Notes from 2FFC 11-15

I attended the 2 Forks Food Conference in Pasadena, CA organized by Rip Esselstyn and his Engine 2 organization. Rich Lamb from NuSci joined me (John Tanner) for the first day which was largely science talks and Michelle Tanner from Little Green Forks joined me for the second day which was mostly cooking demonstrations.

Rip delivered the opening talk. Rip is the son of Caldwell Esselstyn, author of the book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” so Rip has been eating plant-based through most of his life including his time as a world-class triathlete, as a fireman, and now as a leading cookbook author (“The Engine 2 Diet” and “My Beef with Meat”) and advocate of a plant-based diet.

As a firefighter, Rip found that 80% of the calls to which his fire crew responded were not fires but were for diseases caused by our western diet: moving people over 500 pounds to the hospital, teens in diabetic comas, and people having cardiac arrest. (I can identify with this last one, being extremely grateful to the fireman who responded to my cardiac arrest.)

Lean chicken is still 20% saturated fat. A tablespoon of oil has 120 calories. A tablespoon of sugar has 50 calories. These are both empty calories. Green leafy vegetables and fruits have around 7% fat, which is all the healthy fat you need. Milk contains casein which Colin Campbell considers the most potent carcinogen on the planet. Cheese is the #1 source of saturated fats in the American diet. We don’t need animal products to get enough protein – plants provide plenty. Being concerned with getting enough protein in your diet is like worrying about getting enough oxygen in your next breath. One of Rip’s favorite recipes is sweet potato lasagna on page 202 of his Engine 2 Diet book. Rip says that when you go plant-based, you are getting health by choice, not by chance.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD talked about the relationship between diet and heart disease. Eating our standard American diet, 80% of soldiers age 20 have significant coronary artery disease. Most kids graduating from high school already have the foundation of heart disease.

Only 10% of heart attacks come from hard plaques. They grow slow enough that the body grows tiny collateral blood vessels to compensate for the failing main arteries. But 90% of heart attacks come from soft plaques which rupture causing rapid clotting which blocks the artery. Endothelial cells, which line the inner surface of our arteries, produce nitric oxide that has many beneficial attributes including keeping the artery walls from being sticky. Experiments with the brachial artery compress this major arm artery for 15 minutes and then release it in order to measure the proper function of the arteries after the compression is released. These experiments show that a meal of animal products interferes significantly with artery function. In contrast a diet of whole plants does not damage endothelial cells and so the arteries continue working properly. Animal foods also trigger damage from our microbiome, the bacteria in our stomachs and intestines. Carnitine from animal foods is converted by gut bacteria to produce TMA which turns into TMAO which leads to cardiac disease. People who don’t eat meat regularly do not have in their stomachs the bacteria that begin this damaging cascade.

Acetic acid in vinegar helps produce nitric oxide, so balsamic vinegar (which contains acetic acid) makes a healthy salad dressing. Treating the cause of coronary disease by switching to an exclusively plant-based diet results in 1/30th the recurrent heart events of three other cardiac disease prevention trials (Courage, Nat Hx, and Lyon). A healthy cardiovascular system helps more than just the heart. Dementia is minimized and a plant based diet was shown to increase the blood pulse volume in the leg of a patient, thus relieving the patient’s leg pain. Research shows that damaged endothelial cells can produce vasorestrictors which reduce blood flow instead of producing vasodilators as normal which increase blood flow. That's why when switching to a plant based diet, recovery happens much quicker than can be explained by plaque reversal. Even before there is sufficient time for the body to clean up the plaques, on a plant-based diet, the endothelial cells can begin their recovery, and in so doing switch from making chemicals that reduce blood flow and begin making chemicals that increase blood flow.

Ann and Jane Esselstyn, wife and daughter of Caldwell Esselstyn, shared with us examples of heart healthy meals. Many of these recipes can be found in their recently published cookbook “The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook.” They also drew from the recipe section authored by Jane of Rips latest book “My Beef With Meat.” They gave us samples of Ann’s Oats with Grapes (page 43 of their cookbook). I was surprised that dry oats tasted good. They also demonstrated their savory breakfast with oats, kale, and chia seeds. Ann really likes lemon, so she made a sandwich using no-oil hummus, kale, and whole lemon slices including the peel! They made a salad using kale, napa cabbage, edamame, carrots, blueberries, and pumpkin seeds. They also included a sweet potato bowl. (Most of you who have attended one of our workshops have probably tasted our sweet potato bowl, derived from their recipe. Delicious.)

I (John Tanner) got to briefly share my cardiac arrest story with the audience and explain why I was giving out book coupons to promote nutrition education and therefore save lives.

Next Chef Del Sroufe, author of “Forks Over Knives: The Cookbook” and “Better Than Vegan” shared with us some cooking basics including how to chop and how to hold a knife. He covered the basic tools and said that it should only costs about $75 to $100 for all the essential cooking tools. He strongly recommends making a plan before going to the grocery store. He says we should make a multi-day meal plan, from that make a shopping list, and then when we go to the grocery store, stick to the list. Don't go into aisles where there is nothing on your list. Especially don’t go into the potato chip aisle.

Michael Klaper, MD shared that after a fatty meal, your blood gets fattier for hours before your liver can clean it up. And subcutaneous fat produces estrogen. Animal fat produces inflammatory cytokines which inhibit the insulin receptors. These two factors attack the proper glucose absorption into the cells, resulting in type 2 diabetes. By switching to a plant-based diet, type 2 diabetes can be reversed.

Dr. Klaper says that dairy is baby calf growth fluid, but is not right for us humans to consume. Estrogen in the milk causes us to gain weight. Cows have been bred to produce milk while pregnant. This increases the estrogen level in milk through the roof. Dairy products are suspected of contributing to formation of male breasts, uterine fibroids, precocious puberty, and acne. Osteoporosis is not a disease of lack of calcium. It is sedentary life and a lack of essential nutrients that lead to osteoporosis. In countries with high dairy consumption, osteoporosis thrives.

Olive oil or other oils are not healthy. Eating them makes blood flow sluggish. Most Americans eat flesh three times a day. No carnivore eats flesh three times a day. Among other problems, eating meat fuels gut bacteria that produce TMAO which is an endotoxin that causes leaky gut. Long exposure to animal proteins leads to dependency on them, so cutting them out makes you miss them. This affect causes some people who try to give up meat to go back to it. But after a detoxification period, you won’t miss meat.

Make your own decisions on food independent of those around you. If you make the wrong choices, it’s not those around you in the hospital, you are.

Chef AJ, author of “Unprocessed,” shared quick and easy cooking. She made a mushroom chili in a pressure cooker. She then made an acorn squash stuffed with onions, carrots, and celery (in French cooking, these three ingredients are called mirepoix – pronounced meer-pwah’). She also added cherries to the stuffing. She demonstrated making a marinara using sun dried tomato, Roma tomatoes, medjool dates and basil. She also mentioned that a similar recipe without basil makes a great no-salt, no-sugar catsup. Next up she used a spiral cutter to cut a zucchini into long noodles for the pasta sauce. We won’t mention what she did with one of the long noodles and a gentleman from the audience. She ended by making a quinoa salad with pomegranates and currants.

Doug Lisle, PhD, author (along with Alan Goldhamer) of “The Pleasure Trap” observed that many people understand what they need to do to be healthy but find doing it difficult. Why? Behavioral psychologists have grouped many of our motivations into three categories: pursuit of pleasure (food, sex), avoidance of pain, and energy conservation. What foods do people crave? Fat, sugar, and salt because when we eat these, our bodies produce dopamine which registers in the brain as pleasure. When we eat lots of junk foods with high fat, sugar, and/or salt, we temporarily feel good but the body adapts and our pleasure decreases even while continuing to eat the junk food. When we then first start eating healthy we feel bad until time passes. After a while, we feel as good eating healthy food as we did eating junk food constantly, but we first have to get through the time when we will feel bad. Three tricks to get through this tough time: two meal fasting, juicing, longer term water fasting.

A panel consisting of Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Klaper, Dr. Lisle, and Ann Esselstyn answered questions from the audience. One question was how to deal with the increase in intestinal gas which can occur when switching to a plant-based diet. Dr. Klaper said that 80% of the gas is the air you swallow with your food, so carefully chewing all your food into a creamy form would reduce intestinal gas. Of the 20% of the gas from bacteria, it will change over time as your stomach bacteria adapt to your new diet, so it will be less of a problem after a while. My favorite answer to this question came from Ann Esselstyn. Her recommendation: Get a dog and blame it on the dog
Another question was “What about alcohol consumption?” The panel concurred that alcohol is toxic to the brain, heart, liver and other organs. Minimize its consumption.

On the second day of the 2 Forks Food Conference, Doug Lisle led off, this time talking about how to lose weight without losing your mind. Your body has a built-in mechanism for controlling how much you eat. You have stretch and nutrient receptors that contribute to a calculation of how many calories you have eaten and thus when you are satisfied and will naturally stop eating. Calorie dense foods mess up this sensory/calculation system so that even after you have all the calories you should have, you are still hungry. Some people have fewer fat receptors and so are more easily fooled into overeating by a high fat diet. So for these people, it is harder to keep from getting fat than people with more fat receptors. However, with a calorie dense, high fat diet, most people will get too fat, and with a low calorie density, low-fat, plant-based diet, most people will achieve a healthy weight through their own internal satiation mechanisms.

Rip Esselstyn demonstrated the cooking of firefighter food – food that common people are used to, but with modifications to make it healthy. He showed us carrot dogs, whole-wheat crust pizza, bean-oat-sweet-potato burgers, and banana soft serve dessert.

Chef Darshana Thacker, whose recipes can be found in “The Forks Over Knives Plan” and “Forks Over Knives—The Cookbook”, demonstrated festive fun Mexican food including tortilla soup, tomatillo rice, tomatillo sauce, and memelas with roasted zucchini and caramelized onions.

Ann and Jane Esselstyn shared their holiday menu including Mommy's mushroom gravy, smoky little devils hors d'oeuvres (potatoes like deviled eggs), cranberry salsa, lime-mango bean salad, kale bruschetta, and walnut sauce.

Del Sroufe followed with Asian food deconstructed. He demonstrated Chinese brown sauce, pineapple fried rice, vegetable lo mein, and stir-fried rice with asparagus and red pepper.

Darshana Thacker came back with deciphering Indian Foods and spices. She demonstrated yellow split peas khichri, masala mixed vegetables, and sweet potato tikkis with cilantro chutney.

Del Sroufe continued with dishes for breakfast all day long including brown rice breakfast pudding, sweet potato pie oatmeal, muesli, and a breakfast scramble using a Jamaican fruit ackee which cooks up like eggs.

Chef AJ made a number of deserts including a fall pudding made with sweet potato and banana, a triple apple cake (no sugar, no flour), black bean brownies, and a clafouti (a French fruit dessert).

The entertainment highlight of the day was a cooking competition between Darshana Thacker, Del Sroufe, Chef AJ, and the Esselstyn duo of Ann and Jane. Each contestant was given a set of ingredients that they needed to make into a dish of their choice under a fixed time limit. Each of the contestants shared their approaches to the task as they cooked and trash talked each other. Great fun. Finally the chopped champion was crowned, complete with a kale-festooned crown. Darshana Thacker won the crown with a dish of tacos with oatmeal and sweet potatoes.

John Tanner  11-23-15

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