Red Meat Debate

October 2nd, 2019

Today, the New York Times published an article, “Eat less red meat, scientists said.  Now some believe that was bad advice”  The article, which cites a meta-analysis (compiling and interpretation) of other studies published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, mainly states that red meat does not cause a significant increase in heart disease and cancer as once thought.

This does not make logical sense.  We know ingestion of red meat, which is naturally high in saturated fats, increases LDL (“bad” type cholesterol) which in turn raises the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. In addition, meats are very calorie dense when compared to vegetables.  So even eating the typical four or more servings that most Americans eat every week is likely to be too much.  We cannot deny that there is an obesity epidemic in the US right now.  Over 1 in 3 people have a BMI over 30 (clinically obese) and the incidence of childhood obesity is growing.  We all know that obesity leads to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all three of which contribute to a much higher risk of heart disease.  Given this setting, it is inconceivable that a medical journal with intentions of promoting health and wellness would consider putting out misinformation that could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of millions.

The decision to adopt a healthy lifestyle is never easy and involves a ton of education, determination and commitment.  The article published in the Annals will reduce the credibility of decades of obesity research and recommendations of the medical field.  I fear this will lead to a mistrust of tried and true diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which can reduce both heart disease and diabetes.

How should you eat in response to these findings?  If you choose to eat red meat, moderation is the still key.  Choose leaner cuts of meat with less white “marbling” which is fat.  The recommended serving is a piece of meat no larger than a deck of cards or palm of your hand per meal.  If you aren’t eating meat, I wouldn’t encourage you to start.  The study didn’t find that there was anything wrong with a plant-based diet.  I would still avoid concentrated sweets, sugary beverages, overly processed foods where the nutrition labels read like a list of chemicals, and refined carbohydrates.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as faro and oats, and seeds such as quinoa should still make up most of your diet.

We all must decide for ourselves what foods are good for us.  Think about how you feel after eating certain foods.  Ask yourself, “do I feel sluggish, tired or energetic and alive?”.  Are you gaining weight from eating too much?  Maybe cutting out the meat will help, I encourage you to make the decision for yourself and trust your judgement.  If you are not sure, have your cholesterol checked and have a conversation with your doctor.

10 Benefits to Eating a Plan(e)t-Based Diet

April 23rd, 2019

In the 1980’s I remember the commercials that asked “Where’s the beef?” and “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!”  They promoted meat as a primary source of protein in our diets and got us thinking that no meal is complete without meat, preferably red meat.  As we are learning more about how diets can affect our health and how our food choices can affect the environment, we are realizing that plant based diets are both better for the earth and for our health.  Here are 10 reasons why you should prepare more plant-based meals

  1. Plants are easier to cook.  Almost all meats take more time to cook.  In our busy schedules, cooking plants and plant based proteins take much less time.
  2. Less concern for salmonella.  Bacteria such as salmonella can exist on poultry but not so easily on vegetables.  Cleaning up after preparing chicken requires thorough rinsing of the cutting board, knives and cooking bowls with hot soapy water.  Cleaning up after cooking vegetables is a snap, just some warm water and minimal soap, with no risk for bacterial contamination.
  3. Plants are cheaper.  You can easily prepare meals with about 50% less money when preparing plant-based meals.  If you are on a budget, going plant-based would be the way to go.  Even when you eat at a restaurant, the vegetable options are almost always less expensive than meat or fish dishes.
  4. Vegetables, herbs and fruits are delicious and provide natural flavors.  I rarely hear people say that the “boiled chicken was so flavorful.”  Most meat intrinsically has little flavor.  In contrast, most vegetables and herbs have strong flavors that can stand on their own.  Not convinced?  Try roasting some fennel in the oven and drizzle some high quality extra virgin olive oil on top and a sprinkling of sea salt.
  5. Vegetables are a great source of fiber and can actually LOWER bad cholesterol.
  6. Ounce per ounce, vegetables take up more room in our stomachs without providing a lot of calories.  Granted, I realize that french fries are also plant-based, but what I am talking about is eating healthy plant-based foods such as salads, roasted vegetables, and stir fries with minimal oil.
  7. Longer shelf life.  Most meats spoil within a few days after you buy them.  On the other hand, vegetables such as onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots can easily last a week.  Frozen vegetables can last months and are so easy to prepare.  There are even some packages of frozen vegetables that you can microwave in the bag.
  8. Plants are a blank slate.  Add your favorite seasonings from any cuisine.  Make it spicy with curries, or add mediterranean seasoning.  They are very versatile.
  9. You can grow your own food!  Gardening is amazing exercise and provides a connection between you and your food.  You can be sure that there are no chemicals or pesticides when you grown them yourself.  By growing plants, you will also be removing carbon from the atmosphere and adding precious oxygen back to the world.
  10. You will feel better!  Many studies have found that eating meat can cause inflammatory chemicals called cytokines to form in our body.  Some people who have switched to plant-based diets have noticed that their joint inflammation, irritable bowel, and even depression have noticed their symptoms improve dramatically.

Try a few plant-based diet this week in honor of Earth Day.  If you’re not good at cooking, here are some suggestions on how you can eat more delicious plant-based food.  Plants, it’s what’s for dinner!

Alcohol 2019

April 17th, 2019

In previous blogs, I mentioned that alcohol can be good to raise your HDL, “good” type cholesterol, which may lead to a reduction of risk in heart disease.  This past year, a global study on alcohol habits sponsored by the WHO (World Health Organization) found that alcohol is a significant contributor to death and suffering worldwide from all causes including car accidents, accidental falls, osteoporosis, cancers, obesity, suicide, and mental illness, just to name a few.  So I pose two questions:  Do the “heart healthy” benefits of alcohol outweigh the massive list of illnesses caused by alcohol?  Should we be continuing to consume alcohol as a “medication” thinking it will prolong our lives?

If you look at the study, we should not be drinking alcohol period.  The increased risk of cancers (including all the major cancers such as colon, breast, prostate, stomach) alone is enough to negate the theoretical lives saved from heart disease by even modest drinking.  Hypothetically, if alcohol was a drug that was presented in front of the FDA today as a newly discovered drug to prevent heart disease, it would by no means pass their standards.  Sure, you may not get a heart attack in 10 years, BUT you will die in a car accident from excessive drinking in just one night, or you could die a miserable death from liver cancer at any point.  I can just imagine the TV commercial would be hilarious, and the side effects would go on for at least 10 minutes.  I would say, at this point, if you are drinking alcohol (in moderation, of course) because you enjoy it, that is fine, but if you have a family history of any cancer and want to reduce your risk, then I would say it may be prudent to remove alcohol from your life.  However, if you do not enjoy drinking a glass of wine each night and are doing it solely because your healthcare provider told you it would be helpful to raise your HDL, I would recommend you stop now.  I’m glad there has been new studies shedding light on this serious health issue, which has largely been ignored.

Restaurant Food May Not Always Be Healthy

April 17th, 2019

Fast food chains are well-known to be bad for our health, but most people don’t realize that typical restaurant foods may not be much healthier.  While the food they serve may look better and the atmosphere of most restaurants is nicer, there may be just as much saturated fats, salt and sugar in the food.  Many chefs will often say that a dish can be made more palatable if it has enough salt, fat, and sugar.  If you saw how your food was prepared in a restaurant, you’d be shocked.  Typically, the oils they use may be either poor quality vegetable oil to save on costs, or generous amounts of butter.  As an example, did you ever ever wonder why the steaks from top rated steak houses taste so good?  They are usually slathered in butter.  Did you wonder why you could never replicate the taste of steakhouses on your home grill even if you buy high quality meat?  Again, you would think twice before adding as much butter as they do in restaurants, which makes sense because their job is to win over your taste buds and keep you from cooking at home.  Portion sizes at restaurants are also usually much larger.  Here is how to eat out in a healthy way.

To eat healthier, I recommend that everyone make some or most meals at home.  You don’t think you can cook?  Think again, anyone can learn and there are many resources on the web.  Start by making a simple salad that requires no cooking.  Baked foods  or stir-frys are also really easy for the beginner.  Roast some vegetables or mushrooms in the oven, and drizzle with some heart healthy extra virgin olive oil, some fresh herbs, and a little sea salt.  You would be surprised how easy it can be.  By cooking your own food, you will definitely save money, and know for sure what goes into your body.  Cooking is also a great creative outlet.  Experiment with different foods and seasonings that appeal to you.  If you have a favorite unhealthy “splurge” food, try to make a healthier version.  Simply enter the name of your favorite food and “healthy recipe” into Google and you will likely find something appealing that won’t hurt your waistline.

New Year, New You!

January 5th, 2019

A new year has just begun!  Many people have a tradition of setting new year’s resolutions for themselves.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t keep them up for more than a month or so.  I recommend that instead of these resolutions, we find ways to make gradual changes.  One way is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals.  For example, rather than saying “I want to lose weight this year” you would set a goal to exercise at least 15 minutes 3 days a week.  This is one small step, but by making it easy and being able to accomplish it, you will fuel motivation for more changes.  Think about how someone achieves a long term goal such as finishing a college degree or learning how to play piano.  Are either of those achievable in a month or two?  I doubt it, unless you are a genius!  Losing weight, changing your eating habits, or getting into a regular exercise routine is similar in that they all need time and dedication, and incorporated gradually into your lifestyle.

Aside from setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, you can also start tracking your progress and reward yourself along the way.  Maybe you could take a calendar and mark a red X on the days when you accomplished your task.  For example, if you went to the gym, you would mark that day.  Another way is to put a large jar on your kitchen counter, each day you meet your goal, you put a $1 or $5 bill inside.  At the end of 3 or 6 months, use that money towards something that will bring you pleasure (but also healthy), such as a massage treatment/facial, or perhaps a weekend getaway.  I understand that this is not likely feasible to continue for many years, but by as a few months go by, you will have incorporated this habit into your life and you will likely be able to continue it.

Assess how you feel after adopting a healthier lifestyle.  Do you have more energy?  Are your moods turning more positive?  Do you feel motivated at work?  If so, keep going and continue on this path throughout the year.