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Book Reviews

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In 2012, I was delighted to discover Plant Based Diets. Medical research demonstrates that these diets make us 'heart attack proof'! They also prevent type 2 diabetes, obesity and early stage prostate cancer. Below are books by five prominent doctors and researchers in this area. Each book is a gem!

Caldwell Esselstyn's book is aimed at prevention and cure of heart disease. Neal Barnard's book is specifically for diabetes. The other three authors — Dean Ornish, Joel Fuhrman and John McDougall — have a general audience in mind.

The Spectrum

A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health

by Dean Ornish, 416 pages, 2008 (Amazon link).

Dean Ornish surprised the medical community in 1990 by demonstrating that heart disease could be cured by adopting four guidelines: (a) eat vegetarian food, (b) no alcohol, (c) walk half an hour every day, and (d) pursue stress reduction activities like yoga and meditation. Before Ornish's work, nobody believed that heart disease could be reversed. The prevalent belief was that after a heart attack, one had to be on medication for life.

Soon after publication of his initial research in 1990, Dean Ornish convinced an insurance company to try his program on patients scheduled for bypass surgeries. The results were fantastic: the insurance company saved about $30K per patient. Over the next 20 years, Dean Ornish continued his research. Over time, the medical community and insurance companies were convinced.

In 2010, Medicare (US Govt health care system) approved the Dean Ornish Program for rehabilitation of heart patients (see this memo). To participate in this program see list of providers who offer this program.

'The Spectrum' is different from other books in the 'Plant Based Diets' genre in that Dean Ornish provides a whole spectrum of choices. At a high level, he divides people into 'healthy' (who seek lifestyle guidelines for prevention) and 'sick' (who seek lifestyle guidelines for cure). For healthy individuals, small amounts of animal products and refined sugars are allowable. For sick individuals, there are sharp boundaries — cutting out animal products and refined sugars is best.

For more information, see 2004 TED Talk (16:53).

Chapter 1 of the book is available for free here.

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure

by Caldwell Esselstyn Jr, 320 pages, 2008 (Amazon link).

Caldwell Esselstyn is a former heart surgeon from Cleveland Clinic. After Dean Ornish, he is the second doctor to demonstrate that heart disease may be reversed by following a plant based diet and moderate exercise. By reversal of heart disease is meant that the plaque in the arteries goes away! Esselstyn is famous for a 20-year study that is summarized below (text copied verbatim from his website):

The patients in Dr. Esselstyn's initial study came to him with advanced coronary artery disease. Despite the aggressive treatment they received, among them bypasses and angioplasties, 5 of the original group were told by their cardiologists they had less than a year to live. Within months on Dr. Esselstyn’s program, their cholesterol levels, angina symptoms, and blood flow improved dramatically. Twelve years later, 17 compliant patients had no further cardiac events. Adherent patients survived beyond twenty years free of symptoms.

Drop in cholesterol levels: After 5 years on Dr. Esselstyn’s plant-based diet, the average total cholesterol levels of his research group dropped from 246 milligrams per deciliter to 137 mg/dL (Above 240 mg/dL is considered “high risk,” below 150 mg/dL is the total cholesterol level seen in cultures where heart disease is essentially nonexistent.) This is the most profound drop in cholesterol ever documented in the medical literature in a study of this type.

Cardiac events: The 17 patients in the study had 49 cardiac events in the years leading up to the study, and had undergone aggressive treatment procedures. Several had multiple bypass operations. After beginning the eating plan, there were no more cardiac events in the group within a 12-year period.

Angiogram evidence: Angiograms taken of the participants in the study show a widening of the coronary arteries, and thus a reversal of the disease

Two differences between Dean Ornish's program and Esselstyn's guidelines relate to dairy and stress reduction. Esselstyn does not allow any dairy and he does not emphasize stress reduction, making it optional. According to him, simply changing food habits and ensuring daily exercise is sufficient for reversing heart disease. Both Ornish and Esselstyn emphasizes complete elimination of oils for heart patients. Other plant based diet advocates do not emphasize elimination of oil.

For more information, see Heart Attack Proof (website)14-minute TED Talk (great summary of Esselstyn's work) — The Last Heart Attack (CNN documentary) by Dr Sanjay Gupta — Out of the Closet (a detailed and inspiring personal story of Rhandeev, a Google employee who helped his entire family switch to Esselstyn's food guidelines following his dad's heart attack).

Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes

The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs

by Neal Barnard, 288 pages, 2008 (Amazon link).

Neal Barnard has shown that type-2 diabetes can be reversed by adopting a plant based diet. In 2006, he published results of a clinical study in the journal Diabetes Care. As explained in this article, Neal Barnard's plant based diet was shown to be superior to the diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association in alleviating type 2 diabetes. The research paper for the study is: A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes.

Comparison with Gabriel Cousens' book on the same subject: Gabriel Cousens is another doctor who advocates plant based diets. He runs the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona, USA, where he has been treating type 2 diabetes for several decades now. Gabriel Cousens also write a book: There Is a Cure for Diabetes: The Tree of Life 21-Day+ Program. Some Amazon reviewers suggest that Cousens' book lacks details (it is more of an advertisement for his Tree of Life Center) and recommend Neal Barnard's book on diabetes instead.

The Tree of Life Center by Gabriel Cousens produced a documentary called (DVD) Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days (92 minutes, 2009) — available for free on YouTube. I encourage my friends to watch this documentary. Six patients with diabetes were tracked for 30 days as they lived at the Tree of Life Center. They followed Cousens' diet guidelines and daily exercise routines. Within days, all patients improved dramatically. All of them continued with their lifestyle changes beyond these 30 days. The documentary is uplifting because each patient showed remarkable improvement in health and spirit.

Further information: Neal Barnard's Website and diet guidelines. Some Youtube videos: "A Cure for Diabetes through Veganism" (Part IPart IIPart III) and Neal Barnard for Reversing Diabetes.

Eat to Live

The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss

by Joel Fuhrman, 400 pages, 2011 (Amazon link).

Dr Joel Fuhrman is a general practitioner who advocates plant based diets for everybody, without focus on any one specific disease. Eat To Live was on the New York Times bestsellers list in 2011 — 2012 time frame. He quickly followed up with another book called Eat for Health (453 pages, 2012), whose preface is quoted below:

This book is dedicated to all Americans suffering with chronic disease, who were told their problem was simply genetic and that drugs and interventions such as angioplasty and bypass surgery are the only answer.

Even though it is well accepted in the scientific literature that nutritional excellence has powerful therapeutic application, this information has not filtered down to the average American.

People need to know they have a choice. They have a right to know they do not have to suffer and die prematurely of medical conditions that are easily prevented and reversed via nutritional excellence.

So if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, reflux esophagitis, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune disorders or other chronic medical conditions and you desire improved health, vitality and to free yourself of medical dependency, this book is especially dedicated to you with the hope it will transform your health.

In the same book, on pages 29—35, Fuhrman concedes that even though the science underlying the individual guidelines in his diet is well established, there are no medical studies or randomized controlled trials specifically for his diet, which is a combination of many such guidelines. In contrast, studies on diets (a combination of guidelines) by Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn and Neal Barnard have been published in peer reviewed scientific literature. So it is largely from his 20+ years of experience in curing patients that he speaks of the efficacy of his guidelines in curing various diseases listed above.

Further information: Dr Fuhrman website is an extensive website with many articles. I found Joel Fuhrman's talk shows (free mp3's) quite helpful. In these talk shows, Dr Fuhrman answers questions posed by listeners. Among doctors who advocate plant based diets, Joel Fuhrman is the only one who has a book specifically for children: Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right (288 pages, 2006). In addition, he's the only one with a book on fasting: Fasting and Eating for Health (1995, 255 pages). Joel Fuhrman is also the doctor who cured Joe Cross in the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (available for free). Joe did a 60-day juice fast.

Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman: Food List — What To Eat is a great summary of this book.

The Starch Solution

Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good!

by John McDougall & Mary McDougall, 368 pages, 2013 (Amazon link).

John McDougall is a general practitioner who treats patients with a variety of ailments. He is the doctor who influenced Carl Lewis to switch to a plant based diet in 1990. He runs a clinic in Santa Rosa.

In 2012, when I switched to a plant based diet, it was John McDougall's website which influenced me. In particular, a friend pointed me to his diet guidelines (click on 'Next' repeatedly or click on Quick Links on the right). I was hooked!

Further information: John McDougall websiteYouTube videos by himList of Books by him at Amazon.

In Defense of Food

An Eater's Manifesto

by Michael Pollan, 256 pages, 2009 (Amazon link).

In Defense of Food is a delightful book! Chapter by chapter, Michael Pollan studies the history of food production and food guidelines over the last century. He emphasizes that food sold in the supermarket is not real food, it is a 'food like substance' produced by industrial processing with the inclusion of myriad chemical compounds.

Several decades ago, food guidelines were in terms of real substances like bread, grains, fruits and vegetables. Nowadays, food guidelines are in terms of invisible substances like carbohydrates, fats and vitamins, collectively called 'nutrients'. How did this shift in thinking occur? Michael Pollan traces the history of this phenomenon in Chapter 1 ('From Food to Nutrients'). An excerpt from that chapter:

Beginning in the 1950s, a growing body of scientific opinion held that the consumption of fat and dietary cholesterol, much of which came from meat and dairy products, was responsible for rising rates of heart disease during the twentieth century. The "lipid hypothesis," as it was called, had already been embraced by the American Heart Association, which in 1961 had begun recommending a "prudent diet" low in saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products. True, actual proof for the lipid hypothesis was remarkably thin in 1977 — it was still very much a hypothesis, but one well on its way to general acceptance.

In January 1977, the committee issued a fairly straightforward set of dietary guidelines, calling on Americans to cut down on their consumption of red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm of criticism, emanating chiefly from the red meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee's recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about actual foodstuffs — the committee had advised Americans to "reduce consumption of meat" — was replaced by artful compromise: "choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake."

Leave aside for now the virtues, if any, of a low-meat and/or low-fat diet, questions to which I will return, and focus for a moment on language. For with these subtle changes in wording a whole way of thinking about food and health underwent a momentous shift. First, notice that the stark message to "eat less" of a particular food—in this case meat—had been deep-sixed; don't look for it ever again in any official U.S. government dietary pronouncement. Say what you will about this or that food, you are not allowed officially to tell people to eat less of it or the industry in question will have you for lunch. But there is a path around this immovable obstacle, and it was McGovern's staffers who blazed it: Speak no more of foods, only nutrients. Notice how in the revised guidelines, distinctions between entities as different as beef and chicken and fish have collapsed. These three venerable foods, each representing not just a different species but an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as mere delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves. Now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless—and politically unconnected—substance that may or may not lurk in them called saturated fat.

An excerpt from Chapter 3, in which Michael Pollan traces the history of food additives:

By now we have become so inured to fake foods that we forget what a difficult trail margarine had to blaze before it and other synthetic food products could win government and consumer acceptance. At least since the 1906 publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, the "adulteration" of common foods has been a serious concern of the eating public and the target of numerous federal laws and Food and Drug Administration regulations. Many consumers regarded "oleomargarine" as just such an adulteration, and in the late 1800s five states passed laws requiring that all butter imitations be dyed pink so no one would be fooled. The Supreme Court struck down the laws in 1898. In retrospect, had the practice survived, it might have saved some lives.

The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act imposed strict rules requiring that the word "imitation" appear on any food product that was, well, an imitation. Read today, the official rationale behind the imitation rule seems at once commonsensical and quaint: ".. . there are certain traditional foods that everyone knows, such as bread, milk and cheese, and that when consumers buy these foods, they should get the foods they are expecting . . . [and] if a food resembles a standardized food but does not comply with the standard, that food must be labeled as an 'imitation.' "

Hard to argue with that.. . but the food industry did, strenuously for decades, and in 1973 it finally succeeded in getting the imitation rule tossed out, a little-noticed but momentous step that helped speed America down the path to nutritionism.

'Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Much' is a lovely slogan by Michael Pollan which summarizes his philosophy. First, eat 'food', not 'food like substances' being sold in superstores. Second, eat mostly plants. Michal Pollan is an advocate of plant based diets, like Ornish, Esselstyn, Barnard, McDougall and Fuhrman. He is an omnivore, so he does not recommend that animal products be eliminated. However, he recommends that most of the calories should be derived from plants. Finally, his guideline is to eat less via calorie restriction and portion control. In contrast, plant based diet advocates put such restrictions only on nuts and seeds. For other ingredients (whole grains, beans & lentils, vegetables and fruits), they impose no restrictions because these foods are not calorie dense, so we naturally feel full quickly.

Salt Sugar Fat

How the Food Giants Hooked Us

by Michael Moss, 480 pages, 2014 (Amazon link).

Michael Moss is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who wrote a NYTimes Bestseller tracing the history of three addictive food additives: salt, sugar and fat. See NYTimes Review. Each letter in the book cover was derived from a food product available in the supermarket:

© Copyright 2008—2017, Gurmeet Manku.