As an adult, during a 20-year marriage, I was the cook. Cooking was my relaxation when I came home from work. In those years I had become omnivore, but still always had a vegetarian-leaning cooking style. I made pasta sauce completely vegetarian, using mushrooms, and my Italian (now ex-) wife within six months admitted my pasta sauce was better than her mother's. For which my mother-in-law never forgave me. During those years however, I also thought an organic filet mignon was health food, and if it wasn't organic I'd eat it too.
The last 20 years, I was slowly drifting back to a more vegetarian lifestyle, until I decided for health reasons that it was necessary to become a bit more rigorous, and after one false try maybe five years ago, I finally and completely shifted to the Esselstyn diet in May of 2015, and the results were dramatic. These days I am off of all medication and back at my fighting weight of age 22.
Vegan or Whole Foods Plant-Based (WFPB)Vegan means strictly speaking that you're not eating animal protein: no meat, fish, fowl, dairy or eggs. Strictly speaking the term means little else.
Ever since Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's work gained popularity (which got a big push when Clinton credited him with overcoming his heart disease), a more strict regimen has become more popular, no-oil vegan. No processed oils, and moderation in oily fruit (avocado, coconut), nuts and oil seeds. The biggie for most people is no more cheese. No, cheese is not a healthfood, as Dr. Neal Barnard of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains in his tell-all book about cheese, The Cheese Trap. Three months after stopping all dairy, I indulged in cheese at a reception, along with some red wine. The taste still seemed attractive at first, but the after taste was of having eaten window caulking and it felt heavy. Then I read the book and finally it all made sense. No wonder statistically cheese is totally correlated with the American obesity crisis... from 4 lbs per person per year, we are gobbling 33 lbs per person/per year today.
Most people fail to make the transition at first, as did I when I first tried the Esselstyn approach, because the preparation of food became a challenge, but this time around I prepared myself better, got some more vegan cookbooks, and accessed all the information I could find. Meals became fun explorations of new possibilities, and presently, a year and a half later, it feels like I am entering a consolidation phase based on a whole new cooking paradigm and a new ability to improvise with flavors and textures with the excitement of the discovery that everything tastes better and more flavorful if you stop cooking with oil. And your arteries will thank you!
The truth is not in what you don't eat but in what you can and should eat, and that is a very rich and varied plant-based diet, full of veggies, legumes, fruits etc., and it becomes an entirely new journey of discovery, as this blog tries to show. In short, the first time I tried the Esselstyn diet, I made two mistakes. One was to focus on what I could not have and trying to find alternatives, and the other was not to be sufficiently clear on the methods of preparation.
One practical example was about cooking without oil, in the Esselstyn book there is talk about stir-frying with water, but I don't believe it explains it clearly. I am finding that though some pans are more suitable to this than others, in general you can dry-fry onions, garlic and chilis, and then when it starts to brown you can add a half a cup of water, or vegetable broth, or even water from steaming vegetables, and with that base you can cook spinach, or malabar spinach or almost any other vegetable dish, lentils, etc. Once you are handy with this, it is a cinch, and the bottom line is, all vegetables taste endlessly better prepared this way. Oil or butter ruins the taste. Here I was making sautéed spinach all of my life, and I thought I was pretty good at it. I knew nothing until I tried the oil-free method. Spinach prepared this way is heavenly!
And there are tons of resources, such as Forks over Knives, the Engine2 diet, and the 21-day kickstart program from PCRM, and many other places where you can go for support. Here in the Bronx there is the wonderful resource of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Hospital, run by Dr. Robert Ostfeld, who offers a half-day course to learn the Whole Foods Plant-Based diet, in the best of the Caldwell Esselstyn tradition, and on a budget. You can even bring your significant other, so that at least you get support at home. I am now registered to go to his next workshop on July 15th. The bottom line is with the growing support options, people who are looking to make the change have an extensive support system at their finger tips. A lot of it is free, and once in a while perhaps you'll buy a book or do a workshop. And the fear that you can't afford it is not well founded, for meat and dairy are expensive both in dollars, and in the toll you pay with your health.
Always first: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure and
T. Colin Caldwell, The China Study: Revised and Expanded Edition: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health
Dr. Neal Barnard, The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy
- Not strictly no-oil vegan, but a helpful little guide: Amy Cramer and Lisa McComsey, The Vegan Cheat Sheet: Your Take-Everywhere Guide to Plant-based Eating