PLANTBASED SPEAKS TO DR JOEL KAHN ABOUT WHAT 40 YEARS OF PLANT BASED EATING HAS DONE FOR HIM AND WHAT ADVICE HE HAS TO GIVE
Green Space Café owner, Dr Joel Kahn, has been on a plant-based diet for over 40 years and after 30 years specialising in cardiology, he has decided to focus his efforts on trying to prevent the onset of heart disease. Dr Joel went back to University and trained in heart disease prevention to help people to reverse their ill health before they reach a hospital table.
Dr Joel spoke to us about how eating a plant based diet improves our heart health, what we can do to further lower our susceptibility to disease and the key ingredients to add or remove from our diets to achieve optimum results.
Would you say your decision to go plant based is around health rather than ethics?
Yes, as a cardiologist, it’s always been important to me to explore and identify if it was useful for my own health and then then as I was treating patients, was it going to be useful to recommend it for the treatment of patients. That is still the primary reason but now I’ve become more involved and concerned about both the welfare and plight of animals.
Back in 1977 we didn’t hear the word vegan, or animal farming very often and we also had a cleaner world. Now we have polluted oceans and coral reefs, so the impact on the environment has taken a major role also.
What is the biggest threat to people who do eat meat, dairy and eggs?
I mean the biggest threat, statistically, is developing heart disease and clogged arteries silently for quite a long time and then, but hopefully not, also suddenly developing a heart attack or a stroke.
Right after that is the risk of cancer, which is increased in people who eat regularly meat, particularly what we call processed meats like bacon, sausage and baloney. So [I try] to educate them about the scientific data and come up with a plan that’s going to work or them; maybe just changing breakfast to start with and coming up with some substitutes.
What is cholesterol, what does it do and how does it affect our bodies?
We’re talking about arteries getting progressively clogged so that either the brain or the heart doesn’t get enough blood flow or enough nutrition. Ultimately, there can be a slow deterioration where people can get short of breath, chest pain, or weak.
Developing clogged arteries is not inevitable. It was thought at one point that it was an inevitable part of aging, but then we learned that actually there are people who live to ripe old ages who never develop heart disease. There are certain things that promote it — obviously smoking, diabetes, super-high cholesterol, high blood pressures and inactivity.
We now know that it’s much more complex than that. There are certain lab tests that allow you to gather much more detail if a person seems to have a risk profile for developing clogged arteries so it’s not inevitable. We also know that 80-90 per cent of it is actually our lifestyle, and maybe 10-20 per cent of it is genetics. So we’re not doomed, even if we have a family where there are a lot of heart attacks and strokes. Even if you have that family history, you can overcome it with eating better, sleeping better and exercising better.
What’s the role of exercise in this?
We know that, in very broad terms, that fitness and movement like walking at your lunch break, taking the stairs and riding your bike to work are associated with longevity and with delaying or avoiding diseases, so it’s a big factor.
Now there is a statement that you cannot out-exercise a bad diet. There was a famous runner in the US in the 1970s called Jim Fixx; he had a book called The Book of Running. It was really one of the first books to deal with marathon running. He would often say ‘I can eat whatever I want because I run so much’. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the age of 53 — a very famous event in the 1970s.
Jack Lalanne used to say ‘exercise is king and nutrition is queen’ but many of us feel he got it backwards — that nutrition is the king and fitness is the queen.
You have spoken in the past about eliminating fat – does that include all fats?
My perspective is it’s not all fats — we’ve known for many decades it’s not all fats. A very famous researcher, Ancel Keys, studied Finland and studied the island of Crete. They both ate about 40 per cent of their diet from fat, but the heart attack rate in Crete was very low and the heart attack rate in Finland was the world’s highest. The difference was the fat in the diet in Finland was mainly animal derived saturated fat; they ate a tonne of cheese and butter and meats and the fat calories in Crete were mostly fresh olive oil. It remains true that in a spectrum, the most dangerous [fats] for conditions like heart disease and possibly cancer are animal fats that are usually rich in saturated fats. It’s controversial but many of us feel that tropical oils like coconuts and palm pretty much deserve to be in the same column as eggs, butter, dairy and cheese – the science is strong.
Both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have recently advised people not to add coconut and palm oil to their diet, based on the concerns that it’s a trigger for heart disease.
In the middle [of the spectrum] would be vegetable oils and this has become a huge controversy in the US just in the last few weeks. There was an article which got published by the American Heart Association on this. It suggests that if you were eating a lot of butter and a lot of cheese and you switched to vegetable oils for cooking or vegetable margarine, which aren’t the same as they were 30 years ago because now they are largely free of what’s called the trans-fats, they’re a much better choice and they reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 30 per cent, which is great.
Many of us feel that the best solution is the least amount of added fats. You want to eat nuts? Great. You want to eat whole olives? Great. You want to eat avocados? Great, but oils are a processed food — you don’t find oils in nature, you have to create oils in a factory, you know. Eating with little added oil has been shown to be really healthy.
In your professional opinion, can sports people succeed on a plant based diet?
Yes. So this is a curiosity to many people, but there are very successful athletes, weight-lifters, endurance athletes who are running 100 miles in a competition, who are eating nothing but 100 per cent plants.
There is an NFL footballer player who has just retired, David Carter, who calls himself the 300 pound vegan and I tell you he can actually lift more weight since he gave up animal products and recovers from injury more quickly, although he’s not getting hit on the football field any more.
There’s also an endurance athlete, Matt Frazier, he goes by No Meat Athlete, and his endurance times have all improved.
So yes, these people all do very well and they seem to recover better.
Do you have any top ingredients for heart health?
Top foods for heart health would be nuts (walnuts and Brazil nuts), pomegranates, beetroot, watermelon and any and all greens, like kale, parsley and broccoli.
Are there any vegan foods that should be avoided or eaten in moderation?
Some people really enjoy substitute hamburgers, substitute hotdogs, substitute baloneys, and they can make for very nice occasional meals.
What’s your favourite meal?
As you know, I own a restaurant. My favourite meal is actually our lentil burger — it’s a burger in a bun which is home made in our restaurant, gluten-free, and delicious. We do a side salad and there’s some fresh avocado on top and we make our own cashew cheese, so usually a little slice of that.
My restaurant, Green Space Café, is about to launch a food truck. I already own a restaurant – but you can’t take a restaurant and put it on wheels, so we’re going to start bringing organic and vegan food all over the Detroit area, to work places, to hospitals, to schools, and expose people to the delicious flavour and health advantage and hope that they’ll see it and they’ll take great care with their diet.
Can you tell me more about your Ultimate Guide to Organic Groceries?
The Ultimate Guide to Organic Groceries is where I show that you can take a great vegan lifestyle and you can make it even better.
One way you can make a vegan diet better is by taking the proper vitamins, but another way is to try to explore eating largely or only organic — it’s becoming more and more available.
Although fruits and vegetables are healthy choices, in those industries herbicides and pesticides are an issue. We know that if your choice is an apple or a donut, then eat the apple. Eat it rather than a chocolate cake.
But what if you have a choice between an organic apple and a regular apple? We know you’re better off in terms of two things; one is our exposure to toxins like pesticides and the other is that there’s actually usually more nutrition, more magnesium, more vitamins in the organic option. The guide is a guide to knowing which produce is most important to buy organic, advantages to buying organic and some resources online to buying organic.
If you keep rosemary, oregano or turmeric in your kitchen they can be heavily sprayed with pesticides and so searching for the organic option can take a super healthy option in adding organic spices to your dishes. You can find the guide at ultimategroceryguide.com