Monday, February 1, 2016

Plant Based Pioneers and Gluten-free cornbread

If you’ve ever seen Forks Over Knives (and if you haven’t please stop reading, go watch it, then return here to continue reading) you might remember about how during the Second World War, areas that faced near famine rationing experienced significantly lower mortality from heart disease.

This is true. As this graph from Forks Over Knives demonstrates, that in Sweden (and other areas) where meat and cheese was rationed, or taken from the civilians and sent to the men at the front, mortality from typical western diseases decreased.

However I recently learned a spin off of that story, that I found absolutely fascinating and wanted to share.

A California cardiologist, Lester Morrison had also heard about these statistics and in the first year following the war, he decided to see if a diet mimicking the war-time rationing diets could also help some of his patients.

While the study he concocted was largely ignored during his lifetime, and even today is largely disregarded for various methodical flaws, it still had interesting results, and a large impact on one person who used the results to spawn a movement.

Morrison took 100 post-infraction (ie: sick patients) and divided them into two groups. The first group had no intervention and continued living and eating as they had been. The other group he placed on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. He followed these 100 patients for 3 years and then again at the 8th year.

When he first published his piece, those in the diet group had lost, on average 25lbs and also lowered their serum cholesterol. On top of this, the mortality rate in the intervention group was 44% compared to 76% of the non-intervention group. Those in the intervention group also reported a sense of optimism, an increased exercise and work capacity and decreased angina symptoms. In a 1960 follow up, all of the non-intervention patients (that is those who continued living their normal lives) had died. However, 38 out of 50 of those on his low fat, low cholesterol diet were still alive.

As I mentioned above, these results were largely discounted for various reasons, however, Nathan Pritikin, a business man, took the lessons to heart and to their extreme, further cutting out the small amounts of animal products Morrison’s diet allowed. Using such a diet, Pritikin restored his health and his vigor. Shortly before hand, at the age of 42, Pritikin was diagnosed with heart disease and high cholesterol, and at the age of 44 received a further diagnoses of leukaemia. Eating a high-fiber diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, within a shorttime, Pritikin dropped his total cholesterol by more than 100 points, and the angina he was suffering from completely vanished. Further, his cancer went into remission, and remained in remission for the next 27 years before finally returning.

Pritikin is often called the grandfather of the plant-based movement. Despite not having a medical degree, his books became best sellers, and he helped found the Pritikin Centers for Longevity where he and his team published over 100 peer reviewed scientific papers, and was even invited to give talks about nutrition and diseases at some of the countries most prestigious hospitals, including Mount Sinai in New York.

Pritikin eventually took his own life rather than suffering through the treatment for cancer, but upon his death, he did something remarkable, something that no other health "guru" has done since requested an autopsy of his health be published. What they found was even more remarkable. His heart was free of any plaque, and the results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. At the time, the LA Times  wrote of the publication, “While there were small traces of fatty tissue both in the heart muscle and in the coronary arteries, all four of the major arteries examined were totally free of any restriction--a condition virtually unheard of for a 69-year-old man living in a Western country.” 
While I openly admit that these are just two anecdotal examples, they represent some of the earliest examinations of diet and disease. Today, the impact of these two men are still being felt, as even John McDougall, M.D. author of the Starch Solution credits Pritikin as one of his earliest role models. Today we have far more complex and scientifically-rigours studies, but even some fifty years ago, the lessons were clear. Eat plants, not animals for overall health.

Gluten and Oil Free Cornbread

This gluten and oil-free cornbread is fantastic and a perfect companion to my Quick Three Bean Chili. This recipe is the result of M and I becoming frustrated trying to find a recipe that suited all of our needs. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

1 cup brown rice flour (available for purchase or make your own*)
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup favorite plant based milk
2 flax eggs – 2 tablespoons of ground flax soaked in 4 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ripe banana
6 medjool dates – pitted (soak the
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

There are two different ways to mix all the ingredients. The traditional way, of course, is to place the dry ingredients into a large bowl, mix well. Because this recipe is sweetened with whole fruits, you’ll need to either blend or process the dates and the banana into the milk. It will be thick, but you want it to be thinner than pancake mix, it should pour out of your blender without too much assistance. Now that you’ve prepared your milk, combine the wet ingredients and mixed with the dry ingredients until completely combined.

As a little tip, we prefer to simply the mixing process by adding the dry ingredients slowly into the high powered blender or food processor after blending the fruit into the milk. Blend until all ingredients are completely smooth and well combined.

Let the batter stand for five minutes

While you are preparing your batter, pre-heat the oven to 350. Now pour the batter into a greased pan or pan lined with parchment paper and place it into the oven.

Cook for 22-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove and let cool. Then enjoy in any number of ways with any number of dishes.

*Brown rice flour can be purchased but is also easy to make but simply tossing 1 cup of uncooked brown rice into a blender or food process and processing until the rice is a fine powder.

Hubbard, J. “Nathan Pritikin’s Heart,” (1985) New England Journal of Medicine 313 (1) 52.

Morrison, “Reduction of Mortality Rate in Coronary Atherosclerosis by a low Cholesterol-low Fat Diet.” (1951) Am. Heart J. 42: 538-545.

Parachini, “Autopsy of Pritikin May Renew Debate,” Los Angeles Times July 4, 1985.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

America’s healthiest restaurant & Breakfast burritos

M and I recently returned from two different trips to the US, and at no time did we feel we didn’t have access to good, healthy food, with the only possible exception being while on the airplane, and even that was easily solved (more about that below).

Mediterranean Flatbread from GreenSpace Cafe

We were fortunate that our travels took us to Detroit for a few days. It was our first time there, and we really did enjoy it. There is a great energy and genuine friendliness throughout the city.

Detroit also happens to be home to one of the healthiest restaurants in America! Greenspace Café. The restaurant is a joint venture between America’s Heart Attack Prevention Doc, Joel Kahn, M.D. (who wrote a BYOL post) and his son Daniel.

The space is about 10 miles from downtown Detroit and is incredibly beautiful. They have two different menus, one normal menu, where all the food is non-gmo, mostly organic, and largely locally sourced. The second menu is also all of the above, but is special in that it is oil-free! Both menus change frequently. They also have a fully vegan bar, serving all the classic drinks and cocktails, but also creating many signature drinks, infused with healthy veggie juices, giving them an antioxidant boost. There is also a local raw juice bar near the entrance, where you can grab a juice to sip while you wait.

We can’t express how great of an experience Green Space was, and getting to spend sometime with my friend Dr. Kahn only made it that much better! However, even if you don’t know Dr. Kahn, that won’t stop him and his charming wife Karen from greeting you, and treating you as if you are old pals.

Teriyaki Mushroom was our favorite dish

Because, the menu changes so frequently, I won’t spend too much time talking about the specific dishes we had that night. We chose to do a tapas style meal, selecting a bunch of smaller dishes and then sharing one of their main dishes. They were all fantastic, and surprisingly generous portions. Then M and I split the chocolate cake with vanilla cashew ice cream (sorry I couldn’t get a photo, it was a little too dark) which was one of the richest cakes I’ve tried in a long time. 

Seriously, Detroit is lucky to have such a gem so close by. A place like this will surely help spread the plant based message to an entirely new crowd! I can only hope that Dr. Kahn and his son receive the reception they deserve with their new enterprise, and given the fact that the restaurant was packed on a rain soaked night, I think they will! I also hope they some day decide to expand, because a restaurant like this will succeed anywhere!

(note: photos taken from GreenSpace Café instagram, as it was too dark to get photos that do the space or the food justice.)


Whenever we travel, particularly if we have a long flight, we always request the strict vegetarian food, but we also like to make a few hummus sandwiches ahead of time, to keep in our bag just in case. These are great, because they are filling, and are also really easy. We often add tempeh or some greens, basically anything that can literally be eaten right out of the packaging, keeping prep time to a minimal. Also all the ingredients can be found at any grocery or natural foods store.  

But outside of flying, there’s really never a time when you will find yourself in the US without an option. Most restaurants have at least some veggies hidden in their menu, and many are more than accommodating and willing to prepare something for you. The key is to ask.

While visiting new restaurants is one of our favorite reasons to travel, sometimes M and I still prefer to make our own food, and I think a lot of people would be surprised at how easy it can be in most places. Many hotels have microwaves in the room, or are more than happy to let you use one. And nearly all grocery stores have canned or frozen veggies and beans.

M and I have recently started using AirBnB as an alternative as well. The plus side to this is not only do we get to meet cool new local people where we are staying, but more importantly we also have access to a kitchen, which allows us to prepare our own food, not only healthier, but it also saves us money from eating out all the time.

(sorry for the lame photos, I worked with what I had)

Today’s recipe is for an easy breakfast burrito that we made one morning before a flight. We used canned black beans and frozen vegetables to make it easier, but feel free to try it with fresh veggies as well. This can be made on a stovetop or in a microwave, so which ever you have available, give it a try. The dish turned out so nice, that we will be making them again soon!

Breakfast Burritos
1 bag of tortillas – I always look for either whole wheat, brown rice or non-gmo corn
1 can black beans - rinsed
1 bag frozen peppers and onions
1 bag frozen yellow and green squash
1 bag of chopped greens of choice
1-2 cans of fire-roasted tomatoes

Rinse the beans and drain half of the liquid out of the tomatoes. Now place all ingredients with the exception of the tortillas in either a microwave safe bowl or stovetop pot. Heat well until all of the ingredients have completely become hot and allow for some of the liquid to cook off. It should only need about 10 to 15 minutes on the stovetop and about 5 minutes in the microwave (although I suggest do 2 minutes then tossing, 2 minutes tossing, until hot)

Now serve on top of the tortillas. Feel free to add fresh avocado, salsa, or hot sauce of choice to top it off!