Are You Vegan? Great! Now Get Even Healthier

Jeff Nelson | 03/04/03

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I've been vegan for what -- 7 years now? One thing that I never really experienced after going vegan was a dramatic drop in my cholesterol. Whenever I've had bloodwork done during the past several years my cholesterol has generally been in the 190's. That's not terrible, by U.S. standards of course, but it's not the prized "150 mg/dL or below" cholesterol level at which heart disease ceases to be possible, according to a number of studies, and to which vegans are supposed to be heading. Sabrina of course went vegan at the same time I did, and she, on the other hand, had her cholesterol plummet to 135 where it has stayed.

When we first went vegan we did so using Dr. McDougall's "The McDougall Program" book which details a sample 12-day menu and contains recipes. This is a healthy low-fat vegan diet emphasizing unprocessed starches and lots of vegetables and fruit. Though we started out "McDougalling" for a period, we weren't as strict as we could have been. We ate a healthy diet, for the most part, and one far healthier than most people in the U.S., but it wasn't as low-fat or quite as healthy as it could be.

After the VegSource conference last September, after hearing talks from Dr. McDougall and other speakers like Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Castelli, Dr. Ornish, and Dr. Campbell in which they talked about the ideal diet for weightloss and lowering the risk of various diseases, I decided it was time to change once and for all to a healthy diet.

So I called up Dr. McDougall and told him Sabrina and I were going to clean up our dietary act and look to eat the healthiest way possible. I told him the concern that I'd had since going vegan that I'd never seen my cholesterol go to the vaunted below-150 range that's considered most desirable, and that I was perplexed as to why.

Dr. McDougall said he'd be happy to work with me to get my cholesterol down, if that was a goal. He said to start I should get my bloodwork done, and he faxed a prescription to a lab here locally for a series of blood tests. The results in the cholesterol department were the same for all the physicals I'd had since going vegan -- 191 mg/dL.

Dr. McDougall said the initial way to attack it was simply to follow his eating plan, a low-fat vegan diet, and to cut out the junky stuff that may have come into our routine.

That was back in late November when I first started. During that time Sabrina and I have made a major shift in our eating, particularly thanks to Mary and John McDougall's great recipes -- and thanks to buying two pressure cookers which have allowed us to get quick, fabulous tasting, satisfying food -- which is low-fat with no added oils. Sabrina uses one or both of the pressure cookers nearly every day (except that we often have lots of leftovers for the next meal). We're big on soups, rice, beans and one of my favorites -- a huge salad with tomatoes, avocados and other salad fixings -- topped with heaps of hot McDougall chili and splashes of a very sweet balsamic vinegar we get from Costco, and no oil. You get lots of greens, you get filled up, and it's gooooooooood!

In the main we've improved our eating habits an enormous amount during the past four months. That's not to say we don't splurge on stuff from time to time whether it be cake or snack foods that aren't strictly "McDougal," or holiday food.

I've also been trying to exercise 5 or 6 days a week, with some modest weight-lifting every other day, and 20 or 30 minutes on the treadmill on the days I'm not lifting. Sometimes I walk outdoors for 30 or 40 minutes. So the exercise is important, too, of course.

The Results

It's early March and I've lost about 20 pounds since starting McDougalling -- from 201 pounds to 181 currently. I'm shooting to get down to around 170 as my ideal weight.

My body mass index (BMI), according to this fancy scale we got last year, has gone from 26 to 20.5.

And I had my cholesterol checked this week and just got the results -- 141 mg/dL.

So here all these years I thought I was the vegan who couldn't get his cholesterol below 190 -- until I cleaned up my diet and started McDougalling, and it plummetted 50 points (more than a 25% drop in cholesterol).

The Healthiest Diet

I can't recommend enough eating a largely low-fat diet of unrefined plant foods. Chips and cookies and vegan sweet and sour veggie "pork" are nice from time to time, but it's not what you want to live on. We have pretzels and vegan fudgicles and treats from time to time. It's not hard to eat healthy -- even our kids prefer it. And that's particularly fortunate since a lot of new research is showing that the healthier you eat as a kid, the better your odds at avoiding many of the diseases that strike in adulthood.

If you want to make a healthy change, do what we did -- get one of Dr. McDougall's books or get his excellent video series, get a pressure cooker, spend time on Dr. McDougall's Discussion Board trading ideas and encouragement with other McDougaller's, and preserve your health!

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