Dr. Klaper is a physician with training in surgery, anesthesiology, orthopedics, emergency room medicine and obstetrics. Dr. Klaper is the Director of the non-profit Institute of Nutrition Education and Research and has performed research on the pros and cons of vegan nutrition and other dietary styles of health enthusiasts. He also is a member of the Nutrition Task Force of the American Medical Student Association. Dr. Klaper graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago in 1972. He Served his medical internship at Vancouver General Hospital in British Columbia, Canada and had additional training at the University of California Hospitals in San Francisco. Dr. Klaper has contributed to the making of two PBS television productions, “Food for Thought,” and the award winning, “Diet for a New America.” Dr. Klaper has served as advisor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (N.A.S.A.) project on nutrition for long-term space colonists on the moon and on mars. Dr. Klaper believes strongly that proper nutrition and a balanced lifestyle are essential for health, and in many cases make the difference between healing an illness or merely treating the symptoms.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. I’m Caryn Hartglass, your host of today’s show, It’s All About Food. It’s All About Food. I think I’m going to say that one more time. It’s All About Food. And it really is. Our personal health, the health of the planet, and all life on earth is related to the food that we eat. We talk a lot about that on this show; we talk about the environment. I haven’t mentioned this in a while, but I just want to say that one of the major causes, if not the major cause, of global warming today is the factory farming of animals, animal agriculture. It’s also horrifically cruel and so unnecessary because we don’t need those animals for food. What we need is beautiful, delicious, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. And if you don’t believe me, you can ask the doctor because I have a wonderful guest on today, Dr. Michael Klaper. He’s a physician with training in surgery, anesthesiology, orthopedics, emergency room medicine, and obstetrics. Dr. Klaper is the director of the nonprofit Institute of Nutrition Education and Research and has performed research on the pros and cons of vegan nutrition and other dietary styles of health enthusiasts. He is also a member of the Nutrition Task Force of the American Medical Student Association. Dr. Klaper graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago in 1972. He served his medical internship at Vancouver General Hospital in British Columbia, Canada and had additional training at the University of California Hospitals in San Francisco. Dr. Klaper has contributed to making two PBS television productions, “Food for Thought” and the award-winning “Diet for a New America.” Dr. Klaper has served as an advisor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project on nutrition for long-term space colonists on the moon and on Mars. Dr. Klaper believes strongly that proper nutrition and a balanced lifestyle are essential for health and in many cases make the difference between healing an illness or merely treating the symptoms. Dr. Klaper, welcome!
Michael Klaper: Thank you, Caryn. Good to be with you.
Caryn: Oh, thank you. And thank you for being who you are. You have done such an incredible amount of work that has helped us so much. From your foundation, so many others have been able to build upon and do more great work.
Michael: Lovely. I take that as a high compliment, thank you.
Caryn: You’re one of the very, very special ones on this planet. I wish we could clone you.
Michael: Yeah, I’m looking for that Xerox machine to lay down and make about eight copies of me ‘cause I’ve got, oh boy. I would send one just to do research, and another one to see my patients, and another one to go surfing on Maui I guess.
Caryn: There we go. Because that’s really important too. There’s a lot of things that are going wrong on the planet, but I think the real way to heal it is with love and joy.
Michael: Hear, hear.
Caryn: We have to take care of ourselves by having a good time, sometimes. Okay, so—
Michael: Very important.
Caryn: Yeah. Well, I just wanted to tell the listeners… I know a lot of people listen…well they’re listening online obviously, and a lot of people go to the archives, but if you do have any comments or questions during the show you can call in at 1-888-873-4643 or send me an email at email@example.com. This is a great opportunity to ask the doctor. So you’re a promoter of the plant-based diet.
Michael: That’s right.
Caryn: How did that get started? How did you get involved with fruits and vegetables?
Michael: Oh my. That’s a long story, but it was a convergence of a number of factors. I’ll tell you the straight nutritional aspects, we can start with that I guess. I was a resident in anesthesiology at University of British Columbia Hospital in Vancouver and I was working on the cardiovascular anesthesia service, and day after day I was putting people to sleep and watching surgeons open up their chests and open up their coronary arteries, and pulling out these deposits of yellow, waxy, greasy stuff called atherosclerosis. That was clogging them up. It was not only in their heart arteries, it was in the carotid arteries, arteries of the brain, in the renal arteries so the kidneys—it’s a total body disease. There’s a saying: you’re as old as your arteries, and nothing will age you like having this atherosclerotic guck buildup on the artery walls. I was looking—actually, you know that stuff looks like chicken fat. A little voice told me there’s a good reason for that. It is chicken fat, and beef fat, and all the fat of the animals we’re eating. There’s a large component of that. My dad died of clogged arteries, and I knew I was going to lay on that table with a Stryker saw going up my sternum, and I said no, I don’t think I want to do that. There are people that are very uncomfortable when they wake up. I stopped running animal fats through my arteries, and boy, my cholesterol dropped from 240 down to 150. My blood pressure, 150 over 90, dropped down to 110/70. A twenty-pound spare tire of fat around my waist just melted away. I felt great waking up in a nice, light lean body every day. And I decided I didn’t want to eat animals. I looked in the nutrition books; there’s nothing in animal products that our body really needs. My body just spoke very clearly for the validity of doing that. We can talk more about the specifics of the foods, but a plant-based diet certainly worked for me nutritionally. I left anesthesia, went back to general practice, and started telling my patients what to eat ‘cause prior to this I never knew what to tell my overweight, high blood pressure, diabetic patients. “You really should lose some weight, George.” But I really didn’t know what to tell them. Now I knew what to tell them: stop running all that animal fat through your arteries. I had a friend who gave vegetarian cooking lessons, and I sent them off to her classes to learn how to make all these delicious soups and salads and greens and stews and main dishes. Indeed, these diseases we were told never went away, high blood pressure certainly does go away. I was able to stop their high blood pressure pills. People with type 2 diabetes on insulin—I was taught once a patient’s on insulin they will always be on insulin—well, their blood sugars came to normal and they didn’t need to be on insulin anymore. It got exciting to see these weight-related problems getting better. A lot of the inflammatory diseases, the rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, they get better. We can talk about why. So all the way around, medically, nutritionally, it was just a remarkable transition for me personally and in my medical practice. When I said it was a convergence of forces, it happened at a time in my life, in my mid-30s, when I had my medical school, University of Illinois. I spent many nights in the trauma unit at Cook County Hospital and I saw the effects of violence—all the shotgun blasts and stabbings and pistol wounds. I wanted to get the violence out of my own life. One day over steak dinner I was pontificating to a friend of mine about wanting to get the violence out of my life. He looked at me and said, “Well that’s very nice, but if you want to do that, you should have a look at that piece of meat on your plate, ‘cause your desire for the steak in your mouth causes the death of the animal.” As soon as he said that, that little voice spoke up and said, “You know, he’s right.” It made me look at the meat in my diet from a whole other point of view, as well as the leather shoes on my feet and the leather wallet in my pocket. Suddenly I realized I really do have to get the animals out of my life here. I grew up on a farm, I love animals. If you really love them, don’t be responsible for their suffering and death. It didn’t take long. I found myself a vegan physician, both for personal reasons and medical reasons. Boy, that was thirty years ago. I haven’t looked back since. I simply…
Caryn: We always have the image of the good doctor as someone who really cares about people and patients and want to help people and help the world, and you definitely found, like, that character. But so many doctors today, we don’t see that. That’s what’s baffling to me, and maybe we’ll get to that in a minute, but I wanted to mention the PBS film, “Diet for a New America,” which came out twenty-one years ago. That story that you described about the fat in the blood and in the patients, all over their heart and arteries, it’s just an image that I can never forget and personally I think that was the most memorable part in the film that people still talk about when they talk about it because a picture says a thousand words. You can explain what you’re talking about when you can see that fat. It’s really incredible. What I wonder is, there are so many doctors that do that all the time, and why don’t they make the connection? Why don’t they make the leap? That’s what’s baffling to me.
Michael: Yeah, and to me as well. In the real world, why aren’t doctors more aware of this? Because when you look—and again, it was twenty-one years ago—now we’re in an epidemic of obesity and obesity-related diseases bankrupting this country. I watched this huge healthcare debate going on recently, and it was so sad to me because really they talk about healthcare reform, but nobody’s talking about healthcare. They’re talking about who’s going to pay for the disease care. Nobody’s talking about changing people’s diets and making the junk food more expensive and giving out vouchers for fruits and vegetables. Make them a lot cheaper for people if you really want healthcare. Make it easy for people to eat healthier, ‘cause there’s a huge, huge dietary component to these diseases. So to get down to your question, why don’t doctors see it? One, we’re not taught. Western medicine seems to have contempt for the role of nutrition—that you can eat anything you want in America and it really won’t affect you. All that is starting to change, I think. So doctors aren’t taught about it in school. Plus it gets down to the doctor’s own personal life. It means he’s got to change what he’s eating. It means that his mother was wrong when they served the steak and the ice cream. Mom and dad were wrong, and that’s a hard thing to come to grips with. My teachers were wrong. If it was important, I would’ve learned about it in medical school. I like the way a T-bone steak tastes and I like that cream pie as dessert. So there’s a huge inertia. There’s both an ignorance of the importance of nutrition and a huge inertia from their own personal lives, and it’s easier just to go out for that cheeseburger and not think about it, and just write that prescription for Lipitor, and that’s what Western medicine has come to at this point. We’re trying to change that and hopefully it’s going to. And it will change one way or the other. The system is going to demand it ‘cause it can’t continue paying for it the way we are. It’s going to be cheaper to help people eat better, and we’ll all get healthier for it.
Caryn: Gosh, I can’t wait to see that happen.
Michael: Mm, really.
Caryn: There are so many things now pointing to the vegan diet as being a diet of necessity if we’re going to continue living on this planet, just for the environment alone and our health problems. It’s something that has to happen.
Michael: Absolutely. If everybody on planet Earth ate like Americans do, there’s not that much water and soil and nutrients available. It physically can’t be done, and it shouldn’t be done. The truth is we thrive on plant-based diets and we get fat and sick and clogged up when we eat animals, and the system just can’t afford this Band-Aid medicine, which is all the bypass grafts and the stents and all of that stuff. It’s just putting a Band-Aid on a bleeding wound. You got to get at the source of the illness, and it’s running all this fat and animal protein through the bloodstream. We’ve got to come to grips with it, especially where the kids are concerned.
Caryn: It’s so sad. Yep.
Michael: The obesity in children, it’s stunning, it’s frightening. There’s a tsunami of disease in this next generation going to run us over on every level, financially and socially, ‘cause our kids are getting so obese. We really have to come to terms with this.
Caryn: One thing I’m always trying to do on this show is to show how a plant-based diet is a diet of joy, a diet of abundance, a diet of good, delicious eating. It’s not a diet of deprivation. I’ve had lots of different people—chefs and cookbook authors—talk about all the wonderful different foods that are available when you lift the veil and open the door. It’s just the variety, the diversity, it’s amazing.
Michael: Yeah, it really is. I spend a lot of time in my practice doing nutritional counseling. We can talk about the subtleties of various foods and various supplements, but in three minutes I can lay it out. What I basically tell my patients—and if your listeners want to get a pencil and paper, here is the basic pattern that works surefire. Every day you follow this basic pattern and you will get lean and healthy.
Caryn: I’ve got my pencil. I’m ready. Lay it on them.
Michael: Fair enough, alright. You can vary it as your tastes dictate. Basically come breakfast, have fruit. Have a big bowl of whatever fruit you like. Cut up the cantaloupe and melon and bananas and anything you like. Have some oatmeal if you’d like. But we have fruit and oatmeal for breakfast. Add a little rice milk or soy milk on it if you’d like, but basically, fruit and oatmeal is a good breakfast. You can have some of these other cold cereals, but they get a little junky. Be careful that they’re not all sugar-laden and processed. You want whole grain cereals. Basically, fruit and oatmeal is the best breakfast. And then lunches and dinners follow the same basic pattern. It’s going to sound a little bland when I say it, but bear with me. But it’s salads, soups, and steamed greens. We can talk about other things, but let me deal with those three. At least once a day, have a big helping of salad, have whatever kind you like. There’s no end of ways to make salads delicious. Put your favorite greens in there and sprinkle some pine nuts or raisins or tofu chunks, anything you’d like, but make it a big, glorious salad. At least once a day if not twice a day; you can’t overdose on it. Add some low-fat salad dressing on it, you have lots of those. Start off your lunches and preferably dinners as well with a big, big salad. Two essential pieces of kitchen equipment you need. One is a vegetable steamer. You can get it for five bucks at K-Mart. It’s a little basket with holes in it. When you go to the market, look for anything that’s emerald green. I don’t care if it’s kale or chard or broccoli or collards or bok choy. Anything that’s dark and green, get it, okay? Bring it home, wash it up, cut it up, and throw it in the vegetable steamer. You have a pot, put about an inch of water, bring it to a boil, lower your basket in there and put the veggies in it, put the top on. Three minutes, five minutes of steam coming up through there, take it out, put it on a plate, squeeze some lemon juice over it. You’ve got a big plate of emerald green goodies there. As I said, squeeze lemon juice over it, put some salad dressing over it, but have a big helping of steamed greens at least once a day. Calorie for calorie, there is no better food on the planet than steamed green vegetables. It is rich in phytonutrients, it’s rich in calcium, fiber, and there’s nothing bad in them. A big plate of steamed vegetables once, preferably twice a day. Third component is a hearty vegetable soup. People say, “Don’t make me make soup. My mother couldn’t even make soup. I don’t want to make soup.” Here’s how you do it, makes it real, real easy. It’s the second essential piece of equipment that everybody should have, and that’s a crockpot, a slow cooker. Here’s what you do with it. People go, “Oh, I have one on my shelf, in my cabinet.” Great. Get it out of the cabinet, wash it off, bring it down on the counter to be there and used. Here’s what you do. When you’re at the market—say Saturday morning, go to the farmer’s market or go to the grocery store—and while you’re buying your steamed greens, buy all the veggies that you like. It’s your soup. Only put things in it that you like. Get carrots and potatoes and celery and onions and whatever you like in a nice vegetable soup. Bring them on home. Again, rinse them off, cut them up, and throw them in the crockpot. Fill the crockpot up almost to the top with water. If you want something hearty in there, throw in a cup full of lentils or beans or quinoa or rice or millet. You can make it hearty if you’d like. Throw in some favorite spices—Italian spices, East Indian spices, tomato sauce—whatever you’d like. Spice it up, it’s your soup. Put the lid on, hit the button, and go to bed. That’s all. It’s cooked overnight. Next morning, it’s all full of vegetable, rice and bean and lentil soup or whatever you put in there, it’s delicious. The whole house smells this lovely fragrance when you wake up in the morning. Now you’ve got this big crockpot full of vegetable soup. Took you fifteen minutes to make it and now you can eat off of it for three days. Just turn it down to low. You don’t have to turn it off. Turn it to low so it stays at eating temperature. And every time you walk by, ladle out a nice bowl of hearty vegetable, rice and lentil soup or whatever it is you put in there. So now you’ve got those three components: salad, steamed greens, and a bowl of vegetable soup. That should be the basis of every lunch and every dinner. If you want to have something else on top of this, if you want to have some tofu or any type of other protein, have a small amount of it. But fill your stomach up with the salad and the soup and the steamed greens first. And then if you want to have any additional protein feature, make it very small. You can eat all of this you want, and it will leave you lean and healthy. That soup, so you made it up on Saturday night. So Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—by Tuesday night you should be through with the soup, okay? Wednesday, do it again, okay? Then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you’ve got three more days of soup. Saturdays and Wednesdays, make up that big crockpot full of soup so there’s always a crockpot full of hot vegetable soup on your kitchen counter there. So there’s no excuse that you have to go out for this or that. Restaurant food is full of fat and salt and sugar. I used to eat a lot in restaurants. I don’t anymore ‘cause they’re full of fat and salt and sugar. It’s a novelty. Once a month I’ll go out for a restaurant, but I sure don’t do that much anymore. I don’t need to, ‘cause I’ve got all this wonderful vegetarian food waiting for me. If people do that—if breakfast is fruit and oatmeal, and lunches and dinners are soups and salads and steamed greens (you can have three helpings of each at every meal, you can’t overdose on it), and if you take a walk every day, and you laugh a lot, watch the magical things that happen in your body. You’re going to wind up lean and healthy, that blood pressure’s going to go down, that waistline’s going to come down, your need for all those medications is going to go away, and you’ll feel how great it feels to wake up in a healthy body every day. This is the basic skeleton to build your diet around. If you want more protein, throw in more chickpeas and lentils and legumes and nuts and seeds, that’s fine. If you want a little more calories—if you’re underweight or whatever—then have some sweet potatoes or starchy vegetables or grains like millet or quinoa, that’s fine. You could throw them in the soup or put it on a side dish, that’s all fine. The nice thing is you don’t have to worry about portion control, you can eat all of this you want. It’s mostly fiber and water, just passes right on through you, which takes care of your constipation problems, your colon will be nice and happy and healthy with this food. And it’s cheap. Beans are cheap, lentils are cheap, and veggies are cheap. Unfortunately not compared to fast food junk food, but that’s because the meat industry is subsidized. If beef really sold for what it costs to produce, hamburgers would cost $40 each. But government subsidies skew the economics of it. That’s another story we can talk about. But basically, if people followed this—fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, soups and salads and steamed greens for lunches and some dinners and any other protein feature they went—they’re going to find wonderful things happen to their body. It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s easy, convenient, and really no excuse not to do it this day and age.
Caryn: Wouldn’t it be something if the prescription that most doctors wrote was what you just told us?
Michael: Well I could hang up my stethoscope and go surfing. It would be wonderful. Nice to see your doctor just at the farmer’s market. The only place to see your doctor, when you’re buying your kale and your beans at the farmer’s market. That should be the only place you see your doctor, I agree.
Caryn: Yeah. I have a new insurance policy, so I’d started with a new group of doctors and I went to the new primary care doctor. He’s old and probably very old school. We were just having a big fight. He actually said, when I said, “But heart disease and diabetes, they’re primarily caused by poor diet,” and he was like shaking his head and saying no.
Michael: It’s their genes. We don’t know the causes of these diseases. That’s all fluffy, New Age, touchy-feely stuff. Don’t tell me about that. He’s scared and he’s afraid to get sued for malpractice. It’s not standard of care to talk about nutrition. That’s fringy stuff as far as the medical establishment goes. I tell my patients after I counsel them, I say, “Listen,” and I talk to them about, “Listen, your need for blood pressure pills is going to go down. You’re going to get lightheaded when you stand up. You tell your doctor that you’ve changed your diet on a low-salt, high-fiber, plant-based diet, and to tell your doctor, listen, you’re going to need to cut my pills in half, the dosage, and then cut them down again and be ready to stop the medication.” The same thing with insulin dosage and oral hypoglycemic agents for diabetes. You got to tell the doctor that I’ve changed my diet. But after that I say listen. Beyond that, don’t talk to your doctor about nutrition. It’s just going to set off an argument and he’s going to feel threatened and confronted. You just do this and just tell your doctor, “Listen, I’ve changed my diet to a lower fat diet and if I start getting lightheaded when I stand up, is it okay to reduce my medicine.” And leave it at that, ‘cause my colleagues unfortunately are not on the same frequency that we are here and they don’t recognize the power of good nutrition. It’s a strange timing, medicine. I think my profession, we’re going to look back at this year and be very embarrassed about how we overlooked this huge, huge factor in our patients’ disease spectrum.
Caryn: Well, for some reason and I’m not sure how it all started, but most people really respect their doctors and look at doctors as God, almost, or someone that you really listen to because what they say is the last word. So for so many doctors not to give this information out is really criminal.
Michael: Yeah, and I don’t want to denigrate my profession—thank God for modern medicine. You get sick or injured, thank heavens for the high-tech medicine you can use.
Caryn: Oh, absolutely.
Michael: When I was in medical school, my chief surgical resident said you can divide all of medicine into horizontal medicine and vertical medicine. If you are so sick or so injured that you are horizontal on a gurney, then Western medicine is just what you need. They are wizards for saving your life and putting your body back together again. But if you’re vertical, you’re walking around? Not so much. Unfortunately, ninety percent of medicine’s vertical medicine. Most people aren’t that sick. But if you’re in the horizontal category, thank God for modern medicine. And I don’t want to be too flip here. If you’re in heart failure or your thyroid is out-of-whack, modern medicine has a lot to offer you and I’m not minimizing it. It does leave us in awe. I’m a physician and I’m in awe of my specialty colleagues who can do all these wonderful procedures and things. But seldom does their wizardry get to the root causes of it since so much of what they’re saying is nutritionally based. But we are in awe of modern medicine, but unfortunately it still has overlooked—it’s trite to talk about the elephant in the room or the gorilla in the room—but nutrition certainly is that. Modern medicine certainly will leave you in awe, but still people have to take responsibility for their own health and really get down to okay, why am I overweight? Why is my blood pressure high? Why have I developed diabetes? Why are my joints all sore? Why is my skin erupting? The first question to ask, what am I eating that might be doing this? If you just start with that question and then do some research and go to a nutritionally based physician or similar type of healer—it might not be your primary care doctor, it may not be your specialist that’s looking after you. If you start to realize that it might be a nutritional factor in my disease, and are these pills I’m taking every morning just covering up the symptoms, what is really going on here? Why is my diabetes getting worse? Why is my weight going up? It’s what you are putting in your mouth. Be open to that possibility. ‘Cause we’re not supposed to have these diseases. The body is not supposed to get fat and hypertensive and diabetic, that’s not supposed to happen. It’s a twentieth and twenty-first century phenomenon. It didn’t used to happen, and in most of the world it doesn’t happen. In developing nations people stay lean and active all their lives ‘cause they’re eating plant-based diet and they’re out working physical work every day. But we’ve gone the opposite direction. We’ve adopted an animal-based diet and we sit all day and shovel this high-fat, high-calorie, high-protein food stain into our mouths. It’s inevitable. We’re going to get fat and clogged up and then you wind up taking pills.
Caryn: Right. Well, people need to take responsibility for themselves. We need to take a short break right now, so Dr. Klaper please stay with us ‘cause we have a lot more to talk about.
Caryn: We’ll be right back.
Caryn: Dr. Michael Klaper. We’re talking about a plant-based diet and how important it is for our health. One of the things I notice, Dr. Klaper, is that people have forgotten what to do in the kitchen. So many people have gotten used to going to a restaurant, buying fast food, or buying prepared food in their supermarket. We seem to have lost this skill of making the simplest of foods. When you talk to your patients about eating this way and tell them what to do, how do they respond?
Michael: Some of them, their eyes go around like Las Vegas slot machines.
Caryn: Right, deer in headlights.
Michael: Until I say, listen. It’s not that hard. We go through this again. You can cut open a cantaloupe and scoop out the inside. You can do that. You can cut up an apple, you can cut up a banana. It’s as simple as for breakfast, peel a banana and eat an apple, just do that if you want. Throw some cold cereal with some rice milk on it and a couple of strawberries, that’s fine. Breakfast, get some fruit in in the morning. Somehow, just do that. If Pop Tart land, that’s all they know to eat for breakfast, you got to get real with them. If they’re sitting in my office and they’re overweight and diabetic and have high blood pressure, you have a choice. You got to put a little effort here. You’re right. Americans, we’ve become a push-button instant society here. “Doc, give me the pill, let me do what I always do.” There’s an old saying: if you don’t change where you’re going, you’re going to wind up where you’re headed. That’s exactly what the fast food culture here, we do have to change it. So as I said, just have an apple and a banana and a little oatmeal or prepare cereal for breakfast. The soups and salads and steamed greens, I say, listen. Salad, you can buy it premade at the store. You can get a bag of salad. Just open the bag, pour it on a plate, and pour some salad dressing on it. I mean you got to do something, man. Good heavens. Just open up a bag of salad and eat it. You got to get some greens in. You can eat raw broccoli or raw kale, but pretty tough and fibrous. Two minutes in a vegetable steamer, really. I’m a bachelor, I do it myself. It isn’t that hard to cut up some broccoli and throw it in a steamer. You take the pot, you put it in an inch of water, you put it on the stove, and you turn it on. While the water’s coming to a boil, I rinse off the broccoli, take a knife and cut it up into pieces, and by the time I’m through I can lower the little steamer basket in, throw in the broccoli, and put the lid on. How hard is that, good heavens.
Caryn: It’s just incredible. We have so much technology that people use all the time. And the simplest things that are the most important for us just seem so out of reach for so many people.
Michael: Yeah, I mean it’s… And you wonder how the dinosaurs became extinct. Humans, they fast-fooded themselves to death. It’s easier to stop at Burger King, I suppose. But you buy what… You’re going to buy the diseases that get you. We can talk about healthier eating in restaurants and all that stuff, but it’s almost an oxymoron. Let’s just go into the Chinese restaurant and order steamed vegetables. You can do that, but after a while why bother? You might as well just do it yourself at home. Much cheaper. Less salt in the food there. We can talk about healthier eating in restaurants. It’s a valid concern. There’s some folks who just eat out in restaurants a lot. But even so, you order the spaghetti instead of the steak and you order the marinara with the pasta primavera with the vegetables instead of the meatballs. There are healthier ways to order in restaurants. Again, for those listeners who heard what I said about the crockpot, it takes twenty minutes and you’ve got soup for three days. It’s really not that hard to do. I would urge people just make that effort. You’re going to save money. It’s going to be cheaper. These days it’s got to mean something to people. You can make three days’ worth of vegetable soup with twenty minutes worth of labor while you’re listening to the radio. It really isn’t that hard. But I imagine you can…there’s instant soups, I suppose, canned soups, but they’re expensive. Much cheaper to do it yourself. But yeah, you can open up a can of vegetable soup, heat it up on the stove, you can do that. It’s full of salt, it’s not the best, but sure beats sausage pizza. Someone said, “Would you rather be right or happy?” The same thing. You want to be a fast food person and sick and dead soon, or you want to eat real food and live a life? It’s your choice. People have free choice. But you wind up choosing to be a medical patient at that point. You choose the fast food path, and you’re going to get to see your doctor a lot, and you’re going to be taking a lot of pills, and you’ll lie down on the operating table a few times as well.
Caryn: It’s really mind-boggling that people—they really, really fight it. But there’s a lot of positive things that are going on, too. I don’t know if you caught this, but—I saw it online, actually—on 60 Minutes, there was a Spanish chef, José Andrés, who was on. He was talking—he’s not vegetarian—but he’s starting to make more vegetarian meals, and talking that meat is overrated and slightly boring, he says. He believes the future is vegetables and fruits. The way he describes it is really a great thing because he talks about how a piece of meat, you chew and the first five seconds you get all the juices in your mouth and then it’s gone. The next twenty more seconds or so, it’s tasteless. And it doesn’t happen with a fruit like a pineapple or an asparagus or in a pea. The flavor just keeps on coming.
Michael: Interesting point, yeah.
Caryn: I’ve never heard it put that way and I was really excited when I heard it. I experience it all the time. I’m a big fruit and vegetable fan, and I can’t talk enough about how I love my food.
Michael: Right. Fascinating piece here. A colleague of mine, Dr. John McDougall, is a plant-based nutrition physician here in California. He’s working with the Sacramento Food Bank. Fascinating story, which in a way epitomizes the issues in America that people in the food bank, which God knows are getting more and more business these days as people rely more and more on food banks, these are community-minded folks running the food bank; they want the best for their community, which are often the economically disadvantaged, I guess. Well, the food bank, because they rely on donations and the junk foods are the cheapest—sugar is cheap—they’re passing out lots of chips and Oreos and lots of fast food, junk food stuff. Well they realized over recent years, they’re watching their beloved clients get fatter and sicker and they had a meeting saying, we’re part of their problem. We’re trying to help them, and the reality is we’re making our clients sick. We’re adding to their health problems. We think we’re trying to keep them from starving, but truth is, we’re making them diabetic and hypertensive and we’re part of their problem. They contacted Dr. McDougall, who went over there. There’s a nice piece on the Internet on it. The Sacramento Food Banks went out to the various produce farmers in the area, and are getting donations of fruits and vegetables, and they’re loading the baskets up now with fruits and veggies for the people at the food bank, and the people are getting leaner and healthier, and their blood pressure’s going down, and it’s even found its way into this very fundamental service that’s being done. It’s a model for food banks all around and of course for families, whether or not you’re involved in the food bank. But if people Google “Sacramento Food Bank” and “plant-based diet program,” you’ll see the story. It’s very inspiring, exciting, and it’s really what we need to be doing, especially with the young people.
Caryn: Right. It is.
Michael: Get your kids to like fruits and vegetables early, folks. Feed them apples and bananas early. Don’t feed them chocolate bars.
Caryn: Yeah. I ride the subway in Manhattan very often. It’s really sad when I see the young parents feeding their very young children such garbage in their bottles and just giving them a bag of chips. It’s just really sad. Very sad.
Michael: Really sets the pattern for life. It’s easy to seduce a child with sugar and fat. Fat, sugar, and salt taste good. Meanwhile, it’s delicious poison. It ultimately leads to their—I shouldn’t say death, but ultimately I guess that too—unhappiness. You wind up the fat child. The overweight child is in a particular hell for all their lives. They become fat adults, but being the fat kid in school is just dreadful. Every time they look in the mirror, every time they go to gym class, every time there’s a social event, they’re the fat kid in school. Please spare your child that particular dreadful burden. Plus, they become overweight adults with all the medical curses of diabetes and high blood pressure and arthritis and all the things that come from that. Those good habits instilled early is just one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
Caryn: Now a lot of people ask, don’t we need meat? Isn’t there something in meat that we need, and aren’t vegans suffering from one thing or another? I know you’ve studied vegans with your health study.
Michael: Right. That’s an interesting question. The straight scientific answer is no. Strictly medical level, the body is capable of synthesizing all the nutrients we need from plant-based foods. There’s vegetarians, vegans since birth who’ve lived to be a hundred and that alone proves the point. Plus there’s no end of vegetarian athletes—tennis players, runners, cyclists. So no, the human body works just great on a plant-based diet. That said, everybody knows either people say, “Listen. I’ve got to have some protein (the euphemism for meat),” or “I used to be a vegan and I got skinny and didn’t feel good. I added some meat back into my diet and I feel better.” It may well be that if you grow up on a meat-based diet and your body gets used to pre-formed carnitine and various meat-based substances coming in so your liver hasn’t been making it, and you suddenly pull that out by becoming vegan on a plant-based diet, yeah, it may be that you miss some of that. You may feel some adverse effects. If that’s the case, that may or may not go away. If you want to have some wild-caught salmon in your diet once a week or so, view it as a medicine, do it as medicinal, fine. I’m past the point of arguing about that. But view it as that. This is like a vitamin tablet that I need once a month or twice a month. Makes me feel better. Okay. That’s a whole lot different than two cheeseburgers and a hot dog for lunch, and a sixteen-ounce porterhouse steak for dinner, and this never-ending stream of bacon and eggs for breakfast and cheeseburgers for lunch and chicken for dinner. Eat flesh three and four times a day and follow it with dairy products, this cheese and milk and yogurt, and this stream of animal fat and animal protein that is flooding through our system day after day after day. That is a lethal fuel mixture. If people get down to a completely plant-based diet but they feel better with a little piece of wild-caught salmon in their diet once or twice a month, well okay, there might be some nutritional benefits to that. If anybody got it down to that. If they got it down to the pot roast on Sunday nights, if everybody ate vegan all week and had a pot roast on Sunday night, fine.
Caryn: We’d be in a lot better place.
Michael: We’d be in a lot better place, absolutely. I don’t even use the word “vegan” anymore. People say, “I don’t want to be one of those vegans. Vegan police is going to come and open my refrigerator and look in there.” No, you don’t have to be a vegan. But get it down to once a week, twice a week. Not three times a day. The total food stream coming in is the real issue here. You want to have meat once a week, twice a week, fine. Not going to quibble at this point. The majority of what goes into your mouth should be something that grew out of the ground, preferably in its whole, natural form. Whole grains, whole beans, whole fruits, whole vegetables. Not all processed chips and Cokes. Chips and Twinkies and Cokes are vegan, but that doesn’t make them healthy. You want whole, plant-based foods. If that’s the majority of what goes into your mouth, then if you want to have some animal products once a week, twice a week, fine. But even then, make it small and make it simple. Don’t make it all full of fat and processed stuff. Junk food, basically.
Caryn: Now, I know that—
Michael: So yes, we’re made to run on plants. Go ahead, I’m sorry.
Caryn: Yeah. So food really affects the majority of our health issues.
Michael: This day and age it does, yes.
Caryn: Yeah. But are there other things that living on a plant-based diet might not be resolved? Or maybe things that we need that we can’t get from food, or we might need some special supplementation?
Michael: There are some supplements that certainly can help. If you are a pure vegan—if that’s all you eat, are whole plant foods—you do need some vitamin B12. B12 used to be in the water. We used to drink out of streams and wells, and there used to be vitamin B12 in that. We don’t anymore. Chlorinated drinking water kills the B12-producing bacteria, so we’ve been cut off from our natural sources of B12. Once a week, take some vitamin B12 or have some vitamin B12 fortified—there’s soymilk and various B12-fortified foods, that’s true, you need that. The only other supplements that I recommend on a fairly regular basis, at least for vegan people is, if your skin is dry, you might need some essential oils, some omega-3 fats. The initials of the ones you need is called DHA. The body can make DHA out of the oils found in flaxseeds and walnuts, but a lot of folks can’t make enough DHA out of a couple of tablespoons of ground flax. So if your skin is dry—some people get depressed when there’s not enough omega-3 fats—then you can get DHA derived from algae, not fish oil. This is the fat that’s in fish oil, but fish do not make it. Fish swim around with their mouths open all day eating algae. It’s the algae that makes the DHA, and that’s what’s in the fish oil. The fish didn’t make it. We’re running out of fish, we’ve got to leave the fish alone. Instead of grinding up fish that ate algae, get the DHA out of the algae directly. Nowadays they are harvesting DHA out of algae. You can get these little capsules of algae-derived DHA, they’re a nice golden yellow capsule. Take one of those a couple times a week if your skin is dry. The only other supplement, and it has nothing to do with vegan or not, is vitamin D; these days we spend so much time inside and we’re so afraid of the sun that a lot of folks are low in vitamin D. People should get their vitamin D level checked. If it’s low you might want to take some vitamin D. The vegan form of it is vitamin D2. Take some vitamin D2 a couple times a week.
Caryn: I’ve read so many studies that—
Michael: Those are about the only supplements I recommend. I’m sorry?
Caryn: I’ve just read so many studies about how so many different diseases now, they’re linking to vitamin D deficiencies. Affects everything.
Michael: Right, real sleeper of a supplement. We hadn’t realized how deficient… It’s involved in hundreds of different reactions, and we need to keep our vitamin D levels up. Finally, a good multivitamin/mineral tablet once or twice a week, just to make sure that you’re not running low on manganese or some trace mineral in your diet. That wouldn’t be a bad idea either. That’s about it. You don’t need handfuls of all sorts of supplements and protein powders and all that kind of stuff. Some B12, some D, maybe some DHA, and a multivitamin. Those are the only four supplements I really prescribe these days unless there’s a special medical condition involved.
Caryn: Okay. Now I don’t know if you have the answer to this one, but. I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for over twenty years, and I pretty much stick to the kind of diet that you described. It’s really simple, little/no salt, no oil. Lots of greens—I make a green juice every day, I really swear by my green juice. But what surprises me is I have high cholesterol. It’s around 220, 230. And my sister, too.
Michael: Aha, yes. Right, yes. I have observed this as well. We did a little study on vegans, and indeed, it’s a phenomenon called creeping cholesterol syndrome. I see this for long-term vegans—twenty-year vegans and longer—their cholesterol starts creeping up. It’s supposed to be below 150, and I get vegans with cholesterol 210, 220, 230. They’re all freaked out about it. I’m not, and I’m glad you brought this up Caryn. I want to make it clear to you and all your listeners. The real issue is not how high is your cholesterol? The real issue is how clean are your arteries? Is there stuff sticking to your arteries and causing plaque? In our few minutes here, let me go into this very important issue. If you have cholesterol of 240, it’s true statistically over 300 million Americans—people with cholesterol 240—are at higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, all that stuff, that’s true. But like with all statistics, it falls apart when they come to the individual person. In other words, if I have two people with a cholesterol of 240. One of them is a vegan person—normal body weight, doesn’t smoke, exercise every day, happy, no family history of heart disease. That 240’s just what their liver needs to have in their bloodstream, ‘cause your body uses cholesterol for all sorts of good things. It makes hormones out of it, it makes nerve sheaths out of it. Thank God for cholesterol. You need it. Your liver synthesizes it, and your liver needs 240 milligrams of cholesterol in your blood, and that’s fine. That 240 cholesterol is a very different number in Joe Six-Pack, some guy who’s sixty pounds overweight. He’s smoking two packs of cigarettes every day, he’s fighting with his boss, and he never exercises. His father, two brothers, and uncle all died of heart attacks at age forty. Oh man, that 240 number in him is a very different number. So the real issue is not how high is your cholesterol? If your cholesterol is 240 and your arteries are clean, don’t worry about it.
Caryn: How do I know if my arteries are clean?
Michael: Right. There’s some simple ways to do it. One, go to your doctor, have them take out their ophthalmoscope, look in your eyes. The back of your eyes and your retinal vessels is where you can see your arteries directly. When the arteries get all loaded up with cholesterol, you can see the changes in the arteries. So say, “Doctor, please look at my retinal vessels. Are they clean?” And then have him or her send you over to the ultrasound department at the hospital or the local X-ray store. Lay down on the table, have them take the ultrasound wand and put them on your neck and on your belly. Have them do an ultrasound scan of your carotid arteries in your neck and your abdominal aorta. If they’re all clean—there’s no swirls and eddies and signs of plaque there, if you have nice laminar flow in your blood vessels—then your arteries are clean. That 240’s not causing you any harm. Don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s what your body needs. If you follow these vegans alone with the 240s, they don’t die of heart attacks and strokes. So the issue isn’t how high your cholesterol, the issue is how clean your arteries. Stay active, stay healthy, eat a plant-based diet, take a walk every day, laugh a lot, don’t smoke, and don’t look in the rearview mirror and you’ll be fine.
Caryn: That was great. That’s really good information. That’s something I never heard, so I really appreciate that. That’s really a great bit of advice. Really made my day.
Michael: Great. Glad we had the conversation.
Caryn: Well we’ve come to the end of the hour. I wish we could talk a lot more because you have just so much great information that everyone really needs to hear. We should have the Dr. Klaper show on television.
Michael: Maybe I’ll get on there one day. Appreciate the compliment.
Caryn: Thank you so much.
Michael: It’s a great service you’re doing, bringing this information out to the public. You do them a great service. It’s really an educational endeavor. Got to educate the public, educate the kids, and set the example. It’s what your kids watch you eating for lunch and dinner, what you make them. That’s the important thing. Lead by example and everything will get better.
Caryn: Okay, great! Thank you. Go back to your patients and take care of them, and just have a great day and be well. Live a long, happy life.
Michael: Great. Thank you very much, Caryn. All the best to you and your listeners.
Caryn: Thank you. That was Dr. Michael Klaper. Good guy, and thank you so much. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m your host, Caryn Hartglass. Next week, please listen. We’re going to be talking with Vesanto Melina, who’s a nutrition consultant and dietitian. We’re going to be talking more about food, healthy food. You can email me your comments and questions any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening. Bye bye.
Transcribed by JC, 2/17/2016