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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarianism in the News

December 1, 2006 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Diabetes Is Hell on Earth!!!

    By Reuben Allen
My father was a diabetic. His mother, my grandmother, was a diabetic. Since I have a genetic disposition to diabetes, I will most likely become a diabetic. Wrong.

What changes the picture for me? I have followed a low-fat, high fiber vegan diet for over 15 years. If I had stayed with my SAD (Standard American Diet), I might be injecting insulin into my veins or popping all kinds of diabetes pills to control this insidious disease.

I am writing this blog because I am motivated to share the findings of a groundbreaking study conducted this year showing that a low-fat, high fiber vegan diet was better for diabetics than a standard diabetes diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. The study was a joint project of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, George Washington University, and University of Toronto with funding provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation. The study was reported in the August 2006 issue of Diabetes Care.

Participants were 99 people with Type 2 diabetes from the Washington, D.C. area. Half were randomly assigned to a low-fat vegan diet that placed no limits on calories, carbohydrates, or portions they consumed. The other group was asked to adhere to a diet based on the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommendations. The ADA diet involves calorie counting and portion control while permitting limited amounts of meat and dairy products.

Individuals in both groups followed their assigned dietary programs for 22 weeks. During that time, they were given cooking demonstrations and tips and suggestions to help them maintain their diets. Each participant also met with a registered dietician to develop an appropriate diet plan. Four times during the study all participants received unannounced phone calls asking what they had eaten in the last 24 hours to see if they were adhering to the diet and were offered additional counseling, if needed.

The vegan diet vs. the American Diabetes Association Diet
The vegan diet contained 10% fat, 15% protein, and 75% carbohydrate and consisted of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. This group was asked to avoid animal products and added fats and were encouraged to eat low-glycemic index foods like beans and green vegetables. There were no restrictions on portion sizes, calories, or amount of carbohydrates.

The ADA diet included 15 to 20% protein, less than 7% saturated fat, and 60 to 70% carbohydrates and monounsaturated fats. Cholesterol intake was plus or minus 200 mg of cholesterol per day depending on body weight and personal cholesterol reading.

Both groups were given B12 supplements and asked to take 100 micrograms every other day. Women in both groups were limited one alcoholic drink per day while men were permitted two. Everyone was asked not to change exercise habits during the time of the study.

At the conclusion of the 22-week trial both groups improved. The vegan group showed a greater decrease in A1c (measure of blood sugar levels over a prolonged period) weight, body mass index, waist size, and LDL (bad cholesterol).

A1c blood sugar levels fell 1.23 points for the vegans compared to 0.38 in the ADA group. The vegans lost an average of 14.3 lbs while the ADA dieters went down an average of 6.8 lbs. LDL cholesterol slid 21.2 percent in the vegans but only 10.7 in the ADA's.

"The diet appears remarkably effective, and all the side effects are good ones-especially weight loss and lower cholesterol," said lead researcher Neal D. Barnard, M.D., PCRM president and adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University. "I hope this study will rekindle interest in using diet changes first, rather than prescription drugs," he added.

Our vegan journey
Reading about this study strongly reinforced my view that I was on the right path in avoiding the scourge of diabetes. Before I edged into an entirely plant-based eating program, I weighed between 165 and 170 pounds. With a height of 5 feet, 7 inches, my body mass index was 26 heading for 27, placing me in the overweight category. A body mass index of 30 would be considered obese for my height. I would have to balloon up to 191 lbs. to reach that dubious category. I wore size large shirts and my waist size was expanding beyond 34 inches.

I must admit that Zel led us both down the path to vegan eating. She had puffed up to 130 pounds, quite a bit of weight for someone who is only 5 feet tall. The big discovery was she was lactose intolerant. Eating even a small amount of dairy products would cause monumental stomach discomfort.

We both confess we approached veganism for health reasons, but now realize that in doing so we have helped to alleviate animal suffering and lessen environmental problems. Our personal gain has been much better health. In my most recent physical examination, my blood pressure was normal and my cholesterol was 137, quite a contrast from 219 15 years ago. My weight was 146 pounds, dropping me to a body mass index of 23 in the normal weight zone. The test revealed my triglyceride value was an amazing 55 mg/dL. According to the American Heart Association guidelines the normal range is below 150 with 150 to 199 deemed borderline high, 200 to 498 high, and over 500 very high. High levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream have been linked to atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, and pancreatitis.

My fasting glucose level was 95 mg/dL, a number that should not make me complacent even though it is in the normal range. Levels up to 100 are considered normal. Numbers between 100 and 126 are referred to as impaired fasting glucose or pre-diabetes. These levels are considered to be risk factors for type 2 diabetes and its complications. Diabetes is typically diagnosed when fasting blood glucose levels are 126 or higher.

For those who take diabetes lightly, I would like to shout in their ears,

Diabetes Is Hell on Earth!!!

That message is for the 20.8 million Americans (7% of our population) who have diabetes.

I witnessed the agony and suffering my father experienced as this disease wreaked havoc on his body. For many of us a blister is a minor inconvenience, but for my father it turned into a personal tragedy. His right foot rubbing on his shoe led to a blister that progressed into gangrene that necessitated amputation of his leg below the knee. His vision had been deteriorating for years, but the final blow came when his left eye became excruciatingly painful because of glaucoma caused by the diabetes. After suffering the intense pain and finding relief only when alcohol was injected into his eye with a long needle, he pleaded with the ophthalmologist to remove his eye.

Six months later he was gone after suffering a heart attack. The heart attack mercifully spared him further agony from the ravages of diabetes. He was only 56 years old.

So what do we eat?
All my life I have been haunted by my father's diabetes. Of course, I did not follow him down the same road. I have been fortunate so far. So, what about my high-fiber, low-fat vegan diet?

First of all, I am blessed. I am married to a great cook who doesn't mind preparing healthy, nutritious meals. We rarely eat fast foods. The only times we go inside MacDonalds, Burger King, or Wendy's is to use their restrooms when we travel.

We do eat the bulk of our meals at home, but we enjoy eating out occasionally at vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the Los Angeles area. Those occasions are often to gather information for a restaurant review for Vegetarians in Paradise.

Early on we became aware of the evils of sugar and refined white flour. We have eliminated candy from our diet, except for an occasional temptation. The same goes for cookies, cakes, and pies, all loaded with sugar and trans or saturated fat. Because we don't do dairy, many traditional desserts are not part of our regular fare. In most instances a piece of fruit is our sweet after a meal or as a snack.

Because of our extensive reading, especially health gurus like Doctors McDougall, Fuerman, and Esselstyn, we have cut back on oil and salt in our foods. A giant salad loaded with leafy greens and raw vegetables is the featured opener at just about every dinner meal. A cooked vegetable like broccoli, cauliflower, or string beans is often on the menu. The main dish might be a grain like quinoa, millet, spelt, barley, or brown rice with a tasty sauce and lots of vegetables. Despite some of the negatives you have been hearing lately, we do use soy, mostly in the form of tofu, but not every day. Yes, we are full of beans. Beans are a big-ticket item in our high-fiber diet. As for beverages, we find water is best. Even juices pack a heap of calories into one glass.

Nuts and seeds also play an important role in our eating regimen. We generally sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of flaxseed meal on something like cereal or fruit salad every day. As you will discover by reading Zel's book The Nut Gourmet, nuts are quite healthy when consumed in moderation. In developing the recipes for the book, she has created many delicious and nutritious meals we have both enjoyed.

If you ask about supplements, the answer is "yes, we do." We take a multivitamin without iron every day as well as 1000 mg of vitamin C and 1200 mg of calcium citrate. On Wednesday and Sunday we pop a 500-mcg pill of vitamin B12. All of these are insurance that we might not be receiving enough nutrients from our 10+ servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Read to be informed.
Most importantly, we do quite a bit of reading on health and nutrition in newspapers, magazines, books, and on the internet. Despite all the studies that present us with conflicting information, we have grasped certain basic ideas:

  • The food you put into your body is vital to your health.
  • Daily exercise is important. (We try to walk at least 2 miles every day.)
  • Animal products cause chronic diseases.
  • Don't depend on pharmaceuticals to cure diseases you could have prevented by a proper diet.

Because of my awareness of diabetes, we have made special efforts to provide information on this vital subject to readers of Vegetarians in Paradise. In the past few years Zel and I have read and reviewed two books that we feel provide valuable information on this dreadful disease. We encourage you to look at Defeating Diabetes and The Whole Foods Diabetic Cookbook. We are looking forward to reading and reviewing Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes scheduled for publication in February 2007.

Listen up, America! Type 2 diabetes need not exist. When we tell you we're on a low-fat high-fiber vegan diet, don't laugh. And don't say, "I can't do it. It's too hard."

By following the Standard America Diet loaded with high fat animal protein, highly processed junk foods crammed with fat, sugar, and salt, you are racing toward diabetes. If you are overweight or obese, you need to wake up and start making changes in your diet.

Prevention is a far more attractive option than Hell on Earth.

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