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Break Habits: Change to A Diet That Allows Humans and Earth to Stay Alive

Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.

Habit is the body’s routine reaction. It is part of the subconscious and completely bypasses the conscious mind. Habit comes from repetitive movements and repetitive emotional responses.

Learning to ride a bike is a familiar example. Initially you need to concentrate on riding and it may feel very unnatural. But after practising repeatedly, cycling becomes a habit. Without concentration, the body can operate automatically.

Similarly, repetitive emotional reactions form personality. If you do not pay special attention, you may think that it is innate and cannot be changed.

Among all the habits, eating habits are the most deeply rooted. It is also the most difficult to change. If you can change eating habits, it would be easy to change other habits. Chinese travelling abroad must find Chinese restaurants. A Chinese might not feel full after a meal without rice. A relative from Hunan travels with hot chili bean sauce. Another person from Hunan who has lived in the U.S. for years, still needs to eat specially prepared chili sauce at every meal. Without chilli, they cannot eat rice. Once on a plane, a passenger from India told me that her husband brought hot and sour sauce with him when he toured the United States.

When we are rigidly controlled by habit, it is very difficult to be objective in selecting a diet that is good for the body. Until the body is overburdened and becomes sick, then we will reconsider what is the right diet.

Last year, one of my neighbours hosted a Christmas Eve dinner. After the last guests departed at two o’ clock in the early morning, he had a heart attack. As it was Christmas Eve, he did not want to bother his friends and waited until early in the morning before going to the hospital. He was lucky not to die. He immediately collected information about the treatment of heart disease and found a newly listed documentary “Forks Over Knives” which gave a very detailed account of plantbased foods in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

This neighbour also found a book written by Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn who advised the former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, in his diet after his heart attack. Mr Clinton completely changed his diet overnight. He became a vegan and eats a completely fat-free diet.

Due to his personal experience, my neighbour earnestly wanted to alert other people without health problems yet. He screened the documentary “Forks Over Knives” for the local residents to watch. Recently, his friend who was only 45 years old had a sudden heart attack and fell unconscious by the road. Fortunately, a doctor was passing by and saved him. An ambulance happened to be there and sent him to hospital. In the administering of emergency first aid, six of his ribs were broken. The hospital prepared for an operation which he refused. He went to Dr Esselstyn’s Cleveland Clinic that was introduced in the documentary to learn how to be a vegetarian.

The eating habit of Americans has changed dramatically in this century. Meat intake has nearly doubled. Sugar intake increased by nearly four times. And dairy intake increased more than two folds, prompting a significant increase in a variety of chronic diseases.

From 1996 to 2005, Americans who have three or more illnesses increased by 86%, diabetes increased by 90% and two-thirds of adults are obese. Obesity has doubled in children in these three decades. Diet can cause disease but it can also prevent and treat disease. The documentary tracked the lifelong research experience of a septuagenarian surgeon Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn and scientist Dr T Colin Campbell.

Dr Esselstyn was a former surgeon who specialised in mastectomy. He found that surgery was not the answer and turned to study the cause of breast cancer. He noticed the critical role of diet and changed his job into using diet to save heart patients who were declared incurable. Some of them had undergone two or three surgeries and were waiting to die. Each and every one of his 24 patients were brought back to health.

When former US President Bill Clinton had a heart attack, Dr Esselstyn guided his change of diet. Prior to his sickness, Clinton would jog to a fast food restaurant near the White House to buy instant breakfast everyday. After his sickness, he became the most famous vegan and has publicly thanked veganism for saving his life.

Dr Campbell is a professor of Nutritional Biochemistry in Cornell University. He is best known for the study to explore the relationship between diet and health in joint cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine and Oxford University. The conclusion from seven years of study based on statistics collected from 130 counties totalling 6500 people was that those villages that who ate more fruits and vegetables have the best health status. There is a correlation between animal protein, heart disease and cancer, especially casein from milk is carcinogenic.

Professor Campbell’s turning point was when he was in the Philippines counselling on child nutrition, particularly in the area of protein supplement. He observed that children from wealthy families had a higher than average incidence of liver cancer. Then he saw a research article from India where the author experimented on two groups of mice. Both groups of mice were exposed to aflatoxin (liver carcinogen). One group of mice was fed with a diet containing 5% casein, and the other group was fed with 20% casein. Twelve weeks later, the group that was on high-protein diet developed liver cancer, whereas the other group on a low protein diet did not have cancer. Professor Campbell returned to the U.S. and replicated the above experiment. The result was the same. He further experimented by switching the feed formula every three weeks. The group with the low protein diet (5%) was switched to a high protein diet (20%) and then switched back again to a low protein diet (5%). With a high protein diet, the mice began to develop liver cancer. When the diet was changed to low protein, the cancer stopped. Later in a study collaborated with China testing on humans, the result was consistent. Professor Campbell also switched to a vegan diet even though he grew up on a dairy farm and as a child his diet was mainly meat, eggs and milk.

Throughout these forty years, I also witnessed how a change of diet can cause cancer to disappear. During graduate school, I often visited H.H.I. which was founded by Dr Ann Wigmore and met people from all over the world who regained their health due to dietary changes.

In California’s Optimum Health Institute, there are many recovery cases, including one man who had many tumors growing along both sides of his spine and he regained his health in a short time. I also met a lady whose cancer in the neck disappeared after she changed to a vegetarian diet. But when she could not resist the family’s urgings, she began eating meat again especially fatty meat and the cancer came back on the other side of the neck.

The film also interviewed several other experts and a public health doctor Terry Mason. He himself is 98% vegan, and would occasionally eat one or two egg white. His dietary change was related to his profession – urology and erectile dysfunction. At a medical meeting, the cardiologist and urologist discovered that the cause of both diseases is the same. This is because the U.S. meat-based high-fat and highcalorie diet damaged the endothelial cells, which is the layer of cells that line the blood vessels, and thus injuring the heart and also harm the penis.

In the film “Forks Over Knives”, there are a few examples of recoveries. There were two heart disease patients who were declared terminal by doctors. Twenty-five years later, they are still alive and healthy. In the filming process, another two patients who have diabetes and hypertension regained their health when they changed their diet.

There was a patient who made a full recovery from breast cancer 30 years ago after going on a vegan diet. Before her illness, Dr. Ruth Heidrich, winner of many gold medals in long-distance running thought that she had a healthy diet, eating so-called “white meat”: chicken and fish and low-fat milk powder and milk. She ran for an hour every day. When she was 44 years old, she found a lump on the breast. After a check-up, the doctor told her it was benign. She went for another check-up three years later and the lump had grown very big. After surgery, the doctor found it to be invasive cancer that had already spread to the bones and lungs. She saw a newspaper item reporting that Dr John McDougall was looking for volunteers for research to study the use of food for treating cancer. During the interview, she thought that there was no problem with her diet and was surprised when Dr McDougall told her “that animal protein you have been consuming is the reason for your cancer.” She began a vegan diet and a few weeks later, her cancerous bone did not hurt anymore. She is now 77 years old, fully recovered and continues to compete in marathons around the world. She wrote several books on health, sharing her experience in health recovery.

Plant foods can make a person healthy and young and has been proven by DNA research. Dr. Dean Ornish, a cardiologist friend of former President Bill Clinton, found that after going on a vegetarian diet for three months, telomerase in telomeres which repair the chromosome increased by 30%. The longer the telomeres, the longer the life of cells. If there is not enough telomerase for cell repair, the cells will die.

Food and consciousness are closely related because the qi of food nourishes the consciousness which is how Dr Steiner, the anthroposophist viewed it. This is also the view of some enlightened practitioners. Organically grown and wild plants have lots of colours.

To achieve the best nourishment in a vegetarian diet, you need natural foods which are complete and not processed. The recipes in “Forks Over Knives” do not use any processed oil, white sugar, white rice and white flour, etc. Particularly, those suffering from heart disease and cancer should avoid processed oil.

Oil can be derived from seeds and nuts. Flaxseed and chia possess a wealth of Omega 3 fatty acid. Professor Campbell emphasised that only the Omega 3 derived from complete food is effective. The proportion of different fats is important, supplementing with a single fat does not have much effect. People living in different regions could use different foods that contain fat.

In Southeast Asia, it is best to use traditional coconut milk for cooking rice, vegetables and snacks. Other regions could use sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, cashews and pine nuts to make sauce, milk or powder.

The Chinese traditional diet is plant-based. In recent years, influences from the United States have resulted in huge consumption of meat, eggs and milk. As a result modern diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity have greatly increased.

Forks Over Knives” very clearly showed the relationship between diet and disease. Dr Esselstyn’s eldest son, Rip Esselstyn is also a practising vegan. He wrote the bestseller “Engine 2 Diet” based on the stories of vegan recipes shared with his fellow fire-fighters. In 2003 he made a bet with a few fire-fighters to see who had the lowest level of cholesterol. The result was one of them had cholesterol so high that it was very dangerous. In order to help him, all of the fire-fighters went on a vegan diet. In a short time, the cholesterol level dropped from 344 to 196. Following that Rip started his own experiments. He found 58 volunteers from all walks of life to change to a vegan diet. After six weeks, everyone’s health had improved, cholesterol lowered and weight decreased.

If Chinese people return to a plant-based diet, there will be very big improvements in lowering the incidence of modern disease. Avoid deep-frying and pan frying with oil. Food must be cooked with less oil, less salt, less sugar and no MSG. For those with heart disease and cancer, it is best not to use any processed oil. Whenever I look at Chinese vegetarian recipes, I find it hard to bear. Each dish is either deep fried, stir fried or pan fried with added wine, MSG, sugar, salt and so on. This method of frying is not conducive to healing. Also avoid processed “vegetarian meat”, “vegetarian chicken” and “vegetarian fish”.

If you use tofu products, it must be made from organic soybeans which have been either sprouted or fermented. Traditional varieties such as black soybeans are better. If the gluten products have no preservatives and have undergone fermentation, a little amount can be eaten.

Many people are allergic to gluten in wheat, but after fermentation they are able to accept it. The Chinese traditional wheat gluten (kaofu) is made with fermented gluten. Nowadays, there are ancient varieties of wheat such as spelt, kamut and einkorn. Gluten-sensitive individuals can eat products made from these wheat. Einkorn, the oldest variety, with twelve thousand years of history, has only two chromosomes. Modern wheat has six. Currently in Italy, there is an organic farm growing this product. When people begin to demand the traditional wheat varieties, farmers will plant them. Simply put, for people and earth to survive, there are two key diet principles:

    1. Stop eating food that has eyes and food that has a mother.
      This includes all animal and seafood carcasses, eggs and milk. One woman who has been a vegetarian since the age of two shared the reason for being a vegetarian. One day, her four-year old sister was eating a piece of chicken meat with relish. She was curious and asked where the chicken meat came from. At that time, the chicken which they raised was just outside the window and her mother said that it came from chicken. She dropped the chicken in shock. From then on, she stopped eating meat completely. Later, she told her young sister: “You cannot eat this and that because they are from a life that has eyes.” This was the beginning of her vegetarianism at two years old.
    2. Eat food that comes from complete plants.
      Fruits, seeds, stems, leaves, roots and seaweed and other such category. Choose products grown from organic natural farming and eat a portion of it fresh. Avoid processed foods such as processed oil, white rice, flour, white sugar, MSG and genetically modified foods. Do not worry about insufficient protein. Do not worry about eating too much grain. As long as it is balanced and diversified, the body naturally has its own wisdom.


The original Chinese article is published in the Aug 2012 issue of Lapis Lazuli Light magazine and is accessible online at: http://www.lapislazuli.org/tw/index.php?p=20120801.html