Science and the Mediterranean Diet

I know I am supposed to be going through my ever-growing collection of faith-based diets but an article on the New York Times website caught my eye this week and I couldn’t resist taking a break from the books to share it. The article, “Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke,” written by Gina Kolata was published on February 25, 2013. Kolata explained that a new study published on the New England Journal of Medicine’s website was “the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks” (1).  Almost all of the books I have covered so far have promoted a variation on the Mediterranean diet for both health and religious reasons. The religious reasons were clear from the books and the authors provided biblical evidence to support the idea that the Mediterranean diet is the right diet for religious people. This study helps to support the additional claims many of the authors made about the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits.

The study posted on the New England Journal of Medicine website is titled “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.” The study noted that the “traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetable, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals.” For the purposes of the study, a random trial was set up with 7,447 participants in Spain who were at high-risk for a cardiovascular event. During the study a third of the participants followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, another third followed a Mediterranean diet supplements with nuts and the remaining participants followed a control diet of low-fat foods. Participants were not given a calorie restriction and physical activity was not promoted. After five years, the researchers determined that those who followed either of the Mediterranean diets (supplements with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil) reduced their relative risk of cardiovascular events by 30%. The study concluded “The results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

In the New York Times article, Kolata noted that the participants tasked with following the Mediterranean diets stayed on them, but that those who were supposed to follow a low-fat diet “ did not lower their fat intake very much” (2). So, in the end the study compared the standard modern diet of “red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods” (2) with the Mediterranean diet that prohibited all such foods. The results of the study are only relevant for those at high-risk for heart disease and according to the article some proponents of other diets to reduce heart disease risk have already dismissed the study. Meanwhile others have hailed it and Kolata concluded by pointing out that many of the researchers on the study are now following the Mediterranean diet. For those interested, the New York Times website also has a quiz so you can find out if you follow a Mediterranean diet.

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Bod4God: The Four Keys to Weight Loss by Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds, nicknamed “the Anti-Fat Pastor” by the media, wrote Bod4God after his diabetes diagnosis and subsequent 100 pound weight loss journey. He explained, “I want to share what I’ve learned, because it works” (13). Bod4God is intended for use in a communal Christian setting. Reynolds started the program in his own church, Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, VA, and provided resources in the book and on his website (http://www.bod4god.org/) to enable readers to start his “Losing to Live” program at their home church.

The four keys to weight loss laid out in the book are:

Dedication: Honoring God with Your Body

Inspiration: Motivating Yourself for Change

Eat and Exercise: Managing Your Habits

Team: Building Your Circle of Support (14)

The book laid out a twelve-week plan for a complete lifestyle change based on these four keys to weight loss. Reynolds also listed the three reasons that “Losing to Live” would work: It is biblical, it is personal and it is incremental (14). Each of the twelve chapters (one for each week) began with a bible verse, suggested incremental steps to lose weight, highlighted a success story and provided information on a number of issues related to weight loss including diseases related to obesity, food, and mental health. Each chapter ends with worksheets including a “Small Steps to Life Record” for recording “skinny things” including exercise, eating less and drinking water, a “Bod4God Victory Guide” in which the reader is prompted to answer questions based on the week’s memory verse and issues brought up in the week’s chapter, and a “My Bod4God Journal” page to “record what God is telling you to do this week to apply the four keys to a better body.”

Bod4God provided all of these helpful worksheets and suggestions for eating less and exercising more but it is not as prescriptive as the diets I covered previously. The book does not explicitly prohibit any foods or promote a specific diet plan. Reynolds simply recommended that his readers eat “better and less” (128) and encouraged them to consult the USDA food pyramid, read food labels, and drink water. Reynolds even allowed for a “cheat meal” once per week in which dieters are permitted to enjoy foods that should otherwise be avoided. Reynolds did include information on the difference between living food (made by God, raw or unprocessed) and dead food (made by man, chemically processed or without nutrients) but he never goes so far as to say his readers should avoid all processed foods (212).The entire plan is a flexible one that is more dependent on community support and God than on a detailed diet plan. The “Losing to Live” program sets people up in teams that compete to be the biggest losers. With their community support in place, readers are also encouraged to “Put God on Your Team, Live a Full Life in God, Rely on God for the Victory, Pray Regularly, Be Consistent in Daily Bible Reading and Attend Church Weekly and Participate in Church Activities (177-178). Since the program is intended as a short-term community-based program, Reynolds suggested the First Place 4 Health program as a follow-up to Bod4God and used the program for alumni of his church program. Based on the “Bod4God Close-Ups” throughout the book, which include before and after pictures, the alumni of Reynolds’ program are well on their way to healthier lives.

The Hallelujah Diet: Experience the Optimal Health You Were Meant to Have by George Malkmus with Peter & Stowe Shockey (2006).

If it appears that the Genesis-based diets are endless, fear not. The Hallelujah Diet is the last on my shelf that is explicitly based on the book of Genesis. George Malkmus, a pastor, followed what he termed “God’s original diet” (11) after being diagnosed with colon cancer. 30 years after he adopted the diet and survived colon cancer, Malkmus published The Hallelujah Diet to share it with the world. He also started Hallelujah Acres (http://www.hacres.com/), an organization set up to teach Christians how to live healthy lives through the diet, prior to publishing The Hallelujah Diet. The tagline for the diet is “Biblically Based. Scientifically Validated. Personally Evidenced.” and the book delivered on all three points. Biblical examples were discussed, scientists and physicians were consulted and the pages of The Hallelujah Diet teemed with testimonials.

In The Hallelujah Diet, Malkmus provided a diet plan based on one verse of Genesis. Malkmus offered the following translation of Genesis 1:29: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat [food]” (35). Malkmus used this verse as the basis for the Hallelujah Diet, a plant-based diet of living foods. Malkmus noted that according to the bible, from the time of creation until the flood, man was sustained on a “pure raw vegan diet” and lived to an average age of 912 (52). Malkmus identified that pure raw vegan diet as the ideal diet that God intended for humans. Malkmus mentioned the story of the prophet Daniel refusing to eat the King’s food and thriving on a vegetarian diet as an inspiration for his readers as they consider moving from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to the Hallelujah Diet.

As mentioned above, the Hallelujah Diet is a diet of living foods. Malkmus stressed the importance of eating living food but also noticed that people found less success with a raw-food only diet. The Hallelujah Diet is comprised of 85% raw-food and 15% cooked food. No animal products are permitted. Malkmus wrote, “The single most destructive thing you can put into your body is something of an animal origin: beef, poultry, seafood, milk, cheese, and eggs – anything that comes from something with a face” (114). Dieters are encouraged to ingest barley max (a product sold on the Hallelujah Acres website) and vegetable juice (a specific vegetable juice made of 2/3 carrot juice and 1/3 celery, cucumber or leafy green vegetable juice) throughout the day to supplement their diet. Malkmus also suggested that dieters drink distilled water, exercise often, sleep well, and maintain their mental health. Malkmus provided daily eating plans, lists of approved foods, access to worksheets via the Hallelujah Acres website and over forty pages of recipes to assist dieters. And, based on the hundreds of testimonials that appeared throughout the book and on the website, it seems that many have been healed by the Hallelujah Diet.

Ezekiel's Bread

The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book by Don Colbert, M.D.

Since I talked about What Would Jesus Eat last week and happen to own the companion cook book I thought I would foray briefly into food blog territory for this week’s post. The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book began with a brief introduction in which Colbert listed ten steps to help his readers change from their “typical American way of eating to a Mediterranean way of eating” (ix). Many of the steps were similar to advice offered in What Would Jesus Eat. These included eliminating processed food, using olive oil in place of other oils and fats, avoiding fried foods, limiting meat intake and exercising regularly. Colbert altered his advice on wine in the cook book version and suggested that his readers enjoy a glass of wine per day (in What Would Jesus Eat he recommended wine substitutes). Colbert also added a prescription to “make dining and experience you enjoy with others” (x). Enticed by the two hundred pages of recipes that followed I decided to make Ezekiel’s Bread, the only recipe that also appeared in What Would Jesus Eat. And, in keeping with Colbert’s ideal of dining as an experience, I brought a loaf of Ezekiel’s Bread to share with my book club.

The recipe for this bread is based on a story from the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet in the time of the Babylonian exile who responded to many of God’s requests in order to convey messages to the exiled Israelites. Colbert explained that in one such instance “God said to Ezekiel, ‘Also take for yourself wheat, barely, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt [rye]; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself’ (Ezekiel 4:9)” (85). Ezekiel was commanded to eat this bread every day for a year, and Colbert noted that it is a “complete-protein mixture” with its combination of wheat and beans.

Although the recipe for Ezekiel’s Bread appears in both What Would Jesus Eat and in The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book, the recipes are different. When I saw the recipe in What Would Jesus Eat, I was interested but intimidated. The recipe in What Would Jesus Eat called for the use of a flour mill which I do not own and I am not quite an expert enough baker to get around this missing tool (the recipe can be found on pages 86-87). Luckily, the cook book version called for pre-ground barley, soy, millet and rye flour instead of the raw ingredients. I halved the recipe because the original makes 4 loaves of Ezekiel’s Bread which seemed unnecessary (and I only have two loaf pans) but the full recipe appears below in case you feel inspired to feed the multitudes. This is a dense and satisfying bread. I served this with butter and honey at book club and enjoyed a piece at home with raspberry jam. Both versions were excellent.

 Ezekiel’s Bread

From The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book, Page 59.

Yield: 4 Loaves

4 envelopes dry yeast

1 tbsp honey

1 cup warm water

8 cups whole wheat flour

4 cups barley flour

2 cups soy flour

½ cup millet flour

¼ cup rye flour

1 cup mashed cooked lentils

4 to 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ to ¾ cup honey

4 cups water

1 tbsp Celtic Salt

  1. Stir the yeast and 1 tbsp honey into the 1 cup warm water and let stand for 10 min.
  2. Place the whole wheat flour, barley flour, soy flour, millet flour, and rye flour in a large bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Combine the lentils, olive oil, the ½ to ¾ cup honey, and ½ cup of the water in a blender, process until smooth.
  4. Combine the lentil mixture and the remaining 3 ½ cups water in a large bowl; stir until well mixed.
  5. Stir in 2 cups of the flour mixture.
  6. Stir in the yeast mixture.
  7. Add the salt and the remaining flour mixture.
  8. Knead until smooth on a floured board.
  9. Place in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk [about an hour].
  10.  Knead again.
  11. Divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a large loaf. Place in greased loaf pans.
  12. Let rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk [about an hour]
  13. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until bread tests done.Ezekiel's Bread with Raspberry Jam

What Would Jesus Eat? The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer by Don Colbert, M.D. (2002)

When I was in high school WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets were all the rage. I never witnessed any Jesus-based decision making on account of those colorful bracelets but I am excited to report that this week’s faith-based diet program is Jesus-based decision making in action. What Would Jesus Eat? is a comprehensive diet program based on what Jesus ate that also explains why contemporary Americans would do well to follow his example. Don Colbert, a board certified physician, combined his medical knowledge with his faith in this well organized and persuasive book.

The diets I covered previously were all based mainly on the dietary prescriptions of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Colbert’s diet is a slight twist on that formula. In What Would Jesus Eat? Colbert shared the same dietary prescriptions from Leviticus and Deuteronomy but he did so because Jesus would have adhered to those dietary prescriptions as a first century Judean. Colbert emphasized the benefits of eating as Jesus did: “The medical and scientific facts confirm it. If we eat as Jesus ate, we will be healthier. He is our role model for good habits in eating, exercising, and living a healthy, balanced life” (x). Colbert urged his readers to question what they eat and avoid foods that Jesus would not have eaten. Colbert made it clear that much of what Americans eat today, especially highly processed foods, would not have been part of Jesus’ diet. Colbert even suggested that “if dietary laws of the Bible were being issued by God today, there would be a ‘thou shalt not’ attached to processed foods high in sugar, hydrogenated fat, salt or additives” (7).

So what would Jesus eat? Each chapter of Colbert’s book detailed one aspect of Jesus’ diet and ended with a summary of how readers can adopt Jesus’ diet in their lives. Readers are encouraged to eat a lot of whole grains and whole grain breads, beans and vegetables. Colbert encouraged consumption of fresh fish (with fins and scales in accordance with Leviticus) and cautioned against overconsumption of meat. He suggested that readers eat only free-range, organic-fed and kosher meat, chicken and eggs and urged them to do so sparingly. Colbert noted that Jesus drank a lot of water and some red wine but Colbert recommended a red-wine substitute instead of the real thing. Colbert informed his readers that for dessert Jesus ate fruit, nuts and honey. Colbert, a realistic man of the twenty-first century, also allowed for more indulgent sweet treats but only on special occasions. Finally, Colbert reminded his readers that Jesus’ ministry involved a great deal of walking, perhaps ten to twelve miles a day. Colbert suggested that his readers also strive to get ample exercise on a daily basis. Colbert ended the book with a wealth of resources including a BMI (body mass index) chart, a Mediterranean diet food pyramid, a pantry set-up plan, a daily eating plan and a week’s worth of menus. Colbert also wrote a companion cookbook (The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book) in order to ensure that his readers could truly eat as Jesus ate.

The Maker’s Diet: The 40-day health experience that will change your life forever by Jordan S. Rubin

I’m back on track this week with another faith-based diet, The Maker’s Diet, by Jordan S. Rubin, N.M.D., Ph.D. The Maker’s Diet is a diet book that contains a great deal of information about health and wellness and relatively little information about the diet itself. Eleven of the twelve chapters cover testimonials (including Rubin’s own), repudiation of other diet plans, an introduction to naturopathic medicine and proposed lifestyle changes. Finally, after almost 200 pages, the persistent reader is rewarded with the 40-day Maker’s Diet plan.

Jordan Rubin began with his story of overcoming Crohn’s Colitis, which almost killed him before he was introduced to the Maker’s Diet. Rubin mentioned repeatedly that he was introduced to the Maker’s Diet by a man in California but that man is never given a name or credit for the plan that Rubin adopted for this New York Times Bestseller and transformed into a lucrative supplement business. The supplements, a required aspect of the Maker’s Diet plan, are actually the source of some controversy. In 2004 Rubin’s company, Garden of Life, had to stop advertising some of the supplements as “medical foods” and avoid disease claims at the behest of the FDA. Supplement controversy aside, Rubin’s diet is one that he approached through his faith and he urged his readers to do the same. Rubin encouraged his readers to approach the diet with a positive attitude and an understanding that the diet is set up to maintain or recapture complete health – body, soul and spirit (156). Rubin included a morning prayer for healing and an evening prayer for restoration and noted that “it has now been scientifically proven that prayer works” (200).

Rubin is a messianic Jew (a Jewish person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah) and his diet plan reflects the Jewish understanding of the dietary laws of the Hebrew Bible. Only clean, or kosher, animals are permitted. Rubin restricted meat intake further to grass/organic fed and free range meat. An entire chapter is dedicated to hygiene in which Rubin asserted that “God’s hygiene system is remarkably up to date” (63). Rubin also set up a new “stop, drop and roll” for his readers – stop (Sabbath rest), drop (your fork): fasting, and roll (move, exercise, get up, and do something!) (167-172).

The Maker’s Diet is laid out in three phases. For each phase Rubin provided a list of permitted and prohibited foods, a daily regimen and sample menus. The detailed daily regimens included hygiene, supplement, prayer and dietary instructions. The book concluded with a section of recipes, a list of health organizations and a directory to assist readers in finding healthy meat and dairy near their homes. The final section of the book made it clear that Rubin was right to call the Maker’s Diet a “comprehensive lifestyle plan” (39). Unfortunately this comprehensive lifestyle plan requires much more than this book. The Maker’s Diet starter pack of supplements sells for $160 and goat’s milk and grass fed/organic fed and free range meat are somewhat difficult to come by. The Maker’s Diet requires complete dedication and a hefty investment but I suppose one should expect nothing less from a diet that promises to change your life forever.

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon (2002) 

It’s that time in January when resolve starts to wane and diets fade away. I understand the impulse. I intended to post another commentary on a faith-based diet this week but was led astray by a beautiful book of faith and food that might be described as an anti-diet. The Supper of the Lamb is a book dedicated to a deep love of food as an aspect of God’s creation. Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest, encouraged his readers to look carefully at the things of the world and love them for what they are (19). Capon provided thoughtful reflections, persuasive arguments and enticing descriptions throughout the book to pass along his beloved recipe for “Lamb for Eight Persons Four Times” and persuade his readers that it is no mere recipe; it is a way of life (22).

Capon calls his cuisine “ferial” or ordinary but his description of this cuisine is extraordinary. Capon’s approach to lamb, and all food preparation, might be considered mindful cooking. With one chapter dedicated to appreciation for the onion and another on consumption of minerals, vegetables and animals in poetic form this book remained grounded in the things of life. At each step of his recipe, Capon described the proper tools, ingredients and attitude. Capon stressed throughout that ingredients deserve respect as fellow things or beings created by God. He described every encounter between cook and ingredients “a session, a meeting, a society of things” (11). So, at each step of the recipe, Capon explained and considered the necessary ingredients, recommended the proper tools and provided the appropriate method for a successful session.

Capon’s respect for the food of God’s creation engendered a hearty dismissal of dieting. He urged his readers to lessen their fear of “little invisible spooks called calories” (26) and encouraged them to consider taste before nutrition. He called for the addition of butter to almost everything and supplied decadent recipes for sauces, pastries and pastas. Despite his distaste for diets of any sort, Capon ended up recommending a procedure that serves calorie counters well. He prescribed a plateful of lettuce before a large meal with bread for the heartier appetites to fill stomach space before the indulgent food is served. Capon suggested fasting as the appropriate method for losing weight and the moderation of breakfasts and lunches in order to enjoy special suppers. He encouraged a breakfast of coffee, fruit juice and a slice of (homemade) bread (146) and a lunch of “a crust, a leaf, and a glass of wine” (147). Despite Capon’s utter disregard for diets, I imagine that if one followed his recipe and adopted his way of life, they would see an increase in spirit and soul and perhaps even a decrease on the scale.