Week 4: The Vegan Bus is coming!

Remember the song, “Venga Bus?” by the Vengaboys (not to date myself or you!)?  Well,  the “Vegan” bus is no different. It’s the new kid on the block of nutrition and alike a catchy song, many people are riding this bus.  In fact you could substitute the “Venga” with the word “Vegan” and the song will still make sense!

Here are the lyrics (go ahead and try it!) Courtesy of : Https://play.google.com/music/preview/Txtndpvmbnbsu4o65jwnhyjw7my?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-songlyrics&u=0#

So why am I on the Vegan bus? When I discovered the health demise I wa facing, a very loyal friend and colleague of mine, with much hesitation,  left me a sticky note which read, “Watch Forks Over Knives. Your caring friend, Catherine”. If you are dietitian, and are receiving “nutrition advice” from a pharmacist, you sigh..then smile but really, what you’re thinking is, “What would a pharmacist know about diet?!” After all, we (the dietitians) are food experts, aren’t we? I have to add, I admire pharmacists. Whether they are my colleagues or friends or relatives (my sister and cousin are both in pharmacy),  they are the best drug buddies one could have! And because I knew Catherine cares, I told her I’d watch it with an “open” mind. And then, after a week or 2, I finally took the plunge and watched Fork Over Knives (available on Netflix).


SO, my skeptic side couldn’t help but raise a few eye brows. The documentary had my attention but hey, nothing on TV is real, right?  I’m sure they have exaggerated some elements and had paid actors involved? But I wanted to be open to the notions that:

a. I don’t know what I don’t know. There is a world of nutrition information out there. I haven’t researched it all.

b. I’m not a nutrition expert in cardiology or diabetes or obesity. I’m a renal dietitian (I know Kidneys!). So my nutrition knowledge in that aspect could be outdated or tarnished. After all, nutrition information changes all the time.

So I did a few things.

1. I did a lit search and looked on PEN (Practice evidenced based Nutrition) a global resource used by dietitians for practice that’s evidence based (scientifically proven that is). PEN provides us not only meaningful handouts for patients/clients but evidence summaries that allow us to know what is “well researched” vs what is “poorly researched or controversial” or “lacks sufficient scientific evidence”. It’s kept up to date.

2. I became a guinea pig.

3. I asked a few truste colleagues (dietitians and some physicians) to watch the documentary so we could have a meaningful conversation.

PEN-the following came from PEN from the dyslipidemia or cholesterol sections:

  • the “Portfolio” diet can reduce LDL (the “bad”cholesterol) up to 29% within the first 4 weeks-that’s as good as some cholesterol lowering medications. It’s a diet made popular by a Toronto based Physician (yes, Canadian!). Why the name Portfolio? Beats me! I take it he’s not as creative as he is smart. I’m attaching this link for more details on this diet. Https://heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol-and-diet/six-super-foods-for-lower-cholesterol/portfolio-diet. I’m using the UK heart association because, it’s easier to follow as a website.
  • Recommendations on PEN included: 1. Adding soy protein in your diet- at least 20 g/day between soy “meat” and/or beverages or yogurt. 2. Adding a handful of nuts at least 5 times per week. 3. Consuming 2 grams of plant sterols daily. 4. Aiming for a higher fibre intake. All doable on a vegan diet.
  • Under, select your fat sources wisely, it lists lean meats, fish and poultry and then a choice of skim, 1% or 2% milk or cheese with 20% or less milk fat. I’m not sure why the suggestion to have skim or 1% milk if it’s allowing cheese that’s 20% MF (milk fat). Feels counterintuitive. Who has 1 oz of cheese anyways?
  • For managing cholesterol, the mean recommendation is limiting one’s saturated fat intake between 7-10% and under 200-300 mg cholesterol (different continents have slightly different thoughts on this). Dietary cholesterol isn’t an essential nutrient. Our body makes what it needs. We can live on a 0% cholesterol diet.

The Lit Search (this does not include all the papers I read, but here’s a simplified sample). I reference the “study” here rather than the full title for easy reading:

  1. The Broad Study-Nutrition and Diabetes (2017), 7 e256; doi: 10.1038/nutd.2017.3  A 12 week whole food, plant-based dietary program in the community setting led to significant reduction in BMI, waist circumference and weight without the use of regular exercise or calorie restrictions. Reduction in cholesterol and HbA1C were also shown.
  2. The Geico Study-European J of Clinical Nutrition (2013) 67, 718-724. A 18 week dietary intervention using a low-fat plant-based diet in a corporate setting led to improved % weight loss, BMI, cholesterol levels and glycemic control (for those who were diabetics-mean reduction of 0.6% points).
  3. Gut Microbiota. Now, these studies are complex and complicated. A world of information is arising on how the bugs in your gut contribute to obesity, diabetes and inflammation. To summarize, some foods/diets lead to a better composition of bugs to help with fighting disease.

Me, myself and I. The guinea pig.

  • What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. It’s not nice to kill. Plants don’t kill me, I don’t kill animals. Win! Win! for me and the planet.
  • Monkey See! Monkey Do!  I want to experience for myself if the claims made by these food documentaries and research are really true. Will I reap the same results?
  • When I was a teenager, I ate mostly a vegetarian based diet. I did the same after my first pregnancy and lost nearly 30 lbs in 4 months. Both times, I was in good shape and a healthy BMI. What if my gut needs certain bugs back to give me a more stable metabolism. Maybe my gut is better friends with them.
  • Nothing to lose-except for weight, sugar and fat! By that I mean, if by losing weight, having better glucose control and lowering my lipids, I will live longer, I’m willing to try anything that is not just a famously fad diet. Remember, this isn’t about losing weight but also about my health. The Vegan diet isn’t a fad. 
  • Practicality. You know what 20 grams of soy protein look like? That’s 1 cup of tofu and 1 cup of soy milk per day. If I were to continue eating an animal based protein duet,  I’d have to eat a lot of food to meet these recommendations. I had to choose soy over animal! 
  • Also, in order to keep cholesterol under 200 mg, even an average intake of 2 daily servings of  3 oz portions of chicken has around 140-150 mg of cholesterol. That doesnt leave much room for dairy. I’m not too worried about saturated fats as my diet was not fat riddled to begin with. But I did have to cut back on processed baked goods and chocolate. My thoughts, create a deficit. 
  • Pure volumetrics. Vegetables and fruit provide more “fill” per calories in your stomach. I need to feel full. I can’t diet, remember? My stomach needs to feel well fed. Vegetables are more filling (they take more room in your stomach!).

400 kcal in the stomach

My colleagues that watched the documentary and skimmed the research with me have joined me on Vegan bus. They like what they are feeling. I have another dietitian friend that messaged me “What the Health” is available on NetFlix. I saw that as well. Catherine isn’t vegan yet but we are working on this. 

So, you may wonder, how am I doing? I haven’t felt as fabulous. From the time I started this diet (beginning of June) to now (nearly end of August), I’ve already actually lost 10 lbs. Yes, initially, when I saw my cardiologist, I was nearly 200 lbs (or 91 kg). I also do not get migraines anymore. I was also having symptoms of IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) with a very sensitive gut which has also subsided. I’m not due for blood work until October, and will share my clinical results then.

This week, we had lots of family and friends visiting. I ate out a lot. To stay on track, I went to the gym almost 5 times/week. I’m so lucky to have the support of my colleagues that are sharing this journey with me. A great big hug and shout out to Jill, Angie and Monica for making my workout sessions at the work gym memorable.

A big thanks to my hubby and children for also joining me at the pool, gym and the Capilano suspension bridge. A family that sweats together sticks together, literally! Big thanks for my extended family for including vegetables and lentils on the table this week! If I can create new possibilities for a healthier me so can you!

Join me next week when I share with you, what I eat in a day! 

With love, Laila


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