Included below are many topics about my perspective on longevity.
They are founded on research, to some degree, but also a lot on my personal opinions.
They are founded on research, to some degree, but also a lot on my personal opinions.
Introduction to the Biggest Fads
It is my mission to educate people on their food, where it comes from, and how it is raised. We need to be more proactive and involved in how we raise our foods. We expect food to be cheap yet this is a grave fallacy of our culture. Food should not be cheap but should be where we put most of our money. Farmers should be praised for the work they do. They must be supported, educated, and encouraged to raise animals that are healthy and fruits and vegetables that minimize pesticides and chemicals. Only then will we worry less about our health and live happier healthy longer lives.
The Biggest Fads
The United States has popularized numerous diets in the last 90 years. There are so many and all have different benefits and risks. With my family history, in my lifetime I have experimented with most of these diets.
Below I have outlined the basics of many fad diets. If you would like more details, go to the resources to find out more.
This diet was started by George Ohsawa in the 1930's and was then expanded upon by Michi Kushi. It takes in principles of Zen buddhism looking to balance the yin and yang principles. It encourages eating with the seasons and consuming whole foods. It is founded on the principles of a slower lifestyle with meditation and eating a diet primarily of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Often the pots you use and how you cook are factored into macrobiotic cooking. Food should be cooked in glass or wood and not be cooked in electric ovens. Some of the concerns about the diet is that it may be harmful to health with possible formation of severe nutritional deficiencies.
South Beach Diet
This diet was created by a cardiologist named Arthur Agatson in 2003. It has also been called the
“Modified low carbohydrate diet”. The premise of this diet is to eat primarily more protein and healthy fats with less carbohydrates. The goal is to promote improved health and weight loss that last. Glycemic indices are also evaluated to aid in the elimination of unhealthy carbohydrates. It looks at the negative impact of a high glycemic index which leads to increases in blood sugar levels, a larger appetite, weight gain and diabetes which then lead to heart disease. It recommends against unhealthy fats while encourages the intake of fruits and vegetables and fibrous foods. Regular exercise is also now encouraged on this diet to help boost the metabolism and lead to weight loss.
There are 3 phases to this diet beginning with almost no carbohydrates. It progresses to adding grains and finishes with a maintenance plan following the healthy eating guidelines above.
The benefit of this diet is its contribution to healthy lifestyle changes. The risks are limited to ketosis, an unlikely consequence of this diet, which occurs with severe carbohydrate restriction.
This diet included a focus on healthy eating including the consumption of wine and olive oil. The diet is mostly plant based including fruits, vegetables, mixed nuts, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, herbs and spices, wine, and a small amount of animal products. It encourages community involvement as well as regular moderate exercise.
The diet has proven to have many health benefits which include reducing the risk of heart disease, lowering LDL cholesterol, reducing cancer, parkinsons and alzheimers. Lower rates of breast cancer are associated with eating extra nuts and olive oil. The high amount of antioxidants and high omega 3 in the diet promote lower triglycerides and less clotting with lowers heart disease risks.
There are no real risks to this diet.
This diet plan is based on foods eaten during the Paleolithic era thousands to millions of years ago.
It includes lean meats, fish, fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds, foods obtained via hunting and gathering. It eliminates foods from farming such as grains and dairy.
The main benefits of this diet include weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure control, lower triglycerides, and an improved appetite.
Dr. Robert Atkins was a cardiologist who came up with his revolutionary diet plan emphasizing consumption of low carbohydrate foods dating back to 1972. Back when the medical system was promoting a low fat diet with high carbohydrates, he realized that your body would turn carbohydrates into sugar which led to further cravings and hunger. This led to overeating and weight gain with diabetes and heart disease. His diet promoted high protein and lower carbohydrate intake. It did not become popular until the 90's. While eating this way, people had less cravings and more energy while at the same time lost weight.
The zone diet was started by Barry Sears in the late 80's to decrease diet related inflammation. The idea was to help people lose weight while eating a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. The diet consisted of 3 meals a day and 2 snacks. Carbohydrates were limited to vegetables and small sources of other carbohydrates. Lean proteins were favored over red meat and egg yolks. It encouraged the consumption of vegetable fats like nuts and olive oil. Food was to be eaten within an hour of waking with frequent snacks and meals less than 5 hours apart.
Dean Ornish’s diet for the reversal of heart disease
Dean Ornish is a physician who first came up with a plan involving diet, lifestyle, state of mind and exercise to help reverse heart disease. He started it in 1993. By 2010, he was able to fund his medical groups with medical insurance to help groups reverse heart disease with his plan.
His approach involved not only diet but also activity, stress, and community as factors involved in the reversal of heart disease. The diet focused on a diet void of animal products, processed or packaged foods, sugars or alcohol. His plan has evolved to include physical activity for at least 20-30 minutes a day with relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation.
While it appears to help reverse heart disease, it is hard to follow. It may also lead to some nutritional deficiencies.
The China Study was a book published in 2005 written by Colin Campbell and his son, Thomas Campbell. They conducted research in various counties in China in the 1970's. The people in the study were put on either an animal based diet or a vegan diet. 10 years later their blood work was compared evaluating for a predisposition for cancer or heart disease. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of a vegan diet in the prevention of heart disease and cancer. Their studies showed that eating an animal based diet predisposed you to these diseases while a vegetable based diet did not manifest in any of these disease. However, the downside of these studies was that they only tested this diet on rats, not humans. From my perspective, another factor in the study not evaluated was the quality of animal products given to the rats. Colin Campbell uses his study to promote a vegetable based diet for the prevention of heart disease and cancer, yet I strongly believe eating small quantities of healthy happily raised animals and their byproducts would not lead to health issues like he described.
The China Study By Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell
Gluten Free Diet
This diet is self explanatory in that it excludes gluten in the diet. It was started for those patients diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where gluten triggers immune factors that destroy the intestinal lining. In this situation, nutrient absorption is impaired. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley.
Many people are gluten sensitive now and are unable to digest gluten. Others have gluten allergies and are unable to eat it as well. Their symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Some report brain fog, rashes, fatigue, headaches, general pain, numbness, tingling and much more. The best way to test for this is to either eliminate gluten completely and watch for resolution of symptoms or to try a gluten challenge test where a large amount of gluten is consumed over a couple of weeks after a period of elimination. Symptoms are observed with the consumption of gluten. There has been a surge in gluten free foods as a result of the large number of people who are intolerant. Currently 1 out of 133 people are intolerant to gluten versus 1 out of thousands in the 1960's.
The rise in Celiac Disease and non Celiac gluten sensitivity may be attributable to the hybridization of wheat in the 1960's. The old varietals of wheat that were most common included: Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, and Dinkle. New wheat cultivars have a thinner husk which is easier to remove and less work. The dwarf version is what is often cultivated today for its "naked-wheat" which has this thinner husk. This makes the husk easier to remove to get to the kernel and allows for less work and greater productivity. These dwarf versions are also resistant to logging or falling over and rotting. These new varietals also have higher gluten content making the bread fluffier. The resultant wheat is hybridized and chemically mutated. Digestibility was never examined in the process of hybridizing wheat. Now we are faced with a high intolerance to wheat containing foods.
Aside from the hybridization of wheat, the actual process of making bread has also drastically changed. Sourdough bread was most common but it took over 24 hours to process. This extended time allowed for the breakdown of proteins and amino acids and helped make the bread more nutritious and digestible.
This diet emphasizes fat and protein intake rather than carbohydrates. This leads to ketosis which burns fats and proteins leading to weight loss. It may also help with epilepsy, heart disease, brain disease and acne. With low carbohydrate/sugar intake, insulin production decreases. Cell growth may be delayed aiding in disease such as cancer. With less sugar intake and lower insulin production, hunger is also dampened. At the same time, cholesterol production is lower reducing risks of heart disease. Lower insulin also limits acne formation. Good cholesterol (HDL) rises while bad cholesterol (LDL) decreases, limiting the hardening of arteries which causes heart disease.
Low carbohydrate intake lowers blood sugar levels and improves diabetes. However, caution must be taken with the production of ketones in a diet that burns more fats than carbohydrates.
Risks with this diet include constipation, indigestion and low blood sugar. Rare complications include kidney stones and acidosis.
SCD or Specific Carbohydrate Diet
This diet was intended to help people with crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, diverticulitis and chronic diarrhea. The theory behind this diet is that certain foods are inflammatory to the gut and can lead to generalized inflammation. Certain foods composed mainly of monosaccharides are easier to digest. Complex carbohydrates (poly and disaccharides) are more difficult to digest and feed harmful bacteria in the gut propagating the problem. The purpose of this diet is to starve the harmful bacteria and decrease inflammation in the body thus leading to overall improved health.
From my own perspective of recommending this diet to patients, I have seen patients heal from pain in a matter of days to weeks after ending consumption of foods deemed inflammatory. I would highly recommend this diet to anyone who has inflammation localized to the gut or anywhere, for that matter.
Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas
GAPS diet or Gut and Psychology Syndrome
This diet is an acronym for gut and psychology syndrome. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride based this diet on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Her diet is about eating primarily fermented vegetables and bone broth soups to heal the gut lining. It is an imbalance in the gut ecosystem which leads to various intestinal and neurological health problems such as ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Depression, Schizophrenia, Autism, Dyspraxia, and Epilepsy. Per her suggestion, removing foods that damage the gut lining and replacing them with nutrient dense foods will heal to the gut which will eliminate many diseases.
In her protocol, one begins, if able, with the introductory GAPS diet lasting 3-6 weeks and then progresses to the full GAPS diet. The introductory diet begins with the consumption of bone broth soup and fermented vegetables then gradually progresses to add egg yolk, olive oil, avocado and some foods made with nut butter. The full GAPS diet includes the introductory foods as well as certain non carbohydrate foods. It coincides with foods allowed in the specific carbohydrate diet and may be required for about 1-2 years to fully heal the gut. There is a program that outlines the details of how to follow this diet and prepare foods as well as when to return to the introductory diet. When ones body rejects the inclusion of certain new foods, allergy tests are included. Probiotics (such as bio-kult), essential fatty acids (seed nut blend 2:1 omega 3:6, higher ratio EPA to DHA), vitamin A (cod liver oil), digestive enzymes (betaine HCl with pepsin) and vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended with this diet.
Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD.
The above is a summary of fad diets recommended for various health benefits. You can read the summary and investigate those which interest you most. However, from my perspective, diets are hard to follow and stick with for a lifetime. For this reason, I believe we are better off learning how to listen to our own body after incorporating important basic guidelines about healthy eating.
The above is a summary of many diets that are commonly followed in the United States. However people want a quick answer for how they can live the longest healthiest life. For example, one day numerous popular magazines reported the health benefits of blueberries in weight loss, cancer and heart disease prevention, fiber content and more. They contain a large amount of anthocyanins which contribute to health and wellness. There was a sudden surge in blueberry consumption. Something similar occurred with broccoli and continues to occur in the United States food industry. Our country is fully of people looking for that quick fix, for a simple cure that will lead to health and longevity. That is not how it works.
The purpose of this information is to give you a little bit of my own journey which will hopefully help your own search on this path of healing. Health is a lifestyle. It is not simple but in some way, it is your choice.
Cravings signify a lack of nutrition according to the book, “Food and Healing,” one that strongly influenced my opinion on cravings
In this book, certain foods were classified as yin and others as yang. Meats are yang while sweets are yin. Fruits and vegetables fall in the middle. Any imbalance in our yin/yang intake may lead to cravings for the yin or yang food lacking. Vegetables and fruits do not cause such cravings because they lie in the balanced range. In the case of a nutritional deficiency or a yin/yang imbalance, we don't crave what we lack. Instead, we crave sweets and pastries seeking to fill an unknown void. We consume until we are full yet we are still not satisfied.
After decades of unsustainable farming, our soil and thus our food is now depleted. In the US, foods are mass produced on the same soil year after year. The nutrients required by a certain fruit or vegetable remains the same. The soil is leeched of those nutrients as a food is grown. However, the soil only contains a limited amount of nutrients in one area especially without composting which replenishes nutrients back to the soil. The soil then becomes acidic and useless. The foods grown on this soil are also lacking in nutrients. Thus with foods grown on nutrient poor soil, our fruits and vegetables are depleted. Eating healthy does not exist in this country. Until we rotate crops and compost our waste to restore nutrition back to the soil, our food will be nonnutritive leaving us craving for more. As a result, our culture keeps eating trying to fill an insatiable void. This leads to a country full of obese yet nutritionally starved individuals.
Various patients of mine who suffer from an eating disorder verify for me that the low fat diet promoted for health and weight loss, the diet I was forced to follow as a young girl, leaves us feeling forever unsatisfied. It leads to cravings, overeating, the consumption of high glycemic index foods, possible diabetes, and thus heart disease. This low fat diet was promoted by my doctors at the ripe young age of 6. At that point, it was discovered that I had high cholesterol like my father who had just died of a heart attack. That diet was of no benefit to me and actually was quite harmful to my health.
Over time, I learned the benefits of leptin, a hormone/peptide produced by adipose cells (fat cells). This peptide allows us to feel hunger and satiety. A low fat diet depletes us of leptin. Low levels of leptin are associated with cognitive changes seen in anorexia, depression, and alzheimer’s disease. Low levels are also connected with sleep deprivation. Hence poor sleep contributes to weight gain as our indicators for satiety are decreased.
A diet high in fiber, protein and healthy fats stimulate leptin production. Having adequate adipose cells also helps increase leptin levels. The diets that promote low fat foods and weight loss (decreased adipose cells) actually predispose one to weight gain and obesity.
As I understood the importance of leptin, I realized the necessity of fat consumption in feeling satiated. Cravings plummet when we feel satisfied. The presence of leptin, adipose cells, healthy fats, proteins and fiber in our diets eliminates cravings and allows us to feel full.
Aside from increasing our leptin levels, we must restructure our farming practices. Balancing our soil and treating our animals with love and respect will add to our health and longevity. With greater balance, we will avoid cravings, feel satisfied, and live happier healthier longer lives.
Simple Food Combinations
Simple food combinations
Simple food combinations are imperative to health and wellness. The problem with the culture in the United States is that we have access to every kind of food all year long. We think more is better and want to make meals that include every healthy food item for each meal. We eat products like multigrain breads and mixed vegetables thinking more is better.
We should be looking at simple food combinations and getting the nutrients we need over a week or a month. Our gut is happier and healthier NOT bombarding it with many different foods at once.
Each food requires its own digestive enzymes to break it down in our gut. When too many different foods are consumed, the body gets confused by the need for so many different enzymes which leads to unhealthy break down of the various foods present. This leads to unhealthy fermentation which is the rotting of food products in your gut.
Soup contains many different foods and can be eaten as such because everything it contains is cooked at the same time. Eventually the qualities of each food become one element.
As a rule of thumb, all melon should be eaten alone and ideal only first thing in the morning before eating anything else. Melon breaks down very quickly so if it is eaten in combination with any other food all of which take longer to digest, melon ferments in the gut leading to unhealthy gases as well as bloating and discomfort and potential digestive problems.
One way to think about eating is to have your nutrients spread out over a week. Do not eat mixed vegetables every day but instead eat broccoli one day, asparagus another day, carrots one day, etc. Eat jasmine rice one day, bulgar the next, kashi one day. Mix your proteins to include tofu, beans, dark meat from a chicken, white poultry, liver, blood sausage, marrow, goat, etc. Vary your foods over the week or more.
Varying your foods helps to eliminate cravings and fills a variety of your nutritional needs. If you eat the same thing every day, your body will start to crave things. I have recommended variety for many patients struggling with eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia. If they have the desire to heal, they listen to what I say. They start to eat a greater variety of foods. Limited variety leaves one feeling depleted, hungry and craving for more. They also need to include healthy fats in the diet, something erroneously recommended against for weight loss. Once the diet is changed to include variety and fats, their food cravings miraculously disappear.
Certain complicated eating patterns create what I call a “Road Block” in your gut. If you eat a bagel, processed foods, excess of any one food (especially cheese), you develop this "road block" in your digestive system. These foods digest very slowly so any food eaten after this will be forced to move slowly as well. Other foods which digest quicker will start to ferment or rot in the gut. This causes discomfort and putrid smelling gases. The best way to avoid this is to eat unprocessed foods and small portions.
Paul Pitchford explains in detail in his book, "Healing with Whole Foods" how to combine various foods for health and wellness. This is my brief summary of what I know from research as well as from my own experience.
1. Healing with Whole Foods, 3rd Edition. by Paul PItchford. pp. 260-274. 1993.
The Hidden evidence
The Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) now known as the sugar association paid $6500 back in 1967 which is about $50,000 in today’s money. They hid the fact that sugar contributed to heart disease. Instead they placed the blame on saturated fats as the primary contributor. Not only Coca Cola paid millions to hide this evidence but candy bar companies also feigned incorrect data leading to the belief that sugar and candy were far from bad for us to consume. Unfortunately, money controlled the evidence leading to millions of deaths that may have been avoided. 1
Healthy fermentation is a process that was used hundreds of years ago to preserve foods and beverages. The process involves microorganisms like yeast and bacteria which convert sugars and starches to lactic acid and alcohol. This process not only preserves foods but also aids in digestion. Healthy fermentation is seen in foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, kefir, and kimchi.
Our gut contains a mix of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. If the balance favors the “bad” bacteria, we develop what is called dysbiosis leading to bloating, constipation, and abdominal discomfort. A gut which favors healthy microorganisms augments our digestive and immune system and leads to healthy digestion without pain and bloating.
Food preparation in most cultures involves fermentation which helps with absorption, digestion, and assimilation of nutrients. Healthy gut flora and fermentation allow for a boost in our immune system however unhealthy gut microorganisms can lead to inflammation.
Aside from the benefits noted above, phytic acid is a compound that is broken down by fermentation. If it is present, it can block the absorption of healthy minerals such as iron and zinc. When it is not present, these minerals are naturally absorbed and are necessary to a healthy immune system.
There is also a link between our gut and our mood. Serotonin, which affects mood, is produced in the gut so a healthy gut can contribute to a healthy mind. Alternatively, if we have dysbiosis, certain neurotransmitters and hormones may be impaired affecting our mood negatively. 1
As our fast moving culture looks for quick solutions with easy meals, fermentation has been lost. As a result, our health as a culture has significantly declined. In order to improve this, we need to relearn the processes of fermentation amongst other steps in food preparation. This will improve food absorption and assimilation which will contribute to our health and longevity.
I have had many patients express that they were told by their doctor that they did not need vitamins because their diet was so healthy. That could not be more untrue. While eating a healthy diet should provide a good balance of nutrition, our soil is depleted thus providing inadequate nutrition to meet our daily needs. For this reason, we all should take a regular multivitamin.
With regard to specific vitamins, I will provide basic information about each vitamin and mineral and the benefits provided.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat soluble and need to be taken with caution due to the risk of excess or overdosing. All of the other vitamins are water soluble and are peed out rather than accumulated in our fat stores, hence risk of overdosing is minimal to none.
Vitamin A includes retinoids and carotenoids. It is important in vision, lowering prostate and lung cancer risks. It aids in bone growth, supporting the immune system, maintaining health of the skin and tissues, and preventing cataracts. It may act as an antioxidant. Vitamin A is fat soluble so caution is advised to not take in too much which can damage bones. Beef, liver, eggs, shrimp, butter, and some cheeses contain retinoids. Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, mangoes, pumpkins and squash contain beta carotene.
Vitamin B1, otherwise known as thiamin, makes energy out of food and helps support the health of one’s hair, skin, muscles, and brain while also benefit nerve function. It is water soluble so we typically pee out any excess. It is naturally found in pork chops, brown rice, acorn squash, watermelon, ham and soy milk.
Vitamin B2, riboflavin, also makes energy from food and is important in hair, skin, blood and brain nutrition. It is found in milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, meats, leafy greens, grains and cereals.
Vitamin B3, niacin, is also essential for healthy blood, skin, nerves, and brain function. It makes energy from food. It is found in meat, fish, chicken, grains, potatoes, mushrooms and peanut butter. The amino acid tryptophan and Vitamin B6 can help make this vitamin.
Vitamin B5, pantothenic acid, helps make energy as well as fats, steroid hormones, hemoglobin, and neurotransmitters. It is found in chickens, egg yolk, whole grains, tomatoes, avocados, mushrooms, broccoli and other nutritious foods. A deficiency in B5 can cause paresthesias or burning in the feet.
Vitamin B6, pyridoxine, reduces homocysteine levels which helps decrease heart disease risks. It converts tryptophan to niacin and serotonin which aid in sleep and appetite and mood. It helps make blood cells, aids in cognition and immune function. It is found in meat, fish, chicken, legumes, soy, potatoes, and fruit such as bananas and melon.
Vitamin B9, folic acid, can decrease homocysteine levels helping to prevent heart disease. It is also helpful against colon and breast cancer. It is important to take in pregnancy to help prevent brain and spinal cord defects. It is involved in new cell creation. It is found in asparagus, okra, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, legumes, and some juices.
Vitamin B12, cobalamin, also lowers homocysteine levels to help prevent heart disease. It also protects nerves and helps the growth of red blood cells and DNA. It is found in meat, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, and soy. Seeing that it is primarily found in animal products, many people, especially if vegan or vegetarian or those who have trouble with absorption of this vitamin, are deficient which leads to arm and leg paresthesias, memory loss and dementia.
Biotin helps make hair and bones healthy. It converts food to energy and breaks down fatty acids. It is found in whole grains, organ meats, egg yolks, fish and soy. It may be indigestible by some.
Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin C, may decrease some cancers. It helps make collagen for building vessel walls and wound healing. It contributes to serotonin and norepinephrine production and works as an antioxidant helping immunity. It is found in fruits, potatoes, peppers, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and brussel sprouts.
Vitamin D, calciferol, maintains Calcium and phosphorus levels to help strengthen bones and support teeth and bones. It is converted in our skin from the sunlight but if one lives in northern climates or does not go out in the sun, it is hard to get enough. It is in fortified cereals and milk and naturally in fatty fish.
Vitamin E, alpha tocopherol, works as an antioxidant protecting various cells from damage. It is found in vegetable oils, wheat germ, leafy greens, whole grains and nuts.
Choline metabolizes and transports fat. It also makes acetyl choline which is important in nerve function. It is found in salmon, eggs, milk, liver and peanuts.
Vitamin K, phylloquinone or menadione, is important in clotting blood and preventing hip fractures. It is found in cabbage, liver, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, kale, collards, and other greens. Vitamin K is made by intestinal bacteria as well.
The following story is incredibly controversial and only my opinion. I do believe happiness and following your heart are essential for optimizing health and longevity. However not all death is about spiritual choices. I understand there are factors we cannot control that may contribute to death. Sometimes we just develop diseases because of exposures we have had. With poor genetic make up, we can modify our lifestyle and diet and state of mind to help, but it will likely not lead to becoming centenarians. Please do not take this story as a statement that I believe every death is a spiritual suicide. Death comes in all forms. I just believe this to be the case with my father.
Bapa’s Life and Death
Over time, I've learned important details about my father. He was living under a lot of stress at the time of his death. I have no idea the state of his marriage when he died, but I do know the state of his career.
My Bapa was far from content doing what he was doing. He was a data processer for an insurance company and acted as a vice president. The computer, which at the time was the size of a room, crashed at his work just before he died. He was gone to work until 10 pm most nights. He woke at 4 am every morning to exercise. While one might think that is great for health, it was an added physical stress that hurt him.
He was frugal to an extreme and would never eat his own meal but ate the leftovers from his 3 children’s plates even if he could afford it. He ate animal products and vegetables raised inhumanely in the late 70’s when our country was starting to mass produce foods. He also consumed large amounts of candy.
In my early 40’s while staying with my uncle, my father’s brother (17 years younger), he showed me one of the 2 letters he ever received from my father. This letter was written just 2 weeks shy of my Bapa’s death. In the letter my father expressed the joy he got from being with his family. He also confessed his unhappiness with his career. He had been dreaming of starting a store with my uncle and going back to a life more like he lived in the Peace Corps in Malaysia. He was unhappy and stressed in his current life.
My mother did not work. She stayed home with her 3 kids while my father worked to support us all financially. As much as he wanted this change, he was afraid, fearing financially for his family. What if his idea failed? What if he could not support us on this new path? He did not write these queries, but I imagine he felt trapped by his life. He loved his children, but the burden of supporting us all in a life he did not want became daunting. Instead of taking a chance and making this change, he anyways.
I do not fault him for this. I do not know enough about the supernatural to say one way or another if this was spiritually intentional. I have heard about the spiritual world making such choices for people who were far off their given path. I believe we have a spiritual contract to follow in our lives. If we follow the signs, the universe will guide us correctly. However if we veer too far off of this path, it is too hard to get back and the spirit world may make a choice for us. It does not happen to everyone but I have seen a handful of folks die in a life they likely would rather escape. Often we do not follow the signs from the universe out of fear, fear of failure, fear of what others might think, fear of the unknown.
When we choose wrong, we are often unhappy or unhealthy, and sometimes I believe our lives are taken from us. Our angels have stepped in to give us another chance in the next life to do it right. I imagine something like this happened to my father.
I also realize that I too have my own fate and this was the contract I signed up for by being born into my family. This was the life I was meant to live and these were the lessons I was fated to confront.
My Own Opinion around Health
My interest in food came at a very young age. My father died suddenly of a heart attack at 41 years of age. He was thin and active. If you looked at him, a body displaying every sinewy muscle, you would see him as a picture of what our country deems healthy. However, he was everything but healthy and his early death displayed that better than his looks.
My father was a good man, one of the best men one could know, but I only knew him until I was 6 years old. Actually, I hardly knew him and only have begun scratching the surface of his true self long after he died. It is nearly 40 years after his death and I have gradually learned some things about him.
When my father died in 1980, I found out that I was lucky enough to also carry his gene for familial hypercholesterolemia. While doctors at the lipid clinic had many dietary suggestions, they were not encouraging kids to take any medications at that time.
Back then, my brother and I were known to be the carriers of this gene. I would not say the diet they thought was better for me and my brother was actually better. We were not allowed to eat any saturated fats and very little fat in general. We were told we could no longer drink whole milk nor eat real butter. I was a milk lover and was devastated by having to drink skim milk. Our butter was quickly turned to margarine which was potentially and unknowingly destructive to our health. I was allowed to eat a piece of bacon once a year and eggs were confined to only the whites.
When I graduated from 1st grade, we were each given an ice cream cone. After a year of no sweets, I ate it. I told my mother and received a devastating verbal lashing. I did not understand but looking back, I can see how terrifying it must have been to lose your husband assuming that fatty foods were the cause. The last thing she wanted was for her children to have the same fate as her husband. After all she was left to raise a 6, 9 and 11 year old on her own. Over time, my mother softened a bit about our ability to have sweets here and there, but we never drank whole milk nor ate real butter during our childhood.
It was my father’s early death and my brother and my poor genetic health that led to my pursuit of a natural cure for familial hypercholesterolemia. I investigated every diet out there. I researched the zone diet and Dean Ornish’s diet for the reversal of heart disease and many others that existed at that time. I used my own body to experiment. Back then, I was only able to test my cholesterol every 6 months so it was difficult to know what was working or not. I had to follow it long enough to verify if there was any change. If there was, it was a diet I had to adhere to for the rest of my life.
In my teens, I became a serious runner.
With my high speed, excessive running and minimal intake of fats, my cholesterol had never been so low. It was in the 200’s when normally I ran in the high 300’s. Looking back at that time, I always reported how that diet was the best for my cholesterol but was absolutely not sustainable. It was closest to the Dean Ornish diet for the reversal of heart disease. I could not and would not live a life requiring such a diet.
Years passed with many new diets and fads. I developed issues digesting wheat likely from acquiring amebic parasites in my late teens. The fiber in wheat was one of the things I felt was helping remove cholesterol from my body, but I could no longer tolerate it. I hated being part of the gluten free fad but it was seriously affecting my health. I could not prove it and refused to obliterate wheat from my diet without a known reason. It was not until I developed severe digestive problems for which I did not want to take medicine that I stopped eating wheat. I would have to find other dietary changes to help my cholesterol.
Sometime in my 20’s they started reporting the harms of trans fats found in margarine, something they had told me to eat for almost 20 years prior to this discovery. I was disheartened by what the medical system did NOT know yet preached they did know. I was in medical school at the time. I was advised to tell my own patients with high cholesterol to avoid fats and especially saturated fats. I had to recommend medications such as statins to lower cholesterol. Despite studies proving the efficacy of this drug, I no longer believed what the doctors told me. Studies could prove any side of a situation. I would no longer accept that it was cholesterol that had killed my father. I believed it was sugar and stress.
As I became a physician, I grappled with what I was taught versus what I truly believed. I did not think a number of 200 for cholesterol was risky at all. I did not feel drinking raw milk which was unpasteurized, unhomogenized and full of fat was a risk to anyone’s health if the cows were raised to be happy and healthy. I did not believe eating meat was bad. On the contrary, as long as your meat was happy and raised humanely, I believed it was great to eat it in small quantities. I believed in consuming whole foods, never its parts and definitely not low or partial fat foods. After all, it was the same people who told me to eat margarine who also told me to avoid fat. Most of what I was told by the medical system held truth to me anymore and here I was a part of that system, legally bound to suggesting what I did not believe in.
As I struggled with ongoing cravings for sweets, I realized that these cravings went away when I ate fat. Fat had hormones that made your brain feel satisfied. If you never ate fat, you never felt satisfied. You would continue to eat which led to overeating. Also the consumption of foods with low fat often had high glycemic indices which led to diabetes. There was a good chance that the medical system advising me to not eat fat led me to crave more sweets. Sugary foods satisfies my high caloric needs as a runner. I could eat a quart of frozen yogurt and still feel unsatisfied wanting more. I eventually discovered that real full fat ice cream satisfied me faster. It had fat which was slower to absorb and did not cause the rapid sugar spikes of low fat foods which contribute to diabetes.
In working with patients with bulimia, I suggested they eat more fat, contrary to what the standard American diet recommended. I suggested variety, like consuming dark meat as well as light meat, beef, pork, liver and all parts of an animal rather than just a chicken breast.
Our western diet lacked variety. We craved what we were missing but we didn’t know what that was. We filled our empty tummies with sugar calories when we actually needed fat and variety of nutrients. The low fat diet led to never feeling satiated and overeating which stretched our stomachs and led to a greater need to eat to fill the space. This is my opinion of what led to the obesity epidemic. We have morbidly obese people who are actually starved for nutrition.
Despite my father’s perfectly thin physique, he ate a horrible diet loaded with sugar. I believe he was an unknown diabetic. Diabetes is a heart disease equivalent meaning your risk of a future heart attack is the same as someone who already had one heart attack who is not diabetic. His chances of having a heart attack were very high if he had unknown diabetes. With the foods he ate, the sugars he loved, and the stress he was under, it is very likely that he was diabetic explaining his heart attack in terms of blood sugar rather than his cholesterol.
I too had always struggled with sugar addiction. My brother and I were both sugar addicts. One thing I remembered about my father was that he was addicted to sugar. During medical school, I expressed to my friends my belief that sugar contributed to my fathers death, not fat. My friends scoffed at me saying that was ridiculous. About 10 years after finishing my training, evidence was revealed that the sugar industry paid a mere $20,000 to hide the harms of sugar. Fats had been erroneously targeted as the culprit. My father was one of the victims who died as a result of the hidden truth about sugar.
In conclusion, despite a medical education, I am weary of the advice given to us from the medical system. I have experienced it’s faults thinking the system knew best. It hid truths that led to many deaths, one of which was my own father. This is unforgivable- sacrificing lives for money. We currently are surrounded by that sentiment where money supercedes anything humane that promotes the wellness of the world. I will never give in to such systems. I can’t help but be surrounded by them, but I can choose to make the right decision for myself. By “being the change I hope to see in the world” (Ghandi), I hope to influence others to also do the same for a better future.