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.

 

The Ketogenic Diet Craze: Fat-Filled Lies, Part 1

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ketogenic diPicture this: a thick, juicy, tender eventeak grilled to perfection with melted butter glazed on top, gently dripping down the sides. Lying next to the steak there’s a side of dark green asparagus sautéed in coconut oil and dusted with a sprinkle of sea salt. Could a diet loaded with fat help you lose diet-resistant body fat that’s been taunting the seams of your dress pants and poking through buttons on your shirt? Will eating fat turn you into an all-star athlete? This is part 1 of a 2 part series on the ketogenic diet.

Here is what I will cover in this blog post:

  • What is the ketogenic diet?
  • Adverse health effects.

Here is what I will cover in tomorrow’s blog on this topic:

  • The issue with ketogenic research studies.
  • Is the ketogenic diet superior for losing fat?
  • How will the ketogenic diet affect muscle?
  • How will the ketogenic diet impact athletic performance?

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

For nearly a century, epileptic patients have used ketogenic diets to control seizures when common medications provide no relief. Scientists aren’t sure why following a ketogenic diet decreases the incidence and severity of seizures but it works.

The ketogenic diet contains – 80-90% of calories from fat, 15% from protein and 5% from carbohydrate (1, 2). Food choices may include heavy cream, bacon, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, mayonnaise and sausage while fruits, starchy vegetables, breads, pasta, cereal and other carbohydrate-rich foods are not allowed.

During the first several days on a ketogenic diet, your body’s limited supply of carbohydrate stored in liver and muscle tissue decreases dramatically. As a result, you will feel like you have mono – exhausted, with headaches and easy exercise will feel like you’re climbing Mount Everest (3). Once your stored carbohydrate has dwindled, ketones, formed from the breakdown of dietary fat, become the primary source of energy for brain and body. Ketogenic means “ketone forming.” It takes at least seven days to reach nutritional ketosis and several weeks to fully adapt to the diet (12). If you aren’t in nutritional ketosis (as measured by blood, urine or breath ketones; ketone levels > 0.5 mmol/L), then you aren’t following a ketogenic diet, you are on a low carbohydrate diet.

Adverse Health Effects from the Ketogenic Diet

Much of the research on adverse effects comes from studies in epileptic children since they have been on the diet for long periods of time. These studies show soon after starting a ketogenic diet, blood cholesterol levels and artery stiffness increase (4, 5). High total and LDL cholesterol are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels). When arteries are stiff, they cannot expand as well in response to changes in blood pressure. Think of this like a garden hose when you turn up the water pressure, your hose either expands or the water bursts out of the space between the faucet and the hose. When arteries cannot open widely to accommodate increases in blood flow, blood pressure increases leading to microscopic tears on artery walls, development of scar tissue and the perfect surface for plaque buildup (6). Blood cholesterol levels returned to normal in patients who went off the diet and in those who stayed on it, they returned to normal after 6 to 12 months. Artery stiffness returned to normal after 24 months on a ketogenic diet.5 Studies in obese patients suggest ketogenic diets improve blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels over time, either due to the diet, weight loss from the diet, a combination of the two or carbohydrate restriction (7, 8). Lose weight, regardless of what you eat and blood cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar and many other disease risk factors will improve.

Ketogenic diets are typically low in calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, folic acid and fiber. There are several potential consequences associated with consistently low intake of each of these micronutrients including softening of the bones, decreased bone density, muscle damage, muscle weakness or spasms, and abnormal heart rhythm. However, with careful planning, a fiber supplement, multivitamin and under the guidance of a physician who may prescribe potassium and sodium supplements (blood sodium could drop to dangerously low levels while on this diet), nutrient needs can be met. Also, to prevent constipation when on a ketogenic diet, a fiber supplement may be necessary along with more water / fluid intake then you are used to.

Here are some other potentially bad side effects from following a high fat diet:

  • Harm to your Brain. Studies in mice show a high fat diet, even when followed for as little as two months leads to chronic inflammation, sedentary immune cells in the brain – these cells typically act like janitors picking up trash and infectious compounds but when they become sedentary they stop doing their job, leading to cognitive impairment (9). Does this happen in humans and resolve over time? We don’t know.
  • Mad Bacteria in Your Gut. A diet with no probiotics (healthy bacteria) and low in prebiotics (certain types of fiber that the healthy bacteria much on for food keeping them happy) will likely change the composition of bacteria in your gut so you have more harmful and less beneficial bacteria.
  • Leaky Gut. High saturated fat meals increase bacterial toxins (endotoxins) in the intestines and intestinal permeability. In other words: leaky gut (10, 11). If you are on this diet, consider opting for foods lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fats (liquid oils, avocado, nuts, seeds, olives).
  • Free radicals in overdrive? If you can’t eat a number of colorful foods including blueberries, beets, corn, oranges, and more, chances are you won’t get a wide array of antioxidant compounds to quench free radicals (compounds that are important for good health but can wreck your body when they aren’t tamed by antioxidants) as well as other plant-based compounds that keep your arteries, muscles and other parts of your body healthy. Will your body adapt? We don’t know at this time.

Are the side effects and potential negative side effects worth it if you can lose weight on this diet? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on how the ketogenic diet impacts body fat and athletic performance.

References

1 Freeman JM, Freeman JB, Kelly MT. The ketogenic diet: a treatment for epilepsy. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Demos Health; 2000.

2 Paoli A, Bianco A, Damiani E, Bosco G. Ketogenic Diet in Neuromuscular and Neurodegenerative Diseases. BioMed Research International 2014, Article ID 474296, 10 pages, 2014.

3 White AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD et al. Blood ketones are directly related to fatigue and perceived effort during exercise in overweight adults adhering to low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(10):1792-6.

4 Tanakis M, Liuba P, Odermarsky M, Lundgren J, Hallböök T. Effects of ketogenic diet on vascular function. Eur J Paediatr Neurol 2014;18(4):489-94.

5 Coppola G, Natale F, Torino A et al. The impact of the ketogenic diet on arterial morphology and endothelial function in children and young adults with epilepsy: a case-control study. Seizure 2014;23(4):260-5.

6 Cecelja M, Chowienczyk P. Role of arterial stiffness in cardiovascular disease. JRSM Cardiovascular Disease 2012;1(4):1-10.

7 Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, Asfar SK, Behbahani A, Khoursheed MA, Al-Sayer HM, Bo-Abbas YY, Al-Zaid NS. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol 2004; 9(3): 200–205.

8 Volek JS, Feinman RD. Carbohydrate restriction improves the features of Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome may be defined by the response to carbohydrate restriction. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2005;2:31.

9 Hao S, Dey A, Yu X, Stranahan AM. Dietary obesity reversibly induces synaptic stripping by microglia and impairs hippocampal plasticity. Brain Behav Immun 2016 Jan;51:230-9.

10 Mani V, Hollis JH, Gabler NK. Dietary oil composition differentially modulates intestinal endotoxin transport and postprandial endotoxemia. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2013; 10: 6.

11 Lam YY, Ha CW, Campbell CR, Mitchell AJ, Dinudom A, Oscarsson J, Cook DI, Hunt NH, Caterson ID, Holmes AJ, Storlien LH. Increased gut permeability and microbiota change associate with mesenteric fat inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in diet-induced obese mice. PLoS One 2012;7(3):e34233.

12 Paoli, A, Grimaldi K, D’Agostino D, Cenci L, Moro T, Bianco A, Palma A. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012;9:34.