FOOD IS CLIMATE Vol. 1 No. 4, 4/12/22        “Eat to Save the Planet”

California Takes the Lead in Taking on Factory Farming The famed animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere has launched a call-in campaign to urge the California Assembly Agriculture Committee to vote yes on AB 2764This historic bill would prohibit the construction and expansion of any factory farms or large slaughterhouses in California, the world’s fifth largest economy.   

He Chose Veganism Over Statins and Corrected His Heart Issues Ever since writing a book about heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, Paul Greenberg wanted to see differences in outcomes from diets. He knew veganism was best for the planet, and had been vegan decades previously, but now his doctor found evidence of clogged arteries, and too-high cholesterol. When his doctor prescribed statins, he skipped the pharmacy, and instead began a year-long regimen of plant-based eating, according to Eating Well magazine. Greenberg said in Eating Well that animal agriculture contributes nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions by food production globally* — and 78% of its methane emissions, adding “for me, a vegan diet felt straightforward; it eliminated whole categories of foods I might be too tempted by.” (See full article below.)

*This data ignores the “opportunity loss“ of greenhouse gases that would have been taken out of the atmosphere from forests that were now cut down for animal agriculture, according to Dr. Sailish Rao, CEO, Climate Healers. The correct percentage is 87% of all global greenhouse gases are created by animal agriculture.

Youth Prediabetes on the Rise Among U.S. 12- to 19-year-olds, more than one in four — 28% — are on the cusp of diabetes, more than double the 12% proportion in that age group in 1999, according to research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. It was found to be more prevalent among boys than girls and among youths who are overweight or obese. The Washington Post’s Linda Searing shares more on the report informing why people with prediabetes are more likely to progress to Type 2 diabetes and are at higher risk for heart disease, often unaware of diagnosis due to no symptoms. 

Lauded Food Climate Author Joins Sustainable Earth Eating Glen Merzer, former screenplay writer, novelist, and author of Food Is Climate, has joined the SEE staff as a Senior Advisor for Research and Media. He says he’s happy to join SEE to help it carry out its mission of advocating for dietary changes that will give us a viable future. A big part of the challenge is explaining to the public and to journalists the centrality of agriculture and diet to our environment and our climate.

Mud Slinging Between Alt-Meat and Traditional Ag: Campaign Suggests Carnivores Are Lousy Lovers Last month’s Valentine’s was anything but a lovefest for two companies involved in public brawl via advertising: including a full-page in the New York Times and on a billboard in Midtown Manhattan during the Feb Valentine’s weekend. A plant-based food company claimed “plant-based lovers do it better.” According to the Washington Post, the alternative egg company Eat Just used the ads to direct people to its campaign’s website, which claimed men who eat a healthy plant-based diet are less at risk for erectile dysfunction, citing research. Erectile dysfunction tends to go with age, but can also commonly occur in men with high blood pressure, a history of heart disease or diabetes. These health problems have been linked to higher red meat consumption according to the WAPO article. And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has declared the campaign as having “no basis in fact.” 

He Chose Veganism Over Statins and Corrected His Heart Issues 

Ever since writing a book about heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, Paul Greenberg wanted to see differences in outcomes from diets. He knew veganism was best for the planet, and had been vegan decades previously, but now his doctor found evidence of clogged arteries, and too high cholesterol. When his doctor prescribed statins, he skipped the pharmacy, and instead began a year-long regimen of plant- based eating.

Greenberg said in Eating Well magazine animal agriculture contributes nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions created by food production globally—and 78% of its methane emissions, adding “for me, a vegan diet felt straightforward; it eliminated whole categories of foods I might be too tempted by.”

Greenberg researched studies including cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D., founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, conducted in the 1990s— looking at what happened to cardiac patients when they were put on a plant-based (though not completely vegan) diet. In many cases, Ornish discovered that with people like Greenberg who had significant calcification, their arteries actually opened up. This phenomenon has been attributed in part to the high amounts of anti-inflammatory micronutrients that a plant-centered diet—full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses and nuts—delivers, Greenberg said.

Another study (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) of a group of 96,000 Seventh-Day Adventists—eating varying plant-based diets—vegans had the lowest risk of hypertension, and lowest BMIs, compared to those eating vegetarian diets that included some animal foods. Other research supports linking veganism to better cholesterol levels, reduced inflammation and lower rates of heart disease.

Greenberg watched Ornish colleague Greger videos to finetune his diet. Besides eliminating animal products,  highly processed foods were also off the list. Greenberg said it wasn’t easy, dinner dates with friends became a “nightmare.” Cooking at home became much easier, since he loved to cook. “He marveled at “many ways plant-based cooking had advanced since the ’80s. Making cashew mozzarella was a revelation, as was swapping canned-chickpea water for eggs in homemade mayonnaise. 

Greenberg also switched to a more lifestyle-centered cardiologist, Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., president of SRSHeart Center for Women’s Prevention, Health and Wellness in NYC, but who still favored statins. When Greenberg’s first blood tests came back, Steinbaum was impressed. In a few months, his LDL had dropped from 160 to 127 mg/dL. blood pressure—which had been stuck at 140/90 mm Hg—was trending downward to 135/85. Still, she wanted more tests.

Changes for the Better

As Greenberg entered the second quarter of his vegan trial, Steinbaum ordered new tests that looked at his liver’s natural ability to deal with cholesterol, as well as genetic proclivity to have faulty LDL-clearing enzymes. Generally, Boston Heart judged his heart to be sound, but one negative factor was an elevated level of apolipoprotein B—the protein component of what cardiologists call “small and dense” LDL, particles strongly associated with heart attack risk. Worse, small dense LDL levels don’t change much from diet. If it turned out that apoB-driven LDL was the root of his problem, he might have hit a wall. 

When Greenberg let Greger know that he’d lowered his LDL by more than 40 points he was pleased, but said most of his patients saw a 30% reduction in LDL in just a few weeks after switching to a vegan diet, partially due to improvements in liver functioning, but also weight loss. 

Greenberg contends that exercise, is about the most statistically effective form of intervention there is for reducing cardiac “events,” as doctors call heart attacks and strokes. According to Benjamin Levine, M.D., in people with calcium scores of less than 100, studies have found a 50% reduction in heart attacks and strokes when subjects exercised regularly compared to those who remained sedentary. (He notes that the benefit seems to plateau at around five hours a week.) Besides shaving off pounds and reducing stress, exercise also lowers blood pressure, stabilizes the heart’s rhythm and even improves its overall structure. Particularly relevant is evidence that exercise helps transform unstable plaque into calcified that won’t break off causing an event.  

Vegan Year Outcome  

Greenberg contends he was not “experiencing a massive kale-induced placebo effect,” but by month nine of his experiment he felt fantastic. He had lost a dozen pounds, had more energy and could manage 10K runs without joint pain or shortness of breath. And his labs from Steinbaum were great. “The most compelling markers that we have are the cholesterol and blood pressure,” she wrote. “Your LDL cholesterol before you started your trial in February was 160, in May it decreased to 127 and now it is 118. Your ambulatory blood pressures in May were 120-145/80-95. Currently your blood pressures are in the 120s/70-80s.” Based on all that, it seemed he had beaten the rap. On the presumption that a continuation of my diet and exercise plan would further lower my numbers, Steinbaum was holding off on statins for the moment.

“It’s hard to say if I was experiencing a massive kale-induced placebo effect, but I can truthfully say that by month nine of my experiment I felt fantastic.”

— Paul Greenberg

Greenberg also felt his vulnerability to COVID-19 and was sure he had it. But just as suddenly as his symptoms arrived, they vanished. He started running again. Had his improved cardiovascular health contributed to a mild viral experience? Had all that diet and exercise paid off in actual life-saving in the face of a deadly pandemic? When tested positive for COVID antibodies in May, that very much seemed to be the case.

Bottom Line

Here are a few takeaways from my year as a vegan. You are not me. Come up with a plan that your doctor agrees with based on your numbers. For example, if you get a calcium score over 300 (as opposed to my 90), statins are probably in your future. And if you’ve already had a heart attack or stroke, don’t think about any of this until you’ve consulted your cardiologist. Stick to dense, fiber-rich whole grains. Eat “bread that you can stand on without squishing it” as Dr. Hyman says. Go easy on the salt. Not all people are salt-sensitive meaning their blood pressure ticks up in response to a high-sodium diet—but salt is a major contributor to hypertension, which in turn is one of the major risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Supplement. If you’re going full-on vegan you will likely have to supplement your diet with vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids—nutrients that are primarily found in nonvegan foods like fish and eggs. Animal-free forms of both are widely availableQuestion your “healthy” diet. Log it and record what you’re really eating. Even those Doritos in the car. Measure your exercise too. Are you getting 3 to 5 hours a week? It’s OK to cheat. (Full disclosure: I did several times.) A piece of meat here and there is not apt to blow out your arteries. Rather, as Dr. Michael Greger notes, the goal is a significant overall decrease in saturated fat and increase in anti-inflammatory plant-based foods.

EatingWell, September 2020

Editors: Jane DeMarines, L.A.Frank
“Food Is Climate takes its name from the lauded book of same name by Glen Merzer. It was distributed at COP 26 in Glasgow where I obtained it. We highly recommend this slim volume. Available at Amazon.

 

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