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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Lean - Kathy Freston

Released March 27, 2012

Weinstein Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Many men and women want simple self-help, diet plans to follow. When I read the description for Kathy Freston's The Lean, it sounded like the author had come up with a simple plan to lose weight, eat healthier, and gain satisfaction on improving your diet. Before reading it, I didn't know she was a vegan. Had I known that, I likely would have passed on it because I know from experience that vegans are extremely passionate about their no animal products lifestyle. I didn't know, until I started reading it, is that The Lean really is just a guide on switching to a vegan lifestyle. That's fine for some, but I have serious reservations for more than one reason.

The steps listed in Kathy Freston's book are simple to follow. Day one involves making sure you drink eight glasses of water a day. She does delve into the aspect I wanted to know she covered and that is that too much water impacts your health negatively too. At an area college, a student died after a hazing that involved drinking gallons of water in a specific amount of time. None of the students knew that too much water is dangerous.After that, the steps include switching from milk to vegan-friendly milk products (almond, coconut, rice, and soy milks), adding nuts to your daily diet, eating breakfast, etc. All of these are simply, clearly laid out steps that anyone will find easy to follow. The steps are set up so that you're incorporating one thing per day eliminating any sudden changes. The book ends with a comprehensive collection of recipes that I did find some great recipes that I do plan to test out.

Given that, my hesitation lies in personal experiences. I did some research and Kathy Freston is a former model. I found nothing to suggest she has any training as a dietitian. She does start her book by urging people to seek their doctor's advice before starting this diet. I hope many do, but I know the odds aren't as high because many people lack insurance and avoid the doctor unless it is an emergency. That's one of my concerns.

I know a vegan. She became a vegan in her mid-teens and swore her lifestyle was the healthiest out there. In her late-30s, she found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer. There was no family history and her mother and sisters have still not developed the disease. Research is still at odds, but there are some groups who feel the estrogen-like qualities soy imparts may tie in to breast cancer. However, it does leave me nervous about the over-consumption of soy, milk, tofu, and soy-based meat substitutes and cheeses.

Another issue occurred with my own daughter. She loves soy milk and used to drink a glass a day. She's not as fond of cow's milk. Her period cramps became so bad, she couldn't get out of bed for the first two days. She'd cry, and because I'm not a huge believer in using pain meds,a habit that has carried to my children, she'd suffer rather than pop a pill. After visiting the doctor, she had my daughter test different foods/beverages starting two weeks before her period. Stopping soy decreased the cramps to a minimal state. Cow's milk was another possible suspect, but after testing that out, we found that milk didn't affect her, it actually helped, and I was told there may be a link between vitamin D and reduced cramping. Caffeine was the other thing that definitely triggered the cramps. Eliminating just the caffeine wasn't enough, she had to give up her soy milk too. With that knowledge, I definitely don't like overusing soy products in my household.

Finally, when a teen I'd mentored for years got his girlfriend pregnant, their newborn son had Celiac's Disease. Wheat allergies are more common than you might think. Most vegan diets include seitan, a wheat-based meat substitute, and for anyone with a sensitivity to wheat, a vegan diet may be hard to manage.

I don't want to be completely negative, however, because Kathy Freston does raise very good points too. Eating a bowl of steel cut oatmeal is the best way to start the day. She uses stevia and agave nectar in place of sugar, something I definitely agree with, but I also use xylitol because of the link between that sweetener and the reduction of the bacteria in the mouth. I started using xylitol when it was mentioned to me as a way to help with my son's persistent ear infections. Since sweetening his tea with xylitol, he hasn't had an ear infection. I do not use a lot of agave nectar because unlike stevia that has virtually no calories or xylitol (about two calories per gram), agave nectar does have a lot calories at 60 calories per tablespoon.

The book is very proactive at pointing out all the dangers of foods non-vegans eat (eggs, cow's milk and milk products, meats, etc.) I appreciate what the author was saying, and she's entitled to her opinions, but I felt like I was being preached at from time to time. Stating that a cow's milk is designed to grow a 1,000 pound baby and then giving that as the reason people should avoid milk just came off as insulting. In the end, I think the value of The Lean depends on your attitude and personal feelings towards vegan diets.

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