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Healthy-Eating Travel with Lisa and Clayton McCarl

McCarl Dental Group’s offices at 28 Ridge Road

When I moved here 10 years ago I had no idea there was a “pioneer” dental practice in the middle of Old Greenbelt, housed in two historical co-op units, no less. It opened in 1938 and now the third generation of McCarls practices there, including one who became my dentist – Dr. Clayton, as he’s called in the office.

But in 10 yeas of chit-chat with Dr. Clayton (so often with my mouth full of stuff) I never knew that he has another gig on the side – co-leading tours with his travel-agent wife Lisa. And not regular tours; these are cruises that Lisa arranges just for people who eat the healthy diets that are normally not possible to follow on board – whole-food, plant-based meals with no added sugar, oil or salt!

(L) Clayton and Lisa in Croatia and (R) in The Netherlands with daughter/hygienist Ashley Harrison and her husband.

Lisa has another gig, too – managing the website and whatever else needs doing.

They’ve led groups of between 20 and 110 such healthy eaters – so far – a river cruise in Europe, the Caribbean, Greece and the Sea of Cortez, and this month, a 10-day cruise in  Alaska, with about 100 vegans among the 312 passengers.

And next year (February 17-26) they’ll lead an all-plant-based tour of the Galapagos Islands for the National Health Association, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic for a maximum 96 passengers. There are still openings. Daily expeditions and evening educational presentations will be conducted by National Geographic Naturalists and Photographers.

Above, Lisa and Clayton in Baja California with Lindblad Expeditions

Yes, all the plant-based tours are cruises, and if you’re wondering why (as I did) imagine trying to arrange for special diet foods in a different restaurant every meal for 10 days or more. So far, Lisa has worked with chefs with Windstar Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic, educating them and even provide special recipes.

Over on Lisa’s Facebook page I found these photos of actual food served on these cruises.

(I’m not vegan myself but these meals would fit well into my own healthy-food program and I’d love to find out how they can be tasty without added sugar, fat or salt. So unlike most cruise fare!)

Environmental Impacts

It’s well established that a vegan diet has the lowest carbon footprint, and both Windstar and Lindblad Expeditions are working with Lisa to bring more plant-based meals to all their customers. So that’s great, but what about the climate impact of cruises themselves? Both Lindblad and Windstar ships are an improvement there, too. Note the size of the a Windstar ship on the left, capable of a maximum of 312 passengers next to a more common size cruiseship holding almost 4,000. (They range in size up to 9,000!)


Clayton’s Health Journey

If you’ve ever seen Clayton or Lisa and noticed how they they look you might be wondering, as I was, what led them to veganism, and when. They made the change in 2011, from vegetarianism for Lisa and a “standard American diet” for Clayton. So what happened to cause them to change?

Well, in 2010, when Clayton was 56 and seemingly in perfect health except for a back injury while weight-lifting. That led to an MRI that revealed a 10-centimeter tumor on his right kidney that was cancerous and had to be removed.

But there’s more. Other tests revealed that he had atherosclerosis. – clogged arteries, a potentially fatal heart disease. Their attention turned to diet.

After Clayton’s kidney was removed we were diligent about implementing the diets that the nephrologist recommended and did three-month trials of the Mediterranean, DASH and Kidney Foundation Diets. For 9 months there was no improvement.

Then they watched the documentary “Forks over Knives” and began attending “Forks over Knives” meet-ups in Columbia and attending Sharon McRae’s “Eat Well Stay Well” educational programs. Lisa wrote to me that:

Three weeks after starting a whole food plant-based diet, Clayton’s kidney function lab tests returned to normal and his cholesterol dropped 30 points to 150. The cardiologist said if Clayton could maintain that cholesterol level with diet, he wouldn’t need statins and wouldn’t need a cardiologist. That cardiologist and his family changed to a plant-based diet.


The nephrologist checks Clayton periodically and says, “Keep doing what you are doing.” Years after we changed to a plant based diet, the National Kidney Foundation added a plant-based diet to their list of recommendations.

The couple has also joined the National Health Association and later partnered with them to provide plant-based trips for their members and others. NHA is a non-profit science-based organization that has been championing a whole plant-food diet and lifestyle since 1948. They’ve enjoyed the educational opportunities and fellowship with kindred spirits.

Lisa, whose first job was as an open heart surgery recovery nurse, also shared with me the the American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s Six Pillars of Lifestyle Medicine: healthful eating, physical activity, stress management, relationships, sleep, and tobacco cessation. I’m on board!

[Full disclosure: The McCarl Dental Group is a “major sponsor” of GreenbeltOnline.org, along with realtor Kim Kash, Beltway Plaza Mall and the Greenbelt Co-op and Pharmacy.]

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

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