Monday, March 26, 2012

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. - Book review


Last time I reviewed an exciting book by this man’s son (Engine 2 Diet, Rip Esselstyn).  This book is more technical but in its way, just as exciting.

Dr Esselstyn Jr doesn’t waste any time.  He starts with a colleague’s heart attack experience. Right there on the first page of the first chapter, he says, “coronary artery disease need not exist, and if it does, it need not progress.”  That’s a powerful message given the heartbreaking disease statistics in this country – accounting for 40% of deaths.

The basics

In just four pages he simply summarises all the information you need to make yourself heart attack proof.  

You may not eat:
•    anything with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, or fish)
•    dairy products
•    oil of any kind – not a drop
•    (generally) nuts or avocados.

You can eat:
•    All vegetables, legumes, and fruits except avocado
•    All whole grains and products (as long as they have no added fat)

You don’t actually need to read the rest of the book.  But it helps.

Current medical model

He continues with the case study of this colleague and his cure from cardiovascular disease through diet.  Then he exposes an inside view on how the current medical model nearly excludes nutrition in favour of drugs and surgery – and how patients continue to sicken and die.  Yet successful nutrition therapy is called radical.


Next is the history chapter.  Dr Esselstyn Jr’s father and father in law were both also prominent doctors – but between them “they had diabetes; strokes; prostate, colon, and lung cancer; and coronary artery disease.”  He describes his own “epiphany” where he decides to follow a diet along the lines of his own research. 

Diet on trial

Then we learn about the clinical trial with patients suffering advanced coronary artery disease.  Dr Esselstyn provided an unusual amount of personal support for his patients to help them achieve such a radical change in diet.  The individual patient histories make sobering reading – except where one hospital dietician had prescribed a stick of corn oil margarine a day!

Dr Esselstyn has coined the phrase “Moderation Kills.”  This chapter gets quite biological (some may not want to know about nitric oxide and the effect on your endothelial cells) but it thoroughly explains why the popular attitude of “everything in moderation” has led directly to chronic disease. Cutting back to 29% fat does not promote health.


The results chapter is amazing – according to the cholesterol levels and angiograms (photos included), all compliant patients halted or reversed their disease and increased their quality of life.  For some perspective, the study was performed in the mid ‘80s and this book in 2007.  Almost all the compliant patients are now in late life and healthy. The control group receiving standard medical treatment experienced the standard steady worsening of cardiovascular disease.

Politics and power

Next is some big picture analysis of the politics of medicine and the power of the status quo.  National health policy is set not according to scientifically known facts but to a blend of financial and cultural pressure.   The animal industry is in charge of health and diet information.  Dr. Esselstyn and his colleagues (in particular including Dr T Colin Campbell) want to stop diluting the message based on what people might want to hear and instead tell the simple truth about the optimal diet.  I’m sure that philosophy will resonate with many committed vegans!

He then supplies more details about exactly what his curative diet contains:  “no” foods, “yes” foods, and a few supplements.  A handy FAQ chapter includes some questions familiar to any vegan.

Healthy oils?

The myth of healthy oils is debunked next.  He specifically addresses the study used to promote some oils as healthy choices and introduces further comprehensive data.  While diets minus animal products but including oil show health improvement, removing oil improves health markedly again.  Consuming “healthy oils” can lead to as much disease as saturated fats.


I enjoyed his salute to other professionals in his industry who deliver the nutrition-based approach to health against the tide of the Western approach. Dr Campbell, Pritikin, Dr McDougall, Dr Ornish, Dr Attwood, Dr Demas.  He also presents an inspiring vision of health care aimed at eliminating chronic illness (instead of simply treating the symptoms with expensive drugs). 

The diet prescribed for a healthy heart has been shown to prevent many other chronic diseases often simply blamed on aging, including weight gain, stroke, impotence and even dementia.  And he presents some hope with increasing signs that the message is slowly getting through.

The food

Part two is all about the food itself.  First are a few useful strategies for making major dietary changes with no exceptions, including advice from Ann Esselstyn.  Then comes the usual wide-ranging and tasty recipe book.  Nearly all recipes are strictly vegan, with honey mentioned as one option in several desserts.

I highly recommend this book as an accessible route to a plant-based diet for anyone concerned with their health (or the health of a loved one).

Read an excerpt or buy the book.

Originally published in Autumn, V Magazine, Vegan Society of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Decluttering: a win-win

Last year I was lucky enough to win a beautiful set of eco-friendly bamboo party ware from Friendlypak in New Zealand. More about eco-friendly packaging...check out the new biodegradable cling wrap!

I had a serious decision to make - these bowls and trays are beautiful, but I already have a set of party bowls.  The prize bowls also needed a home...not the downstairs sofa.  So was their home in my home or someone else's home?

I implemented Workout #4 of my Productive New Year's Workouts and cleaned out all the shelves in my refrigerator, pantry, and other kitchen cupboards. That is a serious workout, and it lasted a couple of days.

Not only did I get clean cupboards, decluttering is a natural side-effect.

I repackaged some food items and threw out some more.  We still have a full pantry, but just better.

 And just look at our wine collection.

We don't drink wine!
It always seemed wrong to just get rid of perfectly good bottles of wine.  So instead, we left them hidden away until they were no longer perfectly good bottles of wine. When the inner hoarder wins, everyone loses.  Those bottles of bubbly are from our engagement and wedding - some 15 years ago!

Out they went, the less antique ones free to friends who were up for a lucky dip, and the antiques down the drain and into the recycling.

And the prize for decluttering? 
A new home for my prize...

Don't they look great at my son's birthday party?

What things do you have hidden away that need a new home?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Six Clean Energy Sources Need More Power - Mad Like Tesla Book Review

2012 is the International Year of Sustainable Energy for AllMad Like Tesla, by Tyler Hamilton, salutes people dedicated to finding cleaner alternative energy sources.

Nikola Tesla was an extremely quirky inventor full of mad ideas about the world - many of which eventually proved to work.  Tesla didn't stop what he was doing if others ridiculed him.  He invented the AC induction motor, radio, remote-control (teleautomation) and more.  In 1931, at age 75, he published a design for a geothermal power plant and a way to generate power from the ocean's temperature differential.

These new energy source developers follow in Tesla's footsteps. Most of them have left successful mainstream positions to pursue clean energy using ideas generally considered impractical in our time.

You don't have to be a geek to enjoy this book, but it helps.  The language is accessible, but even technology-lite can get a bit heavy.  But I felt genuinely educated by the end of it.

Mad Like Tesla presents mini-documentaries on real projects in:

Nuclear fusion MadLT nuclear-fusion-prototype.jpg

The dream big brother to dirty and dangerous nuclear fission power - the sun does it, so why can't we?  Fusion has a bad reputation from past false hopes - including the truly ideal cold fusion concept.

There are two main approaches to fusion, magnetic fusion and inertial fusion, and the US government oversees projects using each kind.  But Dr Michel Laberge believes his smaller and much nimbler General Fusion has a real chance (well, 50% and rising).  General Fusion has mixed the best of both worlds into magnetized target fusion - which notably removes the most expensive parts from the design.

Solar power from space MadLT solarspacerace.jpg

Asimov wrote about it in 1941 - huge amounts of solar energy could be generated in orbit and beamed down to us.  Technology (and demand) may again have caught up with Asimov's imagination.  
Gary Spirnak and his company (Solaren) have made a previous NASA design feasible by losing the heavy copper wires and planning for remote installation instead of launching astronauts.   Generated power would be beamed to receivers on earth via microwave.

Tesla was also a big fan of air as a conductive medium for power - he was talking about wireless transmission before anybody reading this was born.  And technically speaking, power can be transmitted from one place on earth to another.

On the one hand, this is a complicated way of collecting solar energy that falls for free every day, and traditional solar power is advancing rapidly.  On the other, the energy would still be available at night and on cloudy or just plain polluted days.

(I'm visiting Solaren's hometown soon and I have requested a tour.  Wish me luck!)

Tornado power

We know tornadoes have enormous destructive power.  Now imagine controlling and using that power.  Tesla was convinced we can break up tornadoes.  Louis Michaud wants to recover the costly waste heat from thermal power plants and use it to create controlled tornadoes, or vortex engines.

Solar chimneys were a predecessor to the idea of using the temperature differential to create air movement and therefore power.  But the towers need to be really really tall.  The manmade tornadoes use the same mechanism but require no material construction.

In future, these vortex engines could be built near tropical or equatorial warm waters (natural vortex generators in themselves).

Biomimicry (bionics meets sustainability) MadLT Lily_impeller.JPG

Aussie nature guy Jay Harman believes that natural designs beat human inventions - and he has good reason.  Based on his lifelong observations of nature (and water swirling down a bathtub drain), he's invented a spiral fan (Lily Impeller) which is both measurably more efficient and much quieter than traditional designs.

Not very exciting?  Fans and propellors are part of every computer, every air conditioning system, every pump system... Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates it "could save over a tenth of the world's energy."

Bionics, or copying nature to improve technology) has a respectable history.  Da Vinci was one of its greatest practitioners, and Velcro was a bionic invention (ever gotten a burr stuck to your clothes?).  Most of us think we know bionics from the very limited application described in The Six Million Dollar Man, but bionics has far greater application than replacing biological body parts.  And biomimicry adds sustainability as a key goal in bionic inventions.

In hives, although drones have very small brains, they constantly send each other data and modify their behaviour for the success of the hive.  This swarm logic has been successfully applied by REGEN Energy to control energy use in a large building - distributed decision-making succeeding where top-down control fails.

Algae biofuel

Cleaner biofuels are controversial because they're usually made from corn (that could feed someone directly) and have a poor energy return.

Other plant sources must be specially processed to create biofuel.  But cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, can create some ethanol metabolically when under stress.  Paul Woods is sure he can genetically modify these cyanobacteria to produce lots of ethanol under normal conditions.  Promisingly, this Algenol has potential for both car and jet fuels.

A casual comparison to milking cows was obviously meant to normalise this process for the General Public.  As I've failed to renew my GP membership, it just pinged my V-dar.  There are enough complex moral and practical issues around genetically altering and permanently harnessing live organisms for our own purposes to keep me arguing with myself for hours in the dead of night.  This isn't just using using yeast to make bread.

The chapter reassures us that sufficient genetic manipulation will prevent ecological problems a la failed biological pest control (cane toad, anyone?), but this failes to soothe all my ruffles.

Super Power Storage

Every day we become more dependent on battery power for the latest inventions.  The intriguing Richard Weir and his company EEstor have been promising a "ceramic battery" - a hybrid between an standard battery and an ultracapacitor. The ceramic battery would be safer, have a higher capacity, and have a much longer lifetime than today's batteries.

This is a game changer from handheld devices all the way to electric cars, for which power storage is a major barrier.

EEStor's ceramic battery development history has been slow and full of hype leading only to delays and disappointments, and other competitors have joined the race to get a ceramic battery into a real device into the market.

And over the edge

I thought this book had already shown me the bleeding edge of energy research...  Have we discovered everything there is to know about the universe?  Not likely.  Some researchers promote ideas that contradict accepted physical laws, and if they're convincing and diligent enough, they can pull a bit of funding too, in the hope of supporting a genuine world-changing breakthough.


I highlighted my concerns about the cyanobacteria biofuel project.  Naturally, the side effects of the other cleaner energy projects might be just as worrying if I knew more about them.

An even more worrying common theme to all the stories:  stronger than any possible technological barrier is the financial barrier, and the true source of the financial barrier is the monopolistic entropy of society's status quo.  Or BAU, business as usual.  Innovators want to get large energy companies on board to support them, yet large energy companies want to be on board only so far as they can prevent threats to their business.

Major governments invest heavily, with our money, into dying and dangerous power sources - subsidising and encouraging deep sea oil drilling and funding commercially unpopular nuclear fission power plants.

Hamilton uses the "half-full, half-empty glass" cliche to signal optimism in the final section of the book.  My conclusion from this book is that we have exactly no idea whether any of these fascinating brainchildren will overcome its technological barriers and then the monopoly market time to make a difference.

Luckily, I can see a Plan B.

Plan B
- No impact energy source

Much of our world's energy is squandered on the production and distribution of:

1) food animals
2) consumer leisure goods


3) wars of economic imperialism (ironically, the US military is the USA's highest energy user, while recently deployed to kill to protect our energy interests)

All these make our lives and the planet poorer.  The award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness, which I'll be reviewing later, blows away any lingering fragments of the myth that our technologically complex society makes us fulfilled and happy.

A society like ours, dependent for success on unconscious consumption, will drain any energy source. I watch with interest the pursuit of cleaner power.  But none of these sources is free, none risk-free...and none is even ready now, when we desperately need it.

The only free energy?  Reducing consumption.  That's my little drone message to you, my fellow drones in this hive called Earth.  In that, you already have the real power.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Eco-friendly packaging - an investment in our future


The winner!

Last year I was lucky enough to win a beautiful set of eco-friendly bamboo party ware from Friendlypak in New Zealand.  

This substantial set arrived packed in their own compostable product - popstarch.  By the faint fragrance, this is made of potato starch like their compostable trays and bowls.  I've been happily reusing this packaging in my own boxes.  

FriendlyPak specialises in compostable containers - stores and food providers can use these instead of plastic (which often goes unrecycled due to food contamination).  They even have shopping and dog waste bags!  And how cool is it that they link to The Story of Stuff on their website?

Basic scary facts on packaging waste:

  • US Waste Facts  - "Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times."
  • European Packaging Waste  "On average every citizen in the 27 Member States EU-27 generated 164 kg of packaging waste in 2008."
  • NZ Packaging Waste  "Each New Zealander throws away 83 kilograms of used packaging every year."
If we continue to ignore packaging waste, we're going to be up to our necks in it.

Packaging choices under pressure

I don't run a store.  But I could use reusable packaging like the lunch wraps from 4MyEarth.  I have already chosen waxed paper (which can even be reused for a few days) over plastic wrap for the kids' sandwiches.   I need to do some more research on reusable vs compostable. 

One New Zealand survey shows that consumers are concerned about too much packaging but feel ill-informed to act on that concern.

Another study takes a hard look at the eco-friendly claims for various types of packaging - there's lots to learn here even for those of us who might think we're already savvy.
Counting the cost

This packaging discussion finds that cost is still the biggest factor when people choose disposable packaging over more eco-friendly choices.  They also point out that as waste pressures rise, the real cost of waste disposal will motivate more consumers to choose better packaging. 

In Auckland, the Waste Management and Minimisation Plan includes charging us each time our bin is emptied instead of (as present) a flat cost each year. As a pretty good waste minimiser already, I'm a fan!

And, of course, the more we support these eco-friendly industries, the cheaper their products will be. 


So here is my public thank you to FriendlyPak for this prize, and also my heartfelt message to FriendlyPak, 4MyEarth and companies like them:

Thank you for providing us with genuine green consumer choices.  Thank you for developing products to support the vision of a thriving green economy.  Thank you for helping us put our money where our mouth is instead of into the same old poisonous products.

Minimalist dilemma

As a minimalist, I still had a serious decision to make. These bowls and trays are beautiful, but I already have a set of functional and attractive party bowls.  The prize bowls also needed a home.  In the rush of the holiday season, they simply sat in a stack on the downstairs sofa.

So was their home in my home or someone else's?

Stay tuned to hear all about Workout #4 in Productive New Year's Workouts, and how it all eventually worked out.

Everyone's doing it - what's your best tip to reduce your waste footprint?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Happy Vegan Birthday!


I’m a vegan with two young vegan children.  We all love having parties and being invited to them, but of course it’s never a party without food.  So how do you keep the party spirit when not everybody in the world is vegan yet?
This sort of gathering can be an opportunity to show just how festive even simple vegan treats can be.  Also, everyone has so much more party energy when they’re not loaded down with heavy fatty foods.

Kid’s Birthdays - Attending


What is your goal for this party?  For example:
  • My child must eat nothing with any animal products at the party
  • My child must not eat meat or dairy foods but may have baked goods that probably have some animal products (my own compromise as my children do not have dangerous allergies)
  • My child must…?
Now that you have your goal, what needs to happen to achieve it?  Is it a home party or an outing?  Who’s in charge of the food and can help you out?  

You might need to come to all parties with your young child to ensure your goal.

One goal I have along with my vegan goals is, “My child could be invited back to this house.”


You can talk to your host beforehand and explain what foods are absolutely off limits. This gives the host time to plan and is your chance to offer to bring something vegan that everyone will enjoy.

Also talk to your child about what you expect and why.  Give them permission to ask for help from an adult if they’re not sure what they may eat.  If you can’t be there at the party, this level of communication might be the biggest factor when your child is faced with a dizzying array of attractive party treats.
Kid’s Birthdays  - Hosting

Oh, this is much easier.  You’re buying!  We all know vegan food is amazing.  The only limit on your lavish vegan kiddie feast is your imagination.  And your budget, of course, but vegan food is cheaper.

If you’re planning an outing party, be aware that some venues will not let you bring your own food but will insist that you buy their expensive animal junk food for the helpless guests.  Think of the children and vote with your dollars – somewhere else.

I’m a bit of a health foodie as well as a vegan and I can’t bring myself to serve up
double helpings of pure party junk.  From my minimalist party advice:
“Serve some real food.  Serve it before the sweets appear.”

My parties have a generous snack table available for filling up on – and nothing to
make a kid go “Ewww, what’s that?”

  • Crackers - Rice, Corn thins, Snax (Ritz), Pretzels    
  • Chips - Salted corn chips, Salted potato chips    
  • Dips - Hummus, Mexican bean dip, Guacamole
  • Dried fruit - Raisins, apricots, banana chips    
  • Fresh fruit - Grapes, strawberries, melon...
  • Nuts - cashews, peanuts, pistachios
  • And of course there are vegan options for traditional kid party favourites like sausage rolls.

Sugar free is great, but that’s not one of my party goals.  Instead, I let the snacks stay out and get refilled before bringing out jellybeans (non-gelatine) and lollipops.

At one recent party, I already had a bulk box of ice cream cones and the kids loved serving themselves cones full of the sweets.

Enough is enough, and there’s still cake to come.AlexCake6th_sm.jpg


I can make a pretty good vegan cake and there is no shortage of great recipes

Luckily my sister can make an amazingly delicious and stunningly decorated one.

My 40th birthday

When I throw a party for mixed company, I often have a barbecue so I don’t have to do the cooking and people can eat however they like.

But for my extra special day, I wanted it all vegan, all the way and all special.  I didn’t want any of the party budget going on animal foods. 

So I approached Alice Leonard of Angel Food to do some extra special vegan catering.

She gave me a lot of great suggestions for the menu and I chose:

•    Mini sweet corn fritters topped with smoky tomato salsa
•    Mini falafel topped with aioli and chives
•    Mini filo parcels filled with herbed potato
•    Sushi with gingered carrot slaw and bbq tempeh

•    Lemon curd tarts
•    Caramel cream tarts

I could also have had
•    fresh spring rolls
•    cucumber slices topped with guacamole
•    cocoa-coconut meringues
•    choc-dipped marshmallow hearts

I bulked out the extra special food with my own food:
•    the usual snacks, just like for the kids’ parties
•    oven baked ready-made spring rolls
•    spicy Thai potato chunks

And my sister came up trumps again with a special vegan Earth cake (with New Zealand in full focus!)

Remember, unless you wish, there’s no need to point out that you’re only serving vegan food (except to brag to your other vegan friends – who may expect it anyway).  Nobody of any dietary persuasion will go away feeling they’ve missed out.

Party on!
Originally published in the Summer 2011 V Magazine of the Vegan Society of Aotearoa, New Zealand.