Move Slowly Towards a Healthy Vegetarian Diet: Best New Year’s Resolution

Photo: Fresh Greek Salad

by Tandis Bishop

January is a time of the year when people think about shedding weight and making resolutions to get healthy. However well-meaning, most people who make such resolutions don’t stick with their "new" healthy commitments for very long. For many, it’s too difficult to keep up. Others grow impatient when the results they seek take longer than they want. Unfortunately, becoming truly healthy is not a quick fix. We need to go beyond New Year's resolutions.


Getting healthy and maintaining good health requires an overall lifestyle change through healthy habits that are practiced consistently over the long term. This was the message of a December 2009 article in the Harvard Gazette1, which reported on findings of the long-running Nurses’ Health Study.


The Nurses Health Study was established 1976 with funding from the National Institutes of Health. According to the article, as much as 80 percent of heart disease, 70 percent of strokes, and 90 percent of diabetes — three of the nation’s top 10 killers — are related to just four lifestyle factors: avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and embracing a heart-healthy diet.


Of course, no other diet is more heart-healthy than a wholesome vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet is naturally low in fat and high in fiber, which helps facilitate a healthy weight.


Healthy vegetarian diets support a lifetime of good health and provide protection against numerous diseases, including our country’s three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, and strokes. The American Dietetic Association states that vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; ... lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer” and that vegetarians are less likely than meat-eaters to be obese.2 Well-planned vegetarian diets provide us with all the nutrients that we need, minus all the saturated fat, cholesterol, and contaminants found in animal flesh and eggs.


Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters.34 Plus, meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than are vegans.5


Of course, for some it may be difficult to make all the changes at once. So we recommend a slow approach to transition, taking small steps at a time. For example, one way to begin would be to eat less meat at a single meal or have meat only a couple times a week instead of everyday. Other helpful steps include simple things such as removing sodas from your diet, substituting them with natural fruit juice or water. For snacks, instead of having candy bars and heavily processed snack foods, choose fruits and nuts, whole grain crackers, or veggies and dips. The idea is to have foods that are free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, and are minimally processed.


Instead of giving up everything all at once, you can let go of things one at a time until you have achieved a healthy lifestyle that is all-vegetarian, organic, and natural. Or, if you're like the fortunate few that can go cold-turkey, then even better. See the “Health Tip” column in this month’s newsletter for healthy staples that would be good to have in your kitchen.

Footnotes: 
  1. “Want to live well?,” Harvard Gazette, Harvard University, Dec. 17, 2009: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/12/health-the-harvard-way/
  2. Ann Mangels, Virginia Messina, and Vesanto Melina, "Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Jun. 2003, pp. 748-65.
  3. Elizabeth Somer, "Eating Meat: A Little Doesn't Hurt," WebMD, 1999.
  4. Neal Barnard, M.D., The Power of Your Plate, Book Publishing Co.: Summertown, Tenn., 1990, p. 26.
  5. John Robbins, The Food Revolution, Conari Press: Boston, 2001, p. 58.

The Fight Against Heart Disease: A Vegetarian Solution

Graphic Showing the Human Heart

by Tandis Bishop

Time and again we see news reports on studies that remind us of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet in reversing heart disease. One such study was published this month in the World Health Organization’s weekly journal, the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.


According to the study, nearly 400,000 people are expected to die of coronary heart disease in the United States in 2010.1 “Half of these deaths could be avoided if people ate healthier food and stopped smoking,” says the study’s co-author, Dr. Simon Capewell, from the University of Liverpool in England.


The research calculated the number of deaths based on lifestyle trends from the baseline year 2000. Over the past few decades there have been improvements in cardiovascular health due to reductions in cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, and increased physical activity. However, since 1990, these improvements have been hindered due to a striking rise in obesity, and associated diabetes and high blood pressure in women.


"By avoiding tobacco, eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity, people can dramatically reduce their risk of developing heart disease, stroke or diabetes," says Dr. Shanthi Mendis, coordinator of Chronic Diseases Prevention and Management at the World Health Organization. She also states in a study that “Worldwide, nearly one billion adults are overweight and, if no action is taken, this figure will surpass 1.5 billion by 2015."


Another recent study on this issue was published last fall by the American Heart Association (AHA). According to a November report on research presented at the AHA’s Scientific Sessions 2009, “The dramatic increase in overweight and obesity in adult Americans over the past 20 years has undermined public health success at reducing risk for heart disease.”2


Findings show that during the ’88 - ’06 time frame, the average body mass index (BMI -- a measure of body fat) increased from 26.5 to 28.8 kg/m2, a significant change. In the same period, the number of people with optimal blood pressure and optimal fasting glucose decreased. Both blood pressure and blood glucose are closely linked to obesity and these adverse trends track with the change in body weight.


Both studies basically say that it’s hard to fight heart disease because of the increasing obesity epidemic. Obesity has associated health problems such as high blood pressure and blood glucose, both of which are also heart disease factors. As part of the fight against heart disease as the #1 killer, we also need to fight the #1 epidemic: obesity.


One option is rather simple, actually. Leading health experts agree that going vegetarian is the single-best thing we can do for ourselves and our families. Healthy vegetarian diets support a lifetime of good health and provide protection against numerous diseases, including our country’s three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, and strokes.


The American Dietetic Association states that vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; ... lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer” and that vegetarians are less likely than meat-eaters to be obese.3 Well-planned vegetarian diets provide us with all the nutrients that we need, minus all the saturated fat, cholesterol, and contaminants found in animal flesh and eggs.


Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters.45 Plus, meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than are vegans.6


A wholesome, low-fat vegetarian diet is ideal for facilitating weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the risk for heart disease. This is because a vegetarian diet is naturally low in fat, high in fiber, and high in fruits and vegetables. Of course, some people can be vegetarians but still eat high-fat, low-fiber foods like French fries and cheese pizza. It is important to limit eating those foods to only occasional consumption.


One should make a daily habit of eating whole grains (brown rice, oats, stone ground whole wheat or sprouted wheat, quinoa, barley, etc), vegetables and fruits (5-9 servings/day), nuts, legumes, and moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products (such as yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, and low-fat or non-fat milk). Of course it makes sense to include other good health habits such as not smoking and regular physical activity.


The AHA website does a really good job of providing information about a vegetarian diet and how it helps reduce health risks. The site also provides great information to explain why vegetarian diets provide sufficient protein to maintain good health. See their page, “Vegetarian Diets”.


At the end of the day, the single most important thing an individual can do for their health, the environment, and the sake of innocent animals is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

Footnotes: 
  1. Capewell, Simon et. Al, “Cardiovascular risk factor trends and potential for reducing coronary heart disease mortality in the United States of America Bull World Health Organ 2010;88:120–130.
  2. American Heart Association, “Increased obesity hindering success at reducing heart disease risk,” Nov. 17, 2009.
  3. Ann Mangels, Virginia Messina, and Vesanto Melina, "Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Jun. 2003, pp. 748-65.
  4. Elizabeth Somer, "Eating Meat: A Little Doesn't Hurt," WebMD, 1999.
  5. Neal Barnard, M.D., The Power of Your Plate, Book Publishing Co.: Summertown, Tenn., 1990, p. 26.
  6. John Robbins, The Food Revolution, Conari Press: Boston, 2001, p. 58.

Fabulous Foods for a Healthy Heart

Photo: Fruits and Vegetables in the Shape of a Heart

by Tracy Ternes

Incorporate these foods into your diet to help reduce your risk of heart disease and promote cardiovascular health.


Oatmeal


A steaming bowl of oatmeal is the perfect way to start your day. Oats are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin, calcium, and soluble fiber. For added heart health, top your oatmeal with ground flaxseed and blueberries. For a sweet treat that’s also good for your heart, bake some delicious oatmeal raisin cookies.


Avocado


Avocados have high amounts of monounsaturated fats, which can help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels while raising HDL (good cholesterol) levels. They also contain significant levels of potassium and folate, two nutrients that support heart-health.1 Including a few slices of avocado in your salad not only tastes great, but increases your body’s ability to absorb the health-promoting cartenoids that other vegetables provide.


Berries


A recent study from Finland found that that eating a moderate amount of berries may increase HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. The high levels of antioxidants in berries, known as polyphenols, are believed to contribute to this increase in heart health. In the Finnish study, participants ate a variety of berries including strawberries, raspberries, bilberries, lingonberries, black currants, and chokeberries. Don’t forget blueberries when making your smoothies – blueberries are another delicious and antioxidant-rich berry.2


Spinach


Spinach contains high amounts of lutein, folate, potassium and fiber. Other leafy greens such as kale, chard, arugula, and collard greens are also great choices to reduce your risk of heart disease.3 Make sure to include a variety of greens in your salads, on your sandwiches and in your soups.


Legumes


Satisfy your daily dose of fiber, plus Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber with legumes. Choose from lentils, chickpeas, black and kidney beans to name a few. Top a salad with legumes, make a burrito, add them to soup or eat them alone. A well-rounded, plant-based diet is sure to include the above-mentioned heart healthy foods. Try to include them in your meals whenever possible, experimenting with a variety of recipes whenever you can. With proper planning, every meal can include at least one of these powerfully healthy ingredients and help you on your journey to better health.

Footnotes: 
  1. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=5
  2. Erlund, Iris, et al. Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol. Am J Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 2, 323-331, February 2008
  3. http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/23/best.foods.for.your.heart/index.html

Help Prevent Obesity with Positive Changes

Photo: Woman in Workout Gear

by Tandis Bishop

With a brand new year right around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce healthy, positive changes into your life and help reduce your risk for obesity. Eating plant-based foods as often as possible is one of the best things you can do, not only to help prevent obesity, but also for your health and well-being in general. Here are some helpful guidelines to assist you in creating well-balanced, plant-based meals.


In a typical day, try having:


  • 5 to 6 ounces of whole grains
  • 2½ to 3 cups vegetables
  • 2 cups fruits - fresh is best
  • 5 to 6 ounces of plant-based protein

Helpful guide on grains and proteins:


1 ounce of whole grains = 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, or cooked cereal. Sources of grains include: quinoa, brown rice, soba noodles, oatmeal, whole grain noodles, millet, buckwheat, sprouted whole-grain bread. 1 ounce of protein = ¼ cup beans, ¼ cup tofu, 2 Tablespoons hummus (garbanzo bean dip), 1 Tablespoon nut butter or ½ ounce of nuts. Sources of plant proteins include: beans, lentils, tofu/tempeh and other soy products, nuts and seeds or nut butters. To increase your protein intake, you can also add vegetarian and vegan protein supplements to shakes and smoothies, also available at Down To Earth. In fact, higher protein intake is recommended by dietitians to help facilitate weight loss.2


Other helpful tips:


Essential Food Groups: Fruits, Grains, Vegetables, Protein and Dairy


  • As recommended by USDA MyPlate: Make half of your plate vegetables and fruits, a quarter protein, and make the remaining quarter whole grains.
  • Low-fat or non-fat dairy products such as Greek yogurt can also assist in weight loss, as it is high in protein and contains beneficial bacteria.
  • Portion control is important. Eat smaller meals every 3-4 hours so you don’t get too hungry and overeat at your next meal. A great tip is to buy child-size plates, no bigger than 7 inches. Psychologically, we think we have more food if our plate looks full—we will consume smaller portions, but our brains will think differently.
  • For snacks, have a protein and carbohydrate together, as it will keep you full longer and maintains your blood sugar levels (i.e. apple with peanut butter or almond butter, or carrot sticks with yogurt dip).

Meal Ideas:


Breakfast: Protein shake: 1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit, 1 to 2 scoops of protein powder, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk or water, 2 teaspoons raw honey, handful of fresh spinach or kale. (Endless combinations: try dates to make it sweeter, alternate your greens, try different fruits, or even add ½ of a fresh avocado for a mild creamy texture. Some protein powders are sweetened with stevia or xylitol so it will already add plenty of sweetness to your shake) Oatmeal: whole grain oatmeal topped with ½ cup of your favorite fresh fruit, such as berries. Lightly toast sunflower seeds and almonds to go along with it for some added protein. Lunch: Bean burrito: made with black or pinto beans, fresh tomatoes, olives, lettuce, and salsa in a whole-grain tortilla. Hummus or avocado sandwich/wrap along with added mushrooms, onion, carrots, zucchini, or bell pepper in a whole-grain tortilla. Dinner: Okinawan sweet potato and sautéed tofu with stir-fry vegetables. Lentil stew with lentils, onions, garlic, brown rice, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, and spices. Quinoa salad: prepare quinoa and toss into a salad, including bell pepper, cucumber, parsley or cilantro, tomatoes, carrots and green onions. Add seasoned tofu or tempeh and sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds on top along with some fresh lemon juice and olive oil.


Physical Activity


Along with changes to your diet, increasing physical activity is also essential to reduce the risk of obesity. Hiking, swimming, surfing, walking, playing sports, etc., are all great options. Weight lifting or strength training exercises are also important. Strength training exercises will help build muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories that fat does and so muscle mass is a key factor in weight loss.1 Your metabolism will increase and you will burn more calories even while you sleep. The key to staying active is doing what you enjoy; don't make it unbearable. Be realistic, work within your limits and try to be consistent. Even just increasing your physical activity to 20 minutes a day, three times a week will have huge benefits. Make time for exercise. Work it into your weekly schedule, just like an appointment. Rearrange your daily or weekly schedule, if needed, to accommodate time for physical activity. This is one of the key successes to staying active.


It's okay to have "off" days.


Don't be discouraged; keep at it, even if it’s just a little at a time. Get your friends and family involved, find a workout buddy! Encourage them to exercise with you, try new recipes, and eat together. Remember, this is a lifestyle change that will require a life-long commitment to a healthier you. So make it realistic, set reasonable goals, hold yourself accountable, and know that there is a lot of support out there to help you stay on track. It’s true that making lifestyle change requires effort, but the payoff is priceless and it gets easier to maintain as you replace old habits with healthy new ones. Disclaimer: Always consult with your physician or qualified healthcare provider before starting a new diet, treatment, or fitness program.

Footnotes: 
  1. MayoClinic. Weightloss. Retrieved on December 5, 2012 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/metabolism/WT00006/NSECTIONGROUP=2
  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition Care Manual. References > Weight Management > Overweight & Obesity > Nutrition Prescription. Updated October 1, 2012.

Can You be Heavy and Healthy at the Same Time?

by Tandis Bishop

You may have heard the term “healthy obesity” to describe people who are obese but don’t have medical conditions that often accompany obesity. However, researchers from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Canada found that there is no such thing as healthy obesity.1 They followed over 61,000 people long enough to examine body mass index (BMI) and metabolic status (such as blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol) linked to cardiovascular events and death. Their research revealed that metabolically healthy overweight and obese people were still at risk for heart disease, stroke and reduced length of life.


There has been a lot of debate on this issue over the years, but this study provides strong evidence that we are not immune to the dangers of obesity regardless of how healthy we may appear. The report is very timely as the New Year is a great time to create a new outlook on health and weight management. Weight loss should be treated as positive, long-term action for long-term results! Many of us are victims of yo-yo diets and quick-fix treatments that never have lasting effects. The only way to truly lose weight, and keep it off, is to develop healthy habits that you can continue for the rest of your life. This requires dedication, hard work, and accountability.


The good news is that healthy habits become easier to maintain the longer you do them – they become second nature! You don’t need to deprive yourself of the foods you love, do the exercises you hate, and feel negatively about yourself. Chose healthy foods as often as possible but know that it’s okay to occasionally have a treat. Find a physical activity that you enjoy, whatever it may be. And have the positive attitude and confidence that a little willpower will go a long way!


There are countless resources and supports available to help you achieve a healthy weight and maintain it. Our Down to Earth Love Life! Team is a great resource to help ease your weight management efforts by giving you the tools you need to eat right! Take advantage of their healthy cooking workshops and free monthly cooking classes. For more information, visit http://www.downtoearth.org/free-cooking-classes. In addition, check out our Health Tip for fun ways to be active, including these awesome hiking trails in Hawaii!


So, should you be complacent if your BMI is in the overweight or obese range but your blood work is normal? The answer is no. The risks may not be present today but obesity may eventually lead to negative long-term health consequences. Take control of your health now and empower yourself to live a long, healthy, and happy life!


Find out BMI for yourself and your family by using these calculators: Adult http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_cal... Child & Teen (ages 2 through 19) https://nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/calculator.aspx


We recommend consulting with your primary care provider before starting any weight management program for you or your child.

Footnotes: 

Caroline K. Kramer, Bernard Zinman, Ravi Retnakaran; Are Metabolically Healthy Overweight and Obesity Benign Conditions?A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013 Dec; 159(11):758-769.