Wellness is really on my mind and it might be on yours, too. It’s the end of January, the time when resolutions to get healthy often fall by the wayside. But this year I’m determined to stay my healthy best. And yes- there’s a story behind that motivation.
Last fall I developed sciatica. I’d heard of it, of course, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it. Busy and traveling, I had to restructure my life and pay a lot of attention to my body, or risk losing mobility. Pain is a powerful motivator.
It’s humbling to realize that your body gets tired and needs rest, exercise, and perhaps some therapy- not to mention the right foods- to continue serving you well.
I’ve been in physical therapy twice weekly now for several months and am doing much better. In fact I’m stronger than I’ve been for years. There’s nothing like some one asking how much you’ve exercised and what kind of stretches you’ve been doing to keep you on target.
Nutrition is another wellness frontier that’s been on my mind. Three and a half years ago I was diagnosed with early stage heart failure. My husband Gordon discovered that he had atherosclerosis at about the same time. We were both fit and lean, so we couldn’t have been more surprised.
We decided to see if changing our diet might help.
That was the beginning of several years of concentrated diet sleuthing. First we tried a low fat, high carb vegan diet. After 14 months sticking resolutely to that program, unfortunately, we were both physically much worse. I became seriously hypertensive and Gordon’s blood lipids went so far south that he developed metabolic syndrome. To add insult to injury, we both gained weight.
It was frustrating to try so hard, and to believe in a diet with such evangelistic fervor, only to end up in worse shape than when we started. So, using my Harvard doctorate in medical science for its original purpose, I began an exhaustive review of the literature on nutrition and our national health policies over the past 50 years.
Our diet changed drastically, for a second time, as a result of what I discovered. There is no one size fits all diet. Some people do best on a low fat diet, while others will thrive on a low carb diet. For moral reasons some of us prefer to be vegans and others vegetarians, although more than 90% of us are omnivores. All of us, however, do best on a whole foods diet based on plants as a foundation. Eliminating fake foods (all highly processed foods filled with chemicals, pesticides, and loaded with sugar, flour, and salt), factory farmed meat, and polyunsaturated vegetable oil goes a long way to reversing health problems. Beyond that, you can determine your own best diet through experimentation, basic medical testing, and genetic testing although the latter is still an itty bitty baby science.
Gordon and I now eat a whole foods plant-based diet, augmented with what I call Plus foods. For us – maybe because we come from a similar genetic background- the Plus foods are the same: dairy, fish, eggs, and meat. Neither of us does well on grains, beans, or soy.
We were worried at first that eating animal foods would make us worse rather than better. 50 years of brainwashing had convinced us that saturated fat was the enemy. So what’s new on the research scene? Saturated fats have been exonerated (although old myths die hard and your doctor may not agree), while the polyunsaturated industrial oils that were supposed to be heart healthy (safflower, sunflower, corn oil, and the like) turn out to be the real culprits. Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and butter from pasture-raised cows are “good fat” staples at our house. Who knew?
Although we were nervous about changing our diet because it bucked old medical opinions, our excellent physicians helped us out by monitoring health markers. The majority of them- from blood pressure to lipid composition; inflammatory markers to insulin resistance- improved tremendously. So, at least for now, we’ve been able to match our diet to our physiology and regain health.
Furthermore, it’s been a lot of fun. Both research and cooking are relaxing for me. I’ve become a regular Martha Stewart whipping up lots of nourishing main courses and plenty of grain free baked goods. My almond flour cookies get better and better. Gordon says they’re the best cookies that he’s ever eaten, and I agree. I’ve included the recipe for you at the very end of this newsletter.
So, even if you like my cookies, does it mean that should you eat the same way that we do? Absolutely not!! Remember that your diet needs to be personalized for your own needs, sensitivities and proclivities.
Some people like President Bill Clinton, for example, thrive on the kind of ultra low fat vegan diet that Gordon and I had to abandon. We all have three genomes: the one we inherit from mom and dad; our microbiome (the gut microbes and their genes); and our epigenome- molecular “marks” left on the histone proteins that our DNA is wrapped around by environmental factors like stress, trauma, emotions, chemicals and foods- that turn our genes on and off.
Did you know that the human body is comprised of 100 trillion microbes and only 10 trillion mammalian cells? 99% of our genetic material is microbial. Scientists now call us superorganisms. The 2-6 pounds of tiny microbes that live largely in our colon turn out to be the elephant in the nutritional living room. Microbiologists who sample your gut microbiota (the community of microbes) can tell with 90% accuracy whether you’re fat or lean by its composition.
Dysbiosis (a disturbance in the composition of your community of gut flora) is a previously unrecognized factor in the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and neurological disorders that have wreaked havoc with our national health.
The low fat, poor quality, high glycemic carbs we’ve been eating (and beware- most commercial gluten free products are just that) plus the antibiotics we take unnecessarily for colds, flu, and viral illnesses, plus the antibiotics that you absorb from the dairy and meat of animals raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have changed the composition of our gut microbes.
Sound interesting? There’s a lot more to the story: from how to heal a leaky gut to how to save money and time eating better.
I’ve got a new mission, and that is to help as many people as possible become more nutritionally literate before we become extinct.
Hay House will publish my new book, The PlantPlus Diet Solution: Personalized Nutrition for Life on October 1, 2014. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned and help people design the diet that works best for them. I’m just beginning to share this material in other formats. Please check my website and my Facebook pagewww.facebook.com/joanborysenkocommunity for information, interviews and classes. I’m also in the process of redoing my website to include some of this information, and to allow me to post blogs.
In Wellness and Friendship,
Joan’s Chocolate Chip Almond Cookies (gluten free, delicious)
Preheat oven to 350
2 TBS Truvia or the equivalent in another form of stevia
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ cup melted coconut oil
11/2 cups almond flour
¼ cup dark chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Roll walnut sized balls of dough between your hands, then press those babies flat on a baking sheet lightly greased with coconut oil (I use the Spectrum Organics spray)
Bake for 13-15 minutes until lightly brown and fragrant.
Cool on a wire rack
Make 24 scrumptious 2-1/2 inch cookies