In this TED talk, Rip Esselstyn, a former firefighter and author of The Engine 2 Diet, advocates a plant-strong diet to combat chronic diseases. Esselstyn inspired his fellow firefighting crew at the Austin Engine 2 station to follow a plant-based diet and dramatically heal their health. In 2012, Engine 2 and Whole Foods Market unveiled the Engine 2 food line.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Rip Esselstyn TED talks on Plant-Strong & Healthy Living
So I’m wearing my shirt inside out and a lot of you have pointed that out to me. And I do this from time to time, and when somebody says it, I say: “I know… I’m wearing my shirt inside out. I’m doing it on purpose and I’m doing it to help people turn their health around.
And they say: “Well, how do you do that?”
And here is the story. So, I became a firefighter to help people, to save lives, and to slay dragons.
Now, obviously, we are not slaying real dragons, but that’s our term for slaying fires. And a fire is really a living, breathing entity, and it’s hell-bent on creating all the destruction and devastation that it can. And so, we as firefighters have to use all of our wit and we have to outwit, outsmart it and outlast it, and whether it’s an offensive fire or a defensive fire, there are certain tactics.
But the essence of basically killing a fire is: “You got to put the wet stuff, on the red stuff” and it doesn’t matter if it is a house fire, an apartment fire or high-rise fire, or if it’s a wild land fire, we got to put the wet stuff, on the red stuff.
Now, I retired from firefighting a little over 3 years ago. So, I’m no longer fighting fires, but I now and still, I am helping people, I’m saving lives, and I’m slaying – I’m slaying a different type of dragon.
The dragon that I’m slaying today, is what I call “The 5-headed chronic western disease dragon” And This, over the last 100 years, has gained more strength and power and momentum and it is flying around, and it is creating more death and destruction on different individuals, families, cities and states in this country, it’s just absolutely amazing.
And let me introduce you to this 5-headed dragon.
So, right here we have the leader of the pack, we have heart disease. 100 years ago, heart disease wasn’t even on the map as one of the top 10 killers of Americans. Today, it’s first and foremost; 1 out of 2 of us will die from heart disease.
Here we have breast cancer and prostate cancer. Cancer will overtake heart disease as the number one killer of Americans if the trends continue. In the back row here, we have diabetes, and we have obesity. Close to 50% of Americans by 2030 will be either pre-diabetic or diabetic and over 70% of Americans is now overweight or obese.
This dragon is playing for keeps, okay? It’s playing hardball. And the current paradigm that we are using to try and slay this dragon, is having absolutely no effect whatsoever. There is a saying: You can’t break a glass bottle from the inside.
And what we are currently doing, with pills and procedures and more legislation and more doctors. We are not going to break that glass bottle. We have to think outside the box, and the answer is plant-based nutrition. Something so simple, yet so profound, and so inexpensive, that we can absolutely lay waste to this dragon that now comprises 75% of this country’s healthcare costs.
Right? 5 diseases, 75% of our healthcare costs and we know beyond the shadow of a doubt, every one of these diseases is either preventable, or reversible with plan-based nutrition.
Now, let me tell you why I have so many ripples of hope about what we can do as a country going forward. We did something really remarkable at a little fire house in Austin Texas. We had an event that led to the discovery that one of our own was basically a dead man walking. And so I challenged these guys for 28 days, let’s eat all plant strong fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, some nuts and seeds and these guys, in 28 days morphed themselves from medical time bombs, into healthy superheroes.
It was absolutely amazing and it was the spark that we needed and the confidence that these guys needed to start a wellness revolution at a firehouse in Austin Texas… the land of beef.
And so we just fed on this and — and the reason we were so successful is because we made health a habit at the fire station. And some of the things that made it easy is the guys at the fire station: they are my second family. So we had tons of support. We had an amazing amount of love between us, compassion, respect and admiration. So we had the support that you need.
We developed routines. Every day we come in and we have a plant-strong lunch that we share together. Then we’d have a crossfit workout in the afternoon. Then we’d have a dinner, a plant-strong dinner and we would alternate who would buy and shop for the food and then together we would cook it and eat it and then clean up afterwards.
And then the next morning we’d have a plant-strong breakfast and then before we left at noon the next day, we’d have a plant-strong lunch.
So these are routines that became consistent for months and years.
And then, I had to educate these guys. These guys had the same questions that everybody has: Well, where am I going to get my protein from plants? What about calcium? And I said: Listen, as far as protein is concerned, it’s a boogie man. Don’t worry about it. The scientific term – the medical term for protein deficiency is kwashiorkor and you don’t know it, and you don’t even have to mess with it.
And then for calcium, calcium comes from the ground, it’s a mineral. If you want to get a first-class, highly absorbable form, you want to get it from plants, not from Cowcium”, it’s not cowcium, it’s calcium.
And then these guys, they had a huge disconnect between what they thought was healthy and what in reality was healthy.
So let’s slay some of those dragons here together.
So first, they thought red-meat put hair on their chest and made them more manly. And I said: “Guys, no, it doesn’t. What it does is it puts plaque in your arteries and it makes you less of a man.”
The canary in a coalmine when it comes to heart disease. The first sign is an under-performing penis. And I said you take a look at the size of the arteries, they go up to the brain, to the heart, down in the legs. They’re all about five millimeters in diameter, about the size this straw here.
You take a look at the size of the artery that goes to the male penis, it’s one millimeter. It’s about the size of this coffee stirring straw right here. And what happens after you eat all that meat, right? It gets clogged up with all the fat, the cholesterol and the animal protein. And that’s problematic.
So if you want to slay that erectile dysfunction dragon and allow your Puff-the-Magic Dragon to roar, then you want to ditch the meat and you want to reach for the plants.
These guys were absolutely convinced that chicken was like the cat’s meow when it came to health food. I said: Listen guys. Never mind that cat; this doesn’t even belong in your dog’s breakfast bowl, all right. It’s got the exact same amount of cholesterol as red meat. It’s got the same amount of problematic animal protein and the leanest piece a chicken is still 20% saturated fat.
You’re not going to be slaying any dragons with this guy here. “Okay, Rip. Fine. But fish, fish is the gold standard when it comes to a healthy meat, right?” And I said: No. It’s the 10th standard, okay? Most fish has more cholesterol than red meat or chicken; salmon, which is considered the healthiest, is 50 milligrams of cholesterol. You still got the problematic animal protein and varying amounts of the bad fats. Don’t go there guys.
Okay. Fine, Rip. But the egg? The egg is the perfect food, right? We know it’s the perfect food. Yes, the perfect food? if you want to continue to feed the dragon.
If you want to slay the dragon, you got to get rid of the egg. One egg yolk, almost 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol. It’s the same amount as 2 Burger King whoppers and the egg white is a concentrated source of animal protein.
Now these guys knew the processed and refined foods were not healthy. They knew about the sugar, and the pop, and the fried chips and the candy bars. But they had no idea that extracted plant oils weren’t heart-healthy and weren’t beneficial.
So I said: Listen, this epitomizes the triumph of marketing over science. Let’s pick on olive oil for a second. It takes 1,375 olives that you have to squeeze to death, right, to get enough olive oil for one 32-ounce bottle. And you get rid of all the fiber, the water, the phytonutrients and the anti-oxidants. And you’re left with a 100%, the most concentrated source of calories on the planet and it’s 15% saturated fat. And all it’s doing is contributing to America’s heart disease and obesity epidemic.
Okay. But Milk? Milk does a body good, right?” And I said: Guys, milk does nobody any good. You’ve been marketed to death. Don’t buy the hype. As a matter fact, this milk is just liquid meat. It’s what it is. It’s got a very similar nutritional composition. And as a matter of fact, one eight-ounce glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as four slices of bacon.
Okay. Fine. But CHEESE? Don’t take away our cheese, whatever you do, because we LOVE our cheese? And I said: I know you love your cheese, and that’s exactly why I need to take it from you. Because you know what? When I think about a loving relationship, I think it’s something that also loves you right back, and that cheese does not love you back. Not one iota.
And so I hereby declare that you all are in an abusive relationship with cheese and you need to kick it out of your life.
Okay, fine! But don’t take away our yogurt! I mean, this is like – this is the Mediterranean super food, people can live to be 100 on this stuff, right? And I said: Again guys, it’s the magic of marketing, all right? For example, this newfangled Greek yogurt that’s zero fat and twice the amount of protein, it’s twice the amount of problematic animal protein, right, that’s promoting tumors and cancers, that’s leaching calcium from your bones, that’s harsh on the kidneys and the liver, right.
You don’t need to go there, you can get everything you need from plants.
And to put the nail into the coffin, I said: Guys, we’re the only mammals that drink another mammal secretions, okay? You don’t need to go there, not one bit. There’s 51,000 mammals on the planet. We’re the only ones that have the unmitigated audacity to go there, all right? Don’t need to do it.
So, the other thing we did at the fire station after I educated them, is we surrounded ourselves with these fantastic mantastic foods so it filled them up, without filing them out. It tasted great and it made them feel fantastic. So we did like these great breakfast bowls with plant-based milks.
Spelt-blueberry pancakes as big as manhole covers. Quinoa and fruit, the magic grain, almost 20 percent protein. Oatmeal waffles with nice apple sauce on top and then, for lunches and dinners we would do all time, all American favorites, we do plan-strong pizzas, portobello mushroom fajitas with all the fixings. Lentil oatloaf. That’s kind of glaced with barbecue sauce on the bottom and the top.
Macaroni and not cheese. Red lentil sloppy joe’s that were a lunchtime favorite. Bean and grain burgers, red curry tofu stir-fry, three bean chilly, kale ceviche salad. Kale, it’s angry lettuce, right? It needs to be tamed, so we would take a little bit of lemon juice avocado, some spices and drive it in there.
Sweet potato lasagna, an all-time dinner favorite makes fantastic leftovers, black beans and rice extravaganza. This is the ultimate peasant food. We could feed 5 hungry firefighters for less than 15 dollars.
Dark chocolate oatmeal cookies for dessert, chocolate mousses, date nut crust fruit pies, and then a variety of fruits. But what happened is over the course of 28 days and then beyond, these guys developed a much more sophisticated and mature palate that appreciated all the little nuances and subtleties that are in these plant-based foods. And we’re eating the standard American diet, all you’re really tasting is the salt, the sugar and the fat that it’s all laced with.
So I challenge you all, if you really want to develop a sophisticated palate, go plant strong.
And also what happened with these guys over the 28 days they started pooping perfectly regularly. Most Americans are consuming 5 to 15 grams of fiber a day. You start eating plant-based and all of a sudden, it goes up to 30 to 70 grams of fiber, and now you’re as regular as a Swiss commuter train. And you’re light and unencumbered and the quality your life goes through the roof.
So you got to kick the habit! And I’m not talking about smoking cigarettes right now, but I want to talk about cigarettes for a second right now.
Fifty years ago, close to 50% of America was smoking cigarettes. Now, it’s less than 20%.
And what happened is America basically got educated, and understood that smoking cigarettes was not good for your health, okay.
We need to do the same thing around the standard American diet and this is more insidious and more destructive than smoking cigarettes. 94% of our calories are calories that don’t count. They’re destructive instead of constructive. Only a mere 6% are coming from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, that are really constructive, healthy calories.
So we need a complete paradigm shift that goes on in this country. And so this is what I want you to do. I want you to make health a habit. Take the 28 day challenge okay? And change your health destiny, change your relationship with food. You will forever have a different relationship. Find support. This culture, this society does not support healthy living or healthy eating right now. So you need to find support at family, at work, online… there’s all kinds of communities where you can get support.
Develop routines that make this sustainable whether it’s breakfast, you know, every morning, the same thing. Monday through Friday whether it’s finding a couple restaurants that you can go to but find routines.
Educate yourself. Read the litany of fantastic books that are out there on this subject, because once you have the knowledge, it’s a different ball game and then surround yourself with healthy foods.
We do not want this to be about willpower okay? So have a nice and sterile environment at home.
And then make food you enjoy. You saw all the fantastic pictures that we were eating at the firehouse. This is not about deprivation, this is about empowerment. If you’re a true foodie, you’ll want to go towards eating plant-based. 99% of the food on the planet comes from plants, a mere 1% comes from animals and animal byproducts.
So, I have so many ripples of Hope going forward that this country can turn it around. I know that if a little fire house in Austin Texas can do it, any house in America can do this.
And I know that the trends are changing. I’ve seen it with my own eyes over the last six years, right.
I’ve seen Forks Over knives become the number one viewed and selling documentary in America for the last two years. I’ve seen the fast-food president go plant-based. I’ve seen media moguls like Oprah and Ellen that are now pushing plants. I’ve seen CEOs like John Mackey and Biz Stone of Twitter, and Bill Ford, of the Ford Motor Corporation, that are going plant-based. I’ve seen professional athletes like Serena and Venus Williams and the number one running back in the NFL, Arian Foster, are now plant-based.
The time is here, the time is now. Go Plant Strong! Slay – Slay the five-headed dragon in your life. And it all starts with what’s at the end of your fork, your spoon and your knife.