Vegetarian Elite
In the Business of Saving Lives: Plant-Strong Firefighter Rip Esselstyn      
My father, he’s been my hero my whole life. And I am very, very grateful for the gift that he has given me, which is the gift of eating plant-based, and the gift that then in turn, I am going to be giving to my son and my daughter and all the people whose lives I am able to touch by eating plant-based.

Welcome, gracious viewers, to another uplifting edition of Vegetarian Elite. On today’s program, we will honor Father’s Day by introducing a man who is continuing the valiant, life-saving legacy of his beloved dad. World class triathlete turned firefighter turned best-selling author, Mr. Rip Esselstyn, has always lived a heroic life. From saving human lives as a firefighter to animal lives as a plant-strong vegan, he has always responded to the call.

Nowadays he serves as a major proponent of society transitioning to meatless eating. His vegan philosophy comes from his father’s loving decision to help the whole family become vegetarian over 25 years ago. His father, world famous doctor Caldwell Esselstyn, is considered a pioneer in the use of plant-based preventative medicine.

My father was one of my heroes. No doubt about it. And he was the primary influence in me making the transition to eating this way.

While serving as a dedicated firefighter in Austin, Texas, USA, Rip created a simple and powerful vegan diet plan out of concern for health of his fellow colleagues.

In 2003, we had basically a very, very competitive station. And we had a bet to see who had the lowest cholesterol level. So we had our cholesterol levels checked the next day. The results came back. And one of my fellow firefighting brothers had a cholesterol of 344, at the age of 33. So as a group of firefighters, literally the next shift in an act of solidarity, to really save his life, we started eating plant-based, plant-strong.

This effective eating system gained national exposure, and led Rip to write the powerful award-winning book “The Engine 2 Diet,” and create an informative website. He also has a YouTube channel that guides people step-by-step through his 28-day scientifically researched eating method.

We got a lot of press and media attention as a bunch of firefighters that started eating plant-based or vegetarian. We were on the cover of the New York Times, National Section, we were on National NPR radio, numerous radio broadcasts. And then all of a sudden I realized as a firefighter, not as a doctor, not as a nutritionist, but as a firefighter, I was in a unique position to reach out and connect with a group, with an audience that would never otherwise hear this message.

It almost became like an obligation for me to write this book in order to let people know the irrefutable and the undeniable connection between what you put in your mouth and your weight, perfect health, and becoming bullet proof to western disease.

In 2006, Rip, along with other members of the Engine 2 fire station were honored by Supreme Master Ching Hai with the Shining World Leadership Award for showing people that they too could lead a heroic, compassionate lifestyle in their own homes simply by changing their food choices.

In a nutshell, I am kind of challenging people to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, it’s really that simple. Right now your average American is consuming a minuscule 6% of their calories from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, and almost 90, 95% are coming from processed and refined foods, and animal-based products. And so, my goal, my mission, and what I talk about in the book is all the reasons why you want to go from basically eating a plant-weak diet to swinging the pendulum around and eating a plant-strong diet.

Mr. Esselstyn is featured in the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary “Forks Over Knives,” and a respected member of the Whole Foods Market healthy eating team.

I’ve got a little couple of minute snippet with me and the guys at the firehouse basically highlighting how we eat a plant-strong diet to be the best firefighters we can be, to be at our best 24/7.

I started eating this way in 1987 for a number of reasons. One was for health reasons, and the other was for performance reasons. And that’s because my mentor in the sport of triathlon, a guy named Dave Scott, the 6-time winner of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon was a hardcore vegetarian. And so I was like, “Well, if the number 1 endurance athlete in the planet eats this way, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t eat this way.”

I think it gave me the edge as a world class triathlete for a little over 11 years, and then I continued to compete at that level, even as a full-time firefighter as well, up until the age of 43, 44. But I’ve won numerous triathlons, numerous endurance competitions, dualathons, open water swimming competitions, and I contribute my success in large part, to the plant-strong or vegan diet.

Among his accomplishments, at the age of 43, Rip Esselstyn was named one of Austin’s 10 Fittest People. In 2008, he won the US Masters Swimming National Championship in record time for his age group. We asked Rip, based on his personal experience and research, if he would have performed better as an athlete if he continued eating meat, fish, dairy, and eggs.

No, no. When you’re not eating refined and processed foods, when you’re not taking in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, acidic producing animal protein, you’re going to be much better off, and you recover better. And as an athlete, one of the things that’s so important is being able to train and then recover.

As a firefighter, one of the things a lot of people don’t know is that 80% of our call volume, we’re making are medical calls. So we see up close and personal the devastation that’s being caused by the fork and the knife and the spoon. So eating this way it gave me the means to not get sick, have the energy to write the book, and continue to do all the things I wanted to in life: be a firefighter, be a father, be a husband, and still take care of myself by training for at least an hour a day.

What is your assessment of the effect of a plant-based diet on your physical abilities as a firefighter in terms of both stamina and strength?

By far this is the best diet to eat. Your blood is going to be as clean as it can be. When you eat plants, specifically the green leafies, your body produces something call nitric oxide and this allows all your vessels to dilate. When they dilate, a lot more flood can get through to the muscles, the tissues, and the organs. And if you have more oxygen, you’re going to be performing better.

One misconception that I always have to clear up first and foremost because most people don’t understand that you can get all the protein you need in abundance to repair muscle and also grow more muscle, through a plant-based diet. As human beings, there’s three macronutrients that we get out of food: there’s fat, which we can store easily; there’s carbohydrates, which we can store as glycogen or glucose; and then there’s protein. We can’t store protein, so we use what we can and then we discard the rest.

So now at the fire station where they’re are all vegan, what is the food like? What are the meals like at the fire station?

Well, great question. And I tell people, the four major food groups of the Texas firefighter are: burgers, pizza, beef fajitas, and ice cream. So for starters, I just took the four major food groups and made them healthy. So instead of doing beef burgers, we did black bean oatmeal burgers. And then for a side, instead of doing fries that are dunked in oil, we did baked sweet potato fries.

And instead of doing green beans for example, smothered in butter and oil, we did green beans with a wonderful spice on top. And then pizza – firefighters love pizza. So we did a clean, whole grain crust and a marinara sauce with all kinds of veggies galore, whether it’s pineapples, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes – we got pretty extravagant. Instead of beef fajitas, we would do portobello mushroom fajitas. So we’d slice up portobello mushrooms with barbeque sauce and either cook them on the grill, or bake them in the oven.

Then instead of doing ice cream for dessert, we’ll do a healthy silken tofu lime mousse with fresh raspberries on top and a sprig of mint. And the guys loved it. And you know in the book for example, I have nine different dinner categories. These are all very stick-to-your-rib, kind of masculine-type meals. For example, we got Pizza Night, we got Burger Night, we have Big Salad Night, we’ve got Soup Night, we got Tex-Mex Night, we’ve got Comfort Food Night. So all these categories, close to 125 different recipes.

Great. Would you tell us about your diet on a typical day?

Yeah, I keep it simple. In order for this to be sustainable and permanent it has to be simple. I start the day with what I call “The Big Bowl,” and it’s 3 different types of cereals. And then I do a tablespoon of ground flaxseed meal for my omega 3 fatty acids. I do a small handful of walnuts. And then I do usually three pieces of fruit. I usually keep frozen fruit in the in the freezer, that way it never goes bad, it’s very, very economical. So I usually do mango chunks, raspberries, blueberries. Then I’ll also do something fresh like a banana, a mango, or a peach or a kiwi.

And believe it or not that is my breakfast cereal. It’s the linchpin that has kept me going for now 24 years. And that little bowl there, or I should say big bowl has anywhere between 35 or 40 grams of protein in it and the same amount of fiber. So it is just packed with all kinds of wonderful things to start the day out in a great way.

On, Rip guides each visitor with resources that make it fun, easy, and delicious to effectively change their diet (and their life!) in just four weeks.

This basically guides you through the 28 days. And each week, I have anywhere from a 2 to 4 to 5 minute video where I explain to people what you’re going to be eliminating and why you’re going to be eliminating it. In week 1, it’s all dairy. Week 2, it’s all meat, it’s all flesh. And week 3, it’s all extracted oils. And then I also have week by week accompanying meal plans and grocery lists for people that you know will invariably say “Well, what am I going to eat? What in the world am I going to eat?” And so that’s why I’ve supplied these tools.

But I also like to tell people that 99% of the food on the planet comes from plants. 99%. One percent comes from animals. During the 28 days health opportunity, every day try a new food, a new plant-based food that you’ve never had before. And exercise, you know, eating plant-based is king, exercise is queen, combine the two, and you have a health kingdom. I find it’s very, very important to build the immune system, to fight depression, and then if you’re female, help fight off the osteoporosis. By the way, as an aside, the best form of absorbable calcium comes from plants, it doesn’t come from dairy.

And this is, of course this website will all be free because I just want people to start eating this way, because you’ll save yourselves and you’ll help save the planet.

We asked Mr. Rip Esselstyn if he had some kind words to share with our viewers for Father’s Day.

One of the greatest gifts that anybody can give any father out there is the gift of going plant-based. I would challenge the men out there, what is more masculine: eating a certain way and dying of heart disease at the age of 51, 52, and leaving your family behind; or eating a plant-strong, plant-based diet and being there for, for your children, for your wife, in a very responsible and heroic way. And I would say that being around for your family, in a responsible way and being healthy is the more masculine thing to do. So that would be a nice Father’s Day wish that I would wish upon all the men out there that are fathers.

Engaging viewers, we appreciate you spending time with us today on our special Father’s Day edition of Vegetarian Elite featuring plant-strong Rip Esselstyn. Please join us again next week, June 25, for part 2. Coming up next is Between Master and Disciples. May you and your family enjoy one another’s blessed company in happiness, health, and longevity.

I am Rip Esselstyn of the Engine 2 Diet.
Be Veg,
Go Green
2 Save the Planet!

For more information on Rip Esselstyn and his plant-strong Engine 2 Diet, please visit:
I tell people this is the greatest gift that you can give your children, is the gift of eating, of eating plant-based.

Welcome back to the finale of our two-part series on the inspirational Mr. Rip Esseslytn. As we learned in part one, Mr. Esselstyn has been a world champion athlete, life-saving firefighter, loving family man, and New York Times Bestselling author of “The Engine 2 Diet” – all the while living a meat-free, plant-strong lifestyle for 24 years.

Dr. Neal Barnard, founding president of the prestigious Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) states: “Rip Esselstyn has lived a hero’s life and shares his commitment to good health in this inspiring book. With an easy step-by-step plan, loads of practical tips, and wonderful recipes, this is the ultimate guide to health and long life.”

I cite my father’s 25-year study, showing that you cannot only prevent, but also reverse heart disease by eating a low fat, plant-based diet.

Let’s now continue our informative conversation with Mr. Esselstyn to learn more about his approachable book that has led countless people to transform their lives for the better.

Why is the Engine 2 Diet 28 days?

Because it’s incredible how in just 28 days you can change a number of things. Physiologically it’s incredible how quick the body can heal itself and get healthy. So in 28 days, you can change your palate, you can reprogram your brain. This becomes much more of a lifestyle. It becomes very habitual. And to me it’s not so long that it’s daunting and it scares people away. And of course my goal and my hope is that after 28 days people will be hooked and they’ll be for forever changed. I’m not a big fan of the word “diet,” I don’t believe in diets, so really this is not a diet, this is a lifestyle.

Okay, so basically, the 28-day program is a vegan diet that is free of any animal products. So is the vegan diet complete in terms of nutrients and protein?

Oh yeah, oh yeah. Yeah, this diet is complete. You’ll get all the macronutrients you’ll need, meaning the fat, the carbohydrates, the protein. There is a big misconception out there that you can’t get all the protein you need eating a vegan or plant-based diet. And nothing could be further from the truth. As long as you’re consuming enough calories, you’re getting enough protein.

When you eat a processed and refined food diet and animal-based diet, you’re not getting any fiber, you’re not getting any phytochemicals, minimal amounts of antioxidants. And animals-based products, for example, don’t have any C, any E, or any folate, so you’re missing really 3 major vitamins that you’re not getting in animal-based products. Whereas in plant-based products you get everything in the way of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and the 3 major macro nutrients.

So, after the 28 days is finished what do you recommend to people?

After the 28 days, you feel better than you’ve ever felt, you look better than you’ve ever felt – push on. Push on. Keep going and continue to be plant-strong. If people are going out to dinner, they’re traveling, I have an acronym which is “FAB.”

“F” is “Figure out what you can eat.” So I don’t care what restaurant you’re at, there’s always something on that menu you can eat that is a vegan option.

And then the “A” stands for “Ask for what you want.” Do not compromise, do not settle – ask for what you want. It’s so easy to eat this way, whether I’m at a Thai restaurant, whether I’m at a Chinese, Japanese, Korean, you know all of these cities have them; whether I’m at a pizza joint, you can make it work. I’ll get a stir-fry and I’ll ask, “Can you ask the chef to stir-fry this in orange juice or veggie broth or carrot juice instead of olive oil or some sort of oil.” And 9 out of 10 times they come back and say “Happy to do it. As a matter of fact, he really, really enjoyed making it that way and we’re going to add it to the menu.”

The last part of the acronym is “B” – “Bring your own food.” When I’m traveling and I’m on the airplane, I just make sure I bring enough food to last me 2 meals; so whether it’s a couple of sandwiches, a couple pieces of fruit, a couple of really clean energy bars, you name it. Be as plant-strong as you can because you won’t regret it.

And the more you continue to do this, the easier it becomes. The more people that start eating this way, the easier it’s going to become and the less it’s going to be uphill and the more restaurants will make this easy.

You used the term sometimes “plant-strong diet.” (Yeah.) Tell me what that means?

So I came up with “plant-strong.” It’s very, very inclusive, it’s not exclusive. I want people to know that this is not an exclusive club. We’re inviting anybody and everyone to be part of the plant-strong club, and we just ask you to really reconfigure what’s on your plate: breakfast, lunch, dinner. And eat more plants, eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and it’s that simple. And if you can do that, your health will improve and the world’s health will improve in turn. I like the term and a lot of people seem to be very drawn to it as well.

So of those who stick with the change, can you speculate on what their lifetime benefits are of sticking with that change?

Oh gosh, they’re enormous! The fact that you don’t have to worry about obesity; your body will find a place of homeostasis where it is very, very comfortable, and you basically just can eat until your tummy is content. And that is a wonderful thing.

You can find your perfect weight. As far as heart disease, type II diabetes, prostate cancer in men, breast cancer in female – your chances of getting those are either eliminated or greatly, greatly, greatly reduced. For the men out there, the first clinical sign of heart disease is erectile dysfunction. So for a lot of men out there, that they want to be real men, I have a saying and it’s, “Real men eat plants. They don’t eat meat!”

Do you have favorite success stories of people who have been on the Engine 2 Diet? Would you share one?

Yeah, I’ve got lots and lots. One that I love was a sous-chef and started eating this way, lost 35 pounds, in 2 months, his cholesterol dropped from 220 to 130. And he wrote me an email and he said that he was sitting at the dinner table and he told his wife that, “When you change what you eat, all of a sudden you are giving yourself permission to love yourself. And that makes all the difference.” And I thought that that was really, really beautiful, and in a simple way very, very profound. That you know just by changing what you eat you basically give yourself permission to love yourself, and that has some really profound effects on your whole outlook, towards yourself and life.

What started off as a simple gesture of solidarity between the Station 2 firefighters to save a colleague’s life by forgoing meat to be plant-strong, has become an incredible movement locally in Austin, Texas and the world.

Well, we started in 2003, but now we have pockets of people that are eating plant-based throughout the 44 different stations in Austin. So it’s actually really amazing how it’s infiltrated out throughout the department.

Since then, Mr. Esselstyn has also been featured prominently in the national media – including the Dr. Oz Show, The Today Show, The Early Show, and Good Morning America to name a few. He has also partnered with the largest natural food store in the world, Whole Foods Market, which has plans to roll out an Engine 2 vegan product line in late 2011.

Now you’ve set even loftier goals though, of educating the public about a better way of life. How has the response been to your book?

The response to the book has been really, really wonderful. It’s been a national bestseller, New York Time National Bestseller. I’ve been on several different TV programs And so all these things have been wonderful media opportunities to get the message out for the book. In addition to that, I was fortunate enough to get an amazing opportunity to partner with Whole Foods Market, which is a real, real leader, and innovator. And they in 2010, rolled out what they’re calling their Healthy Eating Initiative or their Health Start Share Program.

I go around the country, UK, Canada and I am basically talking to team members, customers, communities about all the reasons why you want to transition off the standard American diet to a more plant-strong diet. And then I also am coming out with a line of Engine 2 food products that will be carried at Whole Foods. (Wow. Cool.)

Yeah and a lot of these are straight from the book. Sweet Potato Lasagna, Macaroni and Not Cheese, Red Thai Curry, Pad Thai, Greek Pizza, Green Pizza, Shepherd’s Pie. We have some pastas: pasta with kale, pasta with basil; some really clean salad dressings, soups… These are all no animal-based, they are whole foods, low fat, low sodium, plant-strong products. Yeah, yeah, all the good none of the bad.

Let me ask you, have you noticed a trend toward a vegetarian diet in recent years?

Yeah, absolutely! I think there is a trend. Right now we’re in an amazing point in history with this information era, and the information is out there, whether it’s the Internet, cable TV…. I’m amazed at the amount of vegetarians and vegans that I’m running into. And recently there was an article that was written up in Boston Globe where this woman refers to this trend that’s going on, specifically in 40 and 50-year-old males who want to be as healthy as they can be, they want to live as long as they can, and they want to be the best men they can be. And she referred in this article to them as “hegans,” instead of vegan, a hegan.

Boston Globe Correspondent Kathleen Pierce writes: “Perhaps the ultimate hegan is Rip Esselstyn, a veteran firefighter and triathlete in Austin, Texas.”

I look at the fire chief of the Prince William County Fire Department reaching out to me to get his 500 occupational athletes on board the “Plant-Strong Program.” And that to me is a real sign. I recently had some people that reached out to me from the town of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, a population 2,500. They want to start a wellness community, and so they’re getting together with all the community leaders, the restaurant leaders, the schools in the area, and they want to create a model that any other town in America can emulate. Because they want to completely transform themselves from a sick community to a wellness community.

And then I recently got a phone call from the Sacramento Food Bank, in Sacramento, California, and we’re going to be working with some really low income populations there, to teach them how they can eat in a very, very affordable manner and eat plant-based to absolutely change their health destiny as well. So, from my vantage point, I see all kinds of trends going on.

So what is your dream? What would you like to see come out of all your efforts?

I would love it if we could basically turn back the clocks, and go back to where we were several decades ago, and basically eradicate heart disease, eradicate the major cancers. And when I say eradicate, I mean less than 5%. Right now, you know, we have 50% of, of this country, that’s coming down with heart disease, or will die of heart disease, we have almost 40 or 50% of men and women that will come down with cancer. So my dream and my goal is that, instead of having 5 or 10% of America right now educated about diet and nutrition, it’s 90, it’s 95%; just like what’s going on right now with smoking, just about everybody knows that smoking is bad for your health.

And this needs to go into the school systems, into work, on the Internet, TV shows, you name it. And then, just by doing that, by proxy, the animals will be saved, the planet will be saved. It’s incredible how everything is so interconnected with food. My hope is over the next five years, we really as a country, we get to a certain tipping point, where eating plants is looked at as absolutely the coolest thing on the planet.

For being a vegan champion of the world, and for showing people that they too could lead heroic, compassionate lives simply by changing their food choices, Rip and other members of Fire Station 2 were honored by Supreme Master Ching Hai with the Shining World Leadership Award in 2006.

Supreme Master, thank you for everything that you have done and that you are continuing to do make planet Earth a better place to live. It’s very, very much appreciated. You’re wonderful.

Mr. Rip Esselstyn, words are never enough to express our gratitude for your dedication to save the world with beneficial information and life-sustaining vegan foods. We wish you luck and many blessings in your endeavors.

I am Rip Esselstyn of the Engine 2 Diet.
Be Veg,
Go Green
2 Save the Planet!

For more information on Rip Esselstyn and his plant-strong Engine 2 Diet, please visit:

Plant-strong viewers, thank you for spending your precious time with us today. Coming up next is Between Master and Disciples. May the healthy glow and the strength of a kinder diet fuel you on all your heroic adventures!

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