Many people aspiring for a healthier diet are surprised to learn there are just as many varieties of vegan diets as there are non plant-based diets–and not all of them are health promoting. The biggest differences among vegan diets are what foods are permissible, how they are prepared, and the balance of macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
After trying a raw food diet on and off for the past year, I decided to visit the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, AZ, to experience the diet and lifestyle developed by Dr. Gabriel Cousens.
The biggest idea in Cousens’ “Conscious Eating” is that everyone requires a unique diet based on body constitution and ayurvedic dosha, and that all of these needs can be met with an organic plant-based diet consisting of 80 percent raw and living foods.
Cousens has just released a new edition of “There is a Cure for Diabetes”, in which he describes a chronic diabetes degenerative syndrome (CDDS) that begins with glucose spiking (blood sugar rising above 100), to pre-diabetes, to full-blown diabetes. The book also includes 120 additional case studies, in which 61 percent of non-insulin dependent diabetics are off all medication and healed (defined as fasting blood sugar under 100) in just 3 weeks.
A major difference in Cousens’ approach from the cooked Whole Foods Plant-Based diet is that Cousens believes our carbohydrate requirements are practically zero.
“Weight gain is about excess carbohydrates, not excess fat–paradoxically,” Cousens says. “Fat doesn’t come from fat. It comes from carbohydrates,” he says, adding “carbohydrates from green vegetables are not part of the carbohydrate problem.”
Although designed to treat diabetes, Cousens’ onsite program (which includes green juice fasting) is also effective for ridding the body of excess toxins that have built up. Since he considers diabetes accelerated aging, an anti-diabetes diet is the optimal one for rejuvenating the body.
Weight loss is not the point of this diet. It is about healing and sustaining the reversal of diabetes. However, as people reverse their conditions, they usually experience a return to their optimal weight. This is not just a diet for reversing diabetes; it is a diet for optimal health and weight.
Cousens’ low-glycemic program–which considers even raw carrots and beets as too sweet for its therapeutic first phase–has meant big changes for my diet. In one fell swoop, I immediately stopped eating oatmeal with apples and banana and grapefruit, my breakfast for the last decade.
In addition to eliminating other “stored grains” such as wheat and corn, legumes and most fruit from my diet, the Tree of Life experience has challenged many of my beliefs. For example:
- After avoiding all processed oil for the past few years, I have begun re-introducing some oils (all organic extra virgin cold pressed) including olive oil, sesame oil, flax and chia oil, as well as experimenting with coconut oil, which Cousens says increases the conversion of Omega-3 in chia and flax seeds from short-chain to more desirable long-chain.
- I had also believed that low cholesterol was best, but Cousens points out repeatedly in his book that many many vegans have total cholesterol that is too low (below 159), leading to depression and increased suicide risk. Cousens claims coconut oil is good way to raise cholesterol.
- Cousens recommends a minimum of 80% raw plant-based food and the rest (also plants) can be lightly cooked. Cousens endorses moderately high protein (from green vegetables, blue green algae and spirulina) and moderately high fat (nuts, seeds, avocadoes and non-saturated vegetable oils). “You need healthy fats to be healthy,” he says. Such a diet promotes nourishing the soul as well as the body or “Spiritual Nutrition”–the subject of another one of his books.
Although I have given up many foods I was accustomed to (including most fruits with the exception of berries), I am able to consume liberal quantities of nuts and seeds, whereas I used to ration them in the past.
Another big difference in Cousens approach is the need for dietary supplementation (vitamins, minerals, detoxifiers), another departure from the natural hygiene camp which includes Ann Wigmore.
Cousens says that it takes 4 months to know whether a diet is serving you, so that any changes should be made slowly. Experiment with it, paying careful attention to the effects of introducing and withdrawing foods. If you can’t afford the time or money to visit Tree of Life, I highly recommend reading Dr. Cousens’ books, and incorporating his approach to arrive at a diet that enhances your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
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