at Rush University in Chicago. He’s the incoming president of the American College of Cardiology. In the following article, the most-read cardiovascular article on MedPage Today for 2 weeks running, Williams explains why he is promoting a plant-based diet:

CardioBuzz: Vegan Diet, Healthy Heart?, MedPageToday, 21 July 2014

It was a patient’s success reversing an alarming condition that motivated me to investigate a vegan diet.

Just before the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) annual meeting in 2003 I learned that my LDL cholesterol level was 170. It was clear that I needed to change something. Six months earlier, I had read a nuclear scan on a patient with very-high-risk findings — a severe three-vessel disease pattern of reversible ischemia.

The patient came back to the nuclear lab just before that 2003 ACC meeting. She had been following Dean Ornish, MD’s program for “Reversing Heart Disease,” which includes a plant-based diet, exercise, and meditation. She said that her chest pain had resolved in about 6 weeks, and her scan had become essentially normalized on this program.

When I got that LDL result, I looked up the details of the plant-based diet in Ornish’s publications — 1- and 5-year angiographic outcomes and marked improvement on PET perfusion scanning — small numbers of patients, but outcomes that reached statistical significance.

I thought I had a healthy diet — no red meat, no fried foods, little dairy, just chicken breast and fish. But a simple Web search informed me that my chicken-breast meals had more cholesterol content (84 mg/100 g) than pork (62 mg/100 g). So I changed that day to a cholesterol-free diet, using “meat substitutes” commonly available in stores and restaurants for protein. Within 6 weeks my LDL cholesterol level was down to 90.

Interestingly, our ACC/American Heart Association (AHA) prevention guidelines do not specifically recommend a vegan diet, as the studies are very large and observational or small and randomized, such as those on Ornish’s whole food, plant-based diet intervention reversing coronary artery stenosis. The data are very compelling, but larger randomized trials are needed to pass muster with our rigorous guideline methodology.

Wouldn’t it be a laudable goal of the American College of Cardiology to put ourselves out of business within a generation or two?

Look at what he was eating before he changed his diet, “no red meat, no fried foods, little dairy, just chicken breast and fish.” He thought that was healthy. Just about everyone I know thinks that’s healthy. Just about everyone I know has high cholesterol.

Dr. Williams is courageous coming out in favor of plant-based diets. Not only is he going against the profit-driven medical industrial complex (of which he is a part!) but there is a powerful meat-eating and meat-producing contingent in this country that will, I’m afraid, succeed in shutting down or at least marginalizing Williams’ message.

Dr. Dean Ornish is not as cynical as I am. He responded to Williams’ article with these encouraging words:

CardioBuzz: ‘Lifestyle Medicine’, MedPageToday, 31 July 2014

“The most influential trend in medicine today, growing exponentially, is the emerging field of what is known as “lifestyle medicine” — lifestyle as treatment, not just prevention. … We tend to think of advances in medicine as a new drug, laser, or surgical device, something high-tech and expensive. Yet, the simple choices we make in what we eat and how we live have a powerful influence on our health and well-being.”

He went on to summarize his research of the last 37 years – research that contributed to my belief that a whole food, plant-based diet is the way to go.

Before I end, I want to pass on this claim by Ornish that low-carb diets have yet to show good for primary outcomes:

“I am not aware of any study published in a peer-reviewed journal, even an uncontrolled study, showing that a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet can reverse the progression of coronary atherosclerosis or improve blood to the heart as measured directly using cardiac PET scans or even thallium scans.”

China Study: “Their High [Cholesterol] Was Our Low, And Their Low Was Off The Chart”

ChineseFarmer2

Wheat being harvested in China’s Jiangsu Province, October, 2011. China Bystander.

An excerpt from Dr. Campbell’s The China Study:

As I mentioned earlier, the range of blood cholesterol levels in rural China was a surprise. At the time when the China Study was begun, a blood cholesterol range of 200-300 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) was considered normal, and lower levels were suspect. In fact, some in the scientific and medical communities considered cholesterol levels lower than 150 mg/dl to be dangerous. In fact my own cholesterol was 260 mg/dl in the late 1970s, not unlike members of my immediate family. The doctor told me it was “fine, just average.”

But when we measured the blood cholesterol levels in China, we were shocked. They ranged from 70-170 mg/dl! Their high was our low, and their low was off the chart you might find in your doctor’s office! It became obvious that our idea of “normal” values (or ranges) only applies to Western subjects consuming the Western diet.

I was surprised when I read this a few years ago. I really did think a cholesterol of 200 was fine, good even. Now I think it’s high.

Some Thoughts On Dr. Perlmutter’s “Grain Brain”

GrainBrainCover2I finally went to Amazon.com yesterday and skimmed through the book Grain Brain. The author, Dr. Perlmutter, is an award-winning, practicing neurologist. The book was a number one New York Times bestseller. Perhaps he has something to say.

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers, by David Perlmutter and Kristin Loberg, September 2013

With “grain” in the title, I assumed the book was about avoiding gluten, a protein found in some grains. Was Perlmutter going to argue that gluten impacts neurological function? The full title, which I just saw now, is telling me it isn’t about gluten, not exclusively. It’s about carbohydrate.  So, is he arguing that dietary carbohydrate impacts neurological function? Any food with carbohydrate in it? Quinoa? Rice? Beans? Apples? Carrots? Lemons? Potatoes? Just about all plant foods contain carbohydrate.

Here’s what I found from Amazon’s “Look Inside”

Modern grains are silently destroying your brain. … I’m referring to all the grains that so many of us have embraced as being healthful – whole wheat, whole grain, multigrain, seven-grain, live grain, stone-ground, and so on.

I will demonstrate how fruit and other carbohydrates could be health hazards.

… An extremely low-carbohydrate but high-fat diet is ideal (we’re talking no more than 60 grams of carbs a day – the amount in a serving of fruit). This may also sound preposterous, but I’ll be recommending that you start swapping out your daily bread with butter and eggs. You’ll soon be consuming more saturated fat and cholesterol and re-thinking the aisles in your grocery store.

In the days leading up to your new way of eating, you’ll want to take an inventory of your kitchen and eliminate items that you’ll no longer be consuming. Start by removing the following … All forms of processed carbs, sugar and starch: corn, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes.

The following can be used in moderation (“moderation” means eating small amounts of these ingredients once a day or, ideally, just a couple times weekly):
– Carrots and parsnips.
– Legumes (beans, lentils, peas).
– Non-gluten grains. (Avoid oats entirely.)
– Whole sweet fruit: Berries are best; be extra cautious of sugary fruits such as apricots, mangoes, melons, papaya, prunes, and pineapple.

I’m going to rescue you from a lifetime of trying to avoid eating fat and cholesterol and prove how these delicious ingredients preserve the highest functioning of your brain. … Our bodies thrive when given “good fats,” and cholesterol is one of these. And we don’t do so well with copious amounts of carbohydrates, even if those carbs are gluten-free, whole grain, and high in fiber.

Eating high-cholesterol foods has no impact on our actual cholesterol levels, and the alleged correlation between higher cholesterol and higher cardiac risk is absolute fallacy.1

You will be starting a daily supplement regimen for life. [Perlmutter sells supplements on his site.]

Yes, Perlmutter is saying that any intake of carbohydrate, beyond the 60 or so grams in a piece of fruit, impairs brain function. It’s evident that Dr. Perlmutter’s food journey and mine have led to drastically different diets. (At least he allows small amounts of beans. On a Paleo diet, you have to avoid them at all costs, even fresh green beans.)

Here’s a comment by srj, who claimed to be a physician. It’s representative of other comments which call into question Perlmutter’s treatment of the evidence:

“I quit reading about half way through the book because in almost every case he badly misinterpreted the studies he quoted. As an example, reference 25 in Chapter 4 (Title: Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight-Loss Maintenance) compared people on a high glycemic diet, a low glycemic diet (whole grain) and a very low carbohydrate (high fat/meat) diet. This study did show a slight improvement in metabolic syndrome components in the low carb diet over the low glycemic diet, but the low carb diet raised cortisol and CRP (C-Reactive Protein) levels considerable. Previous studies have shown a 5-fold (that’s 500%!) increase in cardiovascular mortality with the higher levels of cortisol and CRP and thus the conclusion of the study authors was that the low carb diet was too dangerous to recommend. The only part of the study reported by Dr. Perlmutter was that that the metabolic syndrome parameters were better – nothing about the cortisol and CRP elevation which was far more important.”

I’m surprised at the assurance with which Perlmutter advances his ideas. Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, criticized Grain Brain, saying many of its claims were “wildly preposterous,” particularly the one where Perlmutter says the ideal diet “is close to that of the Paleo diet: 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.” Katz, citing work of researcher and “The Paleo Diet” author Lorin Cordain, said that humans during the Paleolithic Era ate mostly plants with a scattering of seeds and nuts. … “What the hell could they possibly have eaten that would be that fatty?”2

Maybe we’re all a little guilty of focusing on science that supports our preconceptions and glossing over that which challenges them. It’s our prerogative. Most of us aren’t writing books, selling products, and collecting consulting fees. Don’t you think that someone who is presenting himself as an authority, who claims to be science-based, who is urging millions of people to adopt a controversial diet, would be more even-handed with the evidence? I do. The reason I support eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is because I’ve read the studies, not because I’ve read a book by someone claiming to have read the studies for me.

_______
1 This particular claim has been exhaustively researched by a blogger who goes by Plant Positive. He refers to people who reject the lipid hypothesis, as Perlmutter does here, as cholesterol deniers. He’s amassed a trove of evidence that defends the lipid hypothesis, that defends the correlation between serum cholesterol and heart disease, i.e. the lower your cholesterol, the lower your heart disease risk.
2 James Hamblin’s skepticism is wholly transparent in his Atlantic article, “This Is Your Brain On Gluten.“)