Sunday, May 3, 2009

Here's What I Can Eat

Vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts. That's it, and that's all. No refined grains of any kind - that includes bread or rice. No animal products of any kind - that includes fish. Fish is not a vegetable, fruit, bean, or nut. No oils. That means I can't eat hummus or most Italian food. Basically, if it's in a restaurant, chances are I can't eat it, unless it's a Hollywood natural-foods restaurant or an all-you-can-eat salad bar where I can skip the dressings and just get the actual food. No alcohol, because alcohol is almost identical to sugar in terms of how it metabolizes. No dried fruit, because the drying eliminates almost all the nutrients and leaves only sugar behind. No roasted nuts, only raw, for a similar reason.

Basically, if a rabbit wouldn't eat it, neither will I.

Although my diet is vegan the goal is not saving the adowable fuzzie-wuzzies. The goal is surviving heart disease. (I've had heart surgery, and I am very young for that sort of thing.) Avoiding meat matters, but nutrient density matters much more. Many vegan meals are not something I can eat, because they depend on heavily processed meat substititues. For example, Amy's Organic Vegan Chili, although it is delicious, is probably every bit as bad for me as a hamburger from In N Out. Possibly even a little worse, if you get the burger with no cheese and no condiments except pickles. The chili's saturated fat content is unbelievable - something like 30% of what the government says is your recommended daily allowance. My favorite doctor sets the recommended daily allowance at zero.

Most days I eat beans cooked with lots of vegetables, and staggering amounts of raw fresh fruit, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce. It's delicious, simple, and easy. There isn't anything difficult about it. It's less complicated than the way I used to eat, faster, easier, and cheaper - especially since I used to eat out every day, instead of cooking - and it eliminated a lot of my cholesterol problems. With this diet, plus statin medications, I saw at least the same amount of cholesterol improvement in three months that my father and my uncle each saw after ten years of statin medications only. (I think I actually saw a slightly better improvement when it comes to LDL cholesterol, and a significantly better improvement when it comes to triglycerides.) I've also lost around 30 or 40 pounds, and am still losing weight (which is good because I was technically obese and am not so any longer).

Protein intake is not a problem. Discussing it does not interest me. Long story short: read up on the science. I will say the only interesting thing I know about the subject: herbivore digestive systems are long and complicated, because vegetables are full of nutrients, and digesting them takes time. Carnivore digestive systems are short and simple, because meat is full of toxins, but simple to digest. In a normal human being, the digestive system involves more than 20 feet of travel. We have the ability to digest meat, and we have a long and complicated digestive system.


  1. Congratulations on changing your life so dramatically. While it seems like this response would be universal to a scare the scale you'd be received, I know a number of people in similar situations who basically did the least possible and pretended like nothing was wrong.

    Re the protein thing: When I first became vegetarian, my family forced me to go to a doctor because they were worried about me not getting enough protein. The doctor basically said that if you're not actually starving to death then you're almost definitely getting enough protein. It's one of those absurd strawmen that meat-eaters hold to as part of their anti-veggie/vegan health argument. I'm not a evangelical vegetarian by any means, but I just wish that meat eaters would stick with the argument of: "cause I like to". It's a perfectly valid one and the only move they have that isn't either insulting, fear-mongering, or just plain wrong.

  2. That said, I'm actually incredibly excited that this post reminded me that there's In-N-Out in Vegas! I forgot to hit it was I was in the bay a couple of weeks ago and don't plan on making that same mistake this time. Not to rub it in, but grilled cheese with grilled onions and animal-style fries here I come...

  3. Wasn't HDL a little low? That can be a problem with cutting too many of the needed fats.

    Getting the right mix of essential fatties might be a problem, and flax and/or walnuts aren't going to be enough. Of course, farm raised fished or beef wouldn't either (but wild salmon and grass fed cow, might work better). If you are avoiding fish oil try finding DHA/EPA rich omega 3 supplements (derived from algea)

  4. I've been a vegetarian my entire life (32 years) and a vegan for the past 6 years.

    The whole protein discussion is simultaneously irritating and hilarious. Green leafy vegetables have more than enough protein. In fact, calorie for calorie, they have more than hamburger. But, most people believe that vegetable protein is somehow inferior to animal protein, based on a flawed study done in the 50s with rats. We're not rats.

    But, I've had no shortage of people (pretty much everyone I've ever met) tell me that I'm not getting enough protein, etc. I've even had people ask me, with a straight face, how I got to be so big (I'm 6' 1") if I've never eaten meat. Most people that eat meat are completely undereducated about nutrition, but they love lecturing people that've taken the time to do the research.

    I applaud your choices and give you full props for having the discipline to make such a dramatic lifestyle change. I don't think many people could do it.

  5. @timocratic - yep, hdl was low, but hdl is low for my dad and my uncle, thanks for asking. :p

    I used to get the right mix of essential fatties all the time, but I don't smoke pot any more, because it impairs my productivity. I'd happily settle for the right mix of essential fats, which is what I think you meant anyway. I'm considering the algae route but (no offense) I'm taking advice only from doctors who specialize in either nutrition or cardiology.

  6. Hey Giles,

    I was curious if you had a favorite salad dressing. After your last post about Dr Fuhrman, I went out and bought Eat to Live.. and it was exactly what I was looking as far as the most scientifically accurate diet. The raw salad dressings I like either used olive oil, or were mostly tahini. The tahini isn't so bad, but it's about as fatty as using olive oil anyways... I haven't tried the dressings in the book yet, but I figured I'd skip the step of trying everything and just ask you.

    Great work with the diet, and best of health to you!

  7. No oils, but nuts are fine? With heart disease as a factor, I'm surprised your doctor isn't pushing fish oil even harder than docs usually push it.

    Other than the no oils bit, it sounds like how my wife and I eat a lot of the time these days, for various reasons. And you're absolutely right, it's delicious, but hard to find a restaurant that's up to snuff.

    Imitation meat products are silly, anyway. Veggie cuisine is never at it's best when it's trying to mimic meat dishes. Original veggie dishes are much better.

  8. Giles, Dude. *You* are the one that linked up stuff talking about the needed mixes of Omegas that leads me to the algae to satisfy it vegetarianly. ;)

  9. Hey,
    I applaud you for taking responsibility. I'd also like to warn you about the quackery that goes on, on all sides of the nutrition debates.

    Basically you can shop around for scientific evidence. If your outlook tells you that you'd do best on a vegan, non-grain diet, you'll find plenty of "evidence" that you're right!
    If you decide that a paleolithic diet is best for you, you'll also find tons of "evidence" for that. Also mostly grain-based diets have their own scientists, spewing out "evidence".

    I'm not sure what the answer is, except moderation. It's good that your cholesterol is down, and that you're losing weight (though you could very well be losing some muscle as well, not good).

    Michael Pollan (who is certainly not a nutritionist, but has tried to dig through the forest of contrary evidence) gives this advice, which is probably the best: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

  10. My own take on dealing with the variety of conflicting nutritional advice out there: do what any good agile team does, and use metrics. Weight, blood pressure, etc. are all good; but the most important measure is a subjective "how do I feel this week?". A lot of proponents of various diets and fitness programs get lost in their favorite physiological stats and seem to forget that the whole point is to FEEL GOOD and LIVE LONG. When one doctor says you're crazy to eat fat and another says you're crazy not to, the best thing I know to do is to learn to listen to your body.

  11. Do you supplement with a multi-vitamin? Might be a good idea, as a nutritional "insurance".

  12. Rabbits eat baby rabbits.

  13. Giles: can you recommend a cookbook?

  14. People: every body is different. And Giles made no statements about your body - just his own.

  15. @codemac - I haven't done any dressings. traditionally I don't put dressings on salad. I think it might be a British thing but I don't really know.

    @timocratic - fair enough. you wouldn't believe how much medical advice I get from people who aren't doctors, though. combine the programmer "I'm an expert on everything" effect with the fact that everybody eats food and it's just crrrrrrrazy. for instance even in this thread, with multiple statements that I don't want to discuss it, I still had to delete a comment by this idiot called nixxboxx who told me I was part of a religious cult or something (wtf?).

    @joe g - I take b12 but that's it. I might be taking D in the future and/or DHA.

    @jacob - dude that's horrible.

    @anon - cookbook - dr fuhrman sells one but I haven't tried it yet.

  16. Actually, in this town, SF, a number of the good vegetarian restaurant ARE openly owned by a range of kookie cults (with their own religious television programming). Of course, that is outnumbered by the many, many vegetarians here who aren't as nuts, so go figure.

    You should just start accusing beef eaters (I am an omnivore) of belonging to some golden calf worshiping cult.


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