Leaders in Plant-Based Nutrition

Posted by Jessica Meyers Altman on


This past weekend I was with my tribe. Every so often, you are lucky to be surrounded by people who are entirely on the same page as you, sharing the same vision to change both themselves and the world. Sound a little overstated? I think not! If you've ever been lucky enough to be in the company of the Esselstyns, then you know what I mean. It is their mission to help others turn around their health. Jane, a registered nurse and sex educator (who I wish could teach in our kids' schools!), created the recent conference I attended to engage women in reversing their number one killer, heart disease. The conference entitled, Health Care Is Self Care, focussed on how to prevent and reverse heart disease in women. Jane's focus was on women, because women are most often the caretakers of the family. They are the ones who are likely doing the shopping, the cooking, and the care giving. It only makes sense then, to focus the attention upon them as ambassadors of good health. Jane jokingly stated, she could have called the conference How To Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease In Men, and the same group of women would have shown up!

The lineup of speakers was outstanding. Jane brought her father, the esteemed Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., and author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, to present how we can prevent and reverse heart disease through nutrition.

Following him, we heard from cardiologist Dr. Robert Ostfeld, the Director of Preventative Cardiology and founder/director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Hospital. Dr. Ostfeld is working to transform nutrition education for medical students. Little to no time is set aside for nutrition in medical school curricula across our country. This is unconscionable, given that 80% of premature heart disease, stroke and diabetes can be prevented, and 40% of all cancers by changing ones' diet (Source WHO and AHA). Chronic diseases and conditions—such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis—are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems. As of 2012, about half of all adults—117 million people—had one or more chronic health conditions. One of four adults had two or more chronic health conditions. Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 were chronic diseases. Two of these chronic diseases—heart disease and cancer—together accounted for nearly 48% of all deaths. Eighty-six percent of all health care spending in 2010 was for people with one or more chronic medical conditions.(source: CDC). How can we expect our physicians to provide information in the prevention of disease to their patients, if they themselves receive little to no nutrition education? Dr. Ostfeld reinforced the need to make changes in patient hospital meals, which he's doing at Montefiore Hospital in NYC, as well as changes to the medical school curriculum, as he is helping to do at Einstein Medical School.

Dr. Anne Bingham, an OBGYN in Middlesex County, discussed the need for weight control during pregnancy, and the complications obese women have both during and after pregnancy. She also discussed the physical issues children of obese mom's are faced with as they grow and develop. One eye opener for me, babies being born hypoglycemic due to their sudden withdrawal of sugar out of the womb. Just like we must treat babies of drug addicted moms for withdrawal, we are now treating for sugar withdrawal. Newborns become hypoglycemic after birth because their steady intake of sugar from their mom is withdrawn out of the womb. They are feed glucose solutions after birth to compensate further blood sugar drops. Not the kind of holistic breast milk that comes to mind.

We heard from Dr. Michael Macknin, Professor of Pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. Dr. Macknin lead a study on pediatric obesity in Cleveland, OH, published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Dr. Macknin was interested in studying obesity, as it is the most common issue affecting children today. Together with a team of researchers, and their dynamic food educator, Jane Esselstyn, R.N., they were able to make statistically significant change in all of the children who participated. Their study compared a whole food, low-fat, plant-based diet to that of the the American Heart Association diet. They demonstrated statistically significant improvements in 9 biomarkers, as compared to 4 in that of the American Heart Association diet. For a link to the study, click here. This small study demonstrated the need for replication on a larger scale. The issue is finding the funding to do so.

Jane Esselstyn, R.N., spoke on the importance of heart disease above and below the belt. She covered how men who have significant heart disease often have erectile dysfunction. Women are a bit more complicated. While a women's sexual dysfunction isn't as obvious, Jane spoke about the inability to produce lubrication during sexual arousal is due to improper blood flow, and should be seen as a warning sign of women's heart diesease. Later, she and her mother, Ann, demoed a few plant-based recipes, from their cookbook The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook. Jane and Ann, are a dynamic duo. Spend 2 minutes with either of them, and you'll be convinced to come to the plant-side! These women have more energy that a 2 year old! They conveyed the point that creating plant-based meals doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming. They prepared a delicious kale and bok choy salad (which we ate for lunch), a savory oatmeal (which I will be trying soon), how to sauté onions without oil (my fav!), and their hilarious stripping routine, of kale I mean!!! Their good humor and energy really engages the crowd!
I also got to hear Dr. Michael Gregor speak this weekend in Buffalo, NY. Dr. Gregor, with humor and substantial research, makes the case for plant-based nutrition undoubtable. Dr. Gregor's work looks at all the latest nutrition research and creates informative videos, for quick and easy viewing. It is remarkable, with the weight of evidence from the scientific community that we have yet to recommend whole food, low-fat, plant-based nutrition to patients, as well as educating our medical students and future dietitians on the topic. He spoke about how most physicians don't give their patients enough credit to "handle the truth". If you 'd like to watch a version of the talk that I saw, click here. While you won't be able to see all of the slides, most of the stats he quotes, and research cited, can be found in his new book, How Not To Die. Food as Medicine Dr. Gregor provides all of his information FOR FREE! The proceeds from his book go back to the foundation NutritionFacts.org, to further his mission to educate the public on nutrition and disease. If you haven't visited his site, you must!

I highly encourage you to seek these speakers out when they come to a town near you!

Dr. Macknin stated, "If this (health benefits of plant-based nutrition) was a drug, everyone would want to buy it". Some day, we will look back and think of poor nutrition in the same light as we now view smoking in its cause of disease. I hope that day is soon. At the end of the Health Care Is Self Care conference , Jane showed the Outward Bound nautical flag symbol. It is used to symbolise the journey starting. If you have yet to begin your journey towards health, I hope I can encourage you to begin today. You are worth it!

Now let's dance!


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