He's authored more than a dozen books on the subject and founded non-profits aimed at helping people get on better diets to prevent disease. And he sees a big issue coming: Alzheimer's disease.
As the large baby-boomer population moves into the prime age range when the cognitive disease sets in, a lot of people and families will be affected.
"Even though the iceberg has been sighted, it is still miles away. We can still turn," Esko said, chief executive of Berkshire Holistic Associates in Lenox.
To spread the word, Berkshire Holistic Associates is hosting a forum at Eastover Resort on Friday, Aug. 2, on how a plant-based diet can help one avoid Alzheimer's disease.
The free public event is part of the weeklong Macrobiotic Summer Conference that featured macrobiotic teachers, counselors and chefs.
Dr. Mark Pettus, director of medical education, wellness and population health at Berkshire Health Systems, will be the keynote speaker.
Esko said the focus of the forum, which begins at 2 p.m., isn't just on the science behind how incorporating more plant-based foods into a diet can help prevent disease but also provides tips to actually do so.
"We're not advocating for strictly and all vegan diet ... any step in the right direction is that, a step in the right direction," he said. "There will be practical advice on simple steps one can take."
Pettus will be joined on a panel discussion with others in the field including Esko, family practice physician Dr. Martha Cottrell, macrobiotic pioneer Bill Tara who will be honored at a gala that night, macrobiotics teacher and author Alex Jack, chef Christina Pirello, and Culinary Medicine School founder Bettina Zumdick.
The organization has a food pyramid that looks a bit different from the ones most people traditionally grew up with. Instead of having meat as a large part of it, it is only a small portion. Esko said sometimes animal-based foods are needed in ones diet at small levels. But, he said often people would benefit from eating fewer meals, or go whole days, without animal-based foods.
Esko is no stranger to the topic. His activism dates back decades and he was the founder of the non-profit International Macrobiotic Institute. He said 20 years ago before the issue of GMO foods had hit the mainstream, his organization was pushing back against the food industry as he attempted to keep the practice from being done in wheat and rice fields.
"We've been doing research since the 1970s on the connection between diet and health," Esko said.
He said it has been clearly established that diet can prevent heart disease and has been generally accepted as such in medicine. Esko said that same link between a diet with a lot of animal-based foods and the disease has been found with Alzheimer's too. In more recent years, Esko has turned his attention to the link between diet and cognitive diseases.
"The science is now moving in that direction more and more," he said. "We've been saying that for decades and now the science is behind us."
Esko believes that it isn't too late and that even by improving one's diet in the early stages of the disease can slow the progress and potentially even reverse it.
The forum is free and open to the public. It is the capstone event of a weeklong retreat known as the Macrobiotic Summer Conference, which Esko has been hosting for years. The Berkshire Holistic Associates is an offshoot of those prior efforts and organizations Esko has been part of for years and is calling Eastover home.
The fairly new organization will be housed at the resort and offer residents diet counseling and cooking workshops for plant-based diets as well as the ability to offer referrals to holistic medical practitioners and resources as to where to buy organic foods. Esko said he hopes to have at least one public forum every season on various topics.
"It is basically a start-up but our network is vast," Esko said.
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