Get Organized, Eat Better

Two of the most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight and to get organized. The good news is that it’s easier to do both if you do them together. If you have regular meals of healthy food, you’ll be less likely to fill up on junk.

To do my meal planning and make up my shopping lists, I use the system that Pam Young and Peggy Jones introduced in their book The Sidetracked Sisters Catch Up on the Kitchen. Pam and Peggy have written a series of very funny books packed with practical advice to enable the congenitally disorganized to get control of their homes and their lives. Their meal planning system involves index cards, one card for each menu.

Each of my menu cards represents an entire meal. It includes the names of the dishes, along with where I can find the recipe, and a list of all the ingredients. I also include special instructions, such as if I have to start soaking beans the day before. When I plan my meals, I try to include a variety of tastes and textures. If a main dish requires baking, I’ll include a dessert that has to be baked at the same temperature. I even indicate whether the recipe is seasonal. For example, I’ll have recipes for asparagus in the spring, and pumpkin in the fall.

To do my meal planning, I just select some of my cards. The cards tell me all the ingredients I’ll need. While I’m making one day’s meal, I’ll check the following day’s card, to see if I have to soak any beans or do any other kind of advanced preparation.

Of course, that’s not the only way to switch to a healthy low-fat, plant-based diet. Karen Barrow achieved it without complicated recipes.

Just cook the food ahead on the day that you have off and you can have your whole thing streamlined and organized for the whole week. Just have your boiled potatoes, have your cooked grains. We make these things we call “veggie tubs” where we put a mixture of raw vegetables in individual little containers so that they’re grab and go. You can make it as streamlined as you want it to be…. Just make a decision that you’re going to try it for a given amount of time, and if you do that your tastes will change, and you’ll have the results you want, and you’ll have them quickly.

Update: Try the mobile cookbook app from John and Mary McDougall!

What People Can Achieve by Eating a Low-Fat, Plant-Based Diet

If you have any chronic health problem, I don’t care what it is, consider making a change in your diet. Often, a simple exclusion diet protocol can help you cure devastating diseases like type 2 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. It can also make you heart-attack-proof and reduce your risk of cancer. A change to a low-fat, plant-based diet is simple and cheap and has no side effects. If you have any serious health problem, talk to a registered dietitian (look for the “RD” after their name) as well as your doctor before making a change in diet.

Lose Weight

The secret to effortless weight loss is to go ape and eat plants. Switch to a high-fiber, low-fat diet based on unrefined starches and lots of vegetables. Eat as much of these foods as you can hold, and you’ll be less tempted to snack on high-calorie junk food.

Stop Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Roy Swank showed that you can stop the progression of multiple sclerosis just by taking the animal products and fat out of the diet. Dr. John McDougall is carrying on this research.

Become Heart-Attack-Proof

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn took a bunch of patients with advanced coronary artery disease and made them “heart-attack-proof” just by teaching them to eat the right kinds of food.

Cure Type 2 Diabetes

Dr. Neal Barnard proved that a low-fat, plant-based diet is better than the American Diabetes Association’s standard dietary recommendations for controlling type 2 diabetes. Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s patients with type 2 diabetes become “undiabetic” within a matter of weeks if they eat that way.

Dramatically Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

T. Colin Campbell, PhD, a world-famous nutritional biochemist and nutritional epidemiologist, has shown that the more animal-based foods people eat, the higher their risk of cancer. In animal models, scientists could turn the development of tumors on and off just by increasing or decreasing the amount of animal protein in the diet.

Fight Arthritis

Arthritis is not an inevitable consequence of age. It is comparatively rare in societies where people eat a low-fat, plant-based diet. About 70% of people with the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, can expect dramatic benefits, and often a cure, in less than 4 weeks of diet change. The diet must be followed strictly—medications are reduced and stopped as improvements occur.

Prevent Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is reversible, if you eat a plant-based diet, get reasonable exposure to sunshine, and get some exercise. Believe it or not, dairy products actually make osteoporosis worse.

Relieve Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Inflammatory bowel diseases occur almost exclusively in parts of the world where the diet is high in meat and dairy foods, and are rare in countries where people still consume starch-based, almost entirely vegetarian meals.

Avoid Surgery for Gallstones

Gallstones are usually made of cholesterol, and they result when people overload their system with fatty, high-cholesterol foods.

Prevent Varicose Veins, Hemorrhoids, Hiatal Hernia, Uterine Prolapse

All of those disorders result from constipation. When people strain to move their bowels, the abnormally high pressure in the belly can damage the valves in the veins and push various organs out of their normal positions.

Appendicitis and Diverticulosis

The high-protein, low-fiber Western diet is the cause of appendicitis and diverticulosis.

The List Goes On and On

Many other diseases have been shown to be the result of the rich, fatty, low-fiber standard American diet. I should also have listed acne, bad breath, body odor, and erectile dysfunction, along with kidney and liver disease. The sad thing is that many people unwittingly subject themselves to these diseases in their attempt to avoid “protein deficiency,” even though protein deficiency isn’t a real problem in human beings. After all, where do gorillas get their protein?

The Boxing Day Tsunami: Did Our Taste for Shrimp Doom People to Drown?

Harvesting food from the sea has always taken a serious toll in human life. As Sir Walter Scott once wrote: “It’s no fish ye’re buying, it’s men’s lives.” The same principle may have applied to the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. The devastation of the coastal mangrove forests by the commercial shrimp farming industry stripped coastal communities of an important buffer against the power of the sea.

A study published in Science in 2005 showed that where the mangrove forests still existed, they did provide valuable protection against the Boxing Day Tsunami.

Here’s what happens when there’s nothing standing between you and the power of the ocean:

One way to help protect the mangroves, and the ecosystems and communities they support, is to stop eating shrimp. For more information, visit the Mangrove Action Project ( and their Shrimp Less, Think More blog (

In case you were wondering, gorillas don’t fish. If gorillas don’t need to eat seafood in order to grow big and strong, neither do you. Nor do human beings need to eat seafood in order to grow a large and useful brain.

How Gorillas Celebrate Christmas–With Brussels Sprouts!

Just Make Sure You Stay Upwind of Them

At Christmastime last year, the Chessington World of Adventures, in Surrey, England, gave their gorillas some Brussels sprouts. The gorillas loved them, but the aftereffects horrified the zoo visitors.

Gorilla keeper Michael Rozzi said: “We feed the gorillas Brussels sprouts during the winter because they are packed with vitamin C and have great nutritional benefits. Unfortunately, an embarrassing side effect is that it can cause bouts of flatulence in humans and animals alike. However, I don’t think any of us were prepared for a smell that strong.” The gorillas didn’t seem to care, nor did any of the gorillas ask anyone to pull their finger. The zoo keepers solved the problem by giving the gorillas their Brussels sprouts after closing time. On Christmas Day, when the zoo was closed to the public, the gorillas got to eat Brussels sprouts all day long. It was a solution that worked for everyone.

I eat a lot of Brussels sprouts in the winter, and I eat other members of the cabbage family and lots of beans year-round, but I never have a gas problem. I’m grateful for that, but it means I can’t use myself as a subject to test possible remedies. Some people recommend Bean-o, and others recommend spices and herbs such as cumin, fennel, caraway, dill, peppermint, chamomile, sage, and thyme.

Many people who think that they hate Brussels sprouts really only hate overcooked Brussels sprouts. Overcooking releases a stinky sulfur compound called sinigrin. Try cooking your sprouts for only 6 to 7 minutes, and see if that makes a difference. The sinigrin will stay put, until you digest the sprouts.

Sinigrin may stink, but it’s probably good for you. It evidently causes cancer cells in the colon to commit suicide, which could help to explain why populations that eat a lot of cabbage and other members of the Brassica family, including Brussels sprouts, have a low risk of colon cancer.

Fresh Leaves All Winter, From an Unheated Greenhouse, in Maine!?!?

They’re on the Same Line of Latitude as the South of France

Gorillas can eat leaves all year round because they live in the tropics. What about those of us who live in the North? The only leaves I see around here today are pine needles, which don’t seem edible.

We could eat produce that has been shipped from Florida or California, but think of all the fossil fuel that would get burned up. Is there another alternative? Evidently, there is. Eliot Coleman has written books about how to grow tasty leaves all year round, in an unheated greenhouse, in Maine. After he realized the shocking fact that his home in Maine is on the same line of latitude as the South of France, he started using the same techniques that the Europeans have long used for extending their growing season. He now harvests salad greens all year round.

For the really hard-core, here’s a greenhouse from Canada that works without supplemental heat in temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s insulated with soap bubbles.

Why People Didn’t Need Doctors in Shangri-La

It Wasn’t Just the Apricots

In his novel Lost Horizon (, the British writer James Hilton wrote about a fictional valley named Shangri-La, which was located somewhere high in the Himalayas. There’s something magical about this valley. People who enter it regain their health, and they age very slowly while in the valley. So they live seemingly forever.

Of course, there was never really any such place as Shangri-La, but I was reminded of it when I read this passage from Studies in Deficiency Disease, by Sir Robert McCarrison, Oxford Medical Publications, Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1921 (

My own experience provides an example of a race, unsurpassed in perfection of physique and in freedom from disease in general, whose sole food consists to this day of grains, vegetables, and fruits, with a certain amount of milk and butter, and meat only on feast days. I refer to the people of the State of Hunza, situated in the extreme northernmost point of India. So limited is the land available for cultivation that they can keep little livestock other than goats, which browse on the hills, while the food supply is so restricted that the people, as a rule, do not keep dogs. They have, in addition to grains — wheat, barley, and maize — an abundant crop of apricots. These they dry in the sun and use very largely in their food.

Amongst these people the span of life is extraordinarily long; and such service as I was able to render them during some seven years spent in their midst was confined chiefly to the treatment of accidental lesions, the removal of senile cataract, plastic operations for granular eyelids, or the treatment of maladies wholly unconnected with food supply. Appendicitis, so common in Europe, was unknown. When the severe nature of the winter in that part of the Himalayas is considered, and the fact that their housing accommodation and conservancy arrangements are of the most primitive, it becomes obvious that the enforced restriction to the unsophisticated foodstuffs of nature is compatible with long life, continued vigour, and perfect physique.

Unfortunately, if the average American journalist got hold of this story, he or she would probably focus on the apricots. We’d soon see apricot extracts, probably in pill form, showing up on the shelves of stores that sell vitamins and herbal products. Everyone would probably miss the main point of this story, which is that the Hunza people were healthy because their diet was based heavily on an assortment of unrefined plant foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as grains.

Why Gorillas Are So Gentle

The Upside and Downside of Living on Leaves

All of the great apes are plant-eaters. Even chimpanzees, which occasionally hunt and kill small animals and eat them, still eat less meat than nearly any human society. Yet the various great ape species fit into different ecological niches, so they focus on different kinds of plant foods. Chimpanzees are mainly fruit eaters. Although gorillas will eat fruit and nuts whenever they’re available, they mainly eat leaves.

The fact that gorillas mainly eat leaves explains a lot about their behavior and social structure. Leaves don’t run away, so there’s no need to chase them. Leaves are so abundant in the gorilla’s habitat, and so low in calories, that it’s pointless to fight over them. A tree full of ripe fruit or nuts is another matter, entirely. In general, I’d expect animals that mainly eat leaves to be nicer than animals that mainly eat fruit, because they have less to fight over.

Gorillas face the same kinds of challenges as any animal that specializes in eating leaves. Here are a few of those challenges, as explained by Fiona Sunquist (The strange, dangerous world of folivory. International Wildlife; January-February, 1991; pages 4-10):
The demands of living on low-energy and often poisonous food means that most folivores live close to the limit of their energy supply.
  • They must conserve energy wherever possible, and this often translates into being very slow.
  • It is no coincidence that the sloth, the world’s slowest mammal, is a folivore.
  • Besides being slow, folivores also spend much of their time resting.

All this suggests that if you want to be a marathon runner, you’ll want to eat something besides leaves–ideally something starchy. If you simply want to be thinner, you might want to try eating more leaves.

Where Should Danes Get Their Protein?

Even though Denmark was neutral during World War I, the disruption of international trade as a result of the war meant that the Danish population faced the prospect of mass starvation. That’s because the Danes had been importing about half of their grain supply, much of which was being used to feed farm animals. To keep the Danish population from starving, the Danish government assigned a physician and nutritionist named Mikkel Hindhede, who was the manager of the Danish National Laboratory for Nutrition Research, in Copenhagen, to design a system of rationing.

Hindhede decided that the Danes should stop feeding grain to farm animals, or using it to make alcohol, but should eat what grain they had themselves. Hindhede told people not to worry about getting enough protein, or enough fat. As Hindhede reported to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “No attention was paid to the protein minimum. It was held that this minimum was so low for man that it could not be reached, provided sufficient calories were furnished. While fat was regarded as a very valuable addition to the dietary, it was not considered as being necessary.”

Under Hindhede’s food rationing system, the population ate potatoes and barley, vegetables, a little bit of milk and very little butter. Consumption of meat was practically eliminated, as was consumption of alcohol. This diet was “not to Mr. Sørenson’s liking,” as the Danes say, but it was good for Mr. Sørenson’s health.

Under this rationing system, the death rate from October 1917 to October 1918 in Denmark plummeted to its lowest ever. (After that, of course, the Great Pandemic of influenza caused huge spikes in mortality all over the world, including in Denmark.) Hindhede remarked that it’s hard to figure out how much of the decrease in death rate was due to the elimination of meat from the diet, and how much to the elimination of alcohol.

Hindhede argues that if a similar system of rationing had been put in place in Central Europe, no one would have starved. Ironically, if such a system had been in place worldwide, it would have prevented the Great Pandemic. We know now that influenza pandemics are a result of raising pigs and poultry for food. The moral of the story is this: you can improve your own health dramatically if you stop eating animal-based foods; but even if you eat right, you can still get sick and die of diseases that you catch from other people who grew poultry and pigs.

Photo by @boetter