Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vegan Diabetics

I finished reading the book "Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes" a few weeks ago.  Overall I thought it was a decent 'self help' book, in that it didn't just repeat itself over and over, and the average person can read it and gain a lot of knowledge.  It sites some interesting studies and builds a strong case for rethinking the American Diabetes Association diet.  What is his diet?  It's a low-fat vegan meal plan, the same thing Dr. Ornish studied and recommended for patients with heart disease in the 80's and 90's.  Dr. Barnard is the president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).  The organization promotes vegan diets for everyone and are also activists in the promotion for ethical treatment of research animals.  The organization studies how diet and lifestyle affect chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and many others.  I'm not going to go too in-depth, but here is what I liked and didn't like about this book:

  • Being a vegan = more vegetables and fruits!!!
  • Decreases junk food, a box of potato chips might be vegan, but it isn't low fat.
  • It promotes weight loss, which is a good thing since most people with Type II diabetes are overweight.  Weightloss alone helps lower blood glucose.
  • The program apparently works really really well.
  • Excellent explanation and analogies of the disease process and complications of diabetes.
  • His studies did not include an exercise component, but he does discuss how exercise is needed for optimal blood glucose control.
  • No need to measure portions, encourages people to eat until they are comfortably full.
  • It's an alternative to the high fat, low carb diets.
  • Not only does the diet address diabetes, but also heart disease and renal failure.  Both are major issues for people with diabetes.


  • He sites the China Study, which has been reviewed by many people and found to be very unfounded and based on correlation.  My high school psychology teacher used to say "correlation does not equal causation"
  • His two studies were very small 13 test subjects in one, 49 in the second.
  • He states "there is no reason for anyone to eat animal-derived foods"... let me know if I'm wrong but I think we evolved with canine teeth for a reason.  People must supplement their diets when they cut out meat, and no ancient culture would ever willingly cut out meat or seafood all together.
  • He attributes food cravings to a release of opiates from meat, sugar, cheese, and chocolate.  And poor diet to poeple having a lack of dopamine receptors in their brain.  He skips over the fact that both these issues have major social, environmental, and emotional connections too.   
  • He promotes the ingestion of a high amount of processed meat substitutes.  According to him, I could have: Scrambled tofu, 'Facon', and a glass of rice milk for breakfast, A tofurkey and soy cheese sandwich at lunch, and a stir-fry with Boca meatless crumbles for supper.  This is a lot of processed soy.  While edemame and small amounts of tofu and tempe are ok, these highly processed products may be linked to....CANCER! Something he also forgets to mention; women with certain types of breast cancer need to avoid soy secondary to it's estrogen mimicking effects.
  • He limits nuts because they are high in fat.  He considers a serving of nuts as 3oz, but in actuality it's only 1oz.  Almonds and walnuts have been shown to lower overall cholesterol while simultaneously improving HDL cholesterol levels.  Nuts should be promoted, not limited.

What I found most interesting and controversial was the research on milk.  Much of what he discusses in the book can be found on the PCRM website, and it's worth taking a gander at.  They cited a study finding that drinking more than 1 glass of milk/day increases a woman's chance of ovarian cancer by 73%.  WHOLEY MOLEY that's a lot.  The studies concerning IGF-1 and it's links to prostate and breast cancer may be suspect.  I question it especially after reading this literature review by the  Cornell University Sprecher Institute on Comparative Cancer Research; it appears that the milk consumption and cancer risk are rather unfounded.  There are a few other issues in the research he cites, such as the one finding that children under the age of 1 should not drink dairy milk since it leads to colic and iron deficiency.  Duh...ideally they should be drinking their mothers breast milk; formula is a close second. No dietitian or doctor would ever recommend that children under 12 months drink regular dairy milk.

Ultimately I like the book, it does promote a healthy lifestyle and for people who are tired of counting carbs and limiting their favorite pasta dishes, going vegan might be a good alternative.  I just feel that Dr. Barnard may have taken studies and twisted their results to favor this type of lifestyle.  For the most part the jury is still out on what the best type of "diabetic diet" is.  Low Carb, Vegetarian, Paleo, Low Fat... I encourage people to eat whole foods especially fruits and vegetables, and so far there are no studies to show otherwise.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spinach Pesto

Summer is upon us once again here in South Georgia.  Typically we would be getting short afternoon rain storms almost daily; however the entire region is experiencing a drought. Ryan and I once again attempted a windowsill garden and currently have a large lavender plant, 2 large stalks of mint, and a mixture of baby basil and chives that are cohabitating in the same pot.  While there may be a 10” rain deficit outside, our plants are growing nicely.  A few weeks ago Ryan’s coworker who has a bit of a green thumb let us confiscate some of his basil which I took quite happily and made into a basil/spinach pesto.

My grandmother used to make pesto with basil from her garden every year.  Making this brought back memories of watching her whip up a batch and helping her pour it into ice cube trays to save for the rest of the year.  She would slather it inside a pita with cheese, turkey, and broccoli and then warm the whole thing in the microwave until the cheese just started to melt.  Yum Yum Yum.
This was the first time I made pesto myself, and it’s a little nontraditional in that the recipe I followed called for spinach not basil.  But I threw some basil in anyway.  I think condiments are often overlooked as a source of calories, but also as a source of important nutrients such as fiber and antioxidants including: potassium, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin E, and many others.
1 Tbs of basic pesto: 80 kcal, 7g fat, 123mg sodium, 1g carb, 0.5g fiber, 3g protein
Here is the recipe that I tried:

 Steam 1lb of baby spinach until wilted, approximately 5 minutes.  Drain and squeeze out excess water. Transfer to a food processor and add 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1/4tsp red pepper flakes, 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts, 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese.  Pulse until finely ground.  While machine is running add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and the zest of 1 lemon. 

1 Tbs contains: 70 kcal, 6g fat, 1.6g carb, 0.73g fiber, 2.5g protein

This recipe was very thick since it uses very little oil. If you want a thinner consistency without adding more oil try adding some of the water squeezed out of the spinach.  You’ll gain back those lost nutrients.  While it doesn’t exactly count as a serving of vegetables, it does provide an alternative to the usual mustard/mayo combination for sandwiches and packs more antioxidants in as well as some heart healthy fats. But what else to do with it…
Vegans: stir into whole wheat pasta with sautéed veggies. (omit parmesan cheese in recipe, add a dash of salt instead).
Vegetarians: add to a grilled mozzarella and tomato sandwich
Pescetarian: Smear onto toasted baguettes and top with sardines
Carnivore:  Add juice of 1 lemon to ¼ cup of pesto and marinate 4 chicken breasts for 1 hour before baking in the oven at 375 for 30-45 minutes.
Locavore:  Spread onto slices of home grown zucchini and grill for 10 minutes till tender.