An Interview with Rip Esselstyn
December 30, 2009, By Kirkham R. Hamilton, PA-C
© copyright 2009, Prescription 2000, Inc.
KIRK HAMILTON: Hi, my name is Kirk Hamilton, your host of Staying Healthy Today, and our mission is simple: To provide you credible usable health information from interviews and our educational resources to help you Stay and Be Well in the busy modern world. Please take a few moments before or after listening to this interview to browse through the Prescription2000.com website, the home of Staying Healthy Today Radio, for our free educational services.
Our show topic is "How The 'Plant-Strong' Engine 2 Diet Dramatically Drops Weight And Reduces Heart Disease Risk In Less Than A Month While Enhancing Athletic Performance." Our guest today is Rip Esselstyn, currently a Texas fireman and former All-American swimmer and world-class triathlete who has turned into a best-selling author, health advocate and motivator with his very practical and successful book "The Engine 2 Diet." Rip's desire to help a former fireman reduce his cardiovascular risk has led him on a journey that not only has helped his foreman colleagues lose weight and improve their health, but also has helped thousands who have read his book lose weight and reduce their risk dramatically and quickly to not only heart disease, but other debilitating chronic diseases that are stressing our healthcare system.
So with that introduction I want to welcome Rip and thank him so much not only for taking time out of his busy schedule, but also to write a special book that is very practical, to the point, that speaks to everybody I think, and is very easily understandable and such an important topic.
So welcome Rip and thanks for coming on the show.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Yeah, you're welcome. Thanks so much Kirk for having me.
KIRK HAMILTON: So tell me, how does your athletic background being an All-American swimmer, professional triathlete, how did it get affected, or when did it start getting affected by nutrition as far as health and athletic performance?
RIP ESSELSTYN: Before I became a professional triathlete in 1987 I swam at the University of Texas at Austin and I ate on the athletic training table with the football players and the basketball players and the baseball players and we ate just about everything under the sun. From steaks to chicken-fried steaks to pepperoni pizzas. You name it we ate it thinking it was good for us. It wasn't until I became a professional triathlete in 1987 that I really became concerned with the role that nutrition plays on performance and this was when I was at the age of 23.
KIRK HAMILTON: Now did your dad have the first influence on you, Caldwell Esselstyn, writing the book that he did (Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease)? He was just maybe starting his studies then on heart disease or was it people like Dave Scott?
RIP ESSELSTYN: Well actually you nailed it on the head there. It didn't - I had two basically, two of my heroes that inspired me to search out this path. And that was first and foremost my father who in 19 - actually 1984, started his groundbreaking research to show that you could not only prevent but you could also reverse heart disease by eating a low-fat plant-based diet, and he did his research studies at the famed Cleveland Clinic, the world renowned heart hospital. And he has the most powerful evidence based angiograms on the planet to show that you can reverse heart disease so that's my dad. And then you know as I was getting into the sport of triathlon, I read more and more about this guy named Dave Scott out of Davis, California, who had won the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon six times and ate a hard-core vegetarian diet. So in 1987 without looking back I dropped the meat and the dairy and the eggs and the fish and I ate all plant-strong and it is - it has given me the edge not only as a human being but as an athlete.
KIRK HAMILTON: Well, we have a common - I was sharing with you when we were connecting to do the interview that we have a common denominator. Dave Scott. We used to work out at, what was called "Old Hickey Gym" at UC Davis in the late 1970s. And it was this beat-up weight room. And I remember this guy would always come in and they would say he was going to - he was doing biathlons then - and he'd come in and he'd lift light weight but he would do like 7000 repetitions. I mean he would just keep going and going and I never had any idea who he was. I mean I'm a football player just lifting weights and then two or three years later I see him on the Ironman thing and I'm just like flipping out. And then one of my buddies used to go up and train with him - a lineman actually - up in the summertime. And he said Dave would just have this big huge bowl of salad that was, like bigger than the table and consume stuff.
Now was Dave a pure vegan or was he a lactoovovegetarian?
RIP ESSELSTYN: No. You know what. I think that it's fair to say that Dave was not a pure vegan. But when he would eat cottage cheese he would rinse his cottage cheese. But I think it's fair to say Dave was plant-strong. Not plant-perfect, but he was plant-strong.
KIRK HAMILTON: Okay. I like the word plant-strong. I am starting to use that because when I say plant-based, people start to freak out. When I say plant-strong it gets their attention a little bit.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Yeah and then you get to tell them what it means.
KIRK HAMILTON: So what triggered you to write your book "The Engine 2 Diet"?
RIP ESSELSTYN: The trigger of me getting the guys at my firehouse to eat this way was we had a - kind of a health scare with one of my fellow firefighting brothers who had a cholesterol of 344 at the age of 33 and no male on the father's side of the family tree had lived past the age of 52. And so I kind of grabbed JR by the scruff and I shook him and I say "hey, dude." I go, "Look!. You've seen what I've done for the last seven years, you know. You know that I am not a shrinking violet. I'm a blossoming lotus, and you know you could be an amazing athlete eating this way. You know about my father's research. So man, dude, it's time for you to divert your course of destiny, with heart disease and let's avoid it." And so literally a couple of days after that cholesterol came back as a group we started eating this way and this was back in 2003, and it's just been amazing. But what happened is, it got a lot of media attention and all of a sudden it made me realize that I could probably reach and help a lot more Americans if I was to write a book. And so really it was just my yearning and my desire to help more people and to save more lives or to teach people how to save their own life that inspired me to write the book.
KIRK HAMILTON: So tell me. I want to get back to the firemen. You know you're a guy's guy so I like talking to you because a lot of times people look at you as a medical person, a vegan, and then they look at you as out in left field, so I'm always trying to be athletic and vegan, but you're like you're talking to the masses right here and that's what I really love about your book.
So what was that first meal? How did you get the firemen, more than one? Did they all band together and say we're gonna help our brother so to speak?
RIP ESSELSTYN: Oh yeah, yeah. The thing you need to know is that I have two families in my life . My family at home, my wife Jill and my son Cole and my daughter Sophie. And then I have my other brothers at the firehouse and the bond that is created when you put your life on the line for somebody is incredibly strong and so these guys knew about my father's research. They know that you could eat this way and have it be tasteful and have it fill you up and have - and feel great. And so, yeah, everybody jumped in as a group to do it. And I tell people, "What are the four major food groups of a Texas firefighter," and the answer is it's burgers, it's pizza, it's fajitas and it's Blue Bell ice cream. All I did is I took the four major food groups of a Texas firefighter and I just made them healthy. So instead of doing big old beef burgers we did black bean oatmeal burgers with all the healthy fixings on whole grain bun. Instead of doing pepperoni pizzas with double cheese, we did whole grain crust with artichoke hearts and grilled onions and mushrooms and pineapples and we just made these pizzas that were just over the top delicious and just bountiful with vegetables. And then instead of doing beef fajitas we'd do portabello mushroom fajitas with brown rice and with the bell peppers and the onions in corn tortillas with guacamole and salsa - just steal the eye right out of your head. And then for dessert, we would do, instead of doing normal ice cream we would do a silken tofu that we blended up with some lemon juice and a little maple syrup, lemon zest with some fresh raspberries on top that just knock your socks off. So within a short period of time these guys were hooked. They were feeling great and we didn't look back.
KIRK HAMILTON: So - this is great. That was the perfect answer to get. You know I wish I could spell that out to patients as quickly as you did. So how quickly could they adapt and cook, to this? So in other words, was this - did this take you - one of the things that people will say is "Oh, it takes me more time to cook healthy." So you guys are busy firemen. Did it take you a lot longer after you got the knack of it to cook this kind of food?
RIP ESSELSTYN: Well you know what? Here's the thing. It all depends. If you're a foodie and you love to cook, man you can make some pretty incredible and eccentric recipes where it will take you a half an hour to 45 minutes to have something ready. But if you're not a foodie and if you just want something to taste good and takes no time whatsoever you can have that too. I mean you can have stuff that takes five to ten minutes. Time should not be an excuse. Money should not be an excuse. You know excuses are like belly buttons. Everybody has them and so you gotta get the excuses - you gotta put them away in the cupboard and you gotta say "Listen, dammit, you know my health is my number one asset and I am going to do whatever it takes." And so your average American rotates around six to seven meals over the course of a 21 day period. So if you can just find 10 meals that you love, let's just say for dinner and you can rotate around those 10 and they take you 15 minutes to make, you just don't have an excuse.
KIRK HAMILTON: We are talking to Rip Esselstyn who is a fireman from Texas who wrote the Engine 2 Diet, the plant-strong Engine 2 Diet and I'm getting to say that with some vigor. I kind of like that. And he's really talking to the average person. So let's take the average fireman, you know heroes in America. What happened to your buddies' weights? What happened to your buddies' cholesterol levels and did they lose all their muscles?
RIP ESSELSTYN: Well. I - when I was going to write the book, I kind of put out the word that I was looking for volunteers to eat this way for six weeks and I can tell you the results were like this. On average, if you're a male, over four weeks you're going to lose on average 14 pounds. If you're a female 8 pounds . Your cholesterol on average will come down. Your total cholesterol will come down 30%. Your LDL, which is the lethal cholesterol, will come down about 40%. And then of course if you have any little nagging stuff like IBS or constipation or acne, migraines,. You know it's incredible how people who thought they were healthy all of a sudden realized, "Oh my god I was not healthy." And that's the thing that was so unique about the study that I did. And that's what - these are people that didn't have their backs up against the wall like my dad's patients who had end-stage heart disease. These were professional athletes. These were teenagers. These were grandparents. These were - half were men, half were women. And the results -100% were just phenomenal! And the same thing with the guys at the station. You know I mean -
KIRK HAMILTON: So did they all become weak and flabby vegetarians?
RIP ESSELSTYN: On yeah, yeah, yeah. No absolutely not! Now here's the thing. That's such a myth and as long as you're consuming enough calories you're getting all the protein you need. You're getting all the essential fats you need. You know you're getting all the complex carbohydrates. So really it's as far as, you know if you're trying to gain weight and gain muscle mass, it's just a matter of eating enough calories and then you gotta stress your muscles, and then you gotta give them time to recover. And if you're hitting the weight room and then allowing for adequate recovery you're going to see some nice gains.
KIRK HAMILTON: Well let's get into some of your myths because you just brought that up. So you talked about the protein myth. You have here in your book, for example, spinach is 51% protein, mushrooms 35%, beans 26%, oatmeal 16%. So you're just saying if you eat a wide variety of plant foods you're going to get enough protein.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Yeah, and here's the thing. We as human beings only need a paltry 5% of calories coming from protein and that's even you know - and those requirements have changed over the last 20 years. For example the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board used to have it that we only needed 2.8%. World Health Organization has us at about 4 ½ % of our calories. The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board with a safety margin is about 6%. So this, that your average fruit - fruit is 5 ½ % protein. Your average grain is 13% protein. Your average vegetable is 23% protein and your average bean is 28% protein, and as you said, spinach is about 51% protein. Your average leafy green is anywhere between 40 to 50% and that's why the largest land animals on the planet are herbivores and they are ‘chowing' down these leafy greens and grains. And so protein - you don't even have to go there. It's not an issue.
KIRK HAMILTON: I got it. Okay, well let's go to another myth. So people are "carb-phobic" in this country still, and they think that if they eat carbs they will gain weight and the way to lose weight is get rid of carbs.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Well, I agree that you want to knock out carbs, but it's gotta be the simple carbohydrates, which basically have the nutritional integrity of a black hole. That's the white pasta, the white rice, the white bread, the Wonder bread. It's soda pop, it's donuts, it's candy, it's fried chips, it's all that junk. Now complex carbohydrates that are in your fruits and vegetables and whole grains and beans, those are incredibly healthy. They have all their fiber, they've got phytochemicals, antioxidants that are not found in any animal-based products so carbs, complex carbs, are good.
KIRK HAMILTON: How about, for example, the other question I get - where do I get my calcium for my bones if I don't down gallons of milk?
RIP ESSELSTYN: Yeah. Well people should know that dairy is a great source of calcium but unfortunately it's not a great source of absorbable calcium and the protein that is in all dairy products always trumps the calcium and thereby basically bleaches calcium from our bones. I won't get into the specifics on how that happens right now but I think it's safe to say, and Americans can research that on their own, but dairy is not a good source of absorbable calcium because of the protein. And the best source of absorbable calcium where you're absorbing between 40 and 60% of the calcium is from leafy greens and beans. Whereas if you're trying to get your calcium from dairy you're lucky if you're absorbing 2% of the calcium and that's why you know America, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, the greatest consumers of dairy products, also have the greatest incidence of osteoporosis.
KIRK HAMILTON: How about the need for fats in our diet? Omega 3's, or you know - So tell me how you get them in your plant-strong diet.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Yeah. Most people think that they need fish for their healthy omega 3s, and yes fish have healthy omega 3's but they also have animal protein, animal cholesterol and animal fat and they also - not all but a lot of them - now have dioxins, they have PCBs, mercury, so really fish is not a good way to get our omega 3 fatty acids. Let's go to the mother source, which is you know - which is where fish get theirs. Let's go to leafy greens. Let's go to ground flax seed meal. Let's go to walnuts and soybeans. Those are some of the best plant-based sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
KIRK HAMILTON: We are talking to Rip Esselstyn, the author of the Engine 2 Diet, and I wanted to go to one area which just cracked me up which is myth #11 and it says "Real Men Don't Eat Plants." And then you talk about vascular disease and erectile dysfunction and it just busted me up the way you just talked there. It was good!
RIP ESSELSTYN: Yeah. Well you know what? I tell all my manly friends that are still eating meat that if they want to continue to have rock-hard erections and they want to be, keep their virility and manliness, then they need to drop the meat and the dairy and the eggs and they need to start eating the leafy greens and the beans and the whole grains, because we now know it's really crystal clear that one of the first signs of blockage of the arteries of heart disease is ED or erectile dysfunction. It's become an incredibly unfortunately popular disease in Americans, and it's not because men no longer can have the ability to get it up, so to speak, it's because we're just basically - just as we have arteries going to our brain and going to our heart, we also have arteries that go down to our legs and to our groin and the smallest arteries are the ones that go to our groin. And so they're typically the ones that block up and get kind of clogged up first and foremost. So it doesn't need to be that way and you know men - I like to tell guys don't take the blue pill, take the leafy green.
KIRK HAMILTON: I've gotta remember that. That's good.
Alright, well here's the last myth I wanted to get into, is that people say, "You know man, I'd get bored of plant food. You know I've gotta have my meat and my dairy and stuff. There's no variety in plant food." Help me out.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Well you know nothing could be further from the truth, and as a matter of fact if you look at all the food on the planet. Meat, dairy, eggs, fish, your animal based foods comprise 1%. 1% of all the food that's out there! And 99% of the food that's out there comes from plant-based sources. So the problem is too many people get fixated on that 1% and because they have, they don't even know where to begin when it comes to the other. They know that there's apples and oranges and bananas and tomatoes and iceberg lettuce and you know maybe some potatoes. But they don't realize the extent of squashes and peppers and grains from quinoa to pearl barley to millet and wonderful others, couscous and stuff. So you feel like you're going through a narrow door but once you get through that door it opens up to an incredible panoramic bountiful world of plants that you could explore until your last day on earth.
KIRK HAMILTON: You know I can't agree with you more and the way you said that is really true. You go through this narrow door and then it opens up and you go how could I ever go back and not have this wide variety available to me.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Yeah, I know.
KIRK HAMILTON: So tell me about the killer chronic diseases. We've got heart disease, we've got diabetes, we've got obesity, we've got strokes and we have a thing called, you know, Healthcare Reform. And I always share with people if every congressman and senator and school lunch program had your book and they followed your dietary regimen would we even be talking about the need for healthcare reform?
RIP ESSELSTYN: No, and that's a really - well I think you built that question up really well. And just to kind of further go down that road, America right now spends close to 2.3 trillion dollars on healthcare and 75% of that 2.3 trillion dollars is attributable to five diseases that you just named. Heart disease, obesity, prostate cancer, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes. And every one of those is either preventable or reversible by eating really a plant-strong diet. And so literally, and I think you know in the span of five years, we could completely wipe out this whole healthcare crisis if we just had an educational campaign that was as strong as, "Hey people, you know when you drive you gotta buckle that seatbelt." You know, basically what we have to do is we have to teach people to buckle their nutritional seat belt with plant-strong foods and literally we can tame this tiger but we need it to be a ground swell from the people because right now you know the system is broke and it's not going to be fixed from the inside.
KIRK HAMILTON: So how are you going to spread the word? You've got your book going. What else is on the agenda for Rip Esselstyn?
RIP ESSELSTYN: I got - you know what - I got my book going. I've also recently just partnered up with Whole Foods Market® to do a number of things. One is we're going to be doing a line of Engine 2 Healthy Foods and that's going to be a really, really nice mixture of different salad dressings and pasta sauces and frozen entrees and cereals and fat-free hummus's, and you know the sky will be the limit. And then I'm also working with Whole Foods to - at every Whole Foods Store - you know there's almost 300 of them now around the U.S., Canada and the U.K. We're going to be developing Engine 2 Supper Clubs and Lifestyle Teams for people who want to learn more about how to eat this way. They can go to their local Whole Foods and they can sign up for one of these classes, taking the Engine 2 28-Day Health Opportunity, so we're making it very accessible and doable for people.
KIRK HAMILTON: Do you ever step back and think how many more lives you're going to save by applying this diet on a mass scale than all the desire and energy that you put into being a firefighter? I was a paramedic way back before I was a P.A. And I know the feeling - but are the lives that you're going to save now - you know there's going to be so many more by spreading the word through Whole Foods and your book and the way you're doing it and I really acknowledge you and you've gotta feel great about it.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Well you know what? Yeah, thanks a lot Kirk. Yeah I mean that's one of the reasons why I decided to - I knew that by writing a book and getting passionate about this thing I could help people, and help people save their own life on a much larger scale than I ever could wearing my bunker gear and my firefighting boots. And as you probably know being a paramedic and being a P.A., there's nothing as satisfying in life as helping people. And you know I'm at the point now where I feel like the grinch who stole Christmas and my heart has grown five times. It's just every day I get so much wonderful feedback from people and it makes what I did for the last 20 years all worthwhile.
KIRK HAMILTON: Well you just put it together so well. I am so glad I had you on because I've had - no offense to all my professionals that I've interviewed over the last year, and you know I've been interviewing them in print form for years, researchers and writers, and your dad's very down to earth - but to have someone that's the basic ‘Joe of America' and that's a compliment, okay! A fireman. And apply this stuff will relate more to my patients than some very prestigious, brilliant, awarded ivory tower physician. And so the way you keep sending this message is excellent and I want to encourage you to keep going and I am sure you're going to keep going. And I want to thank you personally because you've inspired me and I will share your book in the practice that I work in on a daily basis and I will get it out there on the Internet as best as I can.
So do you have any closing comments?
RIP ESSELSTYN: You know what? I just want to let people know that you can do this. Tell yourself that you're no longer the person who eats the potato chip. You're no longer the person who eats the Krispy Creme donuts. You're no longer the person that succumbs to the peer pressure to eat all the junk. You're the person that eats their spinach. You're the person who takes the stairs instead of taking the elevator. You're the person who loves yourself and is going to take your health to the next level because you care about yourself and because you know really it is the best thing to do. Something like that.
KIRK HAMILTON: That was great! And how do they get your book?
RIP ESSELSTYN: You know what? You can go to pretty much any book store or you can go to Amazon.com. You can go to my website the Engine2Diet.com and order it off there. And I also have a great support website that I am going to be revamping over the course of January called Engine2academy.com.
KIRK HAMILTON: With that said Rip I want to again thank you very much. And the book is the Engine 2 Diet. Get it. You can't miss it. I've got the hardcover here. The big fire-engine red book cover with the big gold 2 on it. And so Rip, take care of yourself. Keep up the great work and thank you so much for coming on the show today.
RIP ESSELSTYN: Hey, Kirk, thanks so much for having me and way to be ‘plant-bold' my friend.
KIRK HAMILTON: And I want to thank you the audience for listening today on this edition of Staying Healthy Today Radio. And remember, until next time, Stay and Be Well.
© copyright 2009, Prescription 2000, Inc.
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