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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarian Reading

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we review a book that shows how you can take charge of your genes to control your weight.

Turn Off the Fat Genes
The Revolutionary Guide to Taking Charge
of the Genes That Control Your Weight

By Neal Barnard, M.D.

Harmony Books, 2001


"You can counteract the fat genes and boost your thin genes." This is the message conveyed by Dr. Neal Barnard in his book, Turn Off the Fat Genes. Those who feel that genetic tendencies are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome will be heartened by Dr. Barnard's evidence that people can take charge of the genes that control their weight.

Unlike so many diet books that deride carbohydrates and advocate fats, Barnard's view is that fats make people fat, not carbohydrates. Citing numerous research experiments, Barnard, who is founder and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, shows that diets high in fat promote obesity and poor health.  Fat Genes

The book's principal attribute is the author's ability to assemble research in genetics related to weight loss and make that research accessible to lay readers. Dr. Barnard focuses on five key gene effects that affect taste, appetite, fat storage, fat burning, and exercise.

Taste genes, for example, influence the foods you like. Some people are very sensitive to bitterness and may reject vegetables like broccoli or cabbage because they detect bitterness in them. Others have what is termed a sweet tooth. These tastes can be changed. The important step is to determine whether your food choices are causing you harm and then make choices to counteract the harm.

Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite and causes your body to burn calories faster. Researchers found that when a person gains weight, leptin made by the body's fat cells sends a message to the brain to turn down appetite. Any increase in leptin results in a decrease in appetite. In the same way, a decrease in weight leads to less leptin and an appetite increase. This is why crash diets don't work. Barnard's solution is the Rule of 10. "Include in your menu each day at least ten calories for every pound of your ideal weight." The method is to eat more whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. He refers to these as "filling, not fattening foods," ones that are high in fiber.

Barnard devotes an entire chapter to LPL (lipoprotein lipease), a fat storing enzyme. He calls the LPL a gatekeeper that allows fat from your bloodstream into your fat cells and determines whether the fat will be burned or stored. The fat in foods, not protein or carbohydrates, helps to build body fat. A chilling example was his anecdote of a laboratory technician taking a blood sample, and exclaiming he knew what the person had for dinner last night. He could see the fat floating in the blood sample.

Don't blame carbohydrates for obesity. Barnard cites two reasons to support his argument. A gram of carbohydrate has only four calories while a gram of fat has nine. Secondly, the thinnest people who live in Asia eat enormous quantities of carbohydrates. Instead of being stored as fat, the carbs build glycogen used by the muscles and liver when there is a need for extra power. The rest of the carbs are burned to produce body heat.

Chromosome 11 and its insulin component are not usually the subject of dinner table diet discussions, but they could be after one reads this book. Barnard refers to insulin as "your best friend," providing it is working properly. Insulin pumps proteins and sugars into cells of the body and causes your body to build glycogen. This process actually burns calories and does not add to fat cells. On the other hand, eating fats causes less burning of calories and does not build glycogen.

The best way to boost metabolism is to eat healthy carbohydrates that build glycogen, are high in fiber and low in fat to keep insulin working properly. The healthy carbs are legumes, fruit, green vegetables, pasta, sweet potatoes, and whole grains. Poor choices would be dairy products and eggs, foods with added fat like French fries and salad oils, poultry, meat, candy, sodas, and white bread and other refined grain products. He even includes olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados as poor choices because of their high fat content.

Even a person's reaction to exercise is influenced by genetic factors. Muscle cell types determine whether exercise is easy or difficult. Barnard distinguishes between people who have Type I and Type II muscle cells. Type I athletic types have a good blood supply to carry plenty of oxygen to their muscles. Their muscle cells are loaded with LPL that causes them to soak up fat and burn off large amounts of calories during exercise. On the other hand, individuals with Type II muscle cells have less capacity to absorb oxygen and are more susceptible to fatigue.

Neal Barnard Barnard directs attention to the Type II people. By following an exercise program, they can increase their blood supply and their fat burning capacity to make their cells almost as efficient as those of Type I. The change will come with regular rigorous exercise like a brisk walk a half-hour each day or one hour three times a week.

"Despite genetic differences, the key factor in your weight is the type of food you are eating now," says Barnard. He advocates a "three-week diet makeover" that involves major diet changes. Specifically, this means a diet with generous quantities of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. It eliminates animal products and added oils. In addition the program involves finding support, removing temptations that will return you to old habits, and getting enough rest. It is not a program with a drastic reduction of calories.

To make the diet makeover an easier task, Barnard turns to his frequent collaborator, Jennifer Raymond, for an extensive section on menu planning and recipes. The recipes include breakfast foods; breads and baked goods; dips, sauces and dressings; salads and salad dressings; sandwiches, wraps, and rolls; soups and stews; vegetables; beans; grains; main dishes; and desserts. They all follow the diet philosophy: little or no fat. This VIP reviewer really enjoyed the simplicity of the recipes, especially the Butterscotch Pudding made with yam (only 1 gram of fat and 109 calories).

The volume concludes with a product resource guide and a list of mail order sources. The book is well indexed and has a section of references to the research studies and information cited by the author.

Dr Dean Ornish, in his forward to the book, states that the diet for losing weight presented by Neal Barnard in Turn Off the Fat Genes is also best for health and well-being. We echo his view and stress that this well-researched book makes genetics and its relationship to diet and health readily understandable to the general public. By following Barnard's program, anyone can switch off the fat genes and switch on the thin genes. The encouraging thought is that no one is doomed to obesity because of genetic makeup.

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