Bean Missing Those Cookie Bars

Bean Missing Those Cookie Bars

For Valentine’s Day, a sweet treat seemed in order.  But how can you have something that tastes good and is still, at least somewhat, good for you?  The answer is beans!  Wait! What?!?

We are going to use beans to replace the white processed flour.  Furthermore, there are no eggs so no cholesterol.  It sounds too good to be true (or tasty), but the results are absolutely delicious!

Having heard the rumor that you could make a tasty treat with the lowly bean, I went in search of inspiration and found it on Chocolate Covered Katie’s website.  She had three options and we selected Deep Dish Cookie Pie to try.

Never one to follow a recipe exactly, and even prone to changing my own recipes from one time to the next, I set out to see if I could add even more Whole Food Plant-Based elements.  On Chocolate Covered Katie’s site, you will see she is a proponent of using a food processor.  Being a fan of Vitamix (a high-speed blender) rather than a food processor, I looked for ways to get a smooth dough by employing its use.  You will have to briskly use the tamper to keep pushing the ingredients into the blades to produce the right consistency. While you cannot make this recipe in a regular blender, hopefully you have a processor or high-speed blender to whip up this sweet.

Start by reducing your old-fashioned or quick cooking oats into oat flour for a smoother final consistency.   (This recipe is not designed for steel cut.) Before you blend the oats into a fine powder, add baking powder, baking soda and salt. (If using a food processor pulse the oats until they are fine, and do not forget to scrape down the sides.) 

Left is whole rolled oats Right is ground oat flour
Dates in oat flour

Add dates (suggest cutting lengthwise to make sure no pieces of pits remain) to the oat flour and chop until fine.  Substitutions are given for dates, but please note you will lose the healthy fiber and phytonutrients that the dates bring to the table which will lower the overall health benefits. Alternatives to dates are:

  1. Increase the brown sugar to ½ cup and eliminate the maple syrup.  OR
  2. ¼ cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Using more than ¼ cup of the maple syrup will keep the bars from cooking properly.

To reduce fat, you can increase the applesauce by 1.5 tablespoons in lieu of the margarine.  If you have never had this recipe, you likely will not miss the margarine. 


Add the applesauce, margarine, vanilla, chickpeas, and sweetener.  Process until you have a cookie-dough consistency.  Use that tamper to keep forcing the food into the blades for the best consistency.  Then stir in the chips and the nuts by hand.

Pour into a greased 8×8 pan and cook for 20-25 mins in a 350o F oven.  When done a toothpick comes out clean and the top is lightly toasted brown.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes, cut, and enjoy!

Bean Missing Those Cookie Bars

Bean Missing Those Cookie Bars Adapted from Deep Dish Cookie Pie by Chocolate Covered Katie

A Whole Food Plant-Based, Bean-Based Treat
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 6


  • High-speed blender or food processor
  • 8X8 baking dish


  • 1/2 cup dried rolled oats. Old-Fashioned or Quick Cook. Not steel cut
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dates cut open with pits removed ALTERNATIVE # 1. Use ½ cup brown sugar and ELIMINATE maple syrup listed below. Alternative #2 Use 1/4 cup maple syrup and ¼ cup brown sugar.
  • 2 Tablespoon Applesauce
  • 1.5 Tablespoon vegan margarine ALTERNATIVE to avoid fat add 1.5 tablespoons of applesauce in addition to the 2 tablespoons of applesauce listed above
  • 1 teaspoon vanillia
  • 1 can chickpeas or white beans drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup ALTERNATIVE ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans


  • Heat the oven to 350oF
  • Using a high-speed blender or food processor, grind the oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a flour consistency.
  • Add to this the dates and grind to a fine consistency. 
  • Add all other ingredients except the chips and the nuts and blend to a cookie dough consistency, utilizing a tamper if using a high-speed blenderor with frequent scraping if using a food processor.
  • Hand stir in the chips and nuts. 
  • Pour into a greased 8×8 pan. 
  • Cook at 350o F for 15-20 minutes. Bars are done when a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!
Keyword cookie bars, food, gluten free, healthy, bean-based

The Present of Being Present

When we talk about healthy coping skills for life stresses, mindfulness is often mentioned.  We know that focusing on where you are at this point in time rather than reliving past events or worrying about future ones can help refocus your thoughts and priorities and provide a mental resiliency to current circumstances.

But have you ever thought about how your attentiveness to the moment affects others?  Too frequently, one observes a family together but individually isolated as they tap or scroll on their phones. We shake our heads

and say, “how sad.”  Later, while simultaneously finishing up a spreadsheet for work, we text one person while attempting to hold a phone conversation with another.  In our minds that is justified because multitasking is encouraged and considered “efficient.”  But, for whom?

Maybe, just maybe, a part of your mind acknowledges that you missed part of the conversation.  And, possibly some of the following questions arose.  Did you brush those few moments off as unimportant or assume the topic will come up again?  Feel a tiny bit guilty for not listening due to your lack of focus?  Did she realize I was distracted?  I wonder how my lack of attention made her feel.

Ask a military family that has endured separation: Is it the presents that the returning family member brings home or is it the presence of the service member that brings smiles and happy tears to loved ones?  Think back over holidays and celebrations.  What do you remember?  While an occasional gift maybe mentioned, most people talk about the relationships.  Baking cookies with your mom where you talked about everything and nothing.    The fishing trip with your siblings with stories late into the night about “remember when.” The get-away weekend with a friend with time to be silly or serious. 

 “A person wants a witness to his life.”  This is paraphrased from Susan Sarandon’s character in the movie “Shall We Dance.”  People need to be heard.  By having someone listen to their hopes, dreams, and experiences, it confirms the importance of their lives.  That “old man” in assisted living might be a military veteran with an important message for your generation.  To hear that lesson it requires taking the time to see him as a person of value and not an obligation.   This is not just about older people though.  Everyone, including young children, needs to feel they have value.   Listening and engaging with them in a meaningful (not distracted) manner helps them understand their feelings, hopes, and dreams, and helps us to learn from them.  During this time of national stress, many people are feeling isolated and alone.  They do not need a national platform; they just need an engaged you and me.

Maybe the best present you can bring to someone is your time and your attention.  Really listen to what they have to say.  Plan events to create memories–a camping trip, game night, or create a memory book by asking someone about their past.  Plan time to just sit and talk.  It does not have to be time consuming.  Have a meal with no phones.  Put down social media, fix a cup of tea and spend 15 minutes of real engagement with someone who is special to you or who needs a lift. This is a gift we can give anyone.

Then see what wonderful things you learn.  Perhaps it will be what a creative or clever child you have. Maybe the story you expected to hear for the 20th time, may be a new anecdote revealing how your family was a part of history.  Rather than avoiding that time of mourning with a friend embrace it as you embrace them, and you will find the times of joy to be even sweeter.  You may even hear a nice word about yourself during these moments.  For you see, the gift of attentiveness is one which blesses not only the recipient but the giver as well. 

Let’s Look to the Best

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” to quote Dickens. Nothing like a national emergency to help us sort the wheat from the chaff within our lives.

Times of trial bring opportunities for new reflections on our lives. For years, people have been living “busy” lives. Now, many people have been brought face-to-face with the reality of what the effects of their lifestyle priorities have produced, and some of the “best” include:

• Volunteers using their time, talent, and materials to make protective equipment for first responders and healthcare workers. (As a recipient, let me say thank you!)
• Researchers posting tasty recipes from 1930-depression-era cookbooks that require minimal ingredients.
• Family members exercising, dusting off and teaching the kids board games, defining and working on home projects, schooling, or just talking TOGETHER.
• Young people helping older folks with shopping, yard work, errands, and even pitching in from their own pockets when seniors come up short in paying at the grocery store.
• First responders and medical professionals with limited resources and an unknown enemy, swallowing their fear and finding their strength to attend the sick and dying.
• Truckers, grocers, utility workers, local government employees, waste disposal workers, order pickers shippers, and all the others who work to keep us fed and our households running because of their integrity and work ethic.

Most of us have not experienced loss from a distance, empty store shelves, empty wallets or stay-at-home orders. If you experience worsening depression, anxiety, substance use, hunger, suicidal thoughts or are a victim of abuse, please contact one of the national organizations for referral to resources local to your area.

  • For Emergencies 911
  • National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990
  • Boys Town for kids, teens, and parents 1-800-448-3000
  • Veterans’ Crisis Line 1-800 273-8255
  • Boys Town for kids, teens, and parents 1-800-448-3000
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness 800-950-NAMI(6264)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for the Deaf)
  • Feeding America
Photo by ELEVATE on

On the flip side, change may also reveal the negatives in our lives. Sometimes these are things that we may not have even noticed creeping in because there is a comfort and security with “routine.” While stress can bring out the good, it can also lead us to acknowledge dissatisfaction with the realities in our lives. Recent examples include:

• Parents report they don’t like their kids.
• Numbers of runaways are increasing. While some are due to domestic violence, many do so because they are mad, bored, or just want to see their friends.
• Some are complaining about anything and everything, although they still have a home, loved ones, a job, food, toilet paper, and other creature comforts
• Over consumption of processed food has led to weight gain and worsening diabetes and hypertension in others. Despite having time to cook, they chose this path because cooking is “hard and boring.”
• Many are reporting tales of incessant social media, Netflix binges, and 24-7 news programs (much of which is designed to arouse negative emotions) leading to lack of time to accomplish anything meaningful.

So, as with any challenge, there is also opportunity. As people are reporting feeling unmoored during this time, they believe there is nothing they can do to help themselves. This is far from the truth. Now is the time you can step up to the challenge and reclaim your life. This is not a time to become self-critical, but to become insightful. As humans, we make mistakes. Sometimes by choice, sometimes based on poor information, and sometimes because of what has been modeled for us as the “right” way. Don’t waste time on fault, and put aside blame and guilt. Instead, put your energy into evaluation and change.

To start, ask yourself what has been important in your life that has been stripped away or changed? What do you or did you like to spend your time on? Did it help or harm your health/relationships? Flesh out your responses with the five Ws—who, what, where, when, why, and don’t forget “how.” Some starting-point examples might be:

If you don’t like your children or your teen won’t stay home, who has been assuming the responsibility to raise them?
• What can’t or won’t you face at home that requires you to consistently want to escape?
• Where did your practice of disparaging others or blanketly excusing others come from?
• Why don’t you want to learn to cook?
• When did watching media become more important to you than a hobby, learning something new, interacting with family, etc.?

The common denominator here is EFFORT. Over the years, we have all brought “so” into our lives to justify our decisions. We wear it as a badge—I’m so busy, so tired, so discouraged, so important, so overextended, so indispensable, etc. No wonder there’s no time or energy for a mundane chore like, for example, cooking. (By the way, these folks likely eat many of their meals out and otherwise fill in with processed foods; eventually their health will reflect these poor choices.)

So, what about you? Now that some of the busy-ness has been stripped away from your days, take the time to reevaluate what needs to come back. Do you want to maintain the status quo with the possibility of chronic disease and chronic medication, or do you want to take this time to build a healthy infrastructure to your days and improve your physical and mental health along with your relationships?

Healthy relationships positively impact your health. Stress hormones increase your risk for several chronic diseases. If your relationship with your children is stressful, think about why. Have you unknowingly allowed teachers, coaches, music instructors, daycare workers, and others to usurp you as the parent? How can you better engage with your family and get to know each other as individuals?

Couples in supportive relationships have better health outcomes. Has this time together brought you closer to your significant other? Sometimes we use busy-ness to avoid looking at how things really are. Do you have a contentious relationship which has been ignored? Have you settled into a routine with very little support or interaction? Are you ready to make some decisions about how you want the relationship to move forward?

Helping others increases positive brain chemicals. Why do you find it hard to stay home? If you are a natural extrovert who thrives on interaction, try phone or video chat to check on others that may not have family available. What about a volunteer organization or even getting to know a neighbor who may need you to run an errand? Let’s put your strength as an extrovert to work and boost those brain chemicals.

Tidy environments reduce stress and improve sleep. Is your home or yard so out of control you don’t know where to start? Start with admitting there is a problem with where to begin. Maybe a peek at a website or a call to someone whose home/yard you admire can provide suggestions and motivation. But if push comes to shove, just pick up that sock and into the hamper it goes. Make the bed. Then fold that basket of clothes and put them away. Next, pull all those clothes off the pseudo clothes rack (i.e., exercise bike) and get them sorted and into the washing machine. One task at a time will lead to a much tidier room, and tidier rooms lead to a tidier home.

Reducing negative exposure reduces overall depression and anxiety. Limit news watching to no more than 30 minutes twice a day. Too much bad news increases your stress hormones driving up blood pressure and blood sugar. Counteract negative thoughts by recording a daily gratitude list and spend an equal amount of time (i.e, one hour) enjoying hobbies, music, etc.

Picking up a new healthy habit can reduce or prevent chronic diseases. Binge watching and eating junk food can result in weight gain and chronic diseases not limited to those of the brain like dementia or addiction. Let’s look at some healthy habits you can establish over time which support the brain or reduce the progression of debilitating disease.

• Get plenty of sleep; it builds neurons and restores the body.
• Learn to cook healthy meals; they contain the body’s building blocks which originate in unprocessed foods.
• Get moving. No need to join a gym; a 30-minute walk after a meal can decrease blood sugars and improve mood and sleep.
• Learn something new through a self-improvement program that teaches you to play an instrument, master a new language, explore your genealogy, pursue a new hobby or learn new skills related to an old one. You will be helping your body to build neurons, reducing stress, and maybe making new friends.

While none of us has asked for this challenge, let’s try to use it advantageously. It is an opportunity, so let’s come out of it on the other side better and brighter and filled with the hope of the “best of times.”

Family Dynamics In The Age Of COVID-19

No doubt you are feeling some stress from the COVID-19 situation. While doing our best to make the virus disappear with social distancing, hand washing etc., it has changed our day-to-day dynamics and routines. One area that has come up repeatedly, is the panic in parents’ voices about how unprepared they are to have the schools unexpectedly closed. Unfortunately, society has “evolved” to a point where families are socially distant. School, work, activities, homework, housework, sports, our days have become whirlwinds of activity but not much communication. One of the tenets of Lifestyle Medicine is building strong relationships. Rather than feeling “trapped’ by upcoming restrictions, look at it as a time to reconnect as a family. Get to know your kids as individuals and learn their personalities. To this end, I asked my friend, teacher, and mom, Heather Cudworth, to write a guest blog that will hopefully help you achieve this goal.

Family Together Time by Heather Cudworth

As a public school teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, turned homeschool mom, if there’s one thing I learned about managing children, it’s the power of having some sort of schedule to keep the day flowing along and allow for together time and alone time, active time and quiet time. What you’ll want to do depends upon your circumstances and your children’s ages, but I’d suggest something along these lines:

1. Quiet reading or play in their rooms
2. Get dressed and have breakfast
3. Do schoolwork if they’re assigned any, or you can assign some from the links below (which is more fun, because you can do the activities with them!)
4. Play break, outside on the lawn if possible so that they can run!
5. Lunch
6. Read a book together aloud. If they’re old enough, pick a chapter book to read aloud together or to listen to on Audible. If they’re little, have a couple of story books.
7. Quiet Time — Naps for the little ones and quiet reading/writing/art or finishing schoolwork for the big ones. Break time for the parent to accomplish other things!
8. Play break — active play encouraged.
9. Clean up and help get supper ready.
10. Supper
11. Family fun time — Play a game, build something, do an art project, watch a video together, go for a walk, etc.
12. Get ready for bed.

Once you get them used to the routine, it should go fairly smoothly, and the more you’re really involved in their activities, the better things will flow. This is not the time to be on your phone or computer unless you absolutely have to be. Children, even teens, really need their parents and crave their attention, as much as they pretend not to. If you use this opportunity well, you may build some of the best memories of your children’s lives, and make your biggest impact upon who they grow up to be, in these weeks together at home.
Here are a few links:

100 Ideas for Family Fun at Home (mainly non-electronic)

If your children’s schools aren’t providing assignments right now, here are a few resources:

This site was thrown together quickly to allow people to educate Preschool and up for free and since it was put together so quickly there are some spelling errors etc. that the content creator acknowledges: A Better Way to Homeschool

Tons of idea links on the internet

Printable workbooks to keep them busy

Free educational websites for kids 

Chocolate Berry Crisp

Valentine’s day is almost here and with it thoughts of Chocolate! It is so easy to over-indulge in sweets this time a year, I wanted to find a way to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. So, what will please chocolate lovers but still bring some health benefits? Since not everyone is at the same place in their health journey and since I don’t want to alienate milk chocolate lovers, it needed to be versatile. First thought was the classic pairing of dark chocolate with some beautiful strawberries. At a $1.00 a berry in the store, they won’t go far. Make at home? Berries are out of season and tempering chocolate is not common cooking skill, but it did give me an idea. Chocolate Berry Crisp!
Since everyone’s taste is not the same, at the end of the recipe, I share some ideas for swapping out ingredients to adjust it to your taste so keep reading to the end. This dish is about melding different flavors with less emphasis on sweetness.


Start with mixed berries, an antioxidant powerhouse. These can be fresh or frozen, but keep in mind the cooking time will vary between the two. Select a mixture of berries for best flavor. Put into your 9×9 pan.

Next chocolate. Dark chocolate without milk may lower blood pressurIMGP1007e and provides antioxidants. Since this dish was made for Valentines, ½ of the chocolate was distributed in with the berries and the other spread on top. To make this easier, all the chips can be put in with the berries. Alternatively, after the crisp is baked, you can put all the chips on top. After they warm up for a few minutes, they will become soft/melted and you can spread them over the surface of the crisp. While this is an extra step, I do think that it provides more chocolate flavor to the dessert.

IMGP1016 (2)

Flour or corn starch is sprinkled over the fruit to help thicken the juices while it is cooking. If you don’t mind the juices being thin when you serve it, then this step may be omitted.

Assemble your dry ingredients and mix together:
Oats — Heart healthy fiber. IMGP1010 (3)
Nuts  — Heart protection.
Cinnamon — Trace minerals and antioxidants.

Ready for the wet ingredients. If you add the vanilla to the syrup, it will distribute better when poured into the dry ingredients. Add the following to the bowl:
Applesauce — fiber. It acts as a binder for the dry ingredients to eliminate the oil traditionally used. These newer pouches with a lid allow you to use part of the package and store the rest in the fridge until later.
100% Maple syrup (please note this is not maple flavored pancake syrup) — Vitamins and minerals. It adds a nice depth of flavor.
Vanilla extract (not artificial flavor) — antioxidants.

IMGP1030 (2)IMGP1031 (2)

Mix until crumbly. Spread across the top of the berries and pop the pan into the oven.
With fresh berries it will take about 30 min for the top to become brown and the berries to bubble. Frozen will need 10-15 minutes more. If you find that the top is getting too brown, cover with foil.

IMGP1036 (2)
For this picture, I laid out the chocolate chips in a heart pattern. When they had melted, 3-4 minutes, then I smoothed them into the heart shape. When I discovered the heart-shape did not show up well in pictures, I decided to outline the heart with white chocolate chips. White chocolate is basically cocoa butter and sugar with no real nutritional value. It is also difficult to melt which is why I left them as chips.  They are not an essential part of the recipe.

IMGP1038 (2)

This desert is great as is. However, there will be those temped to add ice cream or whipped topping.  WIMGP1039 (2)hile not a whole food plant based approved topping, So Delicious Coco Whip topping adds creaminess and a pleasant coconut taste without as many chemicals or fat as the other popular toppings.  Enjoy!

Additional notes:

To reduce fat:
Leave out the chocolate chips and add ¼ cup of cocoa powder to the topping. Reduce the nuts by 2 tablespoons. Since cocoa is bitter, add 2-4 Tablespoons more of sweetener.

Sugar substitutes:
¼ cup of brown sugar or
½ cup coconut sugar or
¼-1/2 cup of date sugar or date paste

Chocolate chips:
You can use equal amounts of semisweet chocolate chips. To preserve the antioxidant activity of the chocolate, it is still recommended to use a dairy-free version. Keep in mind if you use semisweet or milk chocolate, these chips will be sweeter than dark chocolate so be cautious when adding additional sugar.


Did you know that the average person makes 30,000-45,000 decisions a DAY!  A staggering number. Many “decisions” are part of everyday habits such as teeth brushing and seemingly may not require much thought.   Also, simple, almost mindless tasks can actually take multiple decisions.  For instance, to read this blog you had to decide when to get on the computer, to ignore the ad that popped on the screen, to link to this site and to look specifically at this blog. 

Jeans levis-3762644__340

The Western lifestyle and technology have brought many of these changes.  In 1875 if you wanted a pair of jeans Levi Strauss & Co. was it.  Now there are colors, styles, sizes, fashion and designers to select from.

Some decisions are in the background of our daily lives.  A noise in the house, based on past experience will be “interpreted”. Without thinking too hard, your brain decides if the noise is burglar (call 911), or the cat riding the robotic vacuum…again (go back to sleep).  How amazing our brains make sense of the world to assist our interactions with it.

Unfortunately though,  coping with excessive decision-making can result in fatigue.  Studies have shown that the brain needs to have time to rest.  One way is quality sleep, covered in an earlier blog.  Some people find meditation or prayer to be helpful.  But for some individuals, quiet time is stressed time.  Those moments of quiet forced focusing devolve into lists of undone and forgotten tasks, or past transgressions screaming for attention.  The next option?  Try doing nothing for a few minutes a day. 

This is also known as practicing Mindfulness rather than Mind Fullness.  For examplPIne branche, recently I heard an unidentified noise.  The brain tried to define it as a car, a vacuum, another mechanical device as these are the sounds I hear the most.  What was it?  Wind in a pine tree.  What had happened, that I was so disconnected from the world that I could no longer recognize wind?!?!   I stopped my day for 30 sec and took that time to reacquaint myself with the sound of wind.  The feeling and temperature of the breeze.  It was a peaceful moment that has come back to me several times since renewing that moment of calm I felt. 

It isn’t hard or time consuming.  You simply stop what you are doing for a few seconds to minutes and use your senses to listen, see, taste, smell or feel what is around you.  And the best part, there is no right or wrong way to do nothing.  You can even be doing something and do nothing.  It is just a practice about being mindful.  About beinightskyng present in the moment.

On vacation with 100 sights to see? Take a minute, stop, look out the window at the view.  No view? Look at the sky, at the stars. 



                                                                                                                           What does silence sound like during different times of the day? Hint silence usually isn’t silent. Unidentified noise?  Focus on it a minute and track it down.  Following that advice lead to the discovery of a pileated woodpecker.  


At the beach look at your feet in the water.  Is the water cold or warm? Is the sand shifting or still?  Can you taste the salt? 


At night are the sheets rough, warm, heavy, or fragrant? 

Coffee morning (2)

Get up 5 minutes early and have your coffee outside at sunrise or at least at home rather than traveling in the car.  How is it?  Too warm, too cold, too sweet? Just right? 

Stop and taste your food.  If you are going to eat something unhealthy at least you owe it to yourself to stop long enough to enjoy it.  

You get the point.  Just try taking a couple of minutes a day and think about how that moment tastes, looks, feels, smells or sounds.  You may just find that a piece of mindfulness brings a bit of peacefulness to your day.

Lifestyle Medicine vs. Cancer

An illness may result in the loss of something of greatest value, namely some aspect of one’s health.  When considering cancer, you may think “I am at risk of losing my health and there is nothing to be done about it.”  But, is this really true?  According to research by Mingyang Song, MD, ScD and Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, “about 20-40% of cancer cases and about half of cancer deaths can be potentially prevented through lifestyle modification.”1  Yet, individuals continue to believe there is nothing preventative to be done under the mistaken notion that cancer is about non-modifiable—“nothing I can do about them”–risk factors such as genetics, age, or race.

Enter the good news, Lifestyle Medicine has evidence-based information on modifiable risk factors and the actions you can take to help counter them:

What you put in or on your body, and what you do for your body.

Someone is already thinking, “If that were true, then why do picture-of-heath individuals get cancer”?  Generally speaking, information about disease and its etiology, complications, etc., fill medical school libraries and is profoundly beyond the scope of this article.  Further, certain details of an individual’s life, e.g., childhood and workplace environmental exposures, may never be known and therefore impossible to factor into the individual’s equation.   However, it is generally agreed that 40% of cancer diagnoses are preventable with changes to lifestyle.  Before you write off lifestyle consider the following: 


Smoking has long been linked to lung cancer, sun exposure to melanoma, radiation to thyroid cancer, and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to cervical and other cancers.  And, have you seen the legal advertisements on TV with regard to asbestos exposure and Mesothelioma?  Most of us are aware of at least some cancer/exposure links.  Lesser known associations include alcohol’s link with six different kinds of cancer.  Another is Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic estrogen used during pregnancy between 1940-1971, which resulted in cancer in some of these women and their offspring.  Studies are now ongoing in their grandchildren.  So, the message here is avoidance of exposure to limit your risks.


White Blood Cells Attacking an Invader

Think of the immune system as your body’s own little army of “soldiers.”  A “foreign invader” such as bacteria, a virus, or even an abnormal cell forming inside the body sends the “soldiers” into action to prevent invasion, replication and dispersion.  But, as with certain illnesses like HIV/AIDS, impairment of the immune system can occur.  Transplant recipients require immunosuppressive medication to prevent the “soldier” cells from mistakenly attacking the new organ.  These “soldiers” also may not be able to destroy unrelated cancer-causing infections or cancer cells, hence the restrictions placed upon these patients regarding crowd exposure, etc.


When an injury occurs, the body’s immune system sends white blood cells and chemicals to heal the area.  This will present as a warm, red area around the wound.  However, sometimes after the injury is healed, the inflammation remains.  It is even possible to have inflammation without an injury or infection; this chronic inflammation can damage healthy cells and weaken the immune system, leading to development and growth of cancer cells.


Viruses, bacteria, and parasites are all part of the problem.  By exposure, they enter the body.  Some disrupt the cell communications; others weaken the immune system, decreasing the body’s ability to defend itself against other cancer-causing infections; and a few lead to chronic inflammation.  Some like H. pylori (best known as causing stomach ulcers) and Hepatitis C have treatments available.  Others such as Hepatitis B and HPV have vaccines available for prevention before exposure.  Your doctor will guide you regarding appropriateness of vaccines for yourself and your family.  When traveling, educate yourself about the geographic area and the preventive measures you can take to reduce exposure to pathogens.


Every time you eat, it is an opportunity to put something into your body to make it function better.  Does this mean supplements?  No, real food!  Blueberries for example, are showing amazing potential in studies to not only prevent cancer from forming but to assist in cancer therapy by making the cancer cell more susceptible to treatment.  To see other ways foods can positively affect your health refer to the “The Nutrition Rainbow2.

So, what else can I do?  Shown below are other activities you can incorporate and their cancer-busting potential.

Hopefully, this article has given you a brief introduction to the relationship between lifestyle changes and their ability to perhaps lessen potential cancer risks, all presented in a way that is understandable to those not seated at the science nerd table.  Or, maybe you are still caught up in the “this is too much trouble; this is too unlikely; this is not do-able in a family of five; this isn’t going to mitigate the strong history of “x” cancer in my family,” etc. But, you read the article…all the way to the end.

In a nutshell, Motivational Interviewing, a counseling technique, defines five stages of change:

  • Pre-contemplation—“Leave me alone.”
  • Contemplation—“I’m thinking about it, but on the fence.”
  • Preparation—“I’m going to do it.”
  • Action—Do it.
  • Maintenance—Ongoing monitoring.

Remember, you read the article…all the way to the end, so you may well be at Stage 2 or even 3.  Continue to digest the information and maybe even look up some additional sources online or chat with your primary care doctor or Lifestyle Medicine physician.  Should you undertake to make changes, remember perfection isn’t expected or being broadcast on social media.  Any change, however small, you undertake to promote better health can only help.


  1. Song M and Giovannucci E. JAMA Oncol. 2016;doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.0843.
  2. “The Nutrition Rainbow” by The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Link

A Study of Studies

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“Butter is Bad.” “Butter is Back, Baby.”  “Red Meat is Bad.” “Red Meat=Beneficial Nutrients.”You get the point.  

In our 24-hour news cycle, anything can be touted for “clicks” and “likes.”  From time to time, studies which support writers’ personal biases are sought out. And, perhaps most importantly, today we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of available information, leaving one to scratch his or her head while it spins in confusion.

So, how do we narrow down all this info to make it meaningful? Consider going back to the source of the information and evaluate the studies yourself. Not a scientist? You can still find useful needles from the haystack by keeping in mind a few ideas:

1. Am I willing to invest the necessary time? Plan to read the entire study, not just the abstract (summary) of the paper. It will take some time. Have a notepad handy to jot down any ideas or questions the study prompts.

2. What kind of study is it?
a. A double-blind, random, controlled study (where neither participant nor researcher knows to what group the participant is assigned) is considered the best experimental model.  
b. Observational studies typically observe a controlled environment, but results can be influenced by the participants’ awareness of the groups to which they are assigned. Conclusions in this case may be inferred but not necessarily proven.  
c. Metanalysis examines multiple studies to look for consistent results.

3. Who funded the study? If the Widget Council funded a positive study on widgets, it may be a good study…or, it may be one good study among several unpublished ones that did not support their product.  What about a study sponsored by American Gadget Association? A look at the sponsors may reveal funding for the study from the Widget Council.  (A list of any researcher’s conflicts of interest should be listed.)

4. Where was the study published?  In some journals the author can pay to have a study included regardless of the quality.  Look for academic, peer-reviewed journals.

5. What are the researchers’ credentials?  A neurobiologist with several advanced degrees and 15 years’ work experience studying the microscopic changes of a nerve probably has a great deal of credibility.  An English major’s biology paper written to satisfy a graduation requirement might not contain the best criteria upon which to base a life-changing decision.

6. What is the study trying to prove?  This information should be found in the Abstract or Introduction.  A recent news article cited a study in the fats vs. carbs weight loss debate. However, the study’s Abstract revealed that the study topic regarded metabolism not weight loss.  

7. How large is the study?  A study of 10,000 participants will control for many more variables than a study of 100.  Keep in mind though, under rare conditions ten participants may be a large sample size.

8. How many participants did the study start and end with? Suppose a study started with (a very reasonable) 1,200 screened participants, yet only 300 eventually participated. What was the elimination criteria? Was this a drug trial and participants quit taking the medicine due to side effects? Was it a diet that was too hard to follow?  Did the scientists only include results that support one viewpoint?

9. How long did a study last?  Two years for a chronic disease drug trial rather than a week could provide considerably more useful information. Conversely, the deaths of 10% of the sample within 5 days of study commencement is very telling.

10. Was this a cell culture, an animal or human study?  

11. Do the results answer the question the researchers set out to prove?  Can you think of any alternate reasons for why these results were obtained?  Do the authors look at alternate reasons for the results they obtain? Don’t forget reader bias; are you willing to change your mind if the evidence is strong enough?

12. Good at statistics?  Run the numbers.  If not, then look for study critiques.  Many journals have other researchers that will evaluate the study and explain the numbers as well as the study design, sometimes with different conclusions.  Compare to other similar studies. Look at the references.  They can shed new light on how the scientist is approaching the problem.

Like any other skill, learning to read this type of material takes time and patience. But the more you read the more you will learn, and this may help you to sort the wheat from the chaff the next time a new blockbuster study is rolled out in the media.  For a more detailed study plan with additional questions to guide you, click here.

Whole Food Plant-Based

Becoming Plant Powered

It is exciting to run into people who haven’t seen you for a while who comment “you look great; what are you doing”?  The problem? How to describe a plant powered lifestyle in just a few words.

Vegan? Vegetarian? Plant Strong?  While a little wordy, Whole Food Plant Based really describes what we do and what I promote.  It is not a diet but a lifestyle. So how does it differ from other approaches?

Vegetarian — plant based meals which may include eggs and/or milk.

Vegan — eschews the use of all animal products.  If it has a face or a mother it will not be consumed or used.  For many vegans, this way of life is as much or even more about animal and environmental concerns. 

Keep in mind that your diet may still be unhealthy with either of these approaches.  If you subsisted on chocolate cream cookies and beer it would be vegan, but would it be good for you?  NO!!!

How Does WFPB Set Itself Apart?

Start with the first part – Whole Foods.  Eating food in its least processed form.  It does not have to be raw; some foods are more nutritious cooked, but try to minimize processing.  Examples:

Most processed:  Apple juice lacks fiber and other substances which blunt the quick absorption of the sugar.

Better, less processed:  Apple sauce without the peeling contains only about ½ of the fiber and polyphenols.

Best:  The whole apple contains all the available polyphenols and fiber.

Plant-Based.  Someone invariably jokes that cows eat plants so beef is plant-based.  It always gets a chuckle from the group until we discuss how multiple large studies link red meat as a cause of colon cancer.  Another point is how meat-based proteins (but not plant-based proteins) cause stress to the kidneys in renal failure patients.  This potentially means meat is stressful to healthy kidneys as well.  So, plant-based means just that—it comes directly from the plant. 

Frequently, someone says “I don’t like vegetables.”  The plant world is much more varied than people believe.  Take a look at this non-exhaustive list of items we can find in stores and farmers’ markets in the North Alabama area.   Most people can find something on each list that they like. The items may not be listed botanically, but rather in how they nourish the body.

WHOLE Grains:  brown rice, oats, wheat, corn, farro, quinoa, amaranth, barley, rye, buckwheat, bulger, millet, sorghum, spelt, triticale

Nuts, Nut Butters, Seeds and Seed Butter:  walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, cashews, flax seeds chia seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sesame seeds


Greens/Cruciferous:  lettuces, kale, collards, bok choy, Swiss chard, turnips, spinach, arugula,  broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli rabe, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish greens, rutabaga, tatsoi, watercress

Tubers/Roots:  potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, onions, parsnips, turnips roots, radish roots, rutabaga, jicama, taro, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, garlic

Other:  asparagus, celery, rhubarb, sweet and hot peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, pumpkin, squash, snap peas, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, bean sprouts,

Fruits:  cantaloupe, watermelon apples, pineapple, oranges, grapes, bananas, raisins, plumes, prunes apricots, peaches, cherries, avocado, kiwi, clementine, dates, figs, grapefruit, honeydew, jackfruit, kumquat, lemon, limes, mango, olives, nectarine, papaya, pear, persimmons, pomegranate, paw paw, quince, tangerine

Berries:  blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, mulberries, raspberries, strawberries, currents, grapes, muscadines, scuppernongs

Beans:  English peas, black beans, black-eyed peas, field peas, purple hulls, crowder peas, broad beans, lima beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, split peas, soy beans

Spices and Herbs:  Too numerous to name, but wonderful sources of additional plant benefits

Returning to the claim of not liking vegetables, I would ask have you tried every plant fixed every conceivable way?  Those with children can relate to the expression, “eat your food, it is good for you” and “how do you know you don’t like it, you haven’t tried it.”  So often as adults we fall into a trap of saying “I am an adult and I don’t have to eat it since I don’t like it!”  But you really need to think about your health.  Try new items.  Try old items fixed new ways.  One client disliked cooked kale, but tried kale as a salad and enjoyed it.  One person loved the consistency and flavor of our cornbread but almost spit it out upon finding it had her hated food group BEANS in it.  She overcame the mental obstacle toward eating them and asked for the recipe to make for her family.

Look at this as a food adventure and see what you can do to add more plant-based foods to your diet!

Lifestyle Medicine

Reprint of my article as printed in Inside Medicine magazine August 2018 edition.

The old expression–”there is nothing new under the sun”— may indeed be true.   But, old ideas sometimes can be explained in a new way.

Many people are already aware that their habits can affect their health.  The news is full of “don’t eat this,” or a new study on exercise.  And, yet, we as a nation appear to be getting sicker.  It is difficult for doctors to discuss health given our current illness-based insurance model.  With genuinely caring physicians having such limited time with each patient, the recommendation for a one-size-fits-all diet and exercise approach is often the norm.

Fortunately, out of established research a new branch of medicine has emerged with the focus on helping people improve their health and prevent chronic diseases.  Based on improving six areas of health, Lifestyle Medicine uses many non-drug modalities to treat, improve, and sometimes even reverse chronic health conditions. Medication, while still used, becomes the supplement to these lifestyle changes.

These six areas are:

  1. Nutrition—getting vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, phytonutrients, etc., from a predominately whole-food, plant-based diet
  2. Movement—consistent daily movement that works all the muscles, including the heart
  3. Sleep—improving the quality of rest
  4. Substance use—eliminating the use of tobacco and other potentially harmful substances
  5. Relationships—establishing and nurturing supportive social connections
  6. Stress management—leading to improved health and productivity

Why focus on so many things? In addition to the fact that individually each of these areas can produce health issues (e.g., tobacco and cancer), they also can affect each other. Improved sleep may assist in weight loss.  Moving may reduce stress. And, if you don’t fuel your body with a good quality diet, it’s little wonder you don’t feel like getting off the couch.

Would you like to feel better about your health? The process starts by deciding what your goal is and perhaps even writing it down.  Maybe you would like to run a 5K or simply be able to play on the floor with your grandchildren.  Next is to identify areas you are willing to change.  Maybe the coffee creamer will not be eliminated, but you will eat an extra serving of a green vegetable each day.   An earlier bedtime is not feasible, but you are willing to encourage deeper sleep by turning off your phone and leaving it in the kitchen overnight. Successes are celebrated and failures are put to good use as you learnto analyze, re-adjust, and overcome.

So, while the message is not new—your mother may have told you to eat your vegetables and get plenty of sleep—life has a way of intervening and sending us down another path.  Now is the time to learn how to manage that stress, get some quality rest, develop a strong emotional support system, avoid substance use, and become active while being mindful of your food choices.  It may just be exactly what the doctor ordered!

Elizabeth McCleskey, DO Board Certified Family and Lifestyle Medicine; Member, American College of Lifestyle Medicine;