We’ve all heard the saying, “garbage in, garbage out”. When it comes to our health, the same premise applies.
Unless you’ve got stellar genes, it’s unlikely that you can smoke cigarettes, drink beer to your heart's content, and snack on endless bowls of M&M’s while expecting great health in return.
I still recall long discussions with clients who would drink Pepsi instead of water because of “the toxic chemicals in water” and others who took no issue with smoking a pack of Lucky Strikes each day. With the cost of medication increasing and the uncertainty of health insurance coverage, few people want to rely on medications for the rest of their lives. Research supports a healthy, plant-based diet in chronic disease prevention (1). So, how do we convince clients to alter their eating habits if they truly want to stave off medication use?
For starters, we should recognize that being on a modified diet is difficult. Ask anyone with a food allergy or a friend trying to lose weight how hard it is to stick to a plan. In the case of the food allergy, it’s a life or death situation and the consequences are much more dire than for a person trying to slim down. But a person trying to lose weight still has to change their eating habits in order to see results. Food is omnipresent and the discipline to stick with a diet for the long term is not easy. A person must be dedicated to true change to see changes in their health. As clinicians, we need to “sell” the benefits and provide resources and support to help them change. Being moderate may not be enough.
And speaking of, moderation with food and drink implies just that. No foods or drinks are eliminated and people can enjoy cake and steak on a birthday (if that’s their thing). Moderation is a cookie after dinner or seasonal ice cream cone in the summer. But for individuals that truly want to avoid cholesterol-lowering meds or medication for high blood sugar, their diet should likely be stricter.
The relationship between high cholesterol and risk for cardiovascular disease is pretty clear. Animal-based foods are one of the prime culprits in raising blood cholesterol. Healthcare providers can often be heard saying (in jest), “if it tastes good, spit it out.” Beef, bacon, butter, full-fat dairy, high-fat desserts, and sugary drinks may taste good, but if people continue to consume them on a regular basis, their cholesterol may increase and so will their risk for heart disease. Processed meat like bacon, sausage and lunch meat as well as pastries, candy, and ice cream need to be cut out, too. To really reduce the risk for heart disease and need for cholesterol-lowering medication, a healthy, plant-based diet is the route to go (2).
The optimal path to great health in preventing obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease is truly plant-based.
Time and time again, studies have shown that swapping beans and legumes for meat and raw vegetable sticks for potato chips may aid with cholesterol reduction and disease prevention. Soluble fiber from oats, barley, beans, and fresh fruit aids in cholesterol reduction. Including healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, and plant-based oils is also advised. Reducing saturated fat intake from animal-based foods will also reduce cholesterol production in the body. Cutting out trans fat is also important to reduce the need for cholesterol-lowering medication and risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans-fats have been found to increase LDL (“lousy”) cholesterol levels, which, if too high, raise heart disease risk. Though labels may say “no trans fat,” a food may contain 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving by law and still be labeled “no trans fat.” The FDA is moving towards removal of PHOS (partially hydrogenated oils), AKA trans-fat, from foods with new foods produced before January 1 2020. Avoiding fast food, processed desserts and crackers, microwave popcorn and other high-fat snacks like chips and muffins will reduce trans-fat intake (3).
Bottom line? More plants, better health.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Schultz, Matthias, et. al. Food based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention. BMJ 2018; 361
- Sonia S. Anand,1,2,* Corinna Hawkes,3,* Russell J. de Souza,4 Andrew Mente,2 Mahshid Dehghan,2Rachel Nugent,5 Michael A. Zulyniak,1 Tony Weis,6 Adam M. Bernstein,7 Ronald Krauss,8 Daan Kromhout,9David J.A. Jenkins,10,11 Vasanti Malik,12 Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez,13 Dariush Mozafarrian,14 Salim Yusuf,2Walter C. Willett,12 and Barry M Popkin15 Food Consumption and its impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions focused on the globalized food system. A Report from the Workshop convened by the World Heart Federation. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Oct 6; 66(14): 1590–1614.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.