The Plant Rx

Your resource for a plant-based diet

» Spotlight: The Plant Rx on Vegan Consultant

Posted by Jenn on March 28, 2011


» Spotlight: The Plant Rx Vegan Consultant.

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Cheese as an opioid? and, what the heck are “casomorphins”?

Posted by Jenn on March 15, 2011


If you talk to anyone who has recently switched to a plant-based diet and you ask them what food(s) they miss most, 9 times out of

Bovine Beta-Casomorphin-7 courtesy of Wikipedia

10, they will say cheese! Nope, not chocolate cake or BBQ, it’s cheese.  The same thing is the case if you talk to a vegetarian about completely transitioning to a plant-based diet and omitting dairy from their diet.  The typical response is, ” I would, but I can’t give up cheese”.

So, why is this?  After all, cheese does kind-of smell like dirty socks!

The answer is: Casomorphins.

Ok, well, that’s great – but, 1. What exactly are casomorphins and 2. How do they explain our love obsession with cheese? And, 3. does it even matter?

  • 1.  What are “Casomorphins“?

Definition: Casomorphins are peptides, i.e., protein fragments, derived from the digestion of milk protein.

Casein, is the milk protein that makes up 80-86% of the protein content of cow’s milk.  Casein has been documented to break down in the stomach to produce the peptide, casomorphin, an opioid that acts as a histamine releaser. [1]  (Although, not the topic of this blog post, the fact that casomorphins are a direct histamine releaser in humans is why so many people are allergic to dairy products; An estimated 70% of the population worldwide.)

Thus, the distinguishing characteristic of casomorphins is that they have an opioid effect.

  • 2.  How do casomorphins explain our love obsession with cheese?Unknown

In his book Breaking the Food Seduction, Dr. Neal Barnard discusses the addictive qualities of casein. He uses the example of chocolate to explain how this works:

University of Michigan researchers showed that chocolate does not merely tickle your taste buds; it actually works inside your brain in much the same way opiate drugs do. The researchers gave 26 volunteers a drug called naloxone, an opiate-blocker used in emergency rooms to stop heroin, morphine, and other narcotics from affecting the brain. It turned out that naloxone blocked much of chocolate’s appeal. When they offered volunteers a tray filled with Snicker’s bars, M & M’s, chocolate chip cookies, and Oreos, chocolate was not much more exciting than a crust of dry bread.

In other words, chocolate’s attraction does not come simply from its creamy texture or deep brown color. It appears to stimulate the same part of the brain that morphine acts on. For all intents and purposes, it is a drug-not necessarily a bad one and not a terribly strong one, but strong enough nonetheless to keep us coming back for more.

As common as chocolate addiction may be, it is by no means the only potentially addictive food, nor is it the most dangerous. In PCRM‘s research studies, when we take people off meat, dairy products, and other unhealthy fare, we often find that the desire for cheese, in particular, lingers on much more strongly than for other foods. While they might like ice cream or yogurt, they describe their feelings for cheese as a deep-seated craving. Could cheese really be addictive?

Well, in 1981, Eli Hazum and his colleagues at Wellcome Research Laboratories in Research Triangle Park, N.C., reported a remarkable discovery. Analyzing samples of cow’s milk, they found traces of a chemical that looked very much like morphine. They put it to one chemical test after another. And, finally, they arrived at the conclusion that, in fact, it is morphine. There is not a lot of it and not every sample had detectable levels. But there is indeed some morphine in both cow’s milk and human milk.

Morphine, of course, is an opiate and is highly addictive. So how did it get into milk? At first, the researchers theorized that it must have come from the cows’ diets. After all, morphine used in hospitals comes from poppies and is also produced naturally by a few other plants that the cows might have been eating. But it turns out that cows actually produce it within their bodies, just as poppies do. Traces of morphine, along with codeine and other opiates, are apparently produced in cows’ livers and can end up in their milk.

But that was only the beginning, as other researchers soon found. Cow’s milk-or the milk of any other species, for that matter-contains a protein, called casein, that breaks apart during digestion to release a whole host of opiates, called casomorphins. A cup of cow’s milk contains about six grams of casein. Skim milk contains a bit more, and casein is concentrated in the production of cheese…

{It takes approximately 10lbs of milk to make 1lb of cheese.  As milk is turned into cheese, most of its water is removed leaving behind concentrated casein and fat.  Thus, concentrated dairy products, like cheese, have especially high levels of opiates}

…When you drink a glass of milk or eat a slice of cheese, stomach acid and intestinal bacteria snip the casein molecular chains into casomorphins of various lengths. One of them, a short string made up of just five amino acids, has about one-tenth the pain-killing potency of morphine”.

At this point you might be wondering what the evolutionary basis might be for these opiates to be in a mammal’s milk.  Dr. Barnard, goes on to explain that:

“It appears that the opiates from mother’s milk produce a calming effect on the infant and, in fact, may be responsible for a good measure of the mother-infant bond. No, it’s not all lullabies and cooing. Psychological bonds always have a physical underpinning. Like it or not, mother’s milk has a drug-like effect on the baby’s brain that ensures that the baby will bond with Mom and continue to nurse and get the nutrients all babies need. Like heroin or codeine, casomorphins slow intestinal movements and have a decided antidiarrheal effect. The opiate effect may be why adults often find that cheese can be constipating, just as opiate painkillers are”.

  • 3.  Does all of this matter?

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Lessons Learned: From the participants in the plant-based health study

Posted by Jenn on March 12, 2011


The Plant-based Health Study ends this upcoming week on Tuesday, March 15th.  It has been a great experience for myself and the participants.  As we await the final (60 day) results from the study I asked the participants what were the top thing(s) they learned from participating in the study: switching from either a SAD or a vegetarian diet to a plant-based one.  Here’s what they had to say!

Jax

I cannot expect most doctors, manufactures, and producers of any edible products to be looking out for my best interests as far as what i put into my mouth. And you know what, I shouldn’t. It is my responsibility.  To  blame anyone other than myself would be like blaming  the man  who just hit me because it stepped into the middle of traffic because I thought they would stop for me as they were going 50mph. It is truly our own obligation to ourselves to read labels and educate ourselves. If our doctors are not properly trained and educated in nutrition as part of their training how can we possibly expect them to educate us?

And finally, eating plant-based all the time is not easy. It does take commitment. Commitment to our very lives. But even with that being said I am learning that moderation is KEY. However in America we don’t have any concept of what that really means and to me it means just this, treat animal based products like I would, say an Ice Cream Sundae.. yummy every once in a while but not an every meal occurrence or even an everyday occurrence.  See Jax’s Page.

John

This study has shown me that the SAD way of eating is a slow and sure way of cutting years off of all of our lives.  All of America has been brought up to think that the simplest way to get something to eat is to pull up to a drive thru window and grab a bag of pure poison to add to the hormone fed dinner that will be added to their bodies later in the evening.  I am not by far the healthiest person on the earth but this study has opened my eyes to a better way of eating through a mostly Plant Based Diet.  I do not know if I will stick strictly to a Plant based Diet but I do know that my hormone fed SAD eating is a thing of the past.  See John’s Page.

Amber

I have learned so much about ingredients and how everything has an effect. the smallest things can make the biggest differences. This has opened a huge window for me, not only am i staying vegan, i also would like to be gluten-free. after the major differences in how i feel and look i want to further my healthy life style. i am truly inspired. thank you Jenna!!!  See Amber’s Page.

Vanessa

Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t actually have to be that drastically different.   Sure, eating hemp seeds and tempeh and wheatgrass are great, but it’s probably best to keep things simple and stick with what you know in the beginning.  There were plenty of foods that I was already eating that fit in perfectly with a plant-based diet.  Also, don’t forget about beans, lentils, nuts, sweet potatoes, etc!  These guys filled me up and kept me full for longer.  Loads of veggies are great, but I felt a lot better when they were combined with some heartier foods. See Vanessa’s Page.

Nikki

One of the things I learned from the study was that there are so may other sources of protein that you can eat besides meat or fish or eggs. I have found that beans, legumes and tofu fill me up just as much. Also my husband who has mostly been vegan on this journey with me has seen a huge improvement in his brittle nails. His fingernails are now soft and supple and they don’t break as easily. He attributes this to the change in diet. Although I still struggle with my weight my cholesterol has come done significantly and I have learned I can control it with a plant-based diet.  See Nikki’s Page.

Megan

I can still make all of the dishes I love and make them vegan. Once they make a great vegan cheese, it will be perfect! But, it takes more time and can be expensive. One doesn’t find too many vegan options at the 99 cent store 🙂  I can still be satisfied and don’t feel ” cheated” by eating vegan. I had to get creative, and thank goodness for Mothers and Whole Foods! See Megan’s Page.

Stephanie

I learned that planning on a plant-based diet is absolutely essential.  I can pretty much “veganize” any recipe that I like.  That isn’t the hard part.  The more difficult part is when you are out to eat or tired and don’t feel like cooking, etc. It you plan ahead you can be prepared for those times and this makes eating this way a lot easier.  It takes time to get used to but you do get used to it and it isn’t as hard as you might think.  I do like the food.  I don’t miss meat at all, but I do still have cheese cravings.  Yes, Jenna, I know it’s the casomorphins! 🙂 I am planning on remaining plant-based for life as my health has improved substantially as a result. Now if that cheese craving would just go away… 🙂 See Stephanie’s Page.

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Interview with Dr. Jenna Taylor from The PLANT RX – Blog – Health and Happiness Club

Posted by Jenn on March 10, 2011


Interview with Dr. Jenna Taylor from The PLANT RX – Blog – Health and Happiness Club.

Jenna & friend

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Top 5 things our plant-based health study taught this M.D.

Posted by Jenn on March 7, 2011


One truly amazing thing about life is that we have the opportunity to continuously learn new things. Learning new things rocks!  And, while we were pretty sure what the outcomes would be, this was no exception.

We are still 9 days away from the official end of the plant-based health study and approximately 12-14 days from having the final results available to us and published.  That being said, while contemplating the parameters for our next study and reviewing reader submitted ideas on things they would like to see us measure in the future, I got to thinking about all the amazing things that I’ve learned so far in this one.

Here are the top 5!


1. Psoriasis

There are a lot of  anecdotal stories out there on how a plant-based diet can be beneficial in the treatment of medical conditions and disease other than heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and certain cancers.  There is also some scientific research to back up those ascertations but much more needs to be done before it can be said with a great degree of certainty that this is indeed the case.

That being said, I have never seen it first hand.  Until now! Amber, one of the study participants, has struggled with psoriasis for quite some time – experiencing a number of patches on both her arms and legs.  She has tried a number of different things to keep this chronic autoimmune condition at bay, but while some treatments have helped, none have been close to a cure.

After 30 days on a diet completely free of meat and dairy products, Amber has experienced almost 100% resolution of her patches! I’ve seen it first hand and I couldn’t be more happy for her.  It’s one thing to read or hear about these types of things but it’s quite another to see it first-hand.

2. Probiotics

It’s important not to make blanket statements about medicines/treatments especially when there isn’t any substantial clinical evidence or experience to back it up.  When it comes to probiotics there is data out there but none directly pertaining to any benefits they may or may not have when someone is transitioning to  plant-based diet.

As in the situation above, I have heard anecdotal accounts of probiotics being helpful but not much otherwise.  During the course of our study several of the participants had some gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort as a result of moving to a plant-based diet.

Note:  This is common and it is apart of the natural detoxification process.

The participants who experienced the GI upset took probiotics to help with these symptoms.  Everyone who used them said they helped.  The degree to which they helped varied from substantial to adequate.  Thus, I would say I now know that probiotics can be a useful consideration in those experiencing GI issues as the result of a switch from a Standard American Diet (SAD) to a plant-based one.

3. Oil, oil, oil…

While everyone in the plant-based community agrees on the exclusion of meat and dairy products from our diet for prevention and reversal of disease, not everyone agrees on whether or not oils and highly saturated fat laden foods (i.e. nuts & avocados) should be omitted as well.

In fact, two of the foremost thought leaders seem to diverge on this as well: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish. Esselstyn’s mantra  is “moderation kills” and he advocates a plant-based diet that excludes oils, nuts, etc even if they are technically “plant-based”.

Ornish, on the other hand, is much less strict on this issue and allows for their inclusion, although he still emphasizes a diet as low in saturated fat as possible (less than 10% of daily caloric intake).  That doesn’t exactly allow for much oil anyway being that olive oil for example has approximately 120 calories per tablespoon with 2 grams (or 14%) coming from saturated fat, 78% from monounsaturated fat and 8% for polyunsaturated fat. No matter how you looks at it, olive oil is 120 calories of pure fat per tablespoon.

Without delving into the argument of good fats vs. bad fats, etc. and the reason behind why Esselstyn has adopted this stringent mantra and Ornish has not, I wasn’t 100% sure of where I stood on the whole debate other than the obvious observation that less fat is better.

I now can say that this study (in addition to a few other poignant reasons I’ll discuss in an upcoming post) has resulted in me landing on Esselstyn’s side of the fence. The reason is due to the increased triglyceride levels in some of the participants despite the reductions in their total and LDL cholesterol.  I think it is likely that these triglyceride increases seen in some of the participants are the result of increased consumption of oils, nuts and other highly saturated fat laden foods.

Additionally, when first adjusting to the switch to a plant-based diet many opt for pre-packaged processed vegan foods such as vegan cheese, veganaise, and prepared vegan meals which are extremely high in saturated fat.  Further, when eating out at mainstream restaurants the vegetarian and vegan options (which tend to be few) are often cooked in lots of oil to enhance taste. This is done to ensure that these menu items are just as tasty as there SAD counterparts.

It is my expectation that once acclimated more fully to plant-based nutrition people will end up cooking more at home and becoming more astute regarding their choices and their triglyceride levels will eventually decrease as well.

How about this for a visual: Animal fat is a solid at room temperature whereas plant is liquid.  Imagine how well that solid stuff fares in your GI tract.

4. Sugar, sugar, sugar.  Pre-diabetes, and Hemoglobin A1Cs

I love sweet things!  Who doesn’t?  We all know we should do our best to limit our consumption of these items and some of us do better than others.  If you are vegan, most likely you already limit if not exclude the consumption of sugar because the majority of it is processed with animal bone char (charcoal made from animal bones). – –actually the explanation is much more convoluted than this, but this works for our purpose here.

The participants in our study were not restricted with regard to sugar consumption.  The aim of this study was to look at the benefits of a plant-based diet on a macro level and not get lost in the details.  Please note I am not discounting the importance of these details, we simply chose not to focus on these for the sake of study compliance.

The reason this is important is because of the increasing prevalence of  “pre-diabetes” here in the U.S. and the obvious role that large amounts of sugar found in the SAD contribute to this trend. Prior to our study beginning, 4 of the 7 participants had Hemoglobin A1C values that would classify them as pre-diabetic (>5.7).  After only 30 days all 4 of the participants lowered this value by .4!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Success story of the week: Lindsay!

Posted by Jenn on March 4, 2011


(This week’s success story is a little early, but better than late!)

Meet Lindsay:

Lindsay

 

 

Lindsay Wolf is a Los Angeles-based animal advocate, actress, and founder of Kiss Me, I’m Vegan!, “a blog for the happy vegan in all of us.” KMIV blends Lindsay’s personal vegan journey with the journeys of other vegan superheroes who endlessly inspire her, including interviews with authors Colleen Patrick-Goudreau of Compassionate Cooks, THE Skinny Bitch herself, Rory Freedman and Veganomicon‘s Isa Chandra Moskowitz, as well as Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Animal Rights Hall of Fame recipient Zoe Weil. Lindsay has also guest blogged on The Kind Life, Your Daily Vegan, Vegan At Heart, and LeaveItBetter.com, and she’s a regular visitor and fan of Animal Acres Sanctuary in Acton, CA. Check more out at www.kissmeimvegan.com.

The Plant Rx’s Interview with Lindsay!

 


  • What your diet was like before adopting a plant-based diet?

Before I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle, my diet consisted of occasional trips to McDonald’s for midnight double whopper runs. That alone should tell you that I was not at all connected to the food I ate or my health! I definitely didn’t eat whole foods, but rather consumed a lot of processed, “low fat” junk food and animal products – cheese, steak, and ice cream being huge go-to choices, for example. I was completely disconnected from consuming wholesome, healthy food, but rather ate to get to a certain weight or ate from being stressed – not a good way to live, if you ask me. It wasn’t until I went vegan that I ever began to listen to my body to discover what foods I really need on a daily basis – and those foods are a far cry from the double whoppers of the past!

  • Why did you choose to adopt a plant-based diet? (health, animal ethics, environment, etc)

I am doing this 100% for the animals. After witnessing documented animal cruelty back in 2007, I could not in good conscience support a system where, in order to make me a delicious meal, an animal had to suffer, be confined, and die a painful death (you can learn more about my journey into veganism here: http://kissmyvegan.blogspot.com/p/about-me.html). What cemented my decision was the experience of learning that we don’t need animal products to live healthily, which made eating an ice cream sundae just because I liked ice cream not so enjoyable anymore. That’s not to say I don’t eat ice cream – I do now, and plenty of it! I just eat coconut milk-based or soy-based alternatives to my favorite ice cream dishes of the past. They are just as delicious, and no mommy or baby cows had to suffer for my dessert!

  • Was it hard/easy/as you expected?

The first few months were only difficult because I didn’t know how to cook or bake for myself. I had to basically re-teach myself how to make food! Besides that, it was super easy. Since I was choosing to take into account the well being of animals at every meal, I didn’t think twice about turning down a slice of cake when out with friends or butter-topped popcorn at the movies. It was the least I could do to help the world a little each and every day. Over time, I learned how to make my own delicious versions of the foods I used to love, and it got easier and easier with each bite. Now, the thought of ever going back to eating animal products just seems silly to me – I will be a vegan for my entire life, happily and healthily!

  • What changes have you seen as a result of switching; has it changed your life? If so how?

Well, for starters, I have more energy, I’m in better general health, and I actually care about the food I put into my body! Read the rest of this entry »

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Vegan on the silver screen

Posted by Jenn on March 3, 2011


Vegan on the silver screen. @ CNN

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Success story of the week: JL

Posted by Jenn on February 28, 2011


A Success story interview with JL!
  • What your diet was like before adopting a plant-based/ vegan diet?

I was on an eight year vegetarian journey before going vegan. I ate most vegetarian (still at fish) for four years and then for four years I ate completely vegetarian.  I ate mostly whole grains, “good fats,” veggies and lots (lots!) of cheese, milk, eggs, milk and tofu.  During these eight years I took up running and triathlon.

  • Why did you chose  to transition/switch (health, animal ethics, environmental reasons)?

I went vegan for dietary reasons.  I wasn’t feeling good (digestion) and had some recurring skin issues.  I went to a nutrition counselor to try a seasonal cleanse. By the end of the cleanse, which omitted whole wheat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, I realized I was an egg away from being vegan. I decided to try a vegan diet.  Several months after going vegan I noticed a shift in my thinking. I say that I became vegan for dietary reasons. I remain vegan for ethical reasons.

  • Was it hard/easy/as you expected, etc to transition?

It was surprisingly easy to begin and maintain a vegan diet!  But it’s because I surround myself with support.  I read vegan blogs religiously. I bought cookbooks.  I follow hundreds of vegans on Twitter.  I’ve never had an unanswered question and I think that it was has been key.

  • What changes have you seen as a result of switching to a plant-based diet? has it changed anything in your life? If so how? Motivated you to do things you hadn’t done in the past? Try new things?
Physically, I feel better than ever.  In addition to eating vegan, I have increased raw foods into my diet. I’m sleeping well, my energy is high and finally some of those nagging skins issues (eczema and candida-ish skin reactions) are subsiding.
But most importantly, I have fallen in love with food. I love preparing healthy, delicious vegan food.  My relationship to food has changed drastically. So much so that this January, when I would normally start my “annual” diet, I decided to simply embrace those 10 pounds that always found me by January 1. I realized that perhaps those 10 pounds were part of me and shouldn’t be banished.  I bought bigger clothes and quit weighing myself on a daily basis.  At 45, I feel free!
  • How do you feel now?

Never better. Seriously.

To read more about JL’s journey, check out her blog:  JL goes Vegan: Food & Fitness with a side of Kale

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Vanessa’s results just in & updated results grid

Posted by Jenn on February 23, 2011


Almost all of our 30 day data is in. (Only one more participant to go)

Vanessa’s lab results came back today and her results are phenomenal! Vanessa’s total cholesterol went from 255 to 206!  With that 49 point drop her total cholesterol is almost within the normal range.  Her LDL cholesterol dropped from 130 to 86. An impressive 44 point drop! Great job Vanessa.

Here is the most up-to-date 30 day results grid:


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More study results & updated results grid!

Posted by Jenn on February 22, 2011


Today Jax and Megan’s labs came in and they are keeping the streak going with some more incredible results!  

In the first 30 days of switching from a SAD to a plant-based diet Jax  has:

  • lost 9lbs
  • decreased her total cholesterol 16 points
  • increased her HDL 14 points
  • decreased her LDL from 152 to 128!  A whopping 24 points!

This 24 point decrease brings Jax’s LDL cholesterol within the normal range!

Megan, who was a pescatarian prior to our study, decreased her total cholesterol from 167 to 159, an 8 point decrease.  The rest of her values remained fairly constant.  These results were expected being that Megan was already a pescatarian.

*Remember, Megan was one of only two of our participants whose values were all within normal ranges from the study’s start.  The second, Amber,  was also mostly vegetarian (we will have Amber’s results back later this week) before the study’s start.

** Lab results will be posted on the Plant-based Study page under the participant.

Below is an updated results chart.  We still are awaiting results from 2 of our 7 participants and will fill that in as soon as we have them (Vanessa’s are expected tomorrow).  Yellow shading represents values that are considered high and outside of the ranges that are considered normal.

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