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The Simple Solution to SAD. Say no.

This year I turned 56 and can now say I’ve never felt better. But it wasn’t always this way. Nearly a year ago, I was 30 lbs overweight and my cholesterol level on the high side. I felt old, lacked energy and was occasionally grumpy about the whole thing but resigned to the natural progression as I saw it.

It wasn’t until I saw an interview by Dr. Sanjay Gupta with former president Bill Clinton, last Fall, that I even took notice of how diet can change a person. Clinton, famous for his double cheeseburger lunches had two heart attacks after leaving the Oval office and after the second one he says he got serious about his health. That is when he discovered Dr. Esselstyn and the whole-plant food movement. He has since lost weight, lowered his cholesterol and gives credence to the idea we can reverse some of the effects of aging that we have come to believe is inevitable.  He has returned to his highschool weight and what 50+ year old wouldn’t like to beable to say that!

Turns out we are not simply destined to some form of obesity and diabetes as Americans. Although statistics might make you think so. It is currently estimated that 75% of Americans will be obese by the year 2020 and 1 in 3 Americans will be dealing with diabetes by 2050. Children are now showing up with Type2Diabetes at alarming rates and if trends continue this may be the first generation which will not outlive their parents.

Linda Gross and Kelly Moss offer cooking classes based on plant-strong recipes
Linda Gross and Kelly Moss offer cooking classes based on plant-strong recipes

This need not be the case and the solution to aging well and avoiding the pitfalls of our Standard American Diet (SAD), is to rethink the way we view food. It is not simply a matter of tinkering with our SAD diet which is rife with overly processed, highly refined engineered foods. It means going back to the basics; whole foods which are nutrient dense, calorie light and fiber rich. It means recognizing the fallacy that the meat and dairy industry have perpetrated that their products are the only, best, wisest choice for protein and learning about food again from the ground up without relying on industry-sponsored soundbites and marketing ploys.

Keep it simple they say. It applies to food as well.

” Going to a plant-based, whole-foods diet is all about optimal nutrition.  Some friends have raised their eyebrows and questioned, ‘Isn’t a balanced diet, and eating all of the food groups in moderation a good plan?’  We say, do the research!  The ‘balanced diet’ most of us have come to accept as gospel, raises serious nutritional concerns.  Our attempts to ‘moderate’ were never very successful.  Like the typical New Years Resolution, we drifted right back to our old eating patterns.  So, for us, a big commitment was necessary.  A person has to be ready for this sort of change —- it probably requires a transformational way of thinking about food.  But, it is truly empowering.  We are 100% convinced that a person can transform his/her health and life by committing to a plant-based, whole-food diet. Jim Moss, Local Business Owner/ Converted to Plant-Strong/Whole Foods diet in 2012  


Forks Over Knives

The whole foods message is gaining momentum thanks in part to the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn with his 20 year study on seriously ill heart patients and Dr. Colin Campbell who wrote a defining 25 year study between diet and health known as The China Study. The whole foods message again gained recognition with the Clinton interview for here was a baby boomer like us, with heart disease like us, taking back his life. Reversing the path he was on. Finding his way back to health at 64.

Another catalyst for the movement was the 2011 documentary, Forks Over Knives which features both Esselstyn and Campbell and “examines the claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting the present menu of animal-based and processed foods.”

The newest face of the plant-strong message is Rip Esselstyn – yes, the son of Dr. Esselstyn, who retired as a triathlete to become a firefighter in Austin Texas. When it was discovered that one of the firefighters at the station had a cholesterol level of 344 and was only 30 years old and a father of 2, everyone agreed to buy in to Rip’s plant-based diet for 28 days to see if they could support ‘Ron’ in his quest to lower his cholesterol so he might live to see his kids grow up. The experiment was such a success (Rons cholesterol dropped100 pts) that it inspired the best seller by the same name: The Engine2Diet. It shows that a bunch of red-blooded, testosterone laden manly- men could all greatly improve their health and eat well on a plant-strong diet.


Baked Polenta and stir fry of fresh asparagus
Baked Polenta and stir fry of fresh asparagus

My own experiment began with the Engine2 diet last September and in those 28 days I lost 12 pounds and dropped my cholesterol from a high of 205 to 174. Since then I have broadened by menu to other vegan, gluten free, plant-based menus and I have continued to see my weight drop by 27 lbs and my cholesterol by over 60 pts.

In September I invited my friend, Kelly Moss to attend a two day conference with me  in Tucson put on by The Healthy You Network. The speakers included the entire Esselstyn family of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. The panel included, what is affectionately known as the Engine2Rescue team of Dr. Jeff Novick, Dr. Doug Lisle and a guest appearance by author John Robbins, of the Baskin-Robbins empire, who walked away from that inheritance to find a more rewarding life. In 1987 he published Diet for a New America and was one of the first to make the link among nutrition, environmentalism and animal rights.

Raw almond cookies drizzled with chocolate
Raw almond cookies drizzled with chocolate

The event attracted over 450 people and showed the science behind the message and talked about the pleasure trap of consuming calories laden with salt, sugar and oils. Dr Doug Lisle spoke on the challenges anyone faces in bucking the trend of how we eat in America with an insightful, entertaining talk titled, “Getting Along without Going Along,” And Dr. Jeff Novick, who has been eating this way since the 1970s, and knows convenience is a key ingredient to success, demonstrated how to cook 4 meals for less than $6 each in just under 15 minutes, all without any no chopping, dicing or mincing!

Nearly 91% of Americans believe they eat “mostly healthy”

Kelly and her husband Jim had seen the documentary Forks Over Knives earlier and decided to give the E2 program a try.  Like the nearly 91% of Americans who believe they eat ‘mostly healthy’, the Moss’s enjoyed homemade pesto, grilled salmon, and the occassional Hagen Daz ice cream. It was normal to go through nearly a half bottle of olive oil a week in cooking “healthy” Kelly says.

Yet even with this healthy regimen, Kelly Moss was on statin drugs to bring down her chronically high cholesterol numbers. When she began the E2 program she was curious to see what diet alone could accomplish and dropped the statin drugs completely. Her results surprised her and her doctor, yet were in keeping with results that so many others have achieved by going plant-based. Beginning with a cholesterol of 256 she was only able to lower it to 207 with the statin drug. This is still considered on the high side, as most doctors would like to see the number under 200, and the Esselstyns firmly believe it has to be 150 or less to be ‘heart attack proof.”

After 28 days on the plant-based diet and no statin drugs, Kelly’s cholesterol dropped to 156. Here are her numbers before the diet change and after. They are typical of results from others when converting to a plant-strong/whole-foods diet. NOTE: We are careful not to use the terms vegan or vegetarian as these have been misused in the past and allow for unhealthy foods including oils, sugars,  and processed ‘healthy’ foods which can also lead to unhealthy results.

Cholesterol     HD         LD         TRI

Pre Medication                       252              89        142         107

On Medication                        207              75         116          79

NoMedication- 30 Days

Diet Alone                          156                57          87         59

One of things that people always ask me after they find out I’ve “switched” is exactly what do I eat. The perception that plant-based healthy eating means a bunch of lettuce and celery sticks causes most people to reject the idea immediately and stick with their beloved Fettucini Alfredo, BBQ Baby Back Ribs and New York Cheesecake. I know. I was there!  But if eating could be every bit as rich and satisfying as ‘before’ but it came with the added benefit of healthy arteries, more energy, fewer meds, lower blood pressure, better eyesight, easy weight loss, glowing skin tone and a new lease on enjoying those things around you….then changing up the way you eat now is not so daunting.flourish16

Whole Grains are a big part of any E2 regimen and offer a wide variety of options to the cook!
Whole Grains are a big part of any E2 regimen and offer a wide variety of options to the cook!

I feel that way now. Looking back at all the points in my life I had the opportunity and even some very good reasons to change – and didn’t before now – makes me understand this is one of those things that has to strike just the right cord. Maybe the time is now for you. Maybe not. But if you do want to give it a try here are some suggestions and local resources to help you succeed.

Engine2Diet: The book and the website.  The book features a 28-day program with great menus and tips to lead a plant-strong life and enjoy every meal. Their website offers recipes, a blog and information about their 3-Day immersions held all over the country.

Forks Over Knives: The 2011 documentary outlining the plant-based way to health features both Esselstyns’ work as well as Campbells’. The companion guide (a book) is now available with 125 recipes that can be done in under 30 minutes.

***All of the materials above are available for check out at the Globe Library and will be available at the Miami Library later this summer.



 The before and after photos reflect the changes that a plant-strong/whole foods diet can bring into your life… even – or maybe especially – if you are over 50 and think you know it all as I did. I would not have believed it possible to get back to a point in my life where I feel so great and where cooking and eating food is such a pleasure again. Where the choice is not eating well and suffering for it, or dieting and being healthy; but in eating well and truly enjoying life – because the food I eat contributes to my health.  ~Linda

Resources for recipes

 fatfreevegan,com or fatfreevegan/facebook : Voted Readers’ Favorite Blog by VegNewsMagazine and winner of the 2011 VegHealth award for Healthy Living. Author Susan Voisin is a mother, wife, photographer and cook who has been offering up a variety of  healthy recipes for the last ten years. Great resource for new cooks.

NotYoMamasCookin/facebook:  I started this page last Fall when I embarked on the E2 plan and have been adding recipes, experiences and links since then. Join others in the Globe-Miami area who want to share the journey, the recipes and the resources.


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