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Industry Viewpoint: Walking the walk in the healthiest industry

Early last year my doctor’s young physician’s assistant began to harass me about my high LDL levels and attempted to convince me that I needed to join the ranks of the millions of Americans who are on cholesterol-lowering medications. This was a shock since I have always had a mild addiction to daily exercise and took pride in the comments from friends about how healthy I looked.

My HDL was excellent, triglycerides were low, my blood pressure was 105/60 and my resting heart rate was 58. Yes, I ate a lot of produce, but my weight had gradually increased over time. The right clothing did an excellent job of concealing evidence that I enjoyed a daily habit of munching on potato chips and loved those creamy dressings on my salads. I had convinced myself that due to age, I had reached a plateau and would never go back to the weight I was in college. Knowing that for every positive reaction of medications there are side effects that can accompany it I could not be convinced to let pharmaceuticals be the solution. So, I set out to lower my LDL through diet.

Three months later, I had made little progress and the PA became even more annoying. I argued with her citing a Norwegian study that said women with higher cholesterol lived longer than those with lower levels. She nagged me so much that I was determined to prove her wrong. Since I had not been successful on my own, I decided to take drastic measures and signed up for a two-week stint at a health clinic in Miami.  

When I arrived, I found that most of my fellow participants were much further into the downward spiral of health problems than me. A woman, who I will call Dee, signed up at the insistence of her family because her diabetes and blood pressure were out of control. In addition, there was Sarah, who had suffered a heart attack and stroke, and Bob a retired 80-year-old physician who was diabetic, overweight and shuffled when he walked. Others were morbidly obese.

All our meals were included in the program and the first evening we were introduced to their plant- based diet. They told us to front-load each meal with salads, beans and vegetable soups. Occasionally, meals included salmon, chicken or wild game. There was never any salt, sugar or oil. But some things that are not usually on diets were allowed, such as baked potatoes, corn and whole grains. I was never hungry, and I was eating more than I have ever eaten before. There was no calorie counting, just loading up on fruits and vegetables.  

We exercised daily but the key to the program was diet. We had lectures teaching us the key to health is to eat to live rather than live to eat. They taught us how to cook and handle dining out so we could stay on the program. After only two days, I heard reports from my fellow patients that their blood sugar and pressure were normal even though many of them had been taken off their medications. I was astounded.

It was not easy at first. About one week into the program, I thought, “I’ll never be able to keep this diet up.” I missed the salt and oil. But when I got the results of my blood tests my LDL had dropped by 60 points, and I dropped down to my college weight. Others were also seeing dramatic results. Bob was now walking with a spring in his step and after only one week he was doing yoga. Dee lost weight and her blood sugar was normal.

All of us in the industry know the health benefits of produce. It is one of the most powerful selling points for our products. But knowing and doing are two different things. With our incredibly busy schedules we don’t always eat right. However, as industry leaders we should walk the walk not just talk the talk. What if, not only by our words but by our own actions, we influence those around us to live a healthier life? If each of us, by example, influence even one other person to follow a healthier path, we may save them from the downward spiral into chronic illness. If we, as members of the industry that sells “the healthiest food in the world” are not committed enough in our beliefs to apply it to ourselves, then how can we expect others to do so?