My Beef with Meat
The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet--Plus 140 New Engine 2 Recipes
By Rip Esselstyn
Grand Central Publishing Copyright © 2014 Rip Esselstyn
All rights reserved.
Animal Protein Is Dead Wrong
The classic fallback argument of meat eaters and milk-mustache devotees is that a plant-based diet will make you chronically sick—and sickly looking as well. They also insist that eating all that animal protein helps them ward off the flu and protects against heart attack, stroke, and cancer, right?
Well, these people couldn't be more wrong. It's not the plant-based foods that will make you ill, it's the meat and the liquid meat (i.e.: dairy) that can lead to sickness and death. Consider this: If your food had a face or a mother (or comes from something that did), then it also has varying amounts of artery- clogging, plaque-plugging, and cholesterol-hiking animal protein, animal cholesterol, and animal fat. These substances are the building blocks of the chronic diseases that plague Western society.
Surprised? Americans have become so accustomed to chronic illness that we simply assume that conditions such as heart disease or stroke are like wrinkles—bound to happen eventually and a natural part of the aging process. They are certainly common. Just look at the explosion of new blood pressure and cholesterol drugs in recent years; doctors and pharmacies seem to be giving them out like candy.
According to the Harvard Health Letter, in 2011 more than 32 million Americans were taking statins for high cholesterol. And a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that nearly half of all Americans use some kind of prescription drugs on a regular basis.
Yet despite our attempts to medicate away our misery, Americans are sicker than ever. According to the CDC, in 2005 133 million Americans—nearly one out of every two adults—had at least one chronic illness. And the percentage of middle-aged Americans suffering from three or more ailments has almost doubled in the last fifteen years.
It doesn't really look like all those medications are doing a good job. And it's no surprise. All of these drugs—whether it's statins for high cholesterol, beta blockers for high blood pressure, glucophage for high blood sugar, or acetaminophen for inflammation—are doing nothing at all to address the root cause of the problems they're supposed to treat.
Doctors who prescribe such medications are myopically addressing only the symptoms of disease, making our numbers look good and giving people a false sense of security. The truth is, all of these ailments can result from lifestyle choices about food. Period. So tell these meat eaters to stop thinking they are an exception to this rule!
Here's where some people step in and say: "But chronic ailments like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are mostly hereditary! If both your grandfathers had heart problems, you probably will too, right?"
Not necessarily. One such person was Mickey Mantle. Arguably the best pure hitter in the history of baseball, the Mick swore he wouldn't live past the age of fifty because most of the men in his family had died from Hodgkin's disease (a cancer of the lymph tissue). So he lived hard, drank heavily, ate poorly, and ended up dying at the age of 63—not from cancer but alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver. (He never did come down with Hodgkin's.) Nearing his final days, he said: "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken a lot better care of myself."
Many of the ailments that slow us down, weaken our bones, or strangle our heart are completely avoidable, whether or not your ancestors had them—and not by taking drugs. Your blood pressure doesn't have to be high, your bones don't have to crumble, and your arteries don't have to clog! Most chronic diseases, no matter how many undesirable chromosome mutations we may have, can be avoided by controlling what goes into our body.
Consider that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recently completed a ten-year study, concluding that nearly all males over age 60 and all females over age 70 reared on a typical Western, animal-based diet are already suffering from heart disease and should be treated as such. Even more frightening: In almost 50 percent of heart attacks, the first symptom is instant death.
What is at the core of this terrible disease? Plaque. Plaque is a waxy, fatty deposit that can build up in various places in the body, including the inside of the arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. Over time, plaque grows even greasier, more fatty, and nastier, and can become so thick that it severely constricts the flow of blood. If left untreated—or worse, if the unhealthy diet that promoted plaque in the first place persists—the arteries may become completely closed off, triggering a heart attack.
While blood thinners can increase the flow of blood, and medications like nitroglycerin can even temporarily dilate the arteries to prevent death, your fork is the only tool that can actually help reverse the buildup of plaque in your system.
Surprisingly, artery blockage causes less than 10 percent of heart attacks. The cause of nearly 90 percent of them is gel plaques, similar to small pimples that line the arterial wall. When one decides to pop, your body forms a blood clot. The result, more often than not, is no blood flow downstream to the heart. Ouch!
This is how newscaster Tim Russert died. He had perfect blood pressure and cholesterol numbers (thanks in part to the titanic amount of medication he was taking on a daily basis). In addition, his doctors had recently given him a clean bill of health. Yet two weeks later, a gel plaque burst in his body.
Sadly, he is not the exception to the rule. This is happening all over America every single day. And here is the crazy, crazy, crazy thing: All of the statin drugs that almost 32 million Americans take daily do almost zilch, zero, nada, to prevent gel plaques from rupturing.
If you take a close look at the NNT, or numbers needed to treat, for people taking a given medication to get a positive result, you'll find that 100 people need to be taking a statin drug for 1 person to be helped. 100 to 1! That is an egregiously poor track record. The only subgroup of people who modestly benefit from taking a statin drug are those who have had a prior cardiovascular event.
So if your doctor is worth his or her salt, he or she should tell you these statistics before placing you on a statin drug. The doctor should also inform you of the laundry list of known side effects from statins, including fatigue, muscle aches, depression, headaches, difficulty sleeping, flushing, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal cramping and/or pain, bloating and/or gas, diarrhea, constipation, rashes, impotence, diabetes, and cognitive issues such as forgetfulness and confusion—to name a few.
Lifelong cigarette smokers don't get their wind back by switching to cigars; for their lungs to regenerate, they have to quit altogether. The same goes for your arteries. Taking a pill then continuing to eat meat won't help you.
In fact, my father (a surgeon and an expert on cardiac disease) is convinced that people have the profound ability to destroy these Darth Vader death-star gel plaques using only their forks—by eating whole, plant-healing foods—in as little as three weeks! Try that one on for size: Three weeks to make yourself heart attack proof!
So if you want to glow with health, then ditch the animals and bring on the plants. After all, the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the United States, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), says that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." Also, a 2009 report by the AND noted that eaters of plant-based diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol "tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates."
Translation: Plants are the bomb if you want to be healthy and prevent disease! So why not love yourself to the max by cutting out the red and going green?
In addition to halting the accumulation of plaque, a proper plant-based diet can also reverse the process entirely. In a groundbreaking study, Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California assembled 48 patients suffering from severe heart disease. Twenty participants continued their typical animal-based Western diet, while the other 28 adopted a strict, plant-based regimen along with performing basic stretching and walking exercises.
The results? A staggering 82 percent of the participants in the plant-based group witnessed a reduction in their arterial blockage. And in one dramatic case, Werner Hebenstreit, a seventy-five-year-old businessman, had improved so much he was able to hike at over 8,000 feet for six hours in the Grand Tetons. Before beginning a plant-based diet, he could barely cross the street without experiencing chest pains.
Meanwhile, of those meat munchers who continued with the typical Western diet, none got better, and in most cases their arterial blockage continued to worsen.
Still skeptical? Consider the story of a guy named Bill. Bill grew up in the South eating a traditional animal-based diet, and was partial to fried chicken, hamburgers, and French fries. He was even known for ducking into McDonald's during his weekly jogs. But years of red meat and fried foods took their toll, and in 2004, Bill underwent quadruple coronary-artery bypass surgery.
In 2010, doctors had to insert stents into his native coronary after one of those bypasses failed. (The frequency of bypass procedures failing within one- and-a-half years is quite high, according to a 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Almost 50 percent of the time, the vessel taken from your leg and used to bypass your blocked artery will shut down within twelve to eighteen months.)
Bill's daughter was upset and soon demanded that her father improve his health before her wedding later that year. So Bill started poring over the peer- reviewed scientific literature and, inspired by my father's twenty-five years of research reversing heart disease in hundreds of patients at the Cleveland Clinic, as well as the work of Dr. Dean Ornish and T. Colin Campbell, dove into the plant-strong sea of goodness and changed his diet! Bill ultimately dropped twenty-five pounds, and walked his daughter down the aisle not long afterward.
You may have heard of Bill. He was the forty-second president of the United States. So take it from President Clinton, who recently told an interviewer, "I live on a plant-based diet of beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruit ... I want to be one of the 82 percent of people who reverse their heart disease."
Plants Are Plentiful in Protein
A few years ago, when I was still a firefighter, we were on an assistance call to lift a 600-pound woman out of her room and into a waiting ambulance. When we arrived at her bedroom, we found it littered with pizza boxes, empty buckets of fried chicken, and dozens of drained soda bottles—all the evidence we needed to know why she was morbidly obese. As the eight of us were grunting, groaning, and struggling to lift her, I nicely suggested that she might consider eating less refined food and more fresh, whole plants. She looked up at me, baffled, and asked, "But where would I get my protein?"
Meat eaters throw a lot of false facts at you, but maybe the most common one is this: You can't get enough protein eating plants.
Puh-leeeeeeeez! Stop the nonsense!! There is no such thing as protein deficiency in the United States. How many people do you know who were hospitalized last year for protein deficiency? Zero! Now, how many people do you know who were hospitalized for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or obesity-related ailments? Probably lots.
In fact, the majority of Americans are walking around in a state of protein overload—and it's little wonder. We live in a country that is head over heels in love with anything that even smells of protein. We've been so hoodwinked and bamboozled by the meat, milk, and egg industries that the majority of people, including well-meaning but misinformed doctors and nutritionists, haven't a clue that the best and most healthful sources of protein come from whole plants.
Yes, plants! So take a seat, because we're about to get real about protein.
Let me start by giving you an analogy. If you are breathing air, you're probably pretty confident you're getting enough oxygen. Air is 21 percent oxygen and 79 percent nitrogen—but you're not overly worried about getting enough oxygen. As long as your lungs are taking in air, you're a happy camper and figure you're in good shape.
Now think about food and protein. If you're eating food, it doesn't really matter which foods you're eating—as long as you're taking in enough calories, you can pretty much rest assured you're also getting enough protein. Yes, protein is of prime importance, and is the most plentiful substance in the body besides water—but that doesn't mean eating more of it is better for you.
Many authorities, including the World Health Organization, recommend that protein should make up at least 10 percent of total calories in the human diet. The crazy thing is that most of us are getting much more than we need in terms of protein and calories.
In addition, because most Americans eat so much meat and so few whole, plant-based foods, most of the protein our body has to work with is coming from an unfriendly source, namely animal protein. And animal protein is bad for our bones, creates an inflammatory state in our bodies, increases the risk of tumor development, raises cholesterol levels, and is harsh on the liver and kidneys.
For healthy individuals, the World Health Organization recommends the following formula to calculate your daily protein requirements: (0.8 grams) × (your ideal body weight in kilograms) = protein in grams. So, for a 175-pound guy like me using the above formula I should be getting 64 grams of protein per day. This is an absolute snap!
So instead of relying on a third-class version of protein, why not go to the mother source—healthful and healing plants. Let's look at the amount of protein found in plant-based foods, so you can feel confident you're getting all the protein you need from eating them.
Twenty-five percent of the calories in your average vegetable come from protein—with many leafy green vegetables boasting as much as 50 percent! Your average bean contains 25 percent protein—soybeans as much as 40 percent. Your average whole grain contains 12 percent protein—quinoa as much as 18 percent. And even your average fruit contains well over 5 percent protein—lemons as much as 15 percent. So take those lemons and make lemonade!
Here is a list of several fruits and their protein content, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food database:
Oranges (1 navel): 7.4 percent
Strawberries (1 cup, whole): 8.3 percent
Kiwi (1 whole fruit or 1 cup, sliced): 7.5 percent
Apple (1 medium): 2 percent
Pineapple (1 cup, chunks): 4.3 percent
Peaches (1 medium): 9.3 percent
Banana (1 medium): 4.9 percent
As you can see, theoretically you could almost be a fruitarian in Fiji and still not run the risk of being protein deficient (not recommended, however!).
In fact, protein deficiency is so rare that I have never found a single person who knows the name of the medical condition that results from a serious lack of it in the diet. Not one person. What is that word? The answer is on page 18.
The only two ways to blow it with protein are by (1) not consuming enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, and (2) eating mostly foods that are high in fat and sugar (the chips, donuts, French-fries-and-soda-pop diet). If you're eating an unprocessed plant-strong diet while keeping a healthy weight, you're covered!
A Protein Flash About Flesh
We all know that without protein, we can't survive. But nature is pretty smart, and has designed humans in a way that ensures our survival even with little protein from food. Why? Because of a process called "protein turnover" that takes place in our body. According to the classic textbook Nutrition (Insel, Ross, fourth edition, 2012), cells throughout the body constantly synthesize and break down protein, leaving behind amino acids, some of which are then used for protein synthesis. Of the approximately 300 grams of protein synthesized by the body each day, 200 grams come from these recycled amino acids. This cycle takes place every day of your life, without your having to do a thing. So the next time someone asks you where you get most of your protein from, just tell them from human flesh! (Continues...)
Excerpted from My Beef with Meat by Rip Esselstyn. Copyright © 2014 Rip Esselstyn. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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