Sunday, March 22, 2020

Say "No" to Pandemics Becoming the New Normal -- Here's How

On the subject of pandemics and what we can do about preventing them, Dr. Michael Greger gave this important, amazingly prophetic talk back in 2013 where he mentions what our own public health agencies were saying 7 years ago about coming pandemics that would require people to stay home for up to 90 days and practice "social distancing" if we didn't take preventive action to eliminate the root causes for these pandemics. It's time to have a national conversation, a global conversation really, on the root cause and how we can turn away from the current situation becoming the "new normal."

A few days ago I asked on Facebook the question of what if we are the virus and Covad-19 was the medicine. The question was in recognition of our place in the cycle of life within the natural world. I think that we can and are both the victim and the virus, much like Robert Frost's poem of two equal paths converging in the woods. And which one we see ourselves as being shapes our perspective just as looking back on which of the equal paths were taken shapes a person's perspective later in life.
Nature accepts these cycles, but mankind wants to pass judgment on them. Just as ancient civilizations would look at tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and even dark moody clouds as the gods being angry with them for their sins, we today can also fall into the trap of saying that existing calamities are the result of nature rebelling against our evil doings.
It's believed this virus came from killing a bat to eat, and there's lessons to be drawn from that. And we should expect that pandemics will occur the more densely populated we become. Killing and eating animals increases the likelihood of pandemics occurring. Because of differing standards of hygiene and public health in other countries, globalization will play a part in pandemics happening. Putting all of these together increases the likelihood that pandemics will occur now and in the future, possibly with greater frequency.
We can learn from all of that. 
But we can also find time to be in the moment. We can seek for and advocate solutions. We can be part of the solution. But I don't think we should be like ancient civilizations and see it as being some kind of judgment of nature against our evildoing. To me, this is just where we are at in this moment in time. We are ahead of the ancient civilizations that blamed adverse events on the gods. But by the same token we are way behind future generations and what they will know and understand about these things.
We need to stay humble. And when we understand that we are not just the victim, but we are also the virus, then we can start to make progress and create the antibodies within our own civilization that are necessary for a functioning society. We can start to understand more of what future generations will understand. And perhaps, just maybe, we might reduce the frequency and severity of future pandemics.
I think we know what we need to do. Let's all start to do it.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Over 65 and The Problem of Needing More Nutrients but Fewer Calories

As most people know, I lost over 150 pounds by following a whole food, plant-based diet. What people may not know is that when I did that (six years ago), I did so without a lot of knowledge about nutrition. I just knew to eat a wide variety of whole plant-based foods. So, that's what I did.
Then came along How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger. I read that and started following his Daily Dozen, and that's when I stopped losing weight. Is that a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. I understand that the body naturally fights to hold on to that last ten pounds. So, that could be what's going on.
But, the Daily Dozen did get me to start eating a certain quantity of food each day. And the more I learn about nutrition, the more important I realize it is to include certain foods in my diet. I also believe it's important to get adequate protein and healthy fats in every meal. Especially, being in my 70s now. Our nutritional requirements are definitely higher over the age of 65 than they are for younger people.
I'm reading a book now titled Never Too Late to Go Vegan, and it's written for people over the age of 50. It's an excellent book, and I recommend it to everyone over the age of 50. It goes through how to get started, what foods are important, the specific nutritional requirements for a person over the age of 50 that younger people don't have, how to handle family and friend relationships and more (including over 80 pages of whole food, plant-based recipes for us older folks Note: They do use oil though).
The book talks about just this problem of getting enough nutrients while still trying to manage your weight. It makes the statement that we have increased nutritional needs but lower caloric requirements. And therein lies the problem. That's a conflict. The book suggests exercise to compensate. And while exercise is important for a whole host of health-related reasons, more recent research (since this book was published) has found, contrary to what common sense would tell us, the human body burns pretty much the same number of calories in a day regardless of whether we exercise or we are a couch potato. So, exercising doesn't work for losing weight. It's excellent for building muscle and improving our health though.
There's no law that says there has to be a perfect answer either. We may have to each decide on an individual basis which is more important to us: weight management or optimal nutrition. Of course, it doesn't have to be an either-or answer either. We can make decisions that compromise somewhere in between. In some cases, getting an adequate amount of nutrition from certain foods will take precedent and in other cases, we might decide to sacrifice some nutritional benefit in order to more effectively manage our weight. We each have to decide for ourselves on this.
For me, nutrition has become primary and weight management has become secondary. In my mind, being overweight and healthy is better than being skinny and in the hospital. My current BMI, which is right at 25, the borderline between normal and overweight, is the same as it's been for the last four years. But my Omron scale does show that I've gained muscle and lost body fat during that time period. That is something exercise can do for us, as long as we make sure we eat enough protein in conjunction with the exercising.
Protein needs, by the way, are increased for people over the age of 65 and they are even higher for those who are athletic. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in March 2003 estimated that 40% of Americans over the age of 50 get insufficient protein. Protein deficiency shows up in the older population through decreasing muscle mass (you actually don't have to lose muscle as you age), hip fractures and wrist fractures, which are both more prevalent in older Americans. Make beans, soy, tofu, tempeh, rice and beans, and quinoa your friends and include at every meal along with exercise.
Anyway, I decided to write this for all of you who are struggling with your weight and the need to meet your nutritional needs. I hope it was helpful. As I said, there is no law of the universe that says there has to be a perfect answer. I think we oftentimes look for that perfect answer, but it's not always there. What works for one person may or may not work for you. You could do exactly what I did when I was losing the weight, and you could lose nothing.
But the worst thing you can do in that case would be to get discouraged and quit. Instead, find what works for you. To do that, you may have to decide what observable results are most important to you. It won't be the same for everybody. But eating a diet of mostly whole, plant-based foods with adequate protein, calcium, healthy fats and attention to other nutritional needs, combined with daily exercise and adequate sleep and stress management, is without a doubt the healthiest thing you can do for yourself.

J Lanning Smith
Twice the Man Half the Weight
August 19, 2019

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Differences Between a Vegan Diet and a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet

I think almost as much as I hear the question, "Where do you get your protein?" I also hear the question "What is the difference between a vegan diet and a whole food plant-based diet?" Many people equate the two as being the same, and in fact I hear people using the term "vegan" when they really mean "whole food, plant-based." So, I thought I would do a blog post on the subject.

I think the reason the two diets become equated is because both involve not eating meat or other animal products. Vegans do it for ethical reasons that they don't want to exploit animals, and that non-exploitation extends out not just to diet but to also avoiding as much as practical all consumption of animal products. It's not just animal-based foods that vegans avoid, but it's also leather products, wool products, animal ingredients in various products from soaps to medicines and to products that are produced as a result of animal testing.

For purposes of this discussion, however, I am restricting my discussion to a "vegan diet" as opposed to the broader subject of being a vegan. And in a vegan diet, there is only one rule. That is to avoid foods which contain animal ingredients or were developed through the exploitation of animals. A vegan diet is not about being healthy; it is about protecting animals.

Having said that, I recognize that there are many vegans who are concerned about their health, and many people who are whole food, plant-based have also adopted the vegan way of life. That's true in reverse too. Many vegans have adopted the whole food, plant-based way of living. Generally, those people call themselves whole food, plant-based vegans. But just being whole food, plant-based does not make a person vegan. And just being vegan does not make a person whole food, plant-based.

Before going on to explain how eating whole food, plant-based is different from the vegan diet, I want to mention that there are other common areas of concern that both a whole food, plant-based person can have and a vegan can have. One of course is health, which I will get into next. Another is the environment. Many also have concerns about how our food system affects climate change. A  number of people eating either whole food, plant-based or vegan or both have concerns about how national policy can be influenced by the food we eat and the foods we should be eating. How food affects our taxes, our overcrowded medical industry, our education system, etc. That's the subject of my next blog post (or at least that's what I'm planning right now for my next blog post. I think it's an important topic).

Many of us have all those concerns, but it's not necessary to have all those concerns to eat either vegan or whole food, plant-based.

Eating whole food, plant-based is generally first and foremost about personal health. And in that regard, eliminating or reducing animal products in a person's diet is only one aspect of a whole food, plant-based diet. Other factors of equal importance are:

  • The elimination or limiting of most processed foods, including "vegan foods," due to not only the added sugars, salt and fats, all of which are important to not consume too much of, but also due to the manmade chemicals and "natural flavors" contained in most processed foods.
  • The elimination or limiting of oils due to the high caloric density of the oils and the inflammatory properties of the oils, especially when heated. Consumption of oil also makes it very difficult if not impossible to achieve a person's healthiest weight level
  • Avoided use of added sugars in foods consumed.
  • Limiting or avoiding salt added to foods consumed.
  • If animal products are consumed, they are limited to less than 5% of the calories in the diet (based on Dr. T Colin Campbell's work in the China Study and on how people in the Blue Zones, where people have lived healthy lives the longest, eat). In no case are processed meats or red meats considered healthy foods to eat. Recent studies have shown the same concerns for white meats too.
None of those guidelines are part of the vegan diet. Only the elimination of animal products is necessary to be following a vegan diet. Again, I stress the word "diet" there because there is more to being an actual vegan than that (just as there is more to living a healthy lifestyle than eating a whole food, plant-based diet).

I actually consider the whole food, plant-based way of eating to be closer to the Mediterranean diet than I do the vegan diet. The Mediterranean diet is a diet whose principle purpose is health and the prevention of chronic diseases as is the whole food, plant-based diet. It eliminates red meat and processed meats and it emphasizes the inclusion of large amounts of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds in the diet. It also emphasizes avoiding added sugars and salt and limiting the animal products that are eaten. Of course, the big differences are in the amount of olive oil used and in the consumption of "white meats" and dairy products. Therefore, it's not a perfect comparison. But neither is it a perfect comparison to equate us with the vegan diet (as shown by the bullet points above).

Thinking that we who eat whole food, plant-based are vegans can (and does) lead us down unhealthy pathways. I know many people who claim to be whole food, plant-based and think nothing of eating a "vegan" labelled food even though it can have terrible health consequences for them. Maybe not if they do it only once, but if it's a regular habit, which it can become if you think of this as just a vegan diet, then it can have undesirable health consequences that may surprise them since they think they're eating healthy. The same with eating out in restaurants. If all you think is important in a restaurant is to order something without meat or cheese or egg then you are likely going to end up with a plate of food that has unhealthy levels of salt, oil and sugar in it. 

So, really, think whole food, plant-based when it comes to food. If you want to be vegan too, that's great. But even if you are a whole food, plant-based vegan, you want to think whole food, plant-based when it comes to your food. It's as simple as that.

J Lanning Smith
Twice the Man Half the Weight
July 26, 2019

Thursday, July 11, 2019

An Easy Meal Plan to Follow

One of the important things about following a whole food, plant-based diet is to eat as wide a variety of whole plant-based foods as we can. That means eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats (nuts and seeds, avocado, soy products) as possible. When our whole food, plant-based doctors say that you get all the protein you need from eating plants, they usually qualify it with that statement about assuming you are eating enough calories from a wide variety (including the color rainbow) of whole plant-based foods. 

And that's true for all nutrients. We need to mix it up. Senior citizens (something many of us see as being about 10 or 15 years older than we currently are) are notorious for getting stuck on eating a limited variety of foods. I know I have been guilty of that myself when I would go for months or even years at a time eating colcannon every night for dinner.

But here's an easy meal plan that provides considerable variety in our diets, meets most of our nutritional needs, and is enjoyable and tasty to eat. And that is the ever popular Bowl. Call it what you want -- the Grain Bowl, the Protein Bowl, the Buddha Bowl, the Bean Bowl, the Chipotle Bowl. It's all really the same thing. And it's easy to prepare. It doesn't even require a lot of planning or forethought. And different varieties of it can be eaten at different meals during the day.

The idea is simple. You put layers of different foods into a bowl and then enjoy. I like to start with colorful fresh produce that I layer at the bottom of the bowl. This part of the meal will look like a salad. It can include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, red or yellow or orange bell peppers, radishes, onion, carrots, etc. I use a chopping bowl to first chop the salad mixture up. That way I get the benefit of a full salad, but it takes up little space in the meal bowl that I'm preparing. I then spray that with apple cider vinegar to give it some moisture and to help the taste.

Then I add whole grains and on top of the whole grains, I add the legumes. This can be any whole grain and any legume (except peanuts). And then I'll top that with some healthy fats like  walnuts, flax, chia or hemp seeds, and/or avocado. You don't need a lot of healthy fat, but you need some in order to absorb nutrients from some of the foods in your bowl. And the bowl can be topped with your favorite oil-free dressing. For getting my fruit in, I like to also top the bowl with berries. That can be blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc. And sometimes I will add a fruit like an apple or peach or apricot or cherries when they are in season as a side item.

What is amazing about this bowl is, as I mentioned, it requires no preplanning (except to make sure you always have on hand some cooked legumes and grains, which is easy to do with an Instant Pot and a refrigerator). And it can be made with virtually any plant-based food.

And that brings me to the next part of this --- shopping at the grocery store. Instead of making your grocery list specific to specific foods, loosen it up so that you can buy what's most fresh or what's on sale or what looks like it might be interesting to eat or to try a new type of produce that you've never tried before. Remember, variety is very important in maintaining a healthy balance of nutrients in our diets.

So, instead of saying Brown Rice on our grocery list, let the list just inform us that we need Grains. Then when in the store you have a whole selection of grains to choose from. Choose some you've never tried before. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised. The same with legumes. You don't always have to buy garbanzo beans or green lentils. Mix it up and try different varieties. 

Doing this will make your meals enjoyable, easy to prepare, easy to shop for and less time consuming.

J Lanning Smith
July 11, 2019

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Good and the Bad of Meat Analogs

This posting from Finally Our Time has been revised and moved to The Art of Plant-Based Meal Creation as of June 23, 2019.

Last night, I made a presentation to the Sun City Hilton Head Eat Smart Live Longer Club on why many "vegan" foods are not whole food, plant-based and are best minimized. While there was much more to the presentation than what is shown in this blog posting, the four slides shown in this posting drive home the key points of the presentation.
But before getting to these slides, let me say, however, that I am a strong proponent for Beyond Meat and for Impossible Meat and other such meat analogs that come on the market. They will be and are a huge benefit for helping meat eaters reduce the quantity of animal-based products that they eat. If all 327 million people in the United States were to replace just one pound per week of animal products, say on Meatless Mondays, with a meat analog, that would be over 17 billion pounds less of animal product consumed in this country. Think about that --- 17 billion pounds less. How many fewer animals would have to suffer and die for us? How many fewer farms would that require? How much less water usage would that be? How much less damage to the atmosphere would that result in?
That makes an important point that I've stressed for years now. You don't have to be vegan to have a big impact -- an impact on your health, an impact on the environment, an impact on society and an impact on the animals. Whatever you have done and can do will help. Over time, I think the ideal would be to re-create our culture to be one where eating animal products becomes as unacceptable in society as is smoking today. But we're not going to get there overnight.
Now, the slides. The purpose of these slides is to show to people who already eat whole food, plant-based, that these foods are not truly whole food, plant-based. And that's okay. The manufacturers have said these foods are not intended for us. These foods are intended for meat eaters. But many people who eat whole food, plant-based are confused, and have expressed that through questions to me, about the role these foods should play in a whole food, plant-based diet. I don't say that they, or any food, should be eliminated, but they are a food to minimize. I have eaten the Beyond Burger a few times in the past year myself, a couple times since making this presentation. My point is just to make people aware of what they are eating when they do eat one. Hopefully, this reduces some of the confusion.

In the first two slides, I did two comparisons of two very popular meat analogue burgers against first our own whole food plant-based guidelines and then secondly against the actual hamburger (and the comparison here was against a not very lean hamburger at that). In fairness, I should note that the Beyond Burger has changed its ingredients since I made these slides, and I have not evaluated the current ingredients. These slides are from an earlier presentation.

As can be seen on the first slide, neither burger meets our requirements when it comes to fat content or to sodium content.

Furthermore, when you compare against fat, saturated fat, sodium and calories, the hamburger comes out the healthier choice. And the more lean we make the hamburger, the more dramatic the differences can be.

Of course the point of that is not to say that anyone should start eating real hamburger meat again. We already know that hamburger meat is not considered healthy, is not whole food, plant-based, is not good for the environment and is a disaster for the lives of so many animals.

But it's not just the fat and sodium content that are problems; it's also the ingredients. This next slide makes the point as to why I sometimes call these foods "chemical-based" as opposed to "plant-based." And as we always say, if you don't recognize the ingredients or you can't pronounce the ingredients, then it's probably not a whole food.

Again, in fairness, the ingredients list for these two meat analogs does look better than it does for a lot of processed foods. So, if I was going to eat a processed food, this would likely be the better choice.

Then I got into one of my favorite topics (and this drew the loudest gasps last night). That topic is Natural Flavors. There's a whole book just on natural flavors, called The Dorito Effect and it's an excellent book to read. It's eye opening.

So, this next slide is intended to show how Natural Flavors shows up in an Ingredients list and how innocuous it looks on the label. It's almost inviting. It makes it sound like we're talking about the real food, being that it's natural, flavoring the particular food or drink.

But then this fifth slide destroys that myth. In this slide, I show the ingredients (chemicals) behind just one typical natural flavor. Those are ingredients that never show up on the label. All the label says is "Natural Flavors."

Note: This ingredients list for one natural flavor is NOT the natural flavors for the Impossible Burger. And as noted in the ingredients list, the Beyond Burger does not include natural flavors.

But I would say that about 90% of the processed foods in the store today have Natural Flavors listed in their ingredients listing. That's my guesstimate as to the prevalence of natural flavors. And we don't know what is in those natural flavors.

In conclusion, I make the point that our WFPB way of eating, while it can exclude animal products, is really not a vegan diet. It is a diet focused on eating real food (not fake food or processed foods made in a manufacturing facility somewhere). I think that Michael Pollan described it best when he wrote:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Those seven words, to me, wrap up the entire whole food, plant-based philosophy. If we keep those seven words in mind at every meal, then we should always be able to steer ourselves right when it comes to eating healthy. But if instead, we think of the WFPB way of eating as a vegan diet, then we can get led astray and we can find ourselves easily eating a lot of less than ideal foods.

One thing that almost all successful diets for health (WFPB, Mediterranean, Paleo, etc.) have in common is the minimization of processed foods. Hopefully, these slides and my presentation to about 140 people last night help to convey why that is.

Encouraging Others to Become Plant-Based

Last month, I wrote in my monthly column for our local newspaper, The Bluffton Sun that it is really important that people increase their intake of plant-based foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. And that they shouldn't get hung up on totally giving up animal-based foods if they find that to be a stumbling block for them. The important thing is to reduce the amount of animal-based foods in our diets and to increase the plant-based foods. It's a point that Dr. Greger makes much more eloquently in his book How Not to Die. And it's what I truly believe.

But at last Thursday's Eat Smart Live Longer Club meeting, I was chastised by one of our members who felt that I was hurting the club or the whole food, plant-based movement (I'm not sure which) by writing that column. I want to respond to that because I seriously disagree with that, and she didn't stay with me to hear what I thought. There may be others who think like she does too, so I think it's worth responding to.

While I think the ESLL club and the wfpb movement are important for the message they deliver and the support they provide to each other, I think it's vitally more important to move the general population toward eating fewer animal products and more plant-based products. And my motives are purely selfish for wanting that:

  • I want people healthier so that my medical insurance premiums can go down instead of up when insurance companies no longer have to pay for people to be on lifelong medications for diabetes, heart disease or other chronic illnesses AND for when they're not having to cover so many people being hospitalized and making frequent doctor office visits.
  • I want people healthier so that my taxes can go down when the government no longer needs to spend as much on Medicare and Medicaid, or so that those programs can be extended to cover more people and for the remainder of my projected lifetime.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that fewer animal farms are needed, thus ending my having to check my greens every other month to see if they've been infected by e-coli bacteria.
  • I want people to go plant-based because I am empathetic toward farm animals and the horrendous conditions they live under and the atrocious nature by which they are slaughtered.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that they quit consuming high quantities of meats that then result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that spreads to the rest of the population and could be a killer of any one of us (or a lot of us through a plague) someday.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that I and others won't be subjected to all the devastating effects of climate change.
  • I want people to go plant-based so that there will be enough clean water available for all of us in the future.
  • I want people to go plant-based in order to preserve our ecosystem upon which all of our lives depend, whether we realize it or not.
It's not just good enough that I am plant-based and experiencing great health by being so. It's not just good enough that 600 some members of the Eat Smart Live Longer Club are plant-based. It's not just good enough that 8% of the population is vegetarian and 3% is vegan. 

No, I think we need a cultural shift in thinking. We need for people on a wide scale to eat mostly whole, plant-based foods. Sure there are health benefits to be gained by giving up all animal products and all processed foods, and many people do that. But to over 90% of the population, there is not the desire right now to do that. I know that because they don't do that.

But what they will do is cut back on animal and processed food consumption. And any cutback is progress. If all 300 million people in the United States cut back on animal consumption by 50%, that would be the equivalent of 150 million people going 100% vegan. So, to gain the benefits of eliminating animal-based foods doesn't mean that we all have to be vegan. It's far more likely that I can get a person to cut back some percentage of their consumption on animal products than it is that I can convince them to go totally vegan. We know that because the percentage of true vegans has been stagnant since the 1940s when the movement first started.

So, I will always take a practical approach. I myself came to this way of eating by following Mark Bittman of The New York Times, who wrote the book VB6. His message was to eat vegan for all meals during the day except one. While I never ever would have considered going totally off of animal foods back then, I knew that that was something I could do. And he made a convincing case for why I should do that. If I started that way, then why should I expect anybody else to start off totally vegan?

I will always promote living a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. And if that means telling somebody that it's okay to include some animal products in it, then so be it. It's still a good thing for the animals as long as they're eating fewer animal products than before. It's good for the environment. It's good for me. And it's good for their health. I'd rather get somebody doing that than I would to lose them because I told them to jump all in and be vegan from the get go (or from any part of their whole food plant-based journey).

J Lanning Smith
Twice the Man, Half the Weight
June 23, 2019

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Baked Sweet Potato Oatmeal

Tonight I decided to have oatmeal for dinner, but I also had a sweet potato that I needed to use up. So, I decided to make a sweet potato oatmeal entree. Adding in mashed banana for added sweetness, it turned out to be a delicious dish that I topped with blueberries and walnuts.

This makes a serving for two (or for one extra hungry person).


1/2 cup steel cut oats
1 sweet potato
1 banana, sliced and chopped
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1-1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk


First slice the sweet potato into thin slices. I do not peel my sweet potatoes, but you can peel it first if that is preferred.  However, the largest amount of nutrients are in the skin of the potato.

Place the slice sweet potato into the Instant Pot on a steamer rack with about 1 inch of water. Cook pressurized for 10 minutes.

Place the sweet potato in the Vitamix or other blender and blend to a puree consistency.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 and place all of the ingredients in a baking dish.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Top it with blueberries and walnuts and enjoy!