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Category: Nutrition

The Benefits of a Vegan Diet

While there are a multitude of promises available regarding specific diets that will help individuals lose weight and/or mitigate cardiovascular risks factors, clinical research indicates that within a few weeks of eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, many people will have improved insulin sensitivity and lowered levels of cholesterol.


Dr. Thomas M. Campbell, Medical Director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and clinical director of the University of Rochester Program for Nutrition Medicine, also refers to the high probability of improved bowel movements, enhanced sleep hygiene and increased energy, and improved skin quality.

Extensive scientific literature and research demonstrates that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat are linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease. Meat and fish have saturated fat, while a vegan diet is devoid of any cholesterol, and low in terms of saturated fat. When people begin to eat a plant-based diet, therefore, their cholesterol levels decline; and ultimately, their risk of cardiovascular disease decreases. This all happens within a few weeks, as blood vessel walls become healthier due to the increase of nitric oxide in arterial walls, which reduces the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Moreover, without heavy saturated fats from animal products, blood is less viscous and begins to pump more easily at lower pressures.

The American Diabetes association confirms that among individuals with type 2 diabetes, those who eat a vegan diet have considerably improved glycemic control, in addition to lessened cardiovascular risk factors. The diet can even reverse the disease altogether, in some patients. According to Dr. Michael Klaper, an internationally-recognized authority on the link between diet and health, “A person with uncontrolled diabetes, on insulin, can see demonstrable improvements in medication usage and efficacy in 24 hours.” Conversely, another study also published by the American Diabetes Association indicates that those who eat high amounts of animal protein are 22 percent more likely to develop diabetes.

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Biomarkers Could Predict Best Diets

A new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has indicated two biomarkers that can predict the efficacy of certain diets for weight loss: specifically, for people with prediabetes or diabetes.

Through an analysis of over 1,200 adults, researchers discovered that a person’s fasting blood glucose levels, fasting insulin levels, or both, could pinpoint which diets would most likely lead to weight loss. These biomarkers were particularly effective in determining which diets were best for people with pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Each year, millions of us go on diets in an attempt to lose weight, but not all of us succeed. A new study has uncovered two biomarkers that could predict how effective certain diets will be for weight loss, particularly for people with prediabetes or diabetes.

Statistics from the American Diabetes Association indicate that approximately 29.1 million people in the Untied States have diabetes; estimates show that around 75 million people have pre-diabetes, yet almost 90% remain unaware. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the condition: the body is unable to effectively use the hormone insulin, which causes high blood glucose levels. For people with prediabetes, blood glucose levels remain higher than normal—yet not high enough to lead to a diagnosis of diabetes.

The researchers in the study believe that a person’s fasting blood glucose and insulin levels could be utilized to help identify the most effective diet for weight loss, after analyzing the data of three dietary clinical trials: the Diet, Obesity, and Genes trial, the OPUS Supermarket intervention (SHOPUS), and the Nutrient-gene interactions in human obesity (NUGENOB) trial. The subjects were all overweight; the researchers evaluated and assessed their fasting blood glucose levels, and fasting insulin levels, in order to determine whether the levels were associated with weight loss in response to certain diets.

These results symbolize a kind of breakthrough in personalized nutrition: among adults with prediabetes, the team found that a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits was the most effective for weight loss. For example, in the SHOPUS trial, adults with prediabetes who followed a diet high in the aforementioned foods lost more weight than those who followed a controlled diet. For people with type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that a diet rich in plant-based, “healthy” fats, and low in carbohydrates, was most effective for weight loss.

The team reported that adding participants’ fasting insulin levels to the analysis further strengthened the identified correlations between diet and weight loss, confirming the hypothesis that fasting blood glucose and fasting insulin levels may be biomarkers for weight loss.

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The Benefits of Mindful Eating

Recent studies indicate that meal timing and frequency may impact cardiovascular health, and disease risks. While eating patterns vary from person to person, research indicates that effective management of cardiometabolic health should focus on ‘intentional eating’–paying attention to standardize eating times, meal sizes, and food content.

One of the primary critical factors in evaluating the effect of meal frequency and timing on cardiovascular health was what constituted a meal that potentially impacted metabolism. Data shows that distributing calories over a defined period of the day, coupled with maintaining a consistent overnight fast period, could ultimately yield positive benefits surrounding cardiometabolic health–in addition to eating a larger portion of one’s daily caloric intake earlier in the day.

Skipping meals and snacking, which have become increasingly prevalent, have various effects on cardiometabolic health markers: namely obesity, lipid profile, insulin resistance, and blood pressure. Because irregular eating patterns do not lead to a healthy cardiometabolic profile, intentional eating–with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions–will lead to a healthier lifestyle. Most importantly, planning each meal with a variety of healthy foods, and timing meals, can help manage hunger, achieve desired portion control, and improve nutrition quality.

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Coconut Oil: Not So Healthy?

 A recent new advisory report from the American Heart Association advises against the use of coconut oil, a popular trend in the health and wellness industry.

The Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease, after viewing existing data on saturated fats, has demonstrated that coconut oil specifically increased LDL—known as ‘bad’ cholesterol—in seven out of seven controlled oils. 82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, according to data: exceeding butter, beef fat, and pork lard.

The advisory stated: “Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of cardiovascular disease, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.” Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate professor of nutritional medicine at Cornell University Medical School, believes that coconut oil is so popular for weight loss due to her research on medium-chain triglycerides. Because coconut oil has a higher proportion of medium-chain triglycerides than most other fats or oils, and her research indicated that medium-chain triglycerides may increase the rate of metabolism, many now believe that coconut oil can be responsible for weight loss.

However, St-Onge’s research used a ‘designer oil’ that was full of 100% medium-chain triglycerides; traditional coconut oil only contains about 13-15%. Moreover, another study published by St-Onge reveals that smaller doses of medium-chain triglycerides does not help with weight loss in overweight adolescents.

“You can put it on your body, but don’t put it in your body,” said Frank Sacks, lead author on the report.

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Most Cardiologists Lack Nutrition Education

A recent study has found that the majority of cardiologists lack current, up-to-date education surrounding nutrition and diet. A report published by the American Journal of Medicine, authored by a dozen healthcare professionals in the United States and Spain, titled “A Deficiency of Nutrition Education and Practice in Cardiology” details that less than a third of cardiologists describe their nutrition knowledge as “mostly up to date” or better.

Although the leading cause of premature death and disability in the United States is heart disease, most cardiologists report inadequate training in nutrition. “Using nutrition as medicine is probably one of the most cost effective ways to treat disease but is incredibly underutilized by healthcare providers,” explained Andrew Freeman, M.D., a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, and one of the study’s co-authors. “If we could empower healthcare providers with information on how to implement this in daily practice, we could transform healthcare rapidly, prevent healthcare cost explosions, and reduce morbidity and mortality.”

Ninety percent of cardiologists surveyed reported receiving no or minimal nutrition education during cardiovascular fellowship training; 59 percent reported no nutrition education during international medicine training; 31 percent reported no nutrition education throughout medical school. Almost two-thirds of all surveyed cardiologists reported spending three minutes or less per visit discussing nutrition with their patients.

The report further noted that the total annual cost related to heart and vascular diseases in the United States is $315 billion, much of which could be lessened with proper nutritional training and implementation.

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Calling All Cheese Lovers

A large-scale analysis indicates that cheese, and other dairy products, do not lead to an increased risk of death from heart disease or stroke.

A study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology involving scientists at the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health at the University of Reading, England analyzed 29 studies that collectively represented almost 1 million people and 93,000 instances of death.

Within the studies, the team focused on diet—specifically, whether or not participants consumed large amounts of dairy products—and the rates of CVD, coronary heart disease, and death.

The conclusions and findings showed no correlation or association between a diet high in dairy and risk of heart disease, combining data from 29 prospective cohort studies.

One of the study’s authors, Jing Guo, stated that this latest analysis provides “further evidence that a diet high in dairy foods is not necessarily damaging to health.” The evidence supports previous findings that demonstrate the health benefits of dairy foods in an integrated, well-balanced diet.

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Vitamin D: A Necessary Supplement!

A new study reports that in overweight and obese children and adolescents, a deficiency of vitamin D is associated with early markers of cardiovascular disease.

Lead author Marisa Censani, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist and director of the Pediatric Obesity Program in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine, states that “Pediatric obesity affects 17 percent of infants, children, and adolescents ages 2 to 19 in the United States, and obesity is a risk factor for vitamin D deficiency.”

The findings suggest that deficiency of the vitamin may have negative effects on specific lipid markers, with an increase in cardiovascular risk among children and adolescents. This is one of the first studies to assess the relationship of vitamin d deficiency to both lipoprotein ratios and non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol, specific lipid markers impacting cardiovascular risk during childhood, in children and adolescents who are obese or overweight.

Vitamin D was found to be significantly associated with an increase in atherogenic lipids and markers of early cardiovascular disease. Total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, non-HDL cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol/HDL and triglyceride/HDL ratios, were all higher in vitamin D-deficient patients—compared to patients without vitamin D deficiency.

The results support screening children and adolescents who are overweight or obese for vitamin D deficiency, and the potential benefits of improving vitamin d status to reduce cardiometabolic risk.

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What to Eat…and What NOT to Eat

A recent report indicates that ten foods account for nearly half of all heart disease deaths in the United States. Researchers at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition and Policy found that if people ate less salt and meat, and ate more nuts, fruits, and vegetables, they could greatly lower the risk of heart disease.

The researchers at Tufts developed their list of preferred foods from national surveys, which covered 16,000 people from 1999-2012. Volunteers filled out food diaries, and were tracked for several years subsequently, to see what had happened with their health. In 2012, the team wrote that over 700,000 Americans died of cardiovascular disease. Of these deaths, an estimated 45 percent were associated with ‘suboptimal intakes of the 10 dietary factors,’ states the report—published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The team used previously published studies surrounding the benefits or drawbacks of each of the 10 foods, in order to determine how much each one contributes to the risk of death from heart disease. Their calculations suggest that eating too much sodium accounted for 9.5 percent of the deaths; eating too few nuts accounted for 8.5 percent of the deaths; eating too much processed meat accounted for 8.2 percent of the deaths; and eating too little seafood was responsible for 7.8 percent of the deaths.

For decades, the American Heart Association has stressed that food is a critical factor in preventing the country’s primary cause of death. Many studies have previously demonstrated that Americans eat far too much meat, cheese, processed grains, sugar, and salt. Studies also confirm the health effects of the consumption of a daily handful of nuts, in addition to eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; diets rich in these foods also lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. This study’s results should help identify priorities, guide public health planning, and inform strategies to alter dietary habits and improve health.

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Unscrambling Eggs: Nutrition Science

A recent article published through National Public Radio analyzes and assesses one of humankind’s most reliable source of calories: eggs, which have historically been obtained “with minimal exertion and zero horticulture skills.”

In the late 1970s, specifically, the appreciation of eggs was at an all-time high, as physicians began to realize that excess cholesterol is a strong predictor for a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Subsequently, many doctors assumed that eating high-cholesterol foods like meat, butter, and eggs would likely have a negative impact on health, and should thus be avoided.

Yet the nutritional science behind eggs, and foods generally high in cholesterol, is more nuance and complex. While cholesterol objectively can contribute to heart disease by literally blocking the body’s blood vessels, and eating foods high in cholesterol can raise its levels in the blood, an emerging and growing body of research has shown that the consumption of sugar, transfats, and excessive saturated fat is far more harmful to cholesterol levels than actual dietary cholesterol.

Studies and scientific research have gradually come to the consensus that some degree of cholesterol consumption is harmless—if not outright healthy—and that eggs should not be feared and avoided at all costs. Conversely, experts worry that if science is ‘misinterpreted and spun by the media,’ both the egg industry and opportunistic doctors will spin through the perpetual cycle of self-help revenue that is the foundation of diet science.

Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Nutrition Department, was one of the first U.S. physicians to determine that while previous findings have demonstrated that cholesterol in the blood has a correlation with a higher risk of heart disease, no studies had indicated that cholesterol consumption actually increases blood levels. Remember: correlation does not necessarily indicate causation.

Willett and his colleagues have since studied thousands of patients for years, and have found no evidence that moderate dietary cholesterol or egg consumption increases the risk for heart disease and stroke—except in people with a particularly strong genetic risk for high cholesterol. These findings reiterate and reaffirm those from a 2013 published study, which report that eating one egg per day is not associated with impaired heart health.

Further complicating this, however, is an abundance of studies funded by the egg industry that support egg consumption, which loosely interpret scientific data in the interest of profit. While there is no strong data upon which to base a specific numerical limit to a dietary cholesterol intake, guidelines continue to recommend that cholesterol intake should be as low as possible, and part of a generally healthy diet that is primarily rooted in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains—all thought to lower blood cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Study Confirms Necessity of Nutrition Education

Necessity of Nutrition Education-04Recent statistics show that more than two-thirds of Americans are considered to be overweight or obese, generating a global obesity epidemic. With diabetes and obesity continuously on the rise, in addition to spikes in other lifestyle-related diseases, it has become critical to highlight the necessity of self-care and healthy living habits. Yet while physicians are generally considered to be reliable sources regarding nutrition, more than 50% of graduating medical students continue to rate their knowledge as ‘inadequate,’ and only one in eight patients receives counseling from their doctors on dietary health benefits.

A study designed to quantify the required number of hours of nutrition education at U.S. medical schools, in addition to an investigation regarding the types of courses offered, reaffirmed the supposition that medical students receive an inadequate amount of nutrition education. Only 27% of surveyed schools required a course dedicated to nutrition; on average, U.S. medical schools only offer 19.6 hours of nutrition education—across four years of medical school. Other informal polls and anecdotes uphold the studies’ findings, as students assert that nutrition education throughout medical school is, at best, minimal.

Throughout the past several decades, there has been a push towards improving the medical nutrition education that students receive. With suboptimal knowledge about dietary habits, future physicians are selling both themselves and their patients very short. It is imperative to equip health practitioners with the necessary tools and information that they can utilize in their practices, ultimately addressing the root causes of real, pervasive problems. Medical schools have the burden of responsibility to arm their graduates with the tools to tackle the biggest, most acute global health challenges: including obesity and nutrition problems.

All of our conferences this year highlight this topic, through specific sessions that discuss the need for nutritional education and awareness. At Regionals, we are hosting “Comprehensive Weight Loss Management in Primary Care Practice to Reduce Cardiometabolic Risk.” Our Annual event’s second session is dedicated to lifestyle management of cardiovascular disease, including “Cardiometabolic Disorders: Diet Quality, Quantity and Beyond,” “Sleep Science: Effect of the Circadian Rhythm on Obesity and CVD,” and “Lifestyle and Obesity Management in the Cardiometabolic Patient.” View the annual agenda, and learn more about our regional conference series.

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