Today I have a special health Q & A with my step-mom, Kathy Latcham.
Kathy is a retired nurse anesthetist and this past year, when my dad (John) was diagnosed with cognitive memory issues, Kathy and I began researching if natural products or food could help. Dad had a triple by-pass years ago, and has been to the Cath Lab three times since for stents, so he takes medications daily to keep everything related in check.
Is it possible food can help him get off some of those?
Below is a Q & A about changes they’ve made in their diet, and Kathy shares a recipe dad particularly likes. (Trust me, it’s a miracle he likes anything healthy.)
Have these changes made a difference? Read on to find out.
Q: Why did you change your diet?
About 30 plus years ago I was driving to Minneapolis and happened to pass a truckload of turkeys. They were over-packed into tiny crates, and feathers were flying everywhere as the truck went down the road. Since it was October, I knew they were heading to be slaughtered. I decided not to eat turkey that Thanksgiving. (I wasn’t thinking about health reasons at all.) From there, I gradually stopped eating beef and chicken, but still ate fish. After hearing a story (from your dad) of how a big fish cried like a baby as it was being clubbed to death on the deck of a fishing boat one too many times, I stopped eating fish, too. I later added it back in.
Fast forward to 2017…
You suggested I read the book How Not To Die by Michael Greger, MD, to see if maybe John would go on that diet. I read the book and was fascinated. I personally began right away to eliminate dairy and eggs from my diet. I didn’t make a big deal about it, and not many knew I changed anything. I thought I needed to try it before I could sell it to your dad.
The book mentioned the movie, Forks over Knives quite a few times, so I ordered the DVD and watched it.
Later, I shared it with your dad. The first thing he asked after seeing it was, “If I eat that way can I go off all of my medications?” I let him know he could go off his statin drugs for starters. (That was probably the drug that caused two spontaneous tendon tears and possibly affected his mental status.) On 09/03/2017, he began eating a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet. (WFPB)
Q: How did you both eat before that?
I used to eat a lot of meat and cheese before I turned vegetarian. (Even on the old Weight Watchers plan.) Your dad loved sweets, plus meat and potatoes. He didn’t eat anything green except a little salad and peas.
Q: Did you change your diet slowly, or go cold turkey? Is there an easy way to transition?
A. We went cold turkey, but the book Forks Over Knives Plan actually has a 4 week program outlined for those who want to transition more slowly.
Q: How does dad feel about the new recipes?
He has surprisingly not complained and eats everything on his plate. He is amazing because I know these foods were never his favorites. I fix smoothies with kale, spinach, and flax seed meal, and he drinks them. (I do try to cover the green color with frozen cherries and cocoa.) He is happy with a cut up apple as a snack, or a bowl of air-popped popcorn.
Q: Is breaking a sugar habit hard? Do you have “cheat” days?
I asked your dad and he said no he didn’t think it was hard.
We still have sweets but in different forms. There are recipes we’ve tried for brownies and cookies that don’t contain dairy or eggs, and are sweetened with date sugar or maple syrup, and use applesauce instead of oil. They might not be sweet enough for some, but they are great treats for us. A lot of times we will just have a bowl of fruit or grilled fruit.
We definitely don’t have cheat days. That would be defeating the whole purpose of eating healthy. Plus, if a person is really addicted to sugar, having a cheat day would be like telling an recovering alcoholic/drug addict that cheat days are acceptable. We snack more now on roasted nuts or popcorn.
Q: Have you noticed a difference in health?
It wasn’t much of a change for me, but I think my fingernails seem a bit stronger.
John seems to be more alert in the evenings than he was two months ago. While watching Wheel of Fortune tonight, he solved a couple of puzzles before I did. Also, I don’t think he sleeps as much after meals, and he has been working in the basement more.
When we told John’s doctor he had switched to a plant-based diet he didn’t say “oh great!!!” but listened. John asked if he could go off all of his meds and the doctor encouraged him to continue his cardiac ones since they were such low doses. Later he emailed us and said that John’s cholesterol levels were good, and if he wanted to change his statin drug, that was possible. We did not tell him John had been off them for about 3 weeks. But I will tell the doctor now, and promise that John will go back on them if he goes back to his old way of eating.
Q. Any other advice or thoughts?
There are social implications to prepare for.
We may not get as many invites for dinner, or people who want to come to our house because they’re not sure how to cook for us. (That can be worked around, but it has to be thought through.) My sister says she feels like she’s lost her best friend since I’m not eating like I used to. It may seem like we’ve gone to the extreme to her and others.
This whole foods plant-based diet is different than a vegan diet because you can still eat very unhealthy on a vegan diet. A lot of sugar-laden cereals are vegan. Oreos are vegan. French fries made in processed vegetable oil are vegan. There are a lot of vegetarian prepared foods that are filled with chemicals. A whole foods plant-based diet doesn’t include those foods, so it’s a step further.
Lastly, I wish I had started this a long time ago!
Thank you, Kathy! I’ll update the readers as the months progress with any new changes in dad’s health.
How we think about food is a journey, but one I believe is a better thought when it comes to fueling our bodies for a vibrant life.
Mexican Casserole Recipe
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, chopped
One 1 pound butternut squash,peeled, seeded and cubed
1 Tb chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
19 ounces canned black beans, rinsed and drained
One 14 oz can whole tomatoes (no salt added)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 cups water
1/3 cup vegan Mexican blend shredded cheese
1/2 red bell pepper seeded and finely diced
2 Tb chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- Saute carrots and onion in oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the squash, chili powder, cumin and garlic; cook stirring as needed, until the onion is golden, 4-5 minutes longer. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, oregano, cloves, cayenne and 1/4 tsp of salt; bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon and stirring as needed, until thickened, 18-20 minutes.
- Meantime, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium saucepan, combine the cornmeal the remaining 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 cups water; bring to a boil , whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking constant, until the mixture is very thick and pulls way from the side of the pan, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly, then stir in the cheese, bell pepper, cilantro and black pepper.
- Transfer the squash mixture to a 9 inch square baking dish; top with the cornmeal mixture. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and lightly browned, about 40 minute
Have a great weekend!