Forks Over Knives editor Gene Stone is the author of the international bestseller The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick and the coauthor, with Rip Esselstyn, of The Engine 2 Diet. Stone, who has written or ghostwritten more than thirty books and numerous magazine articles, lives in New York and follows a plant-based diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food. I’ve got Gene Stone here in the studio with me and he is the editor of a new book that came out called Forks Over Knivesand he’s the author of the international bestseller The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, and the coauthor with Rip Esselstyn of the Engine Two Diet. Stone who has written or ghost written more then 30 books and numerous magazine articles lives in New York and follows a plant-based diet. Thank you for joining me Gene.
Gene Stone: Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: You’ve written more than 30 books.
Gene Stone: I have.
Caryn Hartglass: How do you do that?
Gene Stone: How do I write that many books? Well that’s a good question I’m not sure. If you ever actually saw me, I don’t know how many of our listeners are writers but writing is odd. I think if you actually saw a writer, you wouldn’t really see any writing. It seems to me all I do I walk around, play with the cat, eat and then somehow at some point I write a little bit and then it turns out to be a book.
Caryn Hartglass: Now it says you follow a plant-based diet did you come on to that on your own or was it something you were writing that you..
Gene Stone: Well I really believe in participatory journalism so whatever I’m writing about I tend to do. I’ve been a vegetarian since 1932 or something like that well maybe not that long. But a long time. But then I met Rip Esselstyn. Rip is the plant-based firefighter from Austin Texas who wrote with me The Engine Two Diet. His father is Caldwell Esselstyn who is the author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, which is the book that so influenced president Clinton and helped him become a vegan. So when I met Rip and I was just a vegetarian he goes ‘wow’… because Rip is the most excitable happy guy I’ve ever met probably because he eats nothing but plants.. so he goes ‘wow this is so cool’.. and I go ‘yeah’ and he goes ‘so what do you eat’ and I said ‘well I still have dairy’. And he said ‘aw man no’ and I said ‘well maybe to write this book I should go all plant based’ and he said ‘yeah do that!’ So I went all plant based and then like many people my cholesterol level went from 240 to 180, my HDL went up, my LDL went down my triglycerides went down and all the sudden my doctors going ‘did you start taking statins without telling me?’ And I’m going ‘no I just actually started eating plants’ and he goes ‘no seriously’ and I go ‘no I mean seriously I started eating plants’ and he goes ‘come on seriously’. And he wouldn’t believe me. And when I was in his office last time and I was in for a checkup, and he said ‘lets just do another lipids test now’, so he did, and it came back and it was 70. And I come from a family where 400 is normal and he goes ‘I don’t understand this, are you trying to tell me this is coming from what do you call it, plants?’ Look my doctor is a great guy and I really love him and I’m not knocking doctors but as you know it can be a surprise to western doctors sometimes that plants and diet can have such an important effect on your health.
Caryn Hartglass: Well what’s surprising me is that your doctor was so surprised today or it was just a few years ago I imagine.
Gene Stone: This was just fairly recently and the issue is as you know most doctors aren’t trained in nutrition they are trained in everything but. And my doctor who is, as I say, I love my doctor. He is a great sympathetic wonderful guy. But he hasn’t really been trained that way and he works at NYU and it’s very allopathic and western and all of that.
Caryn Hartglass: Has he read your book?
Gene Stone: I gave him my book I can’t swear that he’s read them. I suppose I can test him next time… what’s on page 84?
Caryn Hartglass: Well there are more doctors that are more knowledgeable today about nutrition and I went to a cardiologist maybe about a year ago he was younger so maybe that’s why he was familiar with it. But still he had a list of things you do to prevent heart disease and although eating fruits and vegetables was at the top of the list he just threw it off and then jumped right to statins.
Gene Stone: Well as you know there’s not a lot of money in plants and vegetables and it’s not that doctors are necessarily corrupt because I think that most of them are terrific and they go into medicine because they care about health and they care about helping people but the system is not necessarily geared towards prevention, it’s not geared towards broccoli it’s not geared towards Swiss chard
we have this enormous pharmacological industry that is trying to get all of us to take drugs and again some of these drugs have saved lives there’s no question we wouldn’t have a society functioning if it weren’t for some of these drugs, it’s just that, do we all need to be on all drugs all the time
Well I think there are things we need from the pharmaceutical industry there are all kinds of mysteries that affect our health that boggle the mind. But if everyone was eating a healthy plant based diet I think it would be amazing where the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry would be today. We would be curing the real mysteries and solving really serious problems that we don’t even look at today.
That’s what a lot of what Forks Over Knives, which the documentary that I wrote the accompanying book to, that’s basically what it’s trying to say to people, that health is obviously extremely important but have you looked at health from this particular perspective yet and while in the world that you and I occupy well of course we have as you probably know 98 percent of the country probably still doesn’t think of the fact that their dinner was filled with hamburger cheese meat animal protein and they don’t feel good afterwards, like ‘oh there’s a connection,’ hmm. That’s really interesting. And what Forks Over Knives does, and the movie very graphically and very well, is show some of these connections which is why we are all trying to buy 10 copies of Forks Over Knives and give them to each other and give them to other people.
Gene Stone: Have you seen the documentary?
Caryn Hartglass: I have.
Gene Stone: Oh good, did you like it?
Caryn Hartglass: I did. I love Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn and just to see them telling their story and having people watch it, I love that.
Gene Stone: For Dr. Esselstyn the wonderful thing is that he started this back in 1985 and so that’s what 26 years ago and when he started it people kind of laughed at him and thought well this is wacky and he kept doing it and kept doing it and even published his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease 5 or 6 years ago and it didn’t really go anywhere, and in the last 2 years or so all the sudden boom.
Caryn Hartglass: What do you think it is, is it just this critical mass?
Gene Stone: Great question I don’t know the answer. I do think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that it’s real. In other words if it was just some silly fad it would have passed away but it hasn’t because it is real. I also think that frankly part of it is the economy and the fact that people cant afford to have the kind of health care that the economy wants them to have. People can’t pay out the way they could pay out before. Insurance is so expensive. Employers are worried about their health and they are worried about their employees health so all the sudden I think people are looking around is there a way that I can stay healthy and spend less money than I’ve been spending and not the way it normally was which is I spend more money, I got to the hospital, and I have co-pays.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s nuts. And so your book has been on the NY Times bestseller list.
Gene Stone: It’s number one this weekend.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s hot.
Gene Stone: It’s really cool.
Caryn Hartglass: Who buying the book?
Gene Stone: Well It looks like everybody. We don’t track the sales per se we have no idea all we know is that the Times’ list is composed of lots of different book stores all across the country. The fact that it is number one in all these different bookstores people are actually lining up to buy the book and that is I have to say a surprise the first printing was about 20 thousand copies and maybe about 2 months later we now have over 85 or 90 thousand in print and it just keeps going up not down so this is good
This book is kind of like a nice simple introduction it hits all the points and it might whet your appetite to want to learn more about one particular issue but it’s really good.
Caryn Hartglass: And then you have these different contributors with their recipes and the one obvious missing ingredient other than animal products is oil.
Gene Stone: Ah oil, Yes, there’s the oil question. It’s funny, in the plant-based world some of the plant-based people don’t even like the word vegan, the vegan people don’t like the word plant-based. Then there are the oil and non-oil people
Gene Stone: I’m a big tent kind of guy. I am just happy to see people not eating animals I am very much animal rights and very much thinking that the less animal protein you eat the better but I feel very comfortable if I can get someone just to switch from eating meat every night to eating it just once a week, I feel terrific. But there are other people who are a little more pure. The people who are involved with Forks Over Knives are plant-based people who also are people who don’t feel that oil is a healthy thing, not heart healthy in fact they feel it is heart unhealthy. Their point is that it is a processed food. Olives are great, avocados are great but then to throw away all that is good about the avocado and press it down and make oil out of it that’s not so great.
Caryn Hartglass: And a lot of people are really surprised to hear that, there is the Mediterranean diet and olive oil is so healthy.
Gene Stone: There is also an olive oil industry that spends a lot of money promoting this. It is actually of all the things to come up when talking about Forks Over Knives that is actually the one thing that people are most surprised by. When you say ‘well I am a plant-based guy’ and people go ‘yeah I’ve heard of that’ and you say ‘I don’t have any animal protein’ and they always want to know about ‘well isn’t yogurt healthy?’ And then you go into the dairy thing. But then once you get to oil, I find that for a lot of people they don’t go any further. So I say look fine if you want to have a plant-based diet and you want to include oil try it. Maybe it would be fun however lets just say to spend 2-3 weeks and take oil out of your diet and see what happens. What I’ve been doing with some of my friends who have cholesterol at home testing kits is try it spend 2 weeks without oil and see what happens and most people not all of them, because it’s funny how you never know, people have odd metabolisms and systems, but I would say for the majority things are good.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m one of those people with odd metabolism. Me and cholesterol, it’s been a strange history.
Gene Stone: Is your cholesterol high?
Caryn Hartglass: I haven’t had it tested recently but it can be around 200 or 240 but other times it’s 150.
Gene Stone: I’m a little bit like you. Mine jumps around a lot but you know there have been a whole spate of studies that have showed it may not be a cholesterol level, it is the size of the cholesterol molecule and people that have large cholesterol molecule can also have high cholesterol levels and be okay because the cholesterol molecule is so big it doesn’t lodge anywhere in your system but if you have little tiny cholesterol molecules that can stick in anywhere then you are really stuck.
Caryn Hartglass: I had heard something about that and I’m going for it.
Gene Stone: Me too, I like that theory.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I don’t want to go into my history it’s not about me, but it is good to know it just shows that there are so many things we don’t know. But the thing that we do know is cholesterol is an indication of a risk and that’s it. It doesn’t mean anything. There are people with low cholesterol who have heart attacks. There are people who have low cholesterol who have arteries coated with gunk.
Gene Stone: My parents both of them had cholesterol levels around 350 to 400 and neither of them had any heart problems. Now that’s unusual I’m not saying that’s what you want, but you’re right, you can’t say that every single person’s system is exactly like everybody else’s. There’s no question that for the most part if you have low cholesterol then you are probably going to be heart disease free. It’s part of what Colin talks about in the China Study. It’s part of what Dr. Esselstyn talks about in his books and in his practice in fact he has never seen anybody with cholesterol level under 150 have heart disease. I remember the first time I got tested and there was a nurse who meant well but she comes out of the office and she says, “oh my God your cholesterol level is 350 you’re going to die!” “Thanks!”
Caryn Hartglass: What about, can you have too low cholesterol? I’ve heard people say that doctors have told them their cholesterol is too low.
Gene Stone: Yeah I’ve heard people say their doctors have said that but I have actually never run into I’ve never actually read anything that says cholesterol levels are too low.
Caryn Hartglass: I never did either.
Gene Stone: I think sometimes doctors just say things
Caryn Hartglass: I remember reading in Dr. Campbell’s China Study that in China the range when he was studying was about 90 to 150. Their high was 150. I know that’s changed because China is changing and they want to be just like us.
Gene Stone: They want to eat like us, they want to have burgers, they want to have cheese, they want all that stuff.
Caryn Hartglass: They’ve got diabetes problems more than ever now and it’s really really sad. Is Forks over Knives going international?
Gene Stone: Yes absolutely. Brian Wendell who is the producer, and the guy who really, his heart has been in this from the beginning, he is the one that made all this happen. If it were up to Brian every country in the world would have screenings of Forks Over Knives. I don’t care what language it’s in, he’d be happy if it was translated, what are there 4000 languages?
Caryn Hartglass: All I know is I have a $5 vegan guide, the international vegan passport. It has 36 languages in it on what vegans eat.
Gene Stone: Have you gone overseas and tried to eat plant-based?
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve lived in France as a vegan for 4 years
Gene Stone: Don’t they look down on it?
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve traveled all over the world and I personally haven’t had a problem. I think it’s all in the mind, but in France it was really funny. I lived in the south of France where they love fresh vegetables. It’s true they saute everything in olive oil.
Gene Stone: They certainly do.
Caryn Hartglass: Unless you ask for “legumes au vapeur” which is steamed, the only time I had a problem was in Lyon, in one of the restaurants. I gave them 2 weeks notice and I gave them 2 days noticed they said it would be no problem and I walked in and it was a disaster. But most chefs were challenged. And that was 15 years ago and I think they gotten a lot better since then.
Gene Stone: I’m going to Paris actually in November and I’m thinking do I need to pack a lot of power bars with me
Caryn Hartglass: No I think because even though they do eat a lot of meat and cheese they do eat a lot of fresh vegetables and you can get fabulous salads, anywhere and there are also a lot of Lebanese restaurants in Paris. It does have olive oil in a lot of them.
Gene Stone: I decided, I encourage everybody to figure out what works best for them. For me I’m pretty much all plant-based but I have had an egg or two in the last year. I was in the middle of America travelling and I was starving and I was so hungry and I thought well darn, I need to do this or I will be really unhappy. I would say I’m 99%. So what Rip says, Rip Esselstyn, he has a theory, he is plant perfect because that is what he can get away with. But very few people can be plant perfect but if you can be plant strong that’s pretty good. Plant strong means 95%. If you can just be plant experimental when you start, the idea isn’t to make people feel guilty. Let’s say you really want to be vegan and you work hard at it and then you have a hamburger and you feel so guilty that you never vegan again. It’s really nice to be forgiving and if I have a friend who is struggling with a plant-based diet and admits to me that he had a piece of meat, well.
Caryn Hartglass: And something that I always say.. No matter what you eat, enjoy it and don’t eat guilt while you’re eating because that is going to do more damage than anything else.
Gene Stone: so as far as oil going I certainly cut out of my diet I hadn’t realized how much oil you put into your system, salad dressing or something sautéed. I love artichoke hearts and I never sort of thought about the fact that they are packed in pure olive oil, or olives, they are packed in olive oil so I wanted just having the olive, and I realized I was having a lot of olive oil. What I’ve done, I’ve cut back. I probably have about a tenth of what I used to have but if a little oil gets into my system…
Caryn Hartglass: You’re okay.
Gene Stone: I feel okay.
Caryn Hartglass: I think for people who have extreme heart disease and their doctors have given them a death sentence, definitely avoiding all oils and following Dr Esselstyn’s recipes is the way to go. But for most of us definitely eliminating the animal foods reducing animal foods and dairy is a good thing and after that you can pick you own.
Gene Stone: And the other issue is for me I came into this through Rip and his father and through
and I switched over to the animal rights thing.
Caryn Hartglass: It happens to the best of us.
Gene Stone: You start talking to people. All the sudden you realize oh what are we doing?
I’ve gotten to know Gene Baur he runs Farm Sanctuary, he’s terrific. He’s one of the people featured in Forks Over Knives. Nathan Runkel’s Mercy For Animals. The dude is 27 and for 10 years he’s been running on of the most effective animal rights groups in the country.
Caryn Hartglass: Amazing. Well we need more of those people. Okay, so you wrote a book called The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick.
Gene Stone: I did. Most of what I write is ghost written for other people, that’s a book I wrote under my own name. I’ve written about 8 or 9 ghost books for doctors and health professionals and obviously after all these years, I don’t know that much but I guess I knew enough to write a book about what I’ve learned.
Caryn Hartglass: Did you write this once you were on a plant-based diet?
Gene Stone: Yes. I do have chicken soup, which makes a lot of my plant-based friends unhappy
but the question there is simply does chicken soup work? And the issue that I pose is that, it actually does seem to have some effect but not because of the chicken. It’s the soup. It’s the hot liquid combined with all the vegetables and spices. That’s probably what makes it work.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s not histamines or something?
Gene Stone: It’s not something in the chicken. The fact of the matter is if you are talking about chicken soup without the chicken they will probably do just as well.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s not what they said on the Dr. Oz show.
Gene Stone: Well I’m not responsible for the Dr. Oz show.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so what were some of the most surprising secrets in here.
Gene Stone: In Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, I probably went through about 60 secrets before I picked out the ones that made the most sense, which were about 25 of them. The one that I thought was most surprising because it had a really intense scientific base was cold showers. Cold showers are really good for you, they are terrific for your metabolism. They increase the body’s level of glutathione, which you can get in a health food store for about 40 bucks.
Caryn Hartglass: Now that I had never heard.
Gene Stone: It’s a great thing. As I said earlier in the beginning, I am a participatory journalist and did everyone of these things except of course for the chicken soup. Cold showers are pretty much where I failed. They are really cold.
Caryn Hartglass: There was a guy in the news who was into losing weight who sat in a bath of ice cubes. Did you hear about that?
Gene Stone: I missed that one. You can find somebody who advocates everything but you really want to find somebody who advocates everything with some kind of scientific basis. What Secrets Of People is all about, I found the people with the secrets, all of the secrets they had to be very healthy but then I did a lot of research trying to figure out if the secrets were valid or not. There’s nothing in that book without at least some scientific basis.
Caryn Hartglass: The one that’s popping out of me is eating dirt.
Gene Stone: Eating dirt. But I don’t mean people should go out and just munch on some mud. What we are really talking about there is the immune system. If you don’t expose your immune system to friendly microorganisms or even some unfriendly ones, it’s like living in a bubble, your immune system has nothing to do and then the immune system is just like a locked and loaded army ready to move and it has nothing to do and it fires back on itself and that’s when you get autoimmune diseases. There is a lot of research that shows children who grow up not exposed to going outdoors not exposed to pets not exposed to playing in the sandbox are much more likely to develop asthma and other auto immune diseases as they grow older. So the issue is don’t force this down your kids throat but let kids let people go outside and let your immune system build up immunity so it has something to do and doesn’t turn back on you.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, dirt is good.
Gene Stone: Dirt is good.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to just say, there are a few other things in here that are popping out to me but certainly these are all good things but nobody gets out of this world alive right?
Gene Stone: Well we don’t know that for sure but it’s a best guess.
Caryn Hartglass: You probably have a much greater chance of reducing risks of all the nasty diseases that are plaguing us today if you follow most of these things which is great. So what’s a blue zone?
Gene Stone: Blue zones were discovered by a guy name Dan Butler for National Geographic places in the world, there are 5 or maybe now 6. For reasons we don’t fully understand, live longer, healthier and better lives than anywhere else. There’s one in Japan, there’s one in Italy, there’s one Greece. There’s actually one in America, one in Costa Rica. And so blue zones are nature’s gift, geography’s gift to health.
Caryn Hartglass: It has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle?
Gene Stone: If you look at what people do in blue zones, they are very similar to the Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick which I was very happy about.
Caryn Hartglass: Are they in mountainous regions, they get to walk a lot?
Gene Stone: They tend to be people who have a lot manual work perhaps, work the farms or they are out doors, they eat very healthy and local diets. They sleep very well. They probably take cold showers because of no hot water.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going to try that.
Gene Stone: I failed with the cold shower per se but what I do now is I take my normal shower and then I let it get colder and colder and colder until it gets so cold I leave but that gives me at least some of the benefits of the cold.
Caryn Hartglass: I used to like to swim a lot in pools that weren’t particularly hot but cold showers, I don’t know about that.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so we just have a couple of minutes left. Here’s one of your questions that I want to ask you. If people don’t adopt a plant-based diet on a large scale what will the world look like?
Gene Stone: Going back to that big tent theory of plant-based people, a lot of people come into from health, a lot of people come into it through the ethical treatment of animals. But there’s another group of people that come to it from the environment because they’re has been more studies that show sustainable meat eating doesn’t exist, if we continue to eat the kind of animal protein, that we are doing.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I like that, say that again – sustainable meat doesn’t exist.
Gene Stone: I never really listen to myself. Certainly plants are the future for our environment and there have been a huge number of studies in the last few years that have shown that if we could get more people to switch over to a plant based diet all of these issues, well not all but a lot of the issues in the environment would be solved. What I am discovering as someone coming into it from health is the people who I talk to who are young, they are 18, they are invincible, obviously some of them are interested in animals, but the environment is becoming very key to getting people to understand that this is a beneficial way to eat for your health and the health of the planet.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. The environment. it’s just incredible to me We have an answer here which will solve most of the works problems. With no investment really and it’s not getting enough press but Forks Over Knives is on the New York Times best seller list.
Gene Stone: Oddly over the past few years there have obviously been the Paleo diet and all these other things that are against I believe in, it’s been very gratifying to see all the recent books that have been very plant-based whether it is Skinny Bitch or Alicia Silverstone’s book. There have been a lot of books that show, there are a lot of people out there who are listening and who are beginning to act.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, this is great. Gene, thank you. Such a pleasure to meet you and I’m so glad I have this book The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick.
Gene Stone: Try some of them.
Caryn Hartglass: And a lot of luck to you. Do you have any websites to tell me about?
Caryn Hartglass: Well I can’t wait to see “Forchettes Sur Couteaux” (french for Forks over Knives). Thank you for joining me. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. And next week we have Tracy McQuirter who wrote Greens By Any Means and Marisa Wolfson Miller who has the new documentary Vegucated. Thanks for listening and have a delicious week
Transcribed by Holly Goldbetter, 10/30/2013