Part I – Ruth Heidrich
At 78 years young, Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D., is a seasoned raw vegan Ironman (or as she likes to say, “IronLADY”) Triathlete. She is the winner of more than 900 trophies, 6 Ironman Triathlons, 8 Gold Medals in the U.S.Senior Olympics, and 67 marathons including Boston, New York, & Moscow. Named One of the Ten Fittest Women in North America, she is also a breast cancer survivor and author of A Race for Life, Senior Fitness, The CHEF Cook/Rawbook, and her most recent book, Lifelong Running: How to Overcome the 11 Myths of Running & Live a Healthier Life.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass you’re listening to It’s All About Food! Happy October 1, 2013! It is a great day here in NYC it’s almost like summer but it isn’t summer because the leaves are actually changing which seems a little early for the season, but it’s beautiful and because of everything I’m going to be talking about in the next hour I couldn’t help but get out for a run before I started this show. You’ll know why in a moment and October 1st is a really important day all around. It’s World Vegetarian Day in case you forgot, so get your cards out and it’s the day when we’re going to debunk a lot of myths so let’s just jump right in with Dr. Ruth Heidrich who has a great new book out called Lifelong Running which she has written with Martin Row who we’ve had on our program before, the co-founder of Lantern Books. Ruth at 70 years young is a seasoned, raw vegan iron man or as she likes to say iron lady triathlete. She is the winner of more than 900 trophies, 6 iron man triathlons, 8 gold medals in the U.S. Senior Olympics and 67 marathons including Boston, NY, and Moscow, named one of the 10 fittest women in America. She is also a breast cancer survivor and author of A Race for Life, Senior Fitness, The Chef’s Cookbook, Raw Book, and her most recent book, Lifelong Running: How to Overcome the Eleven Myths About Running and Live a Healthier Life. So glad to have you on the program Ruth!
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Yes, hi, happy to be here Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, now I know you don’t remember this because you meet a lot of people, but I met you in the mid 90s at some veg. conference somewhere I don’t even remember where it was but I was introduced to you and your inspiring story and just everything you’re all about. You really are a game changer and leading the world not just for women but for everyone on this planet. It’s just an honor to have you on the program.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: It’s my honor to be on your program, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I just finished reading the book and it’s funny, every time I talk to an athlete and read their book all I want to do is go out and exercise. It’s not that I don’t exercise, I do exercise regularly but it’s great to get that extra inspiration that kick in the butt, just a new page, a new white canvas to start new and fresh. Thank you for that. Now, you probably know that today is…? Or this month. It’s not only World Vegetarian Day…
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: It’s Breast Cancer Awareness.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s Breast Cancer Awareness. Do you have pink fatigue? Pink ribbon fatigue, like the so many of us do?
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: You know I just finished an interview about “think the pink”, what a racket this is. The salaries these people make and how come there’s not any progress and that’s because they don’t care about prevention of Breast Cancer, or Prostate Cancer, or any of– Leukemia, MS, Alzheimer’s. It is such a money maker. It’s really sad because they motivate people to raise funds and then it goes nowhere because they either don’t care or don’t believe that the answer is in prevention, and prevention is too late. Reversal! The right diet and exercise program is the answer to almost all of our medical problems.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen! I know that. I don’t believe in a conspiracy theory and I don’t want to look at the negative side of humanity, although we can be pretty ugly most of the time, but I like to think that there’s good in all of us and I really don’t want to believe that those that are pushing pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness have a secret agenda. I want think that they really are ignorant or they have something in them that doesn’t want to believe that it’s as easy as diet and exercise are health and longevity.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Because even if you’re not involved in one of those programs, the general population still believes that it can’t be diet, the diet isn’t powerful enough and, in fact, that was the main motivation for me doing an iron man triathlon. When I changed my diet after the breast cancer diagnosis and saw how powerful it was not just for the cancer but for my high cholesterol, my arthritis, my constipation, my adult acne, for my energy levels, I said I’ve got to show people this is really powerful. I thought, do an iron man, that ought to get people’s attention, and it did. However, when you look at the progress since my first one thirty years ago, yeah there’s been some progress but not nearly as much as I would like and there’s still all these myths about running. How it ruins your knees and people say, you know one of the theories I had about the title of Lifelong Running was that people walking by and seeing it on the the shelf would say, oh that doesn’t apply to me. I think that’s going to be 90% of the population and I thought how are we going to get people to look past that and instead of thinking but I’m not a runner, how they can look at kids and say we all started as runners. Why did we quit? And how easy it is to get started again.
Caryn Hartglass: Well there’s a lot of different things that I’m going to bring up in the book that I found really inspirational, but I just want to finish this cancer conversation. You were a runner when you were diagnosed with Breast Cancer in your 40s. Exercise is so important but it’s only one piece and diet is the other piece obviously. I know I have my personal experience with advanced ovarian cancer in 2006 and I’ve been a lifelong vegan and, not lifelong, I became vegan at 30 actually and I was vegetarian after 15, and I was eating pretty healthfully and after my diagnosis I definitely changed things. I realized that my diet kept me alive, I think I had been living with this disease a very long time. One thing that surprised me was after my surgery and I hadn’t even known I had cancer before I went in for surgery. My doctor couldn’t stop saying what are you doing, what are you eating, you’re so clean inside. So I had this giant tumor but everything else was perfect.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: As a vegetarian, were you doing dairy?
Caryn Hartglass: I was eating dairy until I was 30-years-old but then I got the cancer at 48 or 47 so I have my own explanation of things of why it happened but I’m still a big believer in the power of food.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Well I had been a runner for 14 years at that point and had done marathons and thought that that made me invulnerable to any disease but what a shock I got and Dr.McDougal, the doctor that got me to change my diet because of his clinical research in the area said, you know with a cholesterol 236 you’re as at great a risk of dying of the heart attack as of the breast cancer. And I’m saying wait just a darn minute. I’m a marathoner but that didn’t impress him. He said no, look, your blood work is so clear right here but don’t worry because it’s not too late which is my great fear, and sure enough, 17 days later, the next reading was 160 and the one after that was 129 so that really lowered my risk of heart disease as well as the cancer.
Caryn Hartglass: Amazing, amazing how fast and forgiving the body can be as soon as you stop taking in the crap and start taking in the good stuff. Let’s get to the running part because this is amazing and I want to just touch lightly on the myths so that people get a taste for wanting to to read the book, because whether you’re a runner or not I think this is really a great read and I really like the balance that Martin Rowe offers in the book. I was inspired by your writing but I know other people that would say oh my God this is too much, it’s not for me, she’s just amazing and I’m not that person and that’s where Martin comes in and gives totally different perspective of someone who never thought he was a runner and got totally wrapped up in it.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: I’m so happy to see that.
Caryn Hartglass: He gave a discussion in the foreword and I imagine it’s true but I know Martin and I never thought of him as a couch potato or anything like that so I think he was a little poetic license or something. Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. We’re humans and we’re meant to run.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Born to run.
Caryn Hartglass: Born to run. From little children, as soon as they can, they just take off.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: They don’t know how to walk, they either pull feet or none at all.
Caryn Hartglass: But then somehow we learn to sit down and lay down and get in a car and slow everything down, to our detriment. I liked how you mention running errands and here in NYC where many of us don’t have cars, we do a lot of walking and often I like to say I’m going for a run and I’ll usually start the run by going to the bank, depositing a check, and then running somewhere else, once I’ve warmed up, getting to the rest of the run and I’m running errands.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: What a wonderful idea, we can all do that.
Caryn Hartglass: Your most important message is the fact that you’re 78 and you’re in amazing physical shape and you’re doing so much and all these things that people think are not possible at your age.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: I know, I look at my peers and they’re pretty bad.
Caryn Hartglass: People don’t want to get up, they don’t want to walk, they don’t want to move, and they have all kinds of aches and pains and that’s from not moving.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Yes, exactly. The body is meant to move and if it doesn’t it atrophies and you start losing muscle mass, you lose bone density, you lose the capacity to extract oxygen from the air from your lungs, your blood doesn’t carry as much oxygen, your brain starts deteriorating, it’s head to toe. Falling apart.
Caryn Hartglass: A lot of people say they’re too tired or they have an injury and they come up with all kinds of excuses not to move and not to run, but my understanding through your book and especially through your experiences with some serious accidents, exercise is critical to healing.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Because it stimulates the circulation which gives more nutrients and oxygen to the injured part. In fact, if you injure a tendon or a ligament and don’t do anything, if you just stabilize it, the healing will take place but it’s the cells attach randomly whereas if you put light stress on them, they realign in straight lines. The length of the tendon or ligament. Light exercise is always good even though it may hurt, you do a little bit. The tricky part is not doing too much. I’ve been known to do that.
Caryn Hartglass: How do you know what too much is?
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: That’s the tricky part. Pain isn’t always a guide because I remember after getting hit by that truck while cycling that my physical therapist said this is going to hurt, I’m sorry I have to do this, but we’ve got to get that leg straight. They put a titanium rod in it because the bones were so shattered from the impact of the truck and she just worked me to the point where I was screaming and she said I hate to do this, I hate to do this, but she did it anyway, and I thank her for that, so that’s an extreme example. Most injuries are not nearly that serious and sometimes a couple of days rest is necessary, but stay as active as possible. You know, when they took me to the hospital in an ambulance, the next day, you know orthopedic wards sometimes have these triangle bars above the head so you can lift yourself up to get on the bed pan. I was doing pull ups on the post and the nurse walked around the corner, came in, and said what in the world are you doing? I said, I’m doing pull ups. I can exercise my upper body even if I can’t use the lower body. You can do it. A set of exercises you can do lying down, whether it’s lying down, sitting, bending, you can always contract muscles, whether it’s your glutes, my favorite one to tell people to do is the kegels. You know what kegels are right?
Caryn Hartglass: Please tell us what they are.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: They are the muscles that control the perineum, the bottom of the pelvic floor, urination, and prevent fecal dribbling and that’s a problem as people age and that’s why adult diapers are commonly advertised. We can keep those muscles strong so this is an exercise you and I can do right now.
Caryn Hartglass: Right now, I’m doing them right now, sitting down.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: If that’s not motivation enough, they help with making more powerful orgasms so that should get people’s attention so whether you exercise those little tiny muscles down there or the big quads and the glutes and the abs, those are the ones that show, that make you look fit and feel strong and healthy. So just exercise is so important.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s funny you brought that up. There are a number of big industries and health is one of them, or disease care is one of them and another is things that are related to sex and all the drugs that are out there to improve sexual performance or as people realize that they stop eating the foods that are bad for them and ate the food that were good for them, they wouldn’t need those drugs anymore.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Yup, if these foods are clogging those critical arteries and you stop eating those foods, those critical arteries down there open up again and if you don’t do that, that’s a first sign of heart disease actually, impotence and lower libido means something’s going wrong and that’s the canary in the coal mine. If you don’t get it when it’s early it’s just going to keep progressing. Conversely, if you nip it in the bud, it can reverse completely and you don’t ever have to have heart disease. Most cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, dementia, what have I missed?
Caryn Hartglass: Everything, the chronic diseases plaguing people today, multiple sclerosis, the whole host of them. It’s a bad one, but that’s what’s really unfortunate is most people have no idea that diet can really turn that disease around significantly.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: With MS you need to have a very low fat diet and the research of Dr. Roy Swank has been out there for what, forty years, and people are being diagnosed for MS, are doing a walk for MS to raise funds for it. Here we already have the, it’s not a complete cure, at least management of the disease and to keep it from progressing. This is true of almost all the chronic diseases. The drugs that Big Pharma promote, most of them have to do with blood pressure, high cholesterol, and blood sugar. Those three are managed perfectly well by the right diet, the one we’re talking about, vegan, low fat, raw as much as possible, and vigorous exercise to get your heart rate up and get you pumping blood and breathing hard. Running is the most effective and efficient way to do that. Within a few minutes, you have your blood pressure under control, heart rate going in, oxygen, and I can’t just say enough about it and that’s why Martin asked me to write the book. He knows how enthusiastic I am. I’ve been running now for 45 years, don’t plant to ever stop.
Caryn Hartglass: What I like about running, I like a lot of things about it. I’m not one that, at this point in my life, it can always change, but I don’t see myself running in competitions but what I like about running is how easy it is in terms of practicality. I like riding a bike but I have to get my bike out of the basement, I have to pump up the tires, I have to clean it off a bit, and there’s a little too much activity there. I love to swim but I’ve got to get to a pool. Running is just leave your door.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: With biking you can’t do it just anywhere, it’s dangerous as I’ve found out. You really need a trail where there are no cars. With swimming you’re right. A pool or an ocean close by so running you can do anywhere, any time.
Caryn Hartglass: There have been a handful of occasions where the weather has just been so horrible outside and I have run in the snow and the rain but sometimes I just run inside the house. Just up and down somewhere, you can do it anywhere.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: You don’t have to have a treadmill. They do make it easier to keep track of your speed and you can have the incline, but you can run around the house and anywhere. You can run in place for gosh sakes.
Caryn Hartglass: I finished your book this morning and then of course I had to run because I just couldn’t stand reading the book without running. I run a few times a week, but I tried the 100 up.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Every time I hit a stop sign, I’m doing it now sitting, just raising the legs up, keep them moving when you’re sitting and then stretch the quads by doing them back. So glad you did that.
Caryn Hartglass: We can all be moving while we’re listening. I know there are these people that are starting to get desks where they stand up, where they stand on a treadmill and work on a desk. I can’t see myself quite doing that but I guess it’s good for some people. The point is to keep moving or to get some motion in your life. Let’s talk a bit about food because that’s an important piece I think and you have a particular diet that you like. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Well, to sum it up, it’s a low-fat, vegan, mostly raw diet. Consisting of fruits and vegetables, lots of leafy greens. I like the big, big bags of mixed organic greens, I love kale, I love broccoli, there’s so many benefits to these leafy greens so they are actually the major part of my breakfast and I know that’s shocking to a lot of people. In fact, when Chris McDougal was writing his book Born to Run, he’s got my story in there and when he was interviewing me, he asked me the same thing: tell me what you eat. When I told him greens for breakfast along with mango and banana, he was kind of shocked and said I’d never heard of anybody eating a salad for breakfast. I said, well it’s not really a salad, this is a large quantity of greens and fruit and so he thought I’ll try it. Guess what? He loves it and doing it ever since, so leafy greens because of their high nutrient-calorie ratio, they’re one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Why not get them in your body first thing in the morning? That’s why I tried it. Plus, I got to work at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea and as a trainer there, I got to eat in the Olympic village where all the athletes from all these different countries ate. So I’d walk around and I’d see what they ate. It was only the Americans who had things like bacon and eggs and Egg McMuffin and all these high fat, high animal foods. Whereas the Japanese, the Chinese, even the Russians and most of the other countries had veggies and some kind of starch. Mostly in the asian countries, rice, and in the African countries, potatoes and corn. They know how to eat breakfast. That was a noter motivation for me to keep up the greens for breakfast. I don’t stop the greens there, I also have them with every meal. That makes up the basis for even my supper which is, again, the greens with tomatoes and bell pepper, I love the red bell peppers, I love purple cabbage, cauliflower, ginger. I take the whole ginger roots and cut up little tiny slices and probably 10 or 15 of them and mix them throughout both the breakfast and supper and it adds a nice little tang…
Caryn Hartglass: Raw!
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Yes, raw ginger is an anti-inflammatory. If you have the slices thin, it’s just that nice little tang because you can have too much at a time but if you mix it up with all your fruits and vegetables and all your leafy greens, it’s good.
Caryn Hartglass: I love ginger with greens, it works.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: I think that beverage is really just water is nature’s perfect beverage I say in I think my Cook Raw book. I do like green tea and stevia as any kind of sweetener so one of my favorite drinks is 100% pure cocoa, a rounded teaspoon of that with a tiny bit of stevia and a green tea bag. I call it cocoa tea and boy is that ever healthy. The antioxidants in both the green tea and the cocoa, it is-in fact, I’m sipping on some now.
Caryn Hartglass: You should probably bag that and call it Dr. Ruth’s Tea!
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Yeah, I probably could. It is in my cookbook and that recipe. And for dessert, can’t forget dessert because I do have a sweet tooth and I love blueberries and again the nutrient calorie ratio, berries are way up at the top so I have a large bowl, half blueberries and half prunes. Why prunes? Not necessarily for the regularity aspect of it, I found out when I went vegan that took care of that little problem, but because prunes have been shown to keep bones strong. There’s some research and I’m not sure how it works but the research shows that if you eat nine, eight to ten prunes a day, it will reverse osteoporosis and prevent it, greater bone density again, I’m not sure why it doesn’t work with raisins and dates, this experiment tried it with all these different fruits and only prunes. Ever since I read that, that was probably 5 years ago, I’ve been eating prunes. I think maybe try Googling it. Running of course is the best way to keep bones strong as you age because we know that people will lose bone density as they age, if they don’t keep running as the impact. That’s one of the myths, that the impact is bad, you want low or no impact. I say the opposite, you want as much impact as possible because impact is what stimulates the osteoblasts and the osteoblasts are the bone building cells. You want those working.
Caryn Hartglass: You’ve mentioned the knee injuries before, if we just touch on that myth with impact on knees.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: People believe that running isn’t good for the knees and the opposite, again, is true. The research has shown that runners have no more knee injuries, no more arthritis in the knees than non runners and this is a long standing research study done at Stanford University. So I challenge anybody to challenge them. They know what they’re doing. And, because there was as much arthritis in both runner and non-runners, I say if all of those runners, over a thousand population of runners, they wouldn’t have any arthritis at all.
Caryn Hartglass: I think that’s a really important point, really important.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Arthritis is the body’s inflammatory response to foreign proteins. By golly, if another human being’s proteins are foreign which they are, we don’t do a heart, lung, tissue transplants unless the tissues are matched and even, then our body will reject them and that’s why we take anti rejection drugs for the rest of our lives to keep that heart or kidney or whatever. So you can imagine, if a human has this much of a problem, think what a cow, a pig, or a fish, or a bird protein in our bodies. Now they’re not supposed to get into our blood stream but because of leaky guts that a lot of people have, they do get into the blood stream, they get into the joints and therefore, we have a diagnosis of arthritis. It’s so common that doctors will say, well you know, by the age of 30, most everybody gets some arthritis and in fact that’s what I was told with my arthritis and they said, oh don’t worry, we’ve got this new drug that’s perfect for this and that was Naproxen at the time, this was back int he ‘70s, when I was diagnosed with the arthritis, took it for a bunch of years until I started having GI bleeding. That’s when Dr. McDougal said why in the world are you taking that drug? I said it’s for my arthritis and he said stop the drug right now, your arthritis went away when you went vegan and sure enough it did. Now of course that drug is over the counter as Alleve and very commonly taken by people for the slightest little ache or pain and they don’t know that they can prevent it.
Caryn Hartglass: Just by what they’re eating. I remember Dr. McDougal when I first started listening to him probably the ‘80s or something and just hearing how angry he would get at the arthritis associations because they would refuse to make the connection with diet. I think finally they’re doing that. Ruth! We’ve come to the end of the half hour, and that was fast. The time just ran by.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: I do have a website that has just recently been re-done. Audry Wild took over and said we need to update your website and I said go do it. She did and I love it. It’s my name, ruthheidrich.com.
Caryn Hartglass: I just have one quick question for you, maybe it’s not that quick, but what are your future goals for athletic performance?
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Oh boy, just to keep going. Part of what I’ve noticed, looking at 80 is definitely slowing down and my goal up until fairly recently was to keep improving. Now it’s changing just to maintain.
Caryn Hartglass: Well you’ve gotten to an amazing point. Maintaining where you’re at is pretty amazing.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Yes it is, I have no choice. Probably another book or two, I would love to have a book called Running Around the World because with all the fantastic places I’ve run, I want to show people how to see this planet on your feet and enjoying it much better that way.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree, that’s why I like to travel. To get the hotel and unpack and go out for a run and you see things that most people don’t see. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food, good luck with the book Lifelong Running and your lifelong running in inspiring everybody else to do the same.
Dr. Ruth Heidrich: Thank you for having me Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: That was Dr. Ruth Heidrich, author of Lifelong Running with Martin Rowe, a very fun and inspiring book.
Transcription by Meichin, October 19, 2013