Susan Levin, Dawnyel Pryor & Jennie Steinhagen, Food For Life



Susan Levin and Dawnyel Pryor
PCRM’s Food For Life

Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., is director of nutrition education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventive medicine, especially better nutrition, and higher standards in research.

As director of nutrition education, Ms. Levin researches and writes about the connection between plant-based diets and a reduced risk of chronic diseases. Through her work, she also addresses the need for nutrition guidelines that reflect PCRM’s New Four Food Groups (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains). In addition, Ms. Levin assists in teaching nutrition and health classes to participants in a clinical study exploring the links between diet and diabetes. Ms. Levin received her Master of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. Ms. Levin received the Charlotte Newcombe Scholarship twice during her post-graduate work at Hunter College in New York. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before joining PCRM, Ms. Levin taught English to biomedical English majors at the Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing. Her lectures on nutrition to the school’s professors and students emphasized the healthfulness of the traditional plant-based Chinese diet. Ms. Levin is also an avid long-distance runner.

Ms. Pryor manages the Food for Life Nutrition and Cooking Class program, supervising 85 instructors teaching 1,300 classes across the United States in 150 cities. Ms. Pryor also manages the marketing of the organization’s continuing education events and The Cancer Project’s and diabetes initiative’s programs, products, and services. Ms. Pryor’s previous work includes four years with the American Institute for Cancer Research where she was an education associate focused on managing and promoting the organization’s nutrition educational events. Before, she was the program associate of the Education and Youth Development Division at Children’s Defense Fund focused on advocating for youth gun violence prevention and for juvenile justice. Ms. Pryor is the founder and chair of the District of Columbia Junior Advisory Committee of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and the Ovarian & Gynecological Cancer Coalition/Rhonda’s Club. She also sits on the board of directors of the Ovarian & Gynecological Cancer Coalition/Rhonda’s Club. Ms. Pryor has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Howard University.

Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for another It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me. It’s February 26th 2013 and my question for you today is: How many push-ups can you do? I mean the real ones. We were just having a little fun here in the studio and I just did 10. Not bad. Maybe next time I’ll try for 15 and who knows? But one thing is clear. I am fueled by plants and that’s the secret: plant food. We’re going to be talking about a lot of plant food power today, especially Food for Life. That’s the title of this show: Food for Life. Actually the title comes from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, PCRM. They have a wonderful program called Food for Life. We talked about it a few weeks ago a little bit and now we’re going to dive right in. I wanted to let you know you can call in and ask questions or you can e-mail me and ask questions anytime during the program or any other time so I’m just going to remind you. 1-888-874-4888. That’s a lot of eights. 888-874-4888 and my e-mail is So send in your questions if you have any food questions. And I know you do. We’re going to address them. Great. We have lots of guests today. It’s going to be a food party. I’m going to introduce two of them right now. No, maybe three of them. I’ve got Susan Levin. She’s the Director of Nutrition Education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and that’s the Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventative medicine and especially better nutrition and higher standards in research. And I’ve got Dawnyel Pryor. She manages the Food for Life Nutrition and Cooking Class program, supervising 85 instructors teaching 1300 classes across the United States in 150 cities. I love numbers, don’t you? That’s a lot of good numbers. She also manages the marketing of the organization’s continuing education events and the Cancer Project and Diabetes Initiatives programs, products, and services. And joining me here in the studio is one of the Food for Life instructors, Jennie Steinhagen. And then you have me. So here we go. Let’s start talking Food for Life. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Susan, Dawnyel, and Jennie.

Susan Levin: Hi. This is Susan.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. That’s one.
Dawnyel Pryor: Hi, this is Dawnyel. Thanks for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi Dawnyel. How about Susan?
Susan Levin: Hey, how’s it going?
Caryn Hartglass: Good. And Jennie right here.
Jennie Steinhagen: Caryn it’s so exciting to be with you here today and with Dawnyel and Susan on the phone.
Susan Levin: Hey Jennie.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. OK, so Food for Life. Susan, you want to tell us how did Food for Life get started, what is it, what do we need to know about it?
Susan Levin: Sure. Food for Life actually started as The Cancer Project. So it was a program dedicated to teaching cancer survivors or people interested in cancer prevention―and who isn’t?―how to eat the most optimal diet to ensure prevention and survival of cancer. So that was in 2001 and it has since become much bigger, tackling such issues as diabetes and weight issues, general well-being, and then of course kids, a class that focuses on kids. We’ve grown into this huge teaching program across the country and across the world, actually, and we’re so grateful for all of our instructors out there that are spreading this message of health.
Caryn Hartglass: Excellent. I think that it does apply to all illnesses for the most part. Because sometimes I like to say they’re all the same disease. They just appear differently in different bodies based on a lot of different things. Eating the wrong foods, not boosting our immune systems with the right foods, and inflammation cause the body to fall apart in all kinds of unpleasant ways.
Susan Levin: Yeah. I think that’s exactly right and I think that’s why we look at researchers and scientists who do a study on one particular disease or one way disease manifests. So let’s say heart disease where Dr. Dean Ornish in the early ’90s looked at how do we prevent and reverse heart disease and lo and behold while he figured out how to do that with the diet, a plant-based diet, he also found the side effects were things like better insulin sensitivity, less joint pain, fewer migraines. So what you’re saying is right. You change your diet and all of these manifestations of disease start to get better, which is truly amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: Just a little bit on semantics for a minute. You just mentioned side effects and I love it. The side effects of the plant-based diet. We normally think of negative things when we think of side effects but they’re actually bonuses.
Susan Levin: Exactly. And whenever you do a clinical trial or some kind of study you always have to monitor the side effects of that study and usually these might be pharmaceutical drug tests or whatever, what have you.
Caryn Hartglass: Suicide tendencies. Increased risk…
Susan Levin: Depression. Sure. But with this study the side effects tend to be things that we can pretty much all relate to. Like, “Oh, my energy level has increased. My joint pain has gone away. And these aren’t even the reasons why I’m in this study. I was here to help my type-2 diabetes.” And all of this branches out into all these other studies. And people say, “Wait, what? Your rheumatoid arthritis improved? Well, let’s look at that. Let’s look and see how diet worked on that.” So that’s how we have shelves and shelves worth of studies showing how this kind of eating can improve…it can do anything, except maybe your taxes.
Caryn Hartglass: But you’ll have energy to do them.
Susan Levin: You’ll have energy to do them.
Caryn Hartglass: And less stress. And you’ll be able to manage the challenges of doing taxes. Yeah, I think it helps doing taxes too.
Susan Levin: OK. Let’s go ahead and just say that. It helps everything.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright. Food for Life consists of selecting and training instructors and then having events and sharing this information with people who attend the events.
Susan Levin: That’s right. And maybe I’ll let Dawnyel, who really oversees the training and contact with all of our many instructors address that issue.
Caryn Hartglass: OK.
Dawnyel Pryor: Sure. The Food for Life classes are taught by our network of certified Food for Life instructors and our Educational Alliance partners. We have classes that are being taught by…actually you mentioned the 85 instructors that are certified. Actually we’ve grown to 115 instructors.
Caryn Hartglass: Woo.
Dawnyel Pryor: Yeah. That are located in 37 states all around the United States plus the District of Colombia. Our instructors are super passionate about empowering their fellow community members about fighting diseases through plant-based nutrition. They have a variety of backgrounds. There are nurses, dietitians, physicians, cancer survivors. They might be chefs or teachers. They come from a variety of professional experiences. Then they come to our training and get certified to be able to teach the classes in their community. Then in addition to our network of instructors, we also partner with various organizations and businesses with a wellness and nutrition focus so that they could incorporate the Food for Life classes into their existing programmatic offerings. These institutions are our Food for Life Educational Alliance partners and we have 80 of them that are all around the world in 12 countries. They are teaching the classes as part of their organization’s programming. So between our instructors and educational alliance partners, we have 200 individuals and institutions that are currently teaching the Food for Life program around the world. PCRM offers a training for people and institutions that would like to become certified to teach the program. We hold those twice a year and they are three days long. They are held in Washington, DC at Physicians Committee headquarters. The next training is going to be on June 26th through 28th.
Caryn Hartglass: Now how does somebody get to go to this? Is there a charge? Do you have to be selected? Do you have to have some previous experience or background in food?
Dawnyel Pryor: You don’t have to be a chef. We do have an application. You can actually access that application and learn more about the training and what our ideal candidates and their backgrounds and experience and expertise would be by visiting PCRM’s website and that’s
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. Alright. Well, I think it sounds like a really terrific program.
Dawnyel Pryor: Yeah, it really is a comprehensive training. We have lectures on the latest research on plant-based nutrition for disease prevention and survival. Those presentations are delivered by PCRM’s nutrition experts including PCRM’s founder and director, Dr. Neal Barnard, and also Susan Levin. We also present tips and techniques for how to carry out and promote the classes. We even bring in an accomplished Food for Life instructor to discuss his or her best practices for conducting the classes. One of the elements of the training is that we actually have each of the training participants deliver a live cooking demonstration, similar to what they would do when they are back home and teaching the classes back in their communities. They do these cooking demonstrations in front of their peers so they can kind of road test all of the information that they’ve learned throughout the training by delivering this cooking demonstration. Then they get the feedback from their peers and PCRM’s staff so that they can take all of that good information and feedback back home when they deliver the classes in their communities.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s fun.
Dawnyel Pryor: It really is. I know Jennie participated in the training last year so she could probably even speak to her experience as a participant.
Caryn Hartglass: What did you make for your food demo, Jennie?
Jennie Steinhagen: I have to tell you I was assigned a muesli recipe and I’m not even joking or kidding about the fact that I had it this morning. I really got into recipe. I mean, there’s so much positive energy and support from the team there in DC and all of these different instructors coming from all over the world that it’s really contagious. And as someone who participated in this training just last year I can tell you a little bit about the motivation for somebody who might want to get involved. I had heard about the PCRM Food for Life classes back in 2006 and I had taken a couple rounds of those. But in early 2012 cancer hit again close to home and I threw my hands up in the air and for a moment was kind of wallowing in that, “Wow, what’s going on in this world that we live in?” And then I got an e-mail from PCRM and I remembered that there are really amazing, talented people out there who are spreading this message of empowerment and of hope. I’m proud and privileged to be able to share this message. That’s what motivates me to give these classes here in New York.
Caryn Hartglass: Good for you. Well, we need you and a billion more. I just want to talk about muesli for a minute, the thing that you made in your class. If my neighbor is listening, this is for you because we were just having a conversation yesterday about oatmeal and she was complaining that it’s boring. It doesn’t have to be boring. There are so many things that you can add to oats or it could be flaked wheat or flaked rye or other flaked grains and you add your raw nuts and seeds and your fresh fruits. Every day can be a new experience; it could be the same. But it’s fabulous.
Jennie Steinhagen: It really is. And it opened my eyes up to the number of non-dairy milks out there. I mean, I make my own at home as well but when you check these shelves, especially at these markets here in the City, there are so many different kinds. We introduce non-dairy milks in the classes to people because a lot of times people have heard of them or maybe glance at them but aren’t necessarily sure what they are or what they might taste like but you can really play around, like you said, with the flavors and the combinations.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you have to have testings of non-dairy milk sometimes just to have people try. One more thing about oats. I’m kind of nutty about oats these days. And I know not everybody can eat oats. There are some people that have gluten intolerances that also extend over to the protein in oats that causes a little problem. But aside from that, soak your oats. You know, we talk about soaking your nuts. Soak your oats. You can prepare your oats the night before, put a little non-dairy milk on it and it’s all nice and gooey and soft in the morning when you’re ready to go. There are just so many different ways to make it and it’s easy. I’m sure…just for a minute…you have Food for Life recipes that are accessible to just anybody?
Dawnyel Pryor: Yes, absolutely. Each of our Food for Life classes has a textbook that accompanies it. We have all of the recipes that are part of the classes in that class textbook. We have hundreds of recipes that are in those textbooks. And on PCRM’s website we have huge databases of recipes that are accessible. Then we even have a recipe of the week e-mail that we send out on a weekly basis that highlights a different recipe each week.
Caryn Hartglass: The plant food world is full of abundance. We are just overloaded with wonderful, tasty, delicious recipes. There is not a void here, folks. No deprivation. Recipes are everywhere. Alright. So now you’ve got your instructors trained and they go forth and look for willing participants in their area to listen to their program? How does that work? Dawnyel, do you want to talk about how instructors might get people? How does that work with people that come to a program to learn what the instructors have learned? Is it the same thing the instructors have learned? Is is slightly different?
Dawnyel Pryor: Yeah. People are looking for information on what to eat and our Food for Life classes really help with sorting through all of that information that’s out there, from diet books to websites to what have you. You can go to our website at to find a class in your area. You’ll find hundreds of classes that are currently scheduled and are open for registration right there on the website. And folks can select the class in their area and then on each class web page you’ll find information about when and where the class is being held and how to register. Once the attendee comes to the class, you’ll find that it’s really an interactive, multi-sensory experience. It’s really neat in that you’ll watch a video lecture that’s delivered by Dr. Barnard that explains the science behind how certain foods and nutrients work to promote health. Then you’ll actually watch a live cooking demonstration just like they practiced at the training. The Food for Life instructors do those live cooking demonstrations of healthful, delicious, vegan dishes. And then the class participant will also receive helpful cooking tips on how to prepare low-fat, high-fiber plant-based recipes that consist of fruits, and vegetables, and grains, and legumes. Then, probably the best part of all, is you actually get to taste those dishes. So you get to experience just how delicious this way of eating truly is.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve said this many, many times…Jennie, you’ve probably heard me say this many, many times…but people have lost their way to the kitchen. And they need to find their kitchens. Certainly I think all of us here want people to eat plant foods and there are lots of reasons to do that―not just for health but also for the cruelty issues related to the killing of animals and the mistreatment of animals and also the environmental issues. But people in general would do much better if they knew better how to prepare meals at home. Anything. They would do much better. People have no idea what’s in their food. They’re eating food that’s in restaurants or prepared or to-go and there are all kinds of unfriendly ingredients in those foods. So just giving them some basic skills is so important.
Susan Levin: This is Susan. I just wanted to “amen” you on that one. While I am no chef, and Jennie and Dawnyel could cook circles around me, I recognize that I have to actually prepare my own foods on occasion at least just to be able to get the kinds of nutrients the way that my body wants them. I don’t think there’s really any shortcut around this like you are saying. People are going to have to get back in their kitchens. As much as we’ve worked and marketing has worked for decades to get us out of the kitchen, I think we have to fight that and get back because generally that’s how we’re going to get healthy again. I think that trying to figure out a quick fix: “Where can I eat? What fast food can I eat?” There are certainly some that you can eat on occasion that aren’t as bad as other choices and eating out is OK. But at some point we’re going to have to cook a bean or cook a grain or make some greens and just put that time back into our health―invest in our health. Because it’s not a quick fix all the time even though there are quick and easy recipes as Jennie can attest because that’s what she presents to her class participants. It’s going to involve at least a can opener, something in your kitchen. And it will pay off in the end.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk a little bit more about this because it’s such an important point. Our culture’s got on this crazy path and I don’t think any of us realized it was happening while it was happening because technology came along and there were all kinds of new-fangled products and appliances that we could use. Then restaurant prices just kept going down and down and the world changed in front of us and now we’re starting to realize the repercussions and it’s bad health and bad environment and we’re doing horrible things to animals. So we need to get back to the path. We need to find our kitchen. And I know there are lots of cookbooks out there today with those slogans: “fast recipes,” “quick and easy,” “under 30 minutes,” “under 20 minutes,” “5 minutes.” We don’t want to go there. You probably talk about this in your class. People need to realize that there are such great benefits to making their own food. Rather than making things fast, I think our desires need to change. Our priorities need to change. Making food can be fun if we learn how to organize and plan, it fits in with our busy lifestyles. There’s this philosophy that applies to life about acceptance. When something bad happens, the best way to deal with it is to accept it and then figure out how to deal with it and move forward. It’s all about acceptance and not resisting. And so many people are resisting. Their health is bad. They’re resisting going into the kitchen and they’re resisting eating well. Stop resisting. Do you have tools for that? Certainly the people who come to your classes are willing but there’s got to be a lot of people that are resisting one way or the other. Even if they come to the class, I imagine there’s some resistance. You want to say something Jennie?
Jennie Steinhagen: Well, one of the aspects of the Food for Life program that I really like is that yes, we’re sending people back in the kitchen but we’re telling them, “You’re not alone.” One of the great things about the recurring classes―I have a four-class series coming up―is that participants are going in there knowing that their fellow participants are doing the same. And they come back and they talk about their experiences. So there is this therapy-like component of the classes for people who, realistically, have strayed from their kitchen and have strayed from this idea that they can fit it into their busy lifestyles. At the same time, I think the Food for Life classes are realistic about the types of recipes that we’re providing people because there are―I don’t want to say unhealthy shortcuts because I don’t think we’re steering them in that direction―but for people who want to pop into the grocery store, we have prepared lists that PCRM has put together for a number of different recipes to make it as easy as possible for them so that they feel armed. They feel like they have some support going into their kitchens.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, when I say we’ve gotten off the path, I don’t want to knock technology because there are a lot of benefits and there are a lot of convenience that we’ve garnered from it and we have to use that to our best advantage. We have canned foods and there are good canned foods and there are bad canned foods and some can make life a lot easier and some are loaded with sodium and all kinds of other not-so-good things. But it’s good that you have a list. So is that list available online for anybody or is it just for class participants?
Susan Levin: Well, I think what…Jennie does have a list that you would have to be lucky enough to get into one of her classes to get your hands on that special list but we do have an online program called the 21-Day Kickstart that is free to the public. It’s 21 days of walking you through how to adopt a plant-based diet. On that we have a lot of resources like that. It’s not as good as when Jennie gives it but it’s available online and you can download little features like that like a basics grocery list.
Caryn Hartglass: Chicken and egg question: Which is better to take first? The 21-Day Kickstart or your Food for Life class?
Susan Levin: Oh my. Oh my. Our Kickstart online program came before our Kickstart Food for Life program because we realized after 21 short days people were really into this and were wondering, “What do I do now? I want to keep going. I want more of this information.” That’s when we decided that our instructors like Jennie would be the best face to this program―live face to this program so they could go out there and teach it to sustain it for the rest of your life. Because as you know this is a total lifestyle change of just embracing health forever. This is not, “How do I get into my bikini for spring break?” This is your whole life―improving your whole life forever. It’s amazing and it really helps to have this live program even if the 21-Day Kickstart was just your first taste. Although that being said, it’s a perfectly good way, once your class is over with Jennie, you can go to the 21-Day Kickstart online and just brush up and stay informed until Jennie hosts another class you can sign up for.
Caryn Hartglass: Now once you’re a certified instructor, are there refresher courses that you need to take to stay certified? Because there’s stuff coming out all the time. We’re learning all the time about new things with food.
Dawnyel Pryor: Yeah. As part of our benefit of becoming certified as a Food for Life instructor we offer professional development conference calls for all of our Food for Life instructors and Educational Alliance partners. They’re monthly and they’re conference calls that folks call into and Susan and our other nutrition experts often give presentations on the latest information that’s out there and research that’s out there on plant-based nutrition that the instructors can take back and share in their classes.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Jennie, can you just tell us about the course that you’re offering coming up in March?
Jennie Steinhagen: Absolutely. So this is a four-class series of the Food for Life Cancer Project. They are the first four Saturdays in March and they are being held at the Open Center in Midtown from 3:30 to 5:30. In this four-class series, we follow the format that was discussed a little bit earlier where we form the community. People get to know one another. And then we are watching videos that were prepared by Dr. Barnard and PCRM and that’s where the nutrition topic and lesson for each class is really explored and there is some really impactful information in these videos. I had a class this past Sunday in which the participants after watching the videos some of them were just blown away. Just little, little things they just didn’t know or maybe they weren’t ready to hear it before and then you get to the point in your life when you’re ready to hear it. We watch those videos. Then I prepare three to four different dishes in the class.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the fun part.
Jennie Steinhagen: That’s the fun part, yes. They’re very colorful dishes. You were talking earlier about how we can get creative with the variety in our food. One thing I love about these classes is―and I know this because I’m preparing them at home so many times in advance of the classes―they’re so colorful. It’s really invigorating. And then we sample them and people get to share their opinions on it and people get to discuss questions. And then we send people home with a little bit of a challenge, some homework if you will, to make some of these new recipes and to learn a little bit more about really what’s out there. So the first class is setting the stage. It’s having people make this connection between diet and health or diet and disease and we talk about the statistics―about how 40 to 50% of all cancers can be traced to diet and some people are blown away by that. In the next class we talk about low-fat and fiber. We hear that this is good for us, but why? So we explore that and focus on some of those
low-fat, high-fiber foods. The third class is really fun. We’re looking at meat and dairy alternatives and that’s where we explore the non-dairy milks and some of the other types of foods that are not quite transition foods but they are giving people ideas for what do I do in a situation where I used to always order a burger. Oh, I’ll get the veggie burger. Simple things. We’re just helping people to put the pieces together. And then in the last class, cancer-fighting compounds and healthy weight control, we talk a little bit more about the benefits―you were saying the side effects―the benefits that come along with this diet. You’re not just arming yourself against cancer but hey, benefits related to diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and of course weight.
Caryn Hartglass: Everything. And aging. You look good.
Jennie Steinhagen: Yes, aging.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, we’re going to take a quick break. Susan and Dawnyel stay with us. We’re going to come back. I want to talk about some of the favorite questions and challenges people have. And we’ll see. We’ll be right back.
Caryn Hartglass: We are back. I’m having such a good time here that I just started talking about one of my favorite subjects, the other subject not food and we’ll get to that in a little bit. I’m having a little joke here with myself. Alright. So here we are. We’re talking about Food for Life. I’m here in the studio with Jennie Steinhagen and we have the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Susan Levin here and Dawnyel Pryor. OK. Did you have a good break?
Susan Levin: Great break.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. Let’s talk about some of those favorite questions that people always ask. You know, you can never get tired of, “Where you get your protein?” Can you?
Susan Levin: No. But you get really good at toning down the sarcasm when you respond. You try, “OK, now I’m going to do this with a smile and with a sincere nod. And where do you get your protein?”
Caryn Hartglass: It’s funny. Toning down the sarcasm. And that’s a good way to put it because so many people are hearing it for the first time. They just don’t know and we have to be respectful of that, right? OK. Let’s talk about…I want to talk about beans. Do you talk in your class about eating beans and preparing beans?
Dawnyel Pryor: We sure do. One of our recipes for the very class series that Jennie is going to be presenting coming up is our Food for Life Cancer Project series and one of the favorite recipes in that class series is our Easy Bean Salad. It’s super easy. I personally love it because I haven’t met a bean that I don’t like and it’s super, super easy. All you do is take canned kidney beans, canned black beans, black-eyed peas, and lima beans. You rinse them and then you drain them and then you throw them into a bowl and you throw in some corn, and some chopped onions, and bell peppers and some low-fat salad dressing and you stir it up and voila, you have a dish. It’s great because you can leave it alone or you can put it on top of a salad or you can throw it into a wrap. It’s the most easy, yummy, colorful when you see it all together it’s just an amazing dish. And then it’s got tons of fiber and tons of protein so it’s really packed with a lot of nutrients.
Caryn Hartglass: We’re learning more and more about beans and they’re really an amazing food and they really help us keep full, satisfied, and they’re packed with lots of good things in them. And they’re inexpensive. One of the challenges is some people try to cook the beans at home rather than canned, they’ll start from dry and there are some challenges with that. Do they soak beans? Do they not soak beans? Some people when they cook beans they get that foamy water in the beans. What do they do about that? Is that good or is that bad? Do you have any tips on that? On preparing beans and soaking and cooking?
Jennie Steinhagen: We do. We talked a little bit about the textbook that goes along with the Cancer Project classes and that book is also available as a free PDF download on the PCRM website. People are encouraged to check it out. On page 13 there’s actually a chart and it talks about the cooking yield of dried beans so it breaks down for people, yes, that soaking question and how long you want to cook the beans for once you are making them at home. I think this is eye-opening for a lot of people. It may seem really simple in certain circles but I gave a class on Sunday and we were talking about the price comparisons between canned beans and dried beans and I had a couple of blank stares when I was talking about cooking beans at home and I mentioned that one of the tips that I had picked up along the way was putting a little bit of kombu, some dried seaweed, into the beans to reduce the gassiness eventually and again blank stares so I realized you have to break this down for people a lot. I think that there’s a lot of good information out there.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. There is the part about the gas and that turns a lot of people away from beans because people, when they’re not used to eating them will get gassy and even if you’re used to eating them but you don’t eat them all the time you can have gas and gas really isn’t accepted very well in our culture. What do people do with gas?
Jennie Steinhagen: I don’t know.
Caryn Hartglass: Dawnyel, Susan, do you have any tips for dealing with beans and dealing with gas? Alright. Susan, are you there? Dawnyel, are you there? Oh, goodness, I guess we lost them. OK, we’ll bring them back. We miss you. In the meanwhile, I wanted to talk a little bit about resistance starch, which is kind of this fun thing that I’ve been talking about lately, especially when I was talking to Dr. Joel Fuhrman the other day. So it’s something that scientists have discovered in food and it’s in beans and it’s kind of a fun component of food because it doesn’t get digested until the lower intestine and the colon and it’s almost like free calories. You can eat these foods and the calories that are written on the can―apparently with beans and other foods that are high in this resistance starch, we don’t absorb all of those calories and I think that’s fun. There have been a lot of discussions about plant-based diets and how magical they seem in terms of all of the foods you can eat and you don’t seem to be getting all of the calories. I’ve heard lots of different theories about how plant foods are really efficient and they burn clean and, I don’t know, all kinds of things. And here’s an example of where the food gets digested impacts how many calories we’re actually taking in and calories can translate into energy that we burn but it can also translate into fat that accumulates. So this is a magical ingredient in those beans. Resistance starch. So how are we doing? Susan and Dawnyel, are they back yet?
Susan Levin: I’m back.
Dawnyel Pryor: So am I.
Caryn Hartglass: We missed you so much. I was just babbling here about resistance starch because I’ve been learning a bit about it and how amazing it is and is in beans. It’s sort of a free ticket where you can eat more for less because the calories are aren’t absorbed.
Susan Levin: Yeah. It’s like the magic of weight loss and a plant-based diet because you consume more food in terms of volume but you’re digesting so many fewer calories because they’re non-digestible carbohydrates that just come right back out. In the meantime, they’re delivering all sorts of powerful nutrients and phytochemicals and vitamins and minerals to your body. So it’s just this real key to health that I feel like if people only knew how much of this you can eat and get healthier and feel slimmer. It’s just the key to everything.
Caryn Hartglass: We just want everybody to feel good. And it costs less money and you won’t have the aches and pains. I know. And the food’s delicious. How many times can I say it? I’m going to say it over and over and over and over because clearly a lot of people haven’t heard that message. What about…do people ask you in the classes about quick fixes or certain foods or products that they’ve heard about. “Can I take this?” Or, “Is this good?” As an example, we’re been hearing about raspberry ketones and how magical they are in weight loss. How do you address those super, one item things that seem to be the fix-all?
Susan Levin: Jennie, do you want to…
Jennie Steinhagen: Well, in the classes we definitely focus on whole foods and clean whole foods and the four new food groups that PCRM advocates: the vegetables, the fruits, grains, and legumes in their whole form and definitely when you’re taking them in in that state you’re also getting the fiber associated with that that keeps things moving as well. But, yeah, you’re right. People hear all kinds of bits and pieces of nutritional information that’s out there and I try to steer them to the PCRM website, especially because there is tons of nutritional, evidence-based information there that addresses a lot of these more specific-type questions especially when new things or trendy things come up. People are curious.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. People are always looking for that quick fix and the bottom line is: there is no quick fix. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a commitment. It’s choosing all of the right foods and finding your kitchen. Find your kitchen already. OK. Another favorite topic that may be uncomfortable for some. Whenever you change your diet, and it can be going from a good diet to a bad diet or a good diet to a better diet, but whenever you’re playing with the food you eat you’re bowels respond and people discover different things, some good some not so good. Do you talk about the changes people will see in the body when they’re changing their diet.
Susan Levin: Yes. We get this kind of question all the time. Consider that the average American consumes about 12 to 15 grams of fiber a day, which is not nearly what even our government recommends, but we recommend about 40 grams a day, which is much closer to what the government recommends. You can imagine that when you go 12 to 40 what might happen to your body. It is shock from the inside out. And we don’t recommend actually going from 12 to 40 overnight because literally your body will, how to say, it will protest in several ways. So you want to add that fiber in slowly over the course of a couple of weeks and build up to that level of digestive health. And once you’re there and your body recognizes what fiber is and that foods move and are not supposed to sit in your colon, they’re supposed to move out of your colon, your body catches on and starts kicking it out and you become a very regular person which can be very frightening for some people. Like, “What is this? Is this normal? Am I dying?” No.
Caryn Hartglass: “I’m going two to three times a day. Is that OK?”
Susan Levin: Could you imagine? It’s wonderful. That’s right, that’s what’s supposed to happen. That stuff is coming back out and it’s not just the resistance starch that you mentioned earlier, it’s not just that. It’s the excess hormones that you don’t want floating around your body. It’s excess cholesterol that you don’t want floating around in your body. It’s other toxins that fiber’s picking up and pulling out for you. It’s a wonderful thing to have your digestive tract moving all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Now people get really confused because most people aren’t experts in nutrition. Most people know very little about nutrition and the way they learn is usually from commercials, from television programs or from an occasional magazine article, Men’s Health, Women’s Health―really excellent sources for nutrition. I am being sarcastic here. They get confused and then there’s the night news where there’s a five-second sound bite about something that everybody must do or not do. But in addition to that, even in the plant-based movement of people encouraging plant-based diets, we’re not in 100% agreement on some things and that can be confusing too. Do we eat more starch? Do we eat more grains? Do we salt our food? Do we oil our food? Are fats OK? Are they not OK? What’s the PCRM spin on eating plant foods?
Susan Levin: I’ll jump in. Our plan is extremely evidence-based. We’re looking at peer-reviewed research articles, which no one else wants to do so we’re happy to do that for the public and then translate that into our Food for Life courses. So the research continually shows that the best diet for prevention, which is always key, but also for reversal of a lot of these symptoms so things like heart disease and type-2 diabetes where reversal is an option there, over and over these articles show that what you want and it’s not only plant-based, so get the animals out, but low-fat so don’t drown your food in olive oil. Don’t eat a jar of peanut butter for dinner. Even though these products are plant-based they are not optimal for prevention and reversal of these diseases. So that’s the approach we’re taking and it’s not to say that when another advocate of plant-based diets is promoting oils and fats in the diet that you might be doing better than the standard American―I’m sure you will be―but we’re really going all out here with our information. We refer to it as a very conservative approach to health. We are eliminating as much risk as possible with diet so that we can see real change in most of the epidemics in this country.
Caryn Hartglass: Low fat. Now that can mean different things to different people. And there have been a lot of studies that have talked about low fat and high fat and their version of low fat was not very low, just in comparison to the standard American diet. And then there are some that eat a very, very low-fat diet, which for me is too low. So there are all different kinds of low fat. What’s your definition of low fat?
Susan Levin: Well, we recommend, and this is what Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Essylsten, and other researchers have found to work, around 10% of your calories from fat with a little more flexibility for people who aren’t dealing with type-2 diabetes or heart disease or trying to survive cancer or at high risk for getting cancer. But for people in any of those categories, which unfortunately is most of America, we’re suggesting about 10% of your calories from fat. So that generally means eliminating any of the processed oils and some of the fatty foods like avocado and even nuts and seeds to some degree. Now a little bit of nuts and seeds is fine but very little and we realize for some people it’s extremely difficult to eat a handful of walnuts. They tend to eat a bag of walnuts. If you’re going to eat nuts and seeds it has to be a small portion and this again is the approach that has been proven to reverse and prevent these diseases.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Well, I think it’s really important for people to realize that they should be eating whole, minimally processed foods. We can all agree on that. I personally don’t use very much oil. Occasionally I will if I’m making a treat certainly; I’m not going to hold back. But the key I’m always saying about treats is that they’re treats and we don’t have treats every day, then they’re not treats.
Susan Levin: That’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: But then there are foods that seem like treats that are just whole foods and they’re fun to have too. And there are some desserts we can have for breakfast because they’re just fruits and some raw nuts and seeds too. I don’t hold back on them but I’m not eating a jar of peanut butter either. I recognize that the whole plant food fats are important, especially for eating green, leafy vegetables. In order to be getting those fat-soluble nutrients we need to be eating a little bit of fat with them. So fat is important and I think people can get a little confused when they hear, “Don’t eat this and don’t eat that.” But I’m sure you go over that in your classes.
Jennie Steinhagen: One of the things we demonstrate in the cooking classes too is that people can sauté vegetables, especially onions which is often the first ingredient in a lot of dishes, in vegetable broth. It’s pretty mind-blowing for a lot of people. They just thought you always had to sauté in oil and that’s really a liberating concept. There’s a sweet-and-sour stir fry that we make in the second class and we’re sautéing our onions and our vegetables in vegetable broth but then we’re adding some toasted sesame seeds on top too so you’re getting a little bit of that crunch, right, from the sesame seeds and a little bit of that whole foods based fat.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s all about getting back into the kitchen and maybe learning some skills that your ancestors weren’t using. We’re not just getting better. And yeah, you can sauté in other things: dry sauté or vegetable broth. I like to use tea sometimes or you can get a little decadent with beer or wine. I don’t know if that’s on the PCRM list.
Jennie Steinhagen: It’s a daytime class.
Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes if you open up a bottle of wine and you don’t finish drinking it, it’s great to cook with. There are just a lot of tricks that make delicious food healthy. OK. I have just a few more things here. We just have a few more minutes. Are there things that we haven’t touched on that you want to include Susan or Dawnyel?
Susan Levin: Well, I don’t know. Dawnyel did a pretty good job of explaining where all of our resources lie but if you aren’t lucky enough to live in Jennie’s neighborhood, remember that there are instructors of her quality all over the country. So there are classes probably in most listeners’ area.
Caryn Hartglass: I forgot to mention…I forgot to talk about kids. You mentioned kids. It is so challenging for parents to raise children in today’s world and feed them well, especially with lunchables and all kinds of horrible things that are available and marketed to children. So what’s a parent to do.?
Susan Levin: Well, a parent can do so much. It does take a little bit of forethought so the younger that the kid is when you impart nutrition knowledge the better so that you aren’t having to combat the taste of certain foods like, “Well, we’ve being going to fast food every night for my child’s first 10 years, how can we stop doing that now?” It’s possible but I mean, they’re not driving there, so it is possible but it’s harder. So trying, like you keep say, to get back in the kitchen. Give your children the taste of real food. Try to impart as much information as possible. Try to make it fun. Try to make it interactive. And even if they veer off the plan once they do have access to a driver’s license, the knowledge is there and they tend to come back to what they know from childhood so it’s really important to get this information to parents and the children.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s a new book out, I don’t know if you’ve read it: Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss. I was just reading a piece of it in the New York Times magazine this weekend. One of the things he talked about was how heavily marketed children are. One of the things that they’ve learned is that kids like to feel like they have power over their choices and when the parent says, “I want you to eat this and this,” they want it to be their idea. I’m thinking that there’s got to be a way to use all of the tricks that the marketing people are using to feed our children bad foods to take those same tricks and use them to empower kids to eat more healthfully.
Susan Levin: Well, I have to tell you that one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever heard was from a Food for Life instructor who actually has three children. When she goes to the grocery store she hands each one of them a basket, that I’m sure is bigger than they are, and says to fill it up with anything in the produce section. Any vegetable, any fruit, no matter how weird it looks. She doesn’t say no to star fruit if it’s too expensive. She lets them get what they want and then they go home and figure out how to make it even if she’s looking at this thing thinking, “I don’t even know what this thing is.” They together find a recipe and they figure out how to cook it. And the child, because he or she picked it out, is even more likely because of that control to eat it even if it looks terrifying. They know they picked it. They worked on finding a recipe and they helped their mom make it so now they’re going to eat it so it’s just as brilliant. I think it’s a brilliant way to give the child as much as possible and then turn it into a healthy meal.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a great tip and it’s a great tip to end on because we are out of time. Susan and Dawnyel, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and check out, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. And if you’re in NY, please check out Jennie Steinhagen’s coming up four-week class. And where can they find out more about it?
Jennie Steinhagen: They can check out PCRM’s website at
Caryn Hartglass: There you go. Easy. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food and join me at That’s where I live. Have a delicious week.

Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 3/15/2013

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