WINCHESTER, Ore. >> Last month, Joe Clyde’s neurologist told him he has the slowest-progressing case of Parkinson’s disease he’s ever seen.
The slow progression could be the result of what he’s eating. Or, more to the point, what he’s not eating.
Joe Clyde, 77, and his wife, Margene Clyde, 75, stopped eating animal products a year ago. Since then, their health has improved and they’ve lost weight.
Their transition began when they attended last year’s Extraordinary Living conference at Umpqua Community College and heard a presentation by Roseburg physician Charlie Ross, a lifestyle-medicine specialist who advocates a vegan diet.
The Clydes were sold.
"We came home from that conference and immediately changed how we were eating," Margene Clyde said.
The Clydes already exercised regularly — they’re avid cyclists and visit a gym several times a week — and had what many would consider a healthy diet. They ate lots of salads, fruits and vegetables. However, they ate animal products such as meat, dairy or eggs about once a day.
They purchased several books Ross recommended and found many of them contained recipes. Then they went to Sherm’s Thunderbird Market in Roseburg and found everything they needed to turn the recipes into meals.
"So we were off and running," Margene Clyde said.
It helps that both of them enjoy cooking and that they take turns preparing meals.
"It takes a real commitment," Margene Clyde said. "You have to really want to do it, and you have to have kind of a sense of adventure."
The new diet does require more time spent preparing food, however, because it includes large quantities of fruits and vegetables that require preparation, rather than the packaged foods that most people eat.
"You don’t just bring a cantaloupe home and take a bite out of it. You have to cut it open and clean it out. It is a little bit more time consuming to eat this way," she said.
One of the first changes they noticed was their weight dropping. Before they started the diet, Margene Clyde had watched the pounds pile on, especially around her waist, even though she wasn’t eating more. After giving up meat and dairy, Margene’s body mass index dropped from a nearly obese 29 to a trim 22.
Joe Clyde dropped 20 pounds.
"I had this belly, this beer belly you might call it, sticking out here, and that just went away, just real quick," he said.
In fact, Joe Clyde has added oil-rich foods like avocados and nuts into his diet, since he’s now a bit underweight.
Joe Clyde has seen the most dramatic improvements, in part because he had the more serious health issues. Five years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and in 2012 he had a stroke. The stroke came on the day after Christmas. He was accompanying his wife and daughter on a shopping trip, carrying bags, when his daughter caught sight of his face. She said to her mother, "Look at Dad’s face."
One side was drooping.
Today, his Parkinson’s symptoms are minimal and his stroke risk is down considerably. His cholesterol dropped from about 210 to 178, and his cardiovascular profile is healthy.
Margene Clyde said her arthritis has improved and she feels less pain than she used to from a dead bone in her wrist. She also said she has more energy than she did last year.
The Clydes said changing their diet hasn’t been that difficult. They start a typical day with oatmeal and fruit instead of bacon and eggs. They have green smoothies every day, made mostly of spinach, but sweetened with frozen fruit and bananas. They add protein powder and almond milk. Soy substitutes for meat in many dishes. Even taco meat can be approximated with soy crumbles and flavoring.
Thursday, they planned to have lasagna for dinner, with nutritional yeast as a replacement for the cheese.
The Clydes said now animal products don’t taste good to them. Joe Clyde confessed he tried a bit of tri tip at a benefit dinner a couple months ago. He didn’t like it.
"It really wasn’t desirable to me," he said. "I lost my taste for it."
The only downside is it’s harder to eat meals in restaurants now. The Clydes like the Chipotle and Cafe Yumm chains and hope these companies will open restaurants in Roseburg. Occasionally, they eat at Pita Pit. For the most part, they do their own cooking.
Margene Clyde said they don’t anticipate becoming omnivores again.
"After doing it for a year, you can’t imagine ever going back," she said.