March 2019

 

VEGETARIAN-ish

 

 

Thirty-nine: Percentage of Americans trying to eat more plant-based foods.

You don’t have to give up meat for life to reap the benefits of a plant-centric diet!

 

 

Perhaps you were already thinking about cutting back on hamburgers and hot dogs when you saw the research linking high consumption of red and cured meats to an increased risk of death from cancer, stroke, diabetes, and infections, diseases of the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. 

The problem with meat is that calorie-dense animal foods, rich and tasty though they may be, contain high amounts of saturated fats, calories, and possibly carcinogens from processing or preparation.   For the past 60 years, studies have revealed the health benefits of prioritizing plants over meat.  At this point, the evidence has become so clear that the latest edition of the dietary guidelines includes a vegetarian eating pattern all Americans might want to consider, especially since we’re among the world’s biggest meat eaters, consuming almost three times as much as the global average.   So, what’s a vegetable-curious person to do?  Consider these ground rules for making the shift.

You don’t have to swear off steak forever.   A flexitarian diet, in which you significantly reduce your consumption of meat (especially the red kind) to less than once per week and eat mostly plants, can lead to multiple benefits, including lower risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.  So, you can still occasionally enjoy meat.  And take a fresh look at fish: Pescatarians, who are essentially vegetarians but who eat seafood, are at a lower risk than omnivores for type 2 diabetes.   Also, studies show that the fewer animal products you eat, the less likely you are to be overweight: Vegetarians and semi-vegetarians have a lower BMI on average than meat eaters, while vegans tend to have the lowest BMI of all.

Go whole.  You’ll get the good stuff from whole plant foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans and lentils, and whole grains like oats and farro.  These foods offer essential nutrients that we can’t get anywhere else, including different types of fibers, slow-digesting carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, protein, essential vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties).

Consider where your protein comes from.  The first step in going plant-centric is to swap out most animal proteins in favor of plant proteins.  For example, to get the same protein that’s in 2 ounces of cooked lean beef, you could eat a half cup of cooked beans, lentils or split peas, or one ounce of nuts or seeds.  At every meal, aim for half a plate’s worth of vegetables of plant protein and whole grains.

Eat the rainbow.  As you aim for the recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables per day, think beyond greens.  The pigments that gives vegetables their colors also provide nutritional benefits.  For instance, the beta-carotene in orange and yellow vegetables is a protective antioxidant that can also be converted to vitamin A.

Make it exciting!  A plant-based diet can involve so much more than salads.  By experimenting with plant foods and creative ways to prepare them, you won’t feel like you’ve lost anything, except maybe a few pounds and points of cholesterol.

 

 

Putting It All Together

 

Memorize this balanced-meal formula:

Plant protein

+ vegetables

+ whole grain

+ healthy fat

+ fruit

= delicious plant-based perfection!

 

**See my website for some great ideas.**

February 2019

 

FIFTEEN LITTLE WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR HEART 

 

A jaw-dropping number of Americans are at risk for cardiovascular disease, but you don’t have to be one of them. These doable lifestyle tweaks can make all the difference.

 

Heart disease is a head-scratcher.  We know it exists.  We know it’s lethal.  And a lot of us know it’s elbowed out every type of cancer to become the leading cause of death in the U.S.  About half of all adults have a least one of the key risk factors, like high blood pressure or cholesterol levels.  Everyone needs to pay attention.  The risk factors for heart disease can be entirely asymptomatic for a very long time.  And many people who stand to develop it look completely healthy.  The upshot is that you actually have a great deal of control over your heart health.  A few simple changes can prevent the disease even among folks who are most at-risk.  Here are some proven ways to find your path to a healthier heart.

Talk with your Doc.  Primary care physicians and ob-gyns are at the front line for screening patients for heart disease, and a lot of them aren’t having the conversation.   It’s not on purpose, of course.  It’s just that it isn’t always top-of-mind during standard office visits.  So, bring it up yourself!  And ask early.  Heart screening should start in your 20’s, not 40’s.  That cardiac once-over should include family history and vitals like blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. 

Mix up your workout.  Even though most of us think of cardio as THE exercise for heart health, incorporating strength training actually does a better job at lowering blood pressure, and keeping it down, than aerobic workouts alone.  To get the blood pressure benefits, add about 20 minutes of weight training 3-4 days per week to your regular routine.  The AHA recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate activity (like walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous (running) per week.

Go cold turkey.  If you smoke, stop.  As in: right now.  Abruptly quitting is more effective in both the short and long term than tapering your habit.  Need more motivation?  Know that within one year of quitting you can slash your heart disease risk by one-half.

Get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.   People who sleep for 5 hours or less a night have hearts that are about 1.5 years older than those who get an adequate 7 hours.  Sleep is so incredibly important that no matter how well you eat or how much you exercise, if you’re not getting enough rest, the benefits of those healthy lifestyle choices are substantially diminished. 

Get your legumes on.  Eating ¾ cup a day of cooked lentils, peas or beans reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol by 5%.  Thanks for that, fiber!  And we could stand to eat more beans: Americans’ average daily intake is only 2 tablespoons!  Slather hummus on sandwiches or add legumes to salads or soups.

Much less meat.  Keeping red meat intake occasional is key.  Swapping one daily serving for healthier protein sources like nuts, beans or fish can lower your odds of developing heart disease by as much as 30%, according to the literature.  You don’t have to be a hardcore herbivore to reap the benefits.  When you cut back you decrease risk.

Eat earlier.  There’s something to that old’ eat-breakfast-like-a-king’ advice.    Consume the majority of your daily calories by 3 PM and have a much easier time controlling your weight and blood pressure.  Have a modest evening meal: it’s heart smart.

Nibble on some dark chocolate.  Bypass the Halloween bargain bin variety and head straight for the dark stuff.  Eating about 3 1-ounce servings of dark chocolate per week significantly lowers risk of cardiovascular and other heart-related diseases.  This is likely because of chocolate’s flavonoids, which dilate blood vessels and help prevent arterial stiffness and plaque buildup.

Take a coffee break.  Coffee has been extensively studied and the results are remarkably consistent: Drinking 3-5 cups a day is associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and of heart disease-related death.  It’s likely the mix of antioxidants, polyphenols and other compounds.  And while steering clear of sugar-bomb brews is a good idea in general (sorry, whipped caramel mocha), even those who like their java a little sweet and creamy saw positive results.

Take a 25-minute music break.  Less than a half-hour of listening to soothing (like classical) music can notably lower blood pressure and heart rate.  The soothing, slow-tempo tunes likely tamp down levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that contributes to high blood pressure.  Note: classical or not, as long as the music you choose is lyric-free and you find it pleasant, it’s likely to have a positive impact on your heart.

Get up every 30.  Getting up frequently during the day can reduce waist size and heart disease risk.  So, whether you’re toiling at your desk or on the couch watching TV, get off of your rear at least every half hour.  After 30 minutes in a chair, enzymes in your legs that break down cholesterol because inactive, leading to the accumulation of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol over time.  Set a reminder to move!!

Get a furry friend.   Dogs are your best friend for guarding against heart disease.  People who have dogs are as much as a third less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those without furry friends.  The social aspects are important, as is the opportunity for unconditional love.

Whip up some home cooking.  No matter how often you go out to eat, try cutting back.  And that includes everything from dinner at a restaurant with friends to grabbing a muffin in the morning.  Doing so will likely decrease your sodium intake more than twofold.  The majority of restaurant meals contain more that 2,000 mg sodium, almost as much as you should have in a day.  Many have more than 5,000-6,000 mg sodium!  Aim for meals that have about 600-800 mg sodium each, so you can keep you totals in line with recommendations of about 2,000-2,500 mg/day.

Eat more vegetables!  I know.  Every month you hear this from me.  But adding even one more serving per day can impact your heart.  According to the literature, you may be able to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 13% for each daily 1 cup serving of vegetables consumed!

Go bananas.  Upping your intake of potassium-packed foods acts as a counter punch to the blood-pressure raising effects of sodium.  The reason: the more potassium you eat, the more sodium your body excretes.  Most of us consume 2,000-2,300 mg of potassium day, but that’s only about half of what we need.  It’s not hard to find foods rich in potassium, but the fact is we’re simply not eating enough of them.  Other good sources include sweet potatoes, black beans, and edamame.

Holly Pevzner

 

January 2019

 

FOOD ALLERGIES VS INTOLERANCE:  WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE? 

 

 

The two terms tend to be used interchangeably but knowing how they differ can help

you manage your symptoms, prevent potential nutrient deficiencies, get the right

treatment, and feel your best.

 

In a time when gluten-free options grace menus, schools are nut-free zones, and people boast about their dairy-free diet, we’re more aware than ever about food allergies and intolerances.  But they are two very distinct conditions.  A food allergy is an immune response where the body produces antibodies called IgE in response to a particular protein in the food.   The body attacks these typically harmless proteins, triggering an allergic reaction, which can appear within seconds or hours of exposure.  To be diagnosed, you must exhibit symptoms such as hives; wheezing; runny nose; itchy eyes; or lip, throat or tongue swelling; plus a positive blood test or skin prick showing the presence of antibodies.  Fifteen million Americans have food allergies, and 9 million of those are adults.  And it’s not your imagination: Allergies are on the rise in children and adults.  Food allergies in kids spiked by 50% between 1997 and 2011.  Preliminary research has found that 45% of adults with food allergies develop them in adulthood, most commonly to shellfish and tree nuts.  There are two plausible theories to explain this increase in food allergies: the hygiene hypothesis (we live in a too-sterile environment), and the idea that delaying introducing certain foods to infants (particularly peanuts) may prevent budding immune systems from properly maturing.

A food intolerance (also called a sensitivity) occurs when you have difficulty digesting a food, leading to gas, abdominal discomfort, or diarrhea, but there’s no immune reaction or antibodies produced.  The most common intolerances are to lactose (a sugar found in milk), gluten (a protein found in wheat), and certain complex carbohydrates (from beans and cabbage).  It’s best to talk to your doctor if you suspect a specific food is routinely causing digestive woes.  Unnecessarily avoiding foods can lead to a nutrient shortfall in your diet, particularly if you remove multiple foods in a blind effort to heal symptoms.  If you do have to steer clear of a type of food (for instance, dairy), a dietitian can help you plan your diet so that you are getting the nutrients found in dairy foods from other sources in your diet.

Uncovering allergies and intolerances isn’t as cut-and-dried as it appears.  Here are the tests to try and to skip when it comes to finding out what’s going on inside.

IgE Antibody Test: The gold standard for allergy testing, but false positives are common.  Or antibodies show up after you eat a food, but there are no symptoms (thus it’s not an allergy), this could be the body reacting to factors like pollen.

Skin Testing:  A common test that involves injecting the skin with a tiny bit of the allergen.  Positive reactions will appear as a “wheal and flare” (a raised red area) that’s bigger than a control prick of salt water.

At-Home Testing: you can buy kits online that claim to provide insight on which foods trigger allergies or intolerances, but these tests, have not been proven to be effective and may lead you to unnecessarily eliminate foods.

Food Elimination: If you suspect an intolerance, your doctor may suggest eliminating the suspected foods for six weeks.  Add one food back per week and record any symptoms you experience to reveal any telling patterns.

Jessica Migala