Thursday, January 17, 2013

Diet and Right Action -- Connecting the Dots: Part I

It was another one of those conversations… “Where do you get your protein?”  The classic question that’s asked when I talk to someone who finds out that I now follow a plant-based diet, essentially a vegan diet.  That is, I do not eat animal-based foods.  So, I gave the stock answers that I’ve grown used to, and which are always surprising for people… “I get my protein from plants… just like some of the largest land animals on earth including gorillas and elephants.”  That usually makes some people think and wonder, and it also does always make me reflect, and usually along the way I may get tuned out because of my reasons, and the research that I’ve done.  It’s now been 17 months since I decided to go vegan.  This is my first installment of a series of brief “connect the dots” posts of how I got here and why I hope that all people go plant-based… not just for their personal health and well-being, but for the sake of, and survival of, all life on our beautiful planet.

The situation.  A couple years ago I was traveling a lot for work as I had mentioned before, and although I was eating a fairly balanced diet, salads, etc., I was still not feeling great.  I was about 15 pounds overweight and just was feeling sluggish.  Despite fairly regular exercise, being over 40 was just plain starting to kick in.  I needed to find an easy way to eat an optimal diet and keep myself healthy and keep up with a very busy work schedule and have something left over for home life.

The discovery.  Searching one weekend for the optimal diet, I reviewed a whole lot of information and stumbled across a site that recommended eating green smoothies as an excellent way to get more vegetables and nutrients into one’s diet easily.  The site then discussed an important book with amazing implications about the traditional Western diet.  The book was The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University.  I then started researching the book, I went to Amazon and started reading the description and reviews.  It had over 1,200 reviews and was 4.5 stars out of 5. I kept reading “life-changing” over and over again… well, I guess I was ready for some change, because I picked up the book that day (8/7/11) and started reading… and reading… and reading.

All I can say is that the book truly is profoundly enlightening and can become life-changing if one is open to the important wisdom provided there – that the traditional Western diet with animal-based foods is toxic, and the optimal diet for a human being is a whole foods, plant-based diet. It began a truly enlightening journey of research and gradual change and validation of my views on diet. It was still only the beginning, but the most important foundation. I count myself as incredibly fortunate to have discovered the book and become one of the people that “gets it” about the research, the politics, the importance of Dr. Campbell’s research. Many people may not be ready to accept this message until they have become sick in some way and are ready to look at diet change as a way of saving their life. I am hoping that I can still help enlighten my family and friends who have not become aware, and may yet suffer the effects of a traditional American diet... the cancers, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

I really like the way Dr. Campbell writes, it enhances the importance and sincerity of the message. As found in the first chapter:

"So, what is my prescription for good health? In short, it is about the multiple health benefits of consuming plant-based foods, and the largely unappreciated health dangers of consuming animal-based foods, including all types of meat, dairy and eggs. I did not begin with preconceived ideas, philosophical or otherwise, to prove the worthiness of plant-based diets. I started at the opposite end of the spectrum: as a meat-loving dairy farmer in my personal life and an “establishment” scientist in my professional life. I even used to lament the views of vegetarians as I taught nutritional biochemistry to pre-med students.

My only interest now is to explain the scientific basis for my views in the clearest way possible. Changing dietary practices will only occur and be maintained when people believe the evidence and experience the benefits. People decide what to eat for a number of reasons, health considerations being only one. My task is only to present the scientific evidence in a form that can be understood. The rest is up to you.

The scientific basis for my views is largely empirical, obtained through observation and measurement. It is not illusory, hypothetical or anecdotal; it is from legitimate research findings. It is a type of science originally advocated 2,400 years ago by the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, who said, “There are, in effect, two things: to know and to believe one knows. To know is science. To believe one knows is ignorance.” I plan to show you what I have come to know."

Campbell, T. Colin; Thomas M. Campbell II; John Robbins; Howard Lyman (2006-06-01). The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, We (p. 21). BenBella Books.

I consider one of the important aspects of Right Action to be about doing no harm… to others and to oneself. I did not know it when I started to read The China Study, but I was about to embark on a journey and “wake up” to what we are doing to ourselves when we eat the traditional Western diet. Later research would lead me to also better understand what we are doing to the animals around us who are our fellow earthlings, to the immense cruelty and “misery on the menu", and what we are doing to the planet as a whole through traditional diets with meat, fish and dairy.

The following is a lecture where Dr. Campbell speaks about his research and findings in his book The China Study. His conclusion – the standard Western diet is toxic. This is an excellent introduction to his research. I hope you find it interesting.

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