Vesanto Melina is an internationally known nutrition consultant and speaker, academic instructor and writer, and has worked with groups and organizations listed below. She has been based in Vancouver B.C. and in Seattle Washington and has taught nutrition on the faculty of the University of British Columbia and at Seattle’s Bastyr University. Speaking engagements and consulting have taken her across North America, the U.K. and Europe. She is a regular consultant for the Government of British Columbia. She has written numerous articles and books and is the coauthor of Becoming Vegetarian , Becoming Vegan , The Good Cookbook and Raising Vegetarian Children.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and this is It’s All About Food. Thanks for listening. Guess what we talk about on this show? Food. It’s my favorite subject. Or probably one of my favorites. I know that it’s a favorite with most people because aside from air and water, we can’t live without food, so it’s really important. Everything really is connected to food: our environment, other life on earth, and our personal health. There are so many issues that are related to food, and people often unfortunately don’t see the connection and that’s what we talk about here. We talk about the environment, we talk about factory farms, we talk a lot about nutrition. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today—nutrition. I’ve got a wonderful person that we’re going to be talking with today, Vesanto Melina. She’s an internationally known nutrition consultant and speaker, academic instructor and writer, and has worked with groups and organizations all over the place. She’s been based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and in Seattle, Washington, and has taught nutrition on the faculty of the University of British Columbia and at Seattle’s Bastyr University. She has spoken all over North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe and is a regular consultant for the government of British Columbia. She has written numerous articles and books and is the coauthor of Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, The Good Cookbook, and Raising Vegetarian Children, and a couple of new books that we’re going to be talking about today, Becoming Raw and The Raw Food Revolution Diet. Vesanto, welcome.
Vesanto Melina: Caryn, hello!
Caryn: Hi. How are you today?
Vesanto: I’m wonderful. Well.
Caryn: You sound wonderful. And there’s probably a good reason to be wonderful because you feed yourself so well.
Vesanto: Oh yes, boy that makes a difference, yeah. I’m getting on myself in years, but I’m still doing triathlons at age sixty-eight, and feeling really healthy, and catching things that start to go downhill very quickly, so yeah. It’s a good choice.
Caryn: Where are you doing triathlons? I didn’t know you did that.
Vesanto: Yeah, I started doing them when I was sixty. I don’t do big, long triathlons; I do kind of baby triathlons, like twenty kilometer cycling, five kilometers run or walk, and four hundred meter swim. It takes me about two-and-a-half hours, and I come in within the last little block of people, but I just really find it’s good to keep doing that. One of the fun things about triathlons is that everybody in their mind who hears you makes it into a marathon, so you get extra credit, doing a lot more than you actually do. The other thing is that it gives you a cross-training effect. Along with healthy food, I think it’s really important to move our bodies in different ways. To do some aerobics things, some stretching yoga-type things, Pilates, some gardening, some walking, just build in an hour of something every day and get a kind of cross-training effect. To have a goal of a triathlon each year supports that on a daily basis.
Caryn: Well that’s great. And the fact that you started—at sixty did you say?
Vesanto: That’s right. I’ve always done some kind of exercise, but we used to believe that if you did… I remember a period of time when we said to do thirty minutes three times a week or four times a week or something. We’ve certainly come a long way from that and think you should be doing an hour a day.
Vesanto: —miss a week, but. Yeah.
Caryn: As much as you can, really. The more the…almost. Well. The more the better, I don’t know if seven hours a day is good, but.
Vesanto: No, too much. Yeah, an hour a day seems a good guideline, and certainly more than that is excellent too.
Caryn: Well there we go. I know a lot of people as they age, they just kind of accept the aches and pains and the lack of energy, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to. And you can start new things.
Vesanto: If we keep putting on weight—put on an extra pound a year or ten pounds every few years or something like that—then we set up systems where we develop Type 2 diabetes, we lose our insulin sensitivity and then that starts to go downhill, and then that puts pressures on our joints so we develop joint problems, and of course our blood cholesterol comes up, our blood pressure, just a number of problems develop. Fitness and exercise can keep you aware of where your body’s at and also keep your weight down.
Caryn: Right. And you know? It feels good. It feels good. Sometimes it takes a little kick in the butt or something to get your butt moving, but once you’re done or even in the middle of it sometimes it can be fun, but it always— I always feel so lubricated afterwards.
Vesanto: For some people it’s just like throwing a Frisbee around with your grandchildren or your children, going out with the dog, it can be dancing—just all sorts of things. Whatever is fun for you. Some people like a real routine, and some people like to have quite a bit of variety. In our Raw Food Revolution Diet—people want to look on the cover of that, it’s on my website, nutrispeak.com. But anyway that book, The Raw Food Revolution Diet, has Cherie Soria on the cover and she’s sixty-two in that picture. She’s just in fabulous health. She has several black belts in karate and she’s got the trimmest waistline and lots of energy to do her raw food chef school in Fort Bragg, California. She’s pretty inspiring. My coauthor Brenda Davis on both The Raw Food Revolution Diet and on Becoming Raw is in terrific health at fifty. She’s increased her bone density as I have too, and she’s in just fabulous health and she goes to fitness classes. It really reflects wellness. Along with that is the importance of eating a lot of whole plant foods. I’m realizing more and more, even for people on raw diets it’s not such a good idea to eat refined foods such as coconut oil that’s extracted or olive oil or sweeteners like agave syrup. It’s important to eat whole foods, so get our fats from avocado, nuts and seeds, from olives, rather than the extracted oils. Important if you want a sweetener to use dried fruits or fruits. This just sets your skin glowing, gives you a wonderful healthful feeling, and I see that reflected in my coauthors.
Caryn: Let’s talk more about oils ‘cause I’ve heard a lot, especially in the raw food community, but just in general people seem to think that there are some healthy oils like the coconut.
Vesanto: Coconut oil, it’s got a few advantages. For example, when it’s heated, especially when it’s in the more refined form, you can heat it to a high temperature because it’s highly saturated, then it doesn’t go off, doesn’t create trans fats, that kind of thing. But really, you’re actually better off to eat coconut. You really are.
Caryn: The whole food.
Vesanto: Yeah. The more we just go back there to the whole food, the better off we are. There’s a place for using some oils, but I notice a lot of the raw books use far too many of the olive oil, of the coconut oil, and you’re actually better because raw food diets can be pretty high in fat. We leave out the grains in many raw food diets. We leave out not only grains, but legumes entirely. We don’t even have sprouted forms. And so the carbohydrate component of diets is way down and then the fat content comes up, ‘cause you’re not going to be just eating straight protein. You could have forty, fifty percent of your calories from fat, so you want those to be fats that are really carrying a lot of nutrients with the fat-soluble vitamins: vitamin A or carotenoids, vitamin E, vitamin K. Those are all present in whole plant foods, but they’re not present in the more refined something gets. The idea of eating whole foods just is making more and more sense to me the longer I go on. In my evolution as a dietitian—and I started teaching at university in 1965, so I’ve really seen a great, long evolution in thinking—we have gone through different perspectives over time. In the early-80s, the mid-80s, we were thinking fat was really, really bad. Now we’ve changed a lot from that. We think trans fats are not a good idea. The hydrogenated oils are best completely left out of your diets. But we find when you’re eating whole plant foods, like if you’re eating nuts and seeds and olives and avocados, that we aren’t finding negative health consequences of eating those. You have to eat a balance of plant foods in order to get all the nutrients you need, but it seems not so problematic to be using these whole plant foods that are high in fat.
Caryn: Yeah. Well what we’ve learned over the decades after we’ve gotten so wrapped up in technology and processing and all kinds of manipulations that we need to go back. It’s the whole, simple foods that are best. We can have our all kinds of new-fangled technological contraptions for computers and our phones and whatever, but not for our food. There’s all kinds of bad ramifications by eating high-tech food. I’ve never called it high-tech food before, but I realize that’s what it is. We use a lot of technology to extract things from food, and whenever we do that we take out all kinds of things. We don’t even know what they are, but we need them.
Vesanto: Right. And a lot of that was done in order that bugs couldn’t grow on the food. Something that would not support life. Well it wouldn’t support life of little bacteria, but it also doesn’t support life of big humans either. A lot of the life-supportive nutrients were removed that made it… If it was an oil it wouldn’t go rancid so easily, it didn’t have the omega-3s left in it, or the vitamins are taken out because it’s refined, things like that happen. But then you end up with just the fat or just the sugar after the refining process.
Caryn: Right. We need the whole good stuff. I say this over and over again, but one thing Jack LaLanne said is, “If man made it don’t eat it.” I always like that. Very simple. Stay in the produce section. Buy the bulk of your food in the produce section or a farmers market or grow it. That’s where all the good stuff is. So let’s back up a little bit. Tell me how you got started on this path of food and nutrition and vegetarianism, really.
Vesanto: Okay. I was raised by a mum that liked us to be eating healthy, and what that meant for her was pork chops with barbecue sauce and tuna casseroles and some sort of hamburger and tomato and macaroni casserole. Anyway, we had these little meals that were thought to be pretty healthful at the time. That’s how I grew up. Now I enjoyed making food a lot, and I learned in high school that it was kind of fun in the Home Ec class; you actually got to do something. And then of course all the boys would stand in the hallway and enjoy the aromas that were coming out of these classes. So I was certainly drawn to that area. Then in university I had a wonderful professor for nutrition—this is at the University of Toronto—and then I was also in London, England and knew some of the amazing Profs at the University of London. So I had this fascinating experience of nutritional science. My father had been a physiologist, worked on cancer and diabetes. Anyway, the science really appealed to me. Over time in the seventies, we started to take seriously that food could impact our health. There was more and more interest in that, but the concepts of what foods were really starting to change. At that time I also traveled to India and lived in India for a number of years, and traveled around the world and just got some perspective. I’d also had children and raised them and learned how children can learn to enjoy healthy food. So my perspectives were evolving over time. By the mid-eighties I was quite firmly committed to vegetarian and vegan—vegetarian diets at that time, by the late seventies. There was Frances Moore Lappé’s influence, Diet for a Small Planet. Then I started to become aware of the animal-related issues: that the factory farming conditions were just horrific and tragic for animals, what were termed food animals that of course had as much feeling as anybody’s puppy dog. This was really something that I was not comfortable with anymore. I took it on as a direction, a life path, to help people adopt healthful plant-based diets. Of course I was evolving in the process. My vegetarian diet became a vegan diet as I learned that the conditions for poultry that are egg producers and cows that are milk producers also involved a lot of pain and eventual slaughterhouse lines for those animals. Anyway, I started exploring the possibilities of being vegan and found there was considerable scientific research to support vegan diets being healthful at all ages. I started doing workshops for dietitians and had many health professionals come to the events that I did. I did these across North America and they were very popular. I also did workshops for the public. At this time John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America, came out, and the interest in vegetarian and plant-based meals really soared at that time.
Caryn: You were ready with the information.
Vesanto: I was ready! And I also accredit John Robbins with helping create my career because he was telling people, “Look, this is a really, really good thing to do!” And then I was ready with, “And here’s how to do it and have excellent health!” That was a really profound message for me—that this is going to be what my life is about. It’s continued to make sense, and I don’t see any signs of it slowing down in my own life. Then several publishers got in touch with me as I did workshops that were very popular, and I started to be much clearer about what people needed to know exactly. What are their questions, what are their issues? This evolved into our first book, which was Becoming Vegetarian, which is now in six languages including Czechoslovakian, Portuguese, French, just all many, many countries and languages. That book has become a classic. We’ve bought a ten-year update on that and eventually we’ll be doing a twenty-year update. That’s become a bible for many people, Becoming Vegetarian and The New Becoming Vegetarian. This is how to do it in really good health. Then our next in the Becoming… series was Becoming Vegan. I’ve also got other books like Raising Vegetarian Children and so on. But we just show people all the practical stuff. Okay, if you’ve got a teenager who’s going through wanting to become vegetarian, what exactly do teens need to know, and how do you get it across to them, and how do you support their progress so that they’re not just leaving off everything off the plate that they—
Caryn: Right. I wish I had that book when I was a teenager.
Vesanto: Right. That’s right. Well in our Becoming Vegan, in our The New Becoming Vegetarian, we’ve got sections on that and also on raising vegetarian children. Then with later time— I did another book, Food Allergy Survival Guide, with Jo Stepaniak and Dina Aronson and that was a wonderful experience, learning about how even if you’re vegan and you leave out the top allergens, including things like soy and so on, that you can still create an excellent, health-supported diets. There are a lot of foods. Sometimes when we start leaving things out, whether you’re doing it because you’re going more plant-based or you’re doing it for allergy reasons, you think, “Oh my goodness! I’m leaving out some of my best friend foods!” But it starts to change because you find out there’s a whole world of foods that you weren’t even consuming.
Caryn: That’s right. There really is a tremendous amount of variety of plant foods. You’ll never get to eat them all.
Vesanto: That’s right! It can be kind of an adventure to explore them, have a plant food of the month introduced here. The last little section of our evolution has been with raw food diets. I got into that actually in a rather negative way, in a way, because I was asked to be expert witness in a couple of court cases—three court cases—where parents had tried to bring up their babies on very poorly designed raw food diets and the infants had died. I was asked to be an expert witness by both the prosecution and the defense.
Caryn: Oh, wonderful.
Vesanto: I couldn’t bring myself to do that, because I wouldn’t have wanted to put these poor, misinformed parents into jail, which is where they ended up. And I couldn’t have defended them either because they were just doing something that was poorly informed. They didn’t provide the child with an adequate diet. It was kind of, “Let’s do what nature fed,” whether it was raw vegetable juice or nut milk or something that wasn’t nutritionally adequate as an alternative to breastmilk. Anyway. Brenda Davis and I started exploring, with our own personal interests too, what is a good raw food diet? How does it work? This is an area where there hasn’t been a lot of research, so we had to really hunt and find out what there was. Our two books, The Raw Food Revolution Diet and Becoming Raw, are both geared for adults. We haven’t found a significant amount of research that supports raw food diets for children. I would think this can be done, but it takes time before it’s backed up scientifically. There are many questions in the whole issue. For vegans it’s clear you can produce children that are in excellent health—good height and weight and wonderfully healthy. But for raw food diets, it’s a lot more of question. So what we focused on is how to do this for adults. The Raw Food Revolution Diet we did with Cherie Soria, who’s an amazing chef, just excellent. She has terrific recipes. What we did was put menus together and show people the nutrition-related aspects of these raw food diets. How does your day look when you’ve got a raw food menu? If you want to keep it easy, if you want to do more complicated gourmet stuff? Just different possibilities. And then Becoming Raw, that book was a lot of the questions that came up for us in exploring the raw food world. It’s a pretty big book and it’s referenced throughout, so it covers the really, really hard questions about raw food diets.
Caryn: Well if you think about it humanity started on a raw food diet, so clearly babies can live on it. The question is, is it the ideal diet for quality of life and longevity?
Vesanto: Babies were raised on breastmilk.
Caryn: On breastmilk, but most raw foodists breastfeed their children and then they move to fruits and other raw foods.
Vesanto: That’s right, but the ones that didn’t do well were put on nut milks and tomato juice and things like that at nine months old instead of an infant formula that was designed to emulate breastmilk. They would’ve been okay if they’d stayed on the breastmilk as long as the mother had a good source of vitamin B12 in her diet. If the mother was on a raw food diet, they would’ve been okay if they’d been put on a formula, but they weren’t and so they had a number of nutrients missing. Yeah.
Caryn: Okay. I know a number of people that are raising raw children, and they look like they’re doing pretty well. The key part is to definitely breastfeed the child for probably a couple years, at least.
Vesanto: That’s right. In nature that could go on to four years old, and then the child’s got a really good start there. Then also, you’re raising your child—you’d be using whole foods in nature. You wouldn’t be using really refined stuff. Where people get in trouble is if they’re using—and of course that’s what kids want, that’s kind of the quick things that have a lot of salt or sweet or something like that as a first taste. If you’re using simple, whole foods, you’ve got a whole different pattern than some of the more refined ways of eating. To do a good raw food diet, it can take more time than some parents have, too. The other error that I found that people sometimes have on raw diets is not to recognize that you need a reliable source of vitamin B12, and that’s been the downfall of a few people.
Caryn: Right. I did a raw diet for a couple of years and I really enjoyed it. Now I’m back to the basic vegan, but I do eat definitely a lot of raw foods—I think they’re really important. I live on salads and fruits and simple soups, primarily.
Vesanto: Well you look like it, Caryn! You look healthy and glowing.
Caryn: Yes. Thank you!
Vesanto: I think I’ve ended up with the same kind of choice. Certainly from learning raw I increased the content much more and learned how to eat a lot of things raw that I never even knew I could, like raw corn on the cob.
Caryn: Oh, is that good! Yes, that’s really good! Whenever I ask people I say, “Do you know what raw corn on the cob tastes like?” and they say no and I say, “Corn! It just tastes good; it tastes like sweet corn.” And it’s so easy. That’s my idea of fast food sometimes—it’s a run into a supermarket. Run into a supermarket, go to the produce section, grab. And corn is one of the things you can grab. But you can grab fruits and avocado and tomatoes and just buy it and go out and eat it. Corn is a fun thing to eat raw.
Vesanto: And snow peas or peas in the pod. They’re another one. I travel through Europe a lot eating a lot of peas because you can get them anywhere.
Caryn: Right. The two problems I had with the raw diet is one, with the gourmet raw restaurants, a lot of them really overdo it with the olive oil, the nuts, and the Nama Shoyu, which is the “raw soy sauce,” so it’s salty and oily and really heavy. And then the other part is because it’s become kind of hip or a trend, a lot of people have created “raw food” to sell in packages in health food stores, so you have these different raw bars and raw chips. They’re dehydrated. And that’s a big problem because we need water. It’s what you said, the importance of whole food. Even though this stuff is “raw,” so it’s processed under 118 degrees, it is processed in a way and can cause some issues.
Vesanto: That’s right.
Caryn: Anyway. We have a lot more to talk about, but we’re going to take a quick break. Stay with us, and Vesanto will be right back.
Caryn: We’re back! This is Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m here with Vesanto Melina, and we’re talking about raw food and nutrition and healthy plant-based diets. This is a live call-in show, and you can call in at 1-888-873-4643 or send me an email. I know you’re online. You can send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. email@example.com, we’d love to hear from you. So Vesanto. You’re still there?
Caryn: Great. Yeah, so I was talking about raw food junk food, I call it. Because a lot of people are jumping on the profits that they can make from a new trend. Especially in Manhattan. I don’t know if you have it out where you are, but the health food stores—
Vesanto: Oh, West Coast, definitely. We do.
Caryn: Yeah. They have in the deli section or in the…what would you call it…some of the juice bars in the health food stores, they’ll have little packaged raw desserts and raw pizzas and raw sandwiches.
Vesanto: That’s right. And at raw restaurants too, they’ve got things that are… You know, little chocolate squares and this and that. Those are kind of fun to have, and they’re teasers for people to think, “Oh, raw can be pretty good.” But then when we get down to the foundation of our meals, we were really gearing for a lot of simple foods. In our Becoming Raw book, we’ve got six types of menus that are all nutritionally adequate. What we do when we create these is make sure that we’ve got a menu that’s doable at different levels of expertise, including no expertise at all, and that will meet every nutrient requirement for an adult. Of course that would be a bit more than even a child needs, or a teenager. We’ve got the amounts of fruit, including the types of fruit or greens or whatever to meet your calcium recommendations, and the different protein recommendations, and show people how much they’d need and what some good choices would be.
Caryn: Can you give us some examples of some of those dishes?
Vesanto: Well if somebody was going to have breakfast, they might have Blue Crushed Smoothie that had blueberries, greens, and banana in it. So that with the greens. People don’t originally think of a smoothie as having green veggies in it like kale or romaine lettuce or something like that, but it goes in very well. Then that gives you added calcium, especially things like kale. Or you could have some raspberries, some figs, and some romaine lettuce just eaten as pizzas, like as finger foods. That’s something you could have, whether you’re out on a breakfast picnic or just hardly do any preparation at all; just rinse things off. Then for lunch you could have snow peas, cherry tomatoes. During the day for snacks or at lunch you could have oranges, bananas, and then some trail mix where you’ve got walnuts for the omega-3s, a brazil nut for the selenium, and maybe some currants to make it sweet if you want. That could be things you had for lunch or for snack. Then supper you could have two cobs of corn and a cup of some different veggies like broccoli florets, carrot strips, zucchini slices, and a veggie dip that was made from tahini, perhaps mixed with something like orange juice or lemon juice. That’s your whole day. That’ll give you about 2,000 calories, just what I went through. It’ll give you sixty grams of protein and meets your nutrient requirements for iron, for zinc. Now with that we suggest a supplement that contains vitamin B12, either weekly or daily, something like that. The pattern I told you has twenty-five percent calories from fat, so it’s not excessively high in fat and it’s pretty simple.
Caryn: Right. Hm.
Vesanto: Then we’ve also got some that have much more gourmet, where say you’re having your friends over or your relatives over and you want to show them that raw food can be absolutely delicious. You might have a mango pie that’s just fabulous, really tasty, or a kale salad that has an orange-ginger dressing, and really wow them with some of these choices. So, anyway.
Caryn: There are just so many different salads that can be made period, whether you’re raw or not raw, and the variety is incredible. We’re always creating new salads here at home. Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier and easier.
Vesanto: That’s right. Salads can be made and then last for a couple of days if you get good containers that seal tightly. Doesn’t mean you always have to walk in the door exhausted after work and start right out if you’ve got things rinsed ahead of time. It can be thrown together in just moments.
Caryn: Especially today with all the salads that you can get in a bag and just rip it open and pour it in a bowl.
Vesanto: That’s right. Makes it really easy, yeah. I like people to have it be simple. Usually the adjustment time takes a little bit of extra time or even a lot of extra time while you’re getting used to, “Okay, which aisle do I go down in the supermarket? What are all these things that I don’t even usually put in my cart? Also, what do I do with them when I get home?” Just different little tips that you can learn over time. But once you’ve got your pattern and your likes figured out, it doesn’t take a lot of time to be on a raw food diet or be on a vegan diet that’s got plenty of raw foods in it.
Caryn: Well you’ve probably heard this; I hear it all the time where people think the food is not going to be interesting and it’s going to take too long to prepare and not satisfying. After living this way for decades, I know that all of these things aren’t true. It does take some time for your taste buds to kind of come alive because they’ve been deadened and to get used to not having so much salt and fat and sugar on food, and then you start to really taste the food’s flavors that eating a diet—and the word we keep using is simple, and simple is so important that a diet of simple whole foods— Simple salads where you have a salad with a nice dressing, and the kind of dressings I like to use are tahini, like you mentioned, or some kind of nut butter mixed with some citrus or lemon juice or lime juice or something. Sometimes I’ll throw in different herbs or a fruit or some cooked vegetables from the night before or some other vegetables, and the variations are endless. But when you’re used to it, it becomes so delicious and so satisfying, I can’t say enough about it. Salad is not boring.
Vesanto: That’s right, yeah. Yeah.
Caryn: Believe me, it’s not. It’s fabulous! And it’s so beautiful, the colors and the texture—Sometimes we get some romaine and we call it “muscle-y” because it’s so crunchy. When it’s got a good crunch we call it a good “muscle-y” lettuce; I don’t know why we do that, but… ‘Cause some of the lettuce, like the baby greens, are a softer type of lettuce and then others—kale of course is very chewy—but a good romaine has a good crunch.
Vesanto: Yeah. One of the interesting things is that on standard food guides we think of a serving in North America as being half a cup of vegetables or fruit. If people shift their dietary patterns in a vegan direction and then perhaps in a raw direction, they find the servings of veggies that you would think of as a serving get much, much bigger. And on raw food diets, I’ve seen people eat what looks like a whole dishpan full of veggies. I mean, it’s a great big attractive wooden bowl. It’s big. It’s a whole salad bowl that somebody might expect on the omnivorous diet to be serving a whole family. That’s just one person’s dinner, because foods are so high in nutrients but so low in calories when you get a salad-based meal.
Caryn: Well that’s the fun part—you can eat a lot of food!
Vesanto: That does take a bit more time to eat too, because you need to chew things. One of the interesting things though that I learned—I went down to the Ann Wigmore Institute in Puerto Rico in Rincón, and there they have people that’re dealing with different health issues and a lot of the food’s pureed. Ann Wigmore was a real pioneer with raw foods and the Hippocrates Institute in California has also come out of her work and her vision. But anyway. She has developed— She’s not alive now, but as a pioneer she started sprouting and also blending and juicing things way before most people were thinking about this. I started to recognize that sometimes when people’s digestive systems are damaged that the blended and juiced forms are very appropriate because when the cells are broken, when they’re juiced or pureed, the digestive process can start with the plant enzymes before they’ve even eaten the food. And so that helps the absorption later on and they end up getting all these wonderful protective phytochemicals and vitamins and antioxidants being well-absorbed into their systems even when they’re in a rather fragile state health-wise.
Caryn: That’s a good point I know because a lot of people say, “Oh I can’t eat vegetables. I can’t eat them. They upset my stomach.”
Vesanto: That’s right. So the smoothies and the juices can be quite appropriate for those. I mean, you and I like eating a great big salad and we’ll munch our way through it. I know some people when they’re in a hurry—Cherie Soria told me sometimes she just takes a salad and puts it in a blender and makes a smoothie out of it. A wonderful nourishing vegetable smoothie. This works perfectly well. Sometimes you have to watch what colors you put together so it doesn’t end up being brown, but it’s still going to be plenty nutritious. Even if you’ve got quite a mix of reds and greens and so on.
Caryn: Right. Well the brown sometimes looks kind of chocolatey. It’s not chocolate, but it could be sweet if it has berries in it. Like blueberries sometimes mixed with the greens can make kind of a brown color. But you just got to put it in a big tall container that’s not clear so you don’t see the color.
Vesanto: Exactly. A mug, I know. Some of our blueberry-and-green smoothies look kind of a murky greenish color and you have to put it in a big mug. One of the interesting things that I’ve found doing the research for Becoming Raw and for The Raw Food Revolution Diet was looking at how the research has evolved regarding chronic diseases. There’s some interesting things there. For example, in Scandinavia in the early ‘90s they were exploring fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis and raw food diets. Ann Wigmore came from Lithuania, so Northern Europe, they had this kind of health trend of raw food diets that were not so fruit-based as much as sprouting-based ‘cause that’s what worked way up north like that. Anyway, there were a number of people following what they call living food diets. They had found that they embarked on this for health reasons and it was really working. There were research studies done on fibromyalgia and on rheumatoid arthritis that indicated that for many people their symptoms decreased considerably or even went away when they went on these living food diets.
Vesanto: Yeah, it was quite interesting. There were research studies on their intestinal flora—the bacteria in their intestine—how that changed over time, and whether allergic reaction symptoms may have decreased. Anyways, very interesting research. So the fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis link with raw food diets has been really quite significant. There’s also some exploration of raw food diets with diabetes, Type 2 diabetes. Of course when we go on a raw diet, we find that we leave out all the junky stuff. Well, hopefully we leave it out. Especially if we go with a more whole foods approach. It can be a diet that gets people’s Type 2 diabetes to really back off. Their insulin sensitivity returns and their weight drops and their Type 2 diabetes symptoms vanish and they can go off medications, their blood sugar starts normalizing. It’s a tremendous advantage.
Caryn: Well these kind of diets, clearly it’s a combination of eating foods that are full of good nutrition that’re going to boost your immune system and help you heal and support all your bodily functions, but also the other part is you’re not taking in the foods that poison your body.
Vesanto: That’s right. There’s a wonderful advantage. I was at a diabetes conference in the last week or two and looked at the approaches of balancing insulin intake with your regular diet and saw that it’s really quite a common way the medical profession is looking at diabetes. It seems a way we should be outgrowing. Because with Type 2 diabetes—
Caryn: Absolutely. I’ve heard of some doctors—sorry.
Vesanto: You can just turn the whole thing around.
Vesanto: People that want to go for it with lifestyle changes.
Caryn: I remember some time ago hearing about some doctor who wouldn’t take patients who were smoking, because if they weren’t interested in taking care of themselves he didn’t want to treat them. I kind of thought that was interesting. But we can go one step further where doctors say, “I’m only going to treat you if you’re part of the healing.” Doctors need to be a part of this, and some of them are so resistant for lots of different reasons. I’ve heard some doctors say, “Oh, my patients just won’t go with this.” You really have to give the patient all the options and say, “Here’s one way to cure what you have.” The medications are there, but this is the number one way and why don’t we go this route. They just don’t do that.
Vesanto: Wow. That’s a really good point. A lot of times Caryn, it’s because the physicians themselves haven’t seen the possibility of changing their own lifestyle habits.
Caryn: Oh there we go—walk the walk!
Vesanto: They think that, “Gosh, nobody can do that!” Way too hard to get out there and exercise for an hour a day, eat a more plant-based diet.
Caryn: Very, very, very good point. If your doctor doesn’t look healthy, why do you want to go to that person for health information? You want to go to someone who walks the walk, who looks good. Then maybe that person will have good information. They could look good but not look good inside, but it’s the first thing…
Vesanto: I’m a dietitian who does consultations for people, and I find that the people that come to me are the ones that really want to change their diet. I know another group that’s working on this is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. They’re doing research studies on cancer and on different health challenges that people have and really finding that they can turn things around with a more plant-based diet and it makes a tremendous, tremendous difference for people.
Caryn: I waffle back and forth because I know of great organizations like PCRM and people like yourself writing these great books and I think, “Good, we’ve got it covered.” But there are so many people out there that are so clueless that we need so much more of this—more books, more people, more organizations. I talk to so many people so often and my favorite thing is when they say, “I eat healthy food, I eat a healthy diet.” And then you delve more into the conversation and you hear that they don’t feel well, they don’t feel healthy, and they’re not eating healthy foods, and they’re kind of in this confused denial.
Vesanto: Yeah, but I give people a lot of leeway because I look at my own evolution. Remember I mentioned how my mom fed us a healthy diet—what we thought was healthy then.
Caryn: That’s right, sure.
Vesanto: Over time when I was in the ‘70s and I was going lacto-ovo-vegetarian with the eggs and dairy included, I thought that was healthy. I liked the natural pitas and different things that I was having then. Then I liked making scrambled tofu and all that sort of thing. Then I moved to not entirely raw, but eating a mainly raw diet and that feels good. You just don’t know where you’re going to be.
Caryn: Right. What’s next, are you going to be a breatharian?
Vesanto: Just looking in the paper there was an Indian mystic in Northern India who had been watched by thirty medical doctors for a period of several months, and they hadn’t seen him eat or drink a thing or go to the bathroom during that time.
Caryn: Right. I had read about that, yeah.
Vesanto: Yeah! So I was joking with our publishers—
Caryn: Becoming a breatharian?
Vesanto: Becoming Breatharian. Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw, who knows? Anyway, I think one of the fun things about nutrition is that it’s a very lively field of research. I really enjoyed it. It only really took on the role of being a science at the beginning of the 1900s. Vitamin C was the first vitamin discovered just in the beginning of World War II and it was recognized— Well, there was the fat-soluble vitamin called A and then the B vitamins and all that evolution just took place in the last hundred years. It’s a really quickly evolving field, and I found my own concepts changing so much. So I really like to give people a lot of leeway to be where they’re at, and that may be just inching your way a little bit more towards eating more plant foods. Maybe towards eating more raw plant foods. Or maybe it’s how do I fine tune my entirely raw diet to be health-supportive? People are at very, very different places, and what I like to do is—and we do this in our book—help people wherever they are to put it together in really good health.
Caryn: That sounds great. We just have a couple more minutes. I wanted to ask you: you’ve coauthored a number of books with Brenda Davis. How do you two work together? Do you work on different things? How does that work?
Vesanto: We just have so much fun working together. It’s been a partnership that I felt very blessed to have this writing partnership where we’re very close—we talk for an hour most days. We both enjoy science; we like reading the latest—all the scientific journals, the medical journals. She’s a very, very bright person. We also then work to make it reader-friendly, so we figure out what the issues are, we figure out what the answers are to some of the big questions, and then make it reader-friendly and fun. Whether somebody’s a dietitian or MD reading our materials or they’re somebody on a more plant-based diet or going that direction but who has quite an interest in nutrition, they still like things to be readable and using fairly simple language but getting the main concepts across. So we divide up our books. We think, “Well these are the things we should cover. Here’s half for you and half for me,” and we send our information back and forth to each other and help each other out a lot. We have started more and more hiring students to get library research for us, but we just have a great time working together.
Caryn: That’s good. Well the last thing I want to ask you is do you have any favorite foods? Things you like to prepare or any special dishes? I like to end on a yummy note.
Vesanto: Well the basic thing that I live on is I always have a great big salad in the fridge and have one that has romaine lettuce and maybe red cabbage and sometimes addition of red peppers and kale and things like that. Some of the things like red peppers you’d add at the last minute, but there’s a kind of basic salad in my fridge all the time. And then I have a salad dressing called Liquid Gold Dressing. There’s either a raw version that’s quite low in fat, has zucchini as a base—it’s in The Raw Food Revolution Diet—or one that’s more high in flaxseed oil. Anyway, that contains omega-3s from the flax oil and vitamin B12 from the nutritional yeast. It’s really tasty. And then I usually have beans, peas, lentils, that sort of thing, like lentil soup or sprouted lentils or beans in my salad. I can kind of live on a pattern like that quite well.
Caryn: Right. I can too, and I’m hungry so it’s time to wind up the show and I’m going to go out and get a snack.
Vesanto: All right Caryn!
Caryn: Thank you so much, Vesanto. This has really been a great hour, lots of great information. Please check out Vesanto’s website, which is nutrispeak.com.
Vesanto: That’s right.
Caryn: Check out Becoming Raw and The Raw Food Revolution Diet. Thank you so much, thanks for all that you do.
Vesanto: Thank you, Caryn. Bye-bye.
Caryn: Bye-bye. I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Bye-bye.
Transcribed 4/7/2016 by JC