Tag Archives: Healthy lifestyle Expo

Q & A WITH DR. McDOUGALL – Low Cholesterol

When I attended the Healthy Lifestyle Expo back in October, I had the opportunity to ask Dr. McDougall a question.  I thought you might enjoy reading his response.  My friend Sirica taped the response for me with my iPhone, so I have written it word for word.

GRETCHEN – My doctor is really supportive of my vegan diet, however with my latest blood work my cholesterol was 130.  My doctor was telling me that she was concerned that my cholesterol was too low (Audience laughed).  How do you approach your doctor when they want you to raise your cholesterol?  She said she has seen problems with cholesterol that is so low.

Dr. McDougall (Smiling ear to ear) – Well, has she really?!?!?!  I would ask where those problems are because I have been at this for 43 years and I have never seen any.  Certainly sick people, say you have cancer, you don’t eat, your cholesterol goes low, but, the cause and effect is clear there.  

Unfortunately your doctor, although probably well meaning, has no experience or education on the effect of diet and cholesterol and I really know this from her statement.  As I said, I have been at this for 43 years, and now people who get sick, say you get cancer or severe heart failure, you get so sick you don’t eat, and when you don’t eat your blood cholesterol will go down just because you don’t eat, and that is where the association comes from…sick people don’t eat and their cholesterol goes low.

If you eat a healthy diet and your cholesterol goes low, that is a completely different relationship, and that is ALWAYS helpful.  I generally recommend a cholesterol less than 150 mg/dl, but I RARELY put somebody on cholesterol lowering medication if they can’t achieve that by diet alone.  

So, I think that is something you can look at as a big “A” on your report card if you have a cholesterol of 150 or less.  

I wouldn’t change doctors because of this one error in understanding.  This doctor probably has a lot to offer.  I would make a small attempt to educate the doctor, just see if she is interested, if not, ya know.  Use professionals for what they do well.  If you are going to have a baby, you want a doctor who is a good catch (laughs), you want a surgeon who is an artist.  You don’t really care if that person smoked a cigar a 1/2 hour before they walked into the operating room, you want somebody who is an artist.  

It looks like you are not looking for a doctor who will tell you to eat a healthy diet or what that diet is, because you already know that, you don’t need to hear it from a doctor.  You just need them for the services that they will provide and doctors have some really specialized skills that you ought to take advantage of, but the skills of knowing what a human being ought to eat have somehow never gotten into the curriculum.  That just never happened and it just blows me away.

My son is finishing his last year of internal medicine residency and some of you may know I am a professor at Touro University Medical School and the student don’t know, they have no idea and neither do the professors.  The students care, the professors are threatened by the fact that they may not know something as crucial as what a human being eats.  I mean, what a question (he is giggling)?  

Anyway, did I answer your question?

Yep…he did.  It was amazing to be able to ask Dr. McDougall this question and hear his answer.  I had a pretty good idea from reading the literature that I was healthy with a cholesterol of 130, but I wanted to have some more facts and specifics to be able to go off of.  Hearing that the low cholesterol / unhealthy connection was usually a factor of being REALLY sick and not eating made me feel a lot better.

I have so much respect for Dr. McDougall.  I think I first read one of his books when I was in high school, so being able to personally ask him a question was an absolute thrill.

Photo of Dr. McDougall courtesy of Processed People.


Filed under Cholesterol, Education, Events, Heart Health, Vegan, Vegetarian


Last year I attended the Healthy Lifestyle Expo.  Jeff and Sabrina Nelson (of VegSource) founded the Healthy Lifestyle Expo as a means to share the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.  Through plant-based eating Sabrina has been able to overcome significant health challenges (click here for her inspirational story).  The Nelson family has done so much to educate others and to further exposure for this way of life.

The last morning of the Healthy Lifestyle Expo began with cooking demonstrations and Sabrina shared her recipe for Berbere Stew.  I was struck by the simplicity of this one pot meal and how tasty it was.  Needless to say I have been eating a lot of Berbere Stew since returning from the conference.  The BBQ sauce makes it taste like baked beans and it is soooo good over brown rice.

I happen to like the Berbere spice, but if you are unsure how your children will react to it, make a batch without it and go from there.

Thanks for such a great recipe Sabrina!


2 ½ cups red lentils
2 jars Muir Glen Portobello Mushroom Sauce (or other fat free, low sodium pasta sauce)
2 empty Muir Glen bottles worth of water
½ cup BBQ sauce of choice
1 Tbs Berbere spice (Sabrina’s favorite Berbere spice is available here.)
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Pour all of the ingredients into a rice cooker.

Press button to cook on “brown rice” setting.

Sabrina uses the Zojirushi rice cooker which takes about 90 minutes to finish cooking, and then it automatically goes into a “warming” setting.

The stew actually improves over time and tastes even better the second day when the flavors have had time to intensify.

For a printable version of this recipe click here.


Filed under Beans/Legumes, Cooking Demonstration, Crock Pot, Events, Gluten Free, Main Dish, Recipes, Soup, Vegan, Vegetarian

GUEST BLOG – What’s Wrong With Oil by Sarah Taylor

I met Sarah Taylor at the Healthy Lifestyle Expo when we were introduced by a mutual friend.  Sarah is one busy vegan lady!  In 2002, she went vegan overnight after reading a copy of John Robbin’s book, Diet for a New America.  Four years later she wrote Vegan in 30 Days as a practical approach and step-by-step plan for helping others to become vegan (It has since been published around the world in several languages).

Sarah holds Certification in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell University, and is currently working on her next vegan book, called Vegetarian to Vegan, which will be available next year. She is on faculty at the Nutritional Education Institute, and has worked as the Motivational Trainer for Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat to Live.  Sarah has been interviewed for numerous radio and internet shows, including NPR, PBS and EarthSave Radio, among others.  She is an “Expert” blogger at VegSource and also runs her own weekly blog (click HERE).

After I went to the Healthy Lifestyle Expo I mentioned to you all that I was now convinced oil is not healthy.  Sarah does a fantastic job of explaining why in today’s Guest Blog post.  I sincerely hope you take the message to heart because doing so could prevent you from ever having to suffer a cardiac event.


by Sarah Taylor

We have been taught that oil – especially olive and canola oils – are heart healthy.  They are good for us, and we should swap out butter and margarine and cook with these heart healthy oils instead.   However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

The heart healthy rumor about oil came from the study that coined the “Mediterranean Diet”, The Lyon Diet Heart Study.  In this study, all 605 patients had survived one heart attack.  The patients in the treatment group were told to eat a “Mediterranean Diet,” high in fruits, vegetables, breads, beans, nuts, and seeds.  They were told to go light on dairy products, fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and wine.  They were also told to add in olive oil, for its monounsaturated fats.  The people in the control group were given no dietary advice, and ate a diet typical of most Westerners, particularly high in saturated fat.

The study had very good results:  The people on the Mediterranean diet were 50-70% less likely to experience any kind of cardiac ailments.  Since olive oil was specifically recommended in this study for it’s monounsaturated fat content, this is where the belief that olive oil is healthy originated.

But what we don’t hear about the Lyon Diet Heart Study is this little factoid:  Fully 25% of the people on the Mediterranean diet had either died or experienced a new cardiac event during the four-year study.  That’s one in four people on the Mediterranean diet!

Compare this to Caldwell Esselstyn’s diet, which is vegan with no oil or other fats included.  The patients in this study had suffered from an average of about three cardiac events before the study started.  Of all of his patients that fully adhered to his diet, there was not one further cardiac event in twelve years.

If you want further proof, here’s another compelling study:  A group of students’ arteries were tested after eating a 900-calorie breakfast, to see the effects of fat on the blood vessels’ ability to dilate and contract.  Our blood vessels need to be able to expand and contract to regulate blood flow to the organs that need it most.  Half of the students had a fat free breakfast of 900 calories, and the other half had a fatty breakfast of 900 calories.  After breakfast, the student’s arteries were tested to see how quickly their arteries could bounce back after being restricted for five minutes.  The arteries of the group that had no fat in their breakfast bounced right back after being constricted for five minutes; but the arteries of the group that had the fatty breakfast took up to six hours to regain their ability to dilate and contract normally.  All oil, my friends, is 100% fat.  Even olive oil.

Heart disease is not really a disease of the heart; it’s a disease of the blood vessels that occurs when blood (and the oxygen it carries) cannot get to the heart because the vessels are blocked up and compromised.  When a blood vessel to the heart gets clogged up and closes, then the heart does not receive any blood, and a heart attack occurs.  Our vessels are probably the most important part of our overall health, and fat undoubtedly has a negative effect on our vessels – even “healthy” oils, because they are still 100% fat.  Therefore, many doctors, including Caldwell Esselstyn, recommend no oil in the diet.

I’ll finish with my personal experience with Dr. Esselstyn.  After being vegan for 4 or 5 years, I stood up at a conference and asked Dr. Esselstyn this question:  If I am 100% vegan and therefore not ingesting any cholesterol, why does my cholesterol remain so high at 230 mg/dL?  He challenged me to get the oil out of my diet.  He said that “eating fat causes the body to manufacture excessive amounts of cholesterol,” even if those fats come from plants.  I honestly didn’t believe him, but agreed to his challenge anyway.  My cholesterol had never been below 200 mg/dL, even when I first had it tested at 19.

After just one month on his oil-free vegan diet my cholesterol fell to 151 mg/dL, and my LDL was so low that it was imperceptible on the cholesterol test!  When I added oil back in to my diet, my total cholesterol jumped right back up over 200 mg/dL again, and my LDL to 120 mg/dL.  For me, this is personal proof that really hits home:  Oil is not healthy!

For more information about Sarah’s company click HERE. 

Olive oil image courtesy of eHow.com 


Filed under Cholesterol, Education, Fat, Guest Blog, Heart Health, Vegan, Vegetarian