Why You Should Eat a Plant-based Diet & How to Get Started

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Watercress salsa with bean chipsThis post is sponsored by B&W Quality Growers, the world’s largest grower and marketer of watercress.

Eating a plant-based diet will improve your health. Plant-based diets are associated with lower rates of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and better cognition (1,2,3,4).  Data from vegetarians suggests plant-based diets might also be associated with a longer lifespan (5).  If you love dairy or meat, you don’t have to give up either to benefit from a plant-based diet. But you will benefit from adding more plant-foods, particularly leafy greens like watercress for a healthy body and mind.

Fortified with more than 18 essential vitamins and minerals, watercress is the healthiest leafy vegetable on the planet as it is high in water content, a naturally low calorie and low-fat food. It’s also one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables in the world, earning perfect score on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) nutrient density scale.

What is Plant-Based?

Plant-based means the bulk of your diet comes from plants. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils and more) are the staples of a plant-based diet.

Eating plant-based does not mean you never eat dairy, eggs, meat, fish, or poultry. However, these foods do not make up the bulk of your diet when you are eating plant-based.

How does a Plant-Based Diet Lower Disease Risk?

Plant foods are all not only full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates protein and healthy fats but they are also full of fiber and phytonutrients. Most Americans get half the fiber they need each day for good health. In addition to helping support digestion and preventing constipation, fiber feeds the good bacteria in our gut. The health of our gut depends on the diversity and type of bacteria that live there. Also, most of our immune system is in our gut making gut health important for immune health and, because of the gut brain axis (the gut and brain talk to each other), brain health. Gut health is quickly becoming a hot topic as scientists learn more about the importance of gut health every day.

How to Make Your Diet Plant-Based:

1. Eat More Leafy Greens

As part of the MIND diet, leafy greens are linked to a lower rate of cognitive decline. Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, which are generally known as cancer-fighters due to their high levels of phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates. A growing body of evidence suggests watercress earns its “superleaf” title because it may help prevent the spread of cancer cells (6,7). Plus, it is a good source of vitamin A, an essential vitamin necessary for normal vision, skin health, and maintaining immune function (2). Watercress is also high in the antioxidant vitamin C, which protects the body against free radicals. Vitamin C also supports the normal function of blood vessels, healing of wounds, iron absorption, and neurological function (3).

– Try my favorite snack: watercress salsa along with lentil or bean chips.

– Spread avocado mash on a piece of higher fiber toast (my favorite one is made from almond and sweet potato flour) and top it with watercress, feta and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

– Make broad bean or garbanzo bean chips.

– Dip celery or carrots in peanut, almond or another nut butter.

– Make my favorite salad: Watercress, pear, fig and goat cheese salad.

2. Try different forms of plant-based foods.

There are many forms and ways to cook each plant-food!
– Lentil or bean pastas are a fantastic substitute for regular pasta.
– Split pea soup vs. peas.

– Brussels sprouts cooked with turkey neck vs. roasted and crispy.

– Top cauliflower with avocado oil and parmesan cheese and roast it.

– Boil red potatoes and add olive oil and dill after cooking.

3. Make your dessert fruit and nut-based.

Fruit is available all year long. From watermelon in the summer to pumpkin in the Fall, there are many ways to enjoy fruits for dessert. I like pairing plain Greek yogurt with berries or grapes and a sprinkle of granola.

4. Add greens to your smoothie.

Use greens like watercress to enhance your favorite fruit smoothie. This is the perfect way to get more greens in your diet. My favorite smoothie includes 8 oz. 100% orange juice, a handful of frozen watercress (any time I can’t use a fruit or vegetable in a timely manner I freeze it), frozen mango, ginger and vanilla or unflavored whey protein powder (an amount that contains 30 grams of protein).

5. Add vegetables to your main dishes.

– Chopped mushrooms and onions work well in beef or turkey patties.

– Add veggies to your kabobs. Try grilled veggie and meat (or tofu, which is made from soybeans!) kabobs.

– Top your pizza with sliced tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers and mushrooms.

– Chili is a great staple for the winter and naturally loaded with beans and diced tomatoes.

Print Recipe
Watercress Veggie Salsa
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.
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References

1 McMacken M, Shah S. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. J Geriatr Cardiol 2017;14(5): 342-354.

2 Kahleova H et al. Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients 2017;9(8): 848.

3 Lanou AJ, Svenson B. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Mang Res 2011;3: 1- 8.

4 Hardman RJ. Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults: A Qualitative Evaluation and Systematic Review of Longitudinal and Prospective Trials. Front Nutr 2016;3: 22.

5 Orlich MJ. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med 2013; 173(13): 1230-1238.

6 Gill IR et al. Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(2): 504-510.

7 Boyd LA et al. Assessment of the anti-genotoxic, anti-proliferative, and anti-metastatic potential of crude watercress extract in human colon cancer cells. Nutr Cancer 2006;55(2): 232-41.

 

Ketogenic Diets: Eating Fat Won’t Make You Thin

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Following a ketogenic diet will not guarantee weight loss. Producing a lot of ketones does not mean you are shredding body fat. Gulping down shots of olive oil or putting butter in your coffee won’t make you thin.

You must consume fewer calories than you need, over time, to lose body fat.

This blog post will cover:

  •  What is Ketosis?
  •  Eating fat Makes You Burn More Fat for Energy but…
  •  Who is this Diet Good For?
  •  Who Should Avoid the Ketogenic Diet

What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when the body does not have enough carbohydrate or total calories for energy. As a result, more fat is burned to fuel the body’s energy demands. As fat (dietary fat from the food you eat or body fat) is used, ketones are formed. When a person is in ketosis, ketones can be used as a source of energy (1).  Being in ketosis or producing ketones is not the cause of weight loss. Instead it is the decrease in calories that leads to weight loss.

An in depth review of the ketogenic diet can be found here.

Eating Fat Makes You Burn More Fat for Energy but…

You use the macronutrients you eat for energy. Eat a high carbohydrate diet and you’ll use more carbohydrates for energy. Eat more fat and you’ll burn more fat (from your high fat diet) for energy. Using fat, from the coconut oil or butter you put your coffee, for energy is totally different than burning the fat on your body for energy. You must be in a caloric deficit for your body to use stored body fat for energy. Let’s say it’s 4 pm and you have eaten 1,000 calories so far today. But your daily needs, without exercise, are 2,300 calories per day. You are now using stored body fat for energy because you are in a calorie deficit (you haven’t eaten enough calories to cover your energy needs).

Can you lose weight on a ketogenic diet? Yes absolutely (2). However, from a purely scientific perspective, this is not the best diet for losing fat and maintaining or gaining muscle.

Research studies in humans show weight loss from a ketogenic diet is due to water, fat mass and muscle. Additionally, weight loss is likely due, in part, to limited food choices. After all, a stick of butter with drops of flavor and artificial sweeteners mixed in isn’t exactly something most people overeat at dessert time. No bread, rice, pasta, Oreos, Doritos, doughnuts, pizza… the list goes on and on. Another factor contributing to weight loss when on a ketogenic diet, at least for obese people, is a decrease in hunger over the short term. Research also shows on-going professional support is associated with greater weight loss when on a ketogenic diet (or any other diet) (3). Additionally, ramping up the protein in your diet and cutting calories alone (even if you aren’t following a ketogenic diet or you aren’t producing a ton of ketones) can improve body fat loss and help you maintain muscle.

Some studies report the ketogenic diet can have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors while others show cholesterol and blood pressure increase. Why?  It depends what you were eating and what you are eating now. If your diet consisted of fried foods, French fries and alcohol and  you changed it to olive oil and salmon, I’m willing to bet your triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure will go down. If you were eating whole grains, legumes and salmon and started eating fatty red meat, butter and coconut oil, expect your cholesterol to shoot through the roof.

Aside from what you’re eating, weight loss has a huge effect on  cardiovascular disease risk factors. If you are over fat and you lose a lot of weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and other cardiovascular disease risk factors will likely improve. Regardless of what you eat. A diet full of Twinkies can be beneficial for heart health risk factors as long as you lose weight.  

Who is this Diet Good For?

The ketogenic diet effectively reduces the incidence and severity of seizures in epileptic patients resistant to medication. Ketogenic diets are being studied as potential therapeutic remedies for those with dementia and mental disorders. However, it s too soon to recommend these diets in patients with dementia or a mental disorder (4, 5).

As mentioned above, you can lose weight on this diet. If you love dietary fat, don’t like carbohydrate-rich foods and you are determined to try this diet, work with a MD and registered dietitian who are experts on ketogenic diets and have experience implementing these diets with their patients. There are many potential immediate and longer-term health consequences that may result following a ketogenic diet. These can be decreased or avoided when you follow the expert advice of a MD and RD.

Who Should Avoid the Ketogenic Diet?

This is not an easy diet to stick with. Anyone who is not going to take the time to plan it according to the directions of a RD (again, one who has worked with this diet; likely an outpatient RD who works with epileptic patients) should avoid trying a ketogenic diet. Also, anyone with a disease state or on medication should avoid it unless they talk to their MD first. Those with eating disorders or disordered eating, strength and power athletes as well as athletes engaged in high intensity sports should skip over ketogenic diets. There are better ways to lose fat and fuel your activity.

 

References

1 Wheless JW. History of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia 2008;49 Suppl 8:3-5.

2 Bueno NB, de Melo IS, de Oliveira SL, da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr 2013;110(7):1178-87.

3 Kosinski C, Jornayvaz FR. Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies. Nutrients 2017; 9(5): 517.

4 Bostock ECS, Kirkby KC, Taylor BVM. The Current Status of the Ketogenic Diet in Psychiatry. Front Psychiatry 2017; 8: 43.

5 Gasior M, Rogawski MA, Hartmana AL. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behav Pharmacol 2006; 17(5-6): 431–439.