Removing meat from your diet may lower blood pressure and therefore reduce your risk of heart disease, according to a new study conducted by a professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
In the first meta-analysis of its kind, Dr. Neal Barnard and his team of researchers compared the blood pressure of more than 21,000 people involved in various observational studies and clinical trials. They found that participants who maintained a plant-based diet, from vegan to pescetarian to semi-vegetarian, were associated with lower blood pressure readings.
A healthy person should have a systolic blood pressure less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mmHg—any higher doubles the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
In the study, vegetarians reported a systolic blood pressure about 7 mmHg lower and diastolic blood pressure 5 mmHg lower than participants who ate meat. The lower blood pressure readings mean huge health benefits: A reduction of 5 mmHg in systolic blood pressure leads to a 9 percent reduced risk of heart disease and a 14 percent reduced risk of stroke.
Why is a vegetarian diet so effective at lowering blood pressure? For one, vegetarians often have lower BMIs compared with omnivores, thanks to the higher fiber intake and lower saturated fat levels of plant-based diets. In addition, vegetarians typically consume a high amount of potassium, which, along with exercise, directly correlates with lower blood pressure.
The findings support the idea that those who suffer from hypertension don’t have to rely solely on medicine, said Barnard in a statement. “Let’s write prescriptions for plant-based foods,” he said. Switching to a plant-based diet promotes healthy side effects, such as weight loss, lower blood pressure, and the presence of good cholesterol, he added.
However, more research is needed to find out whether certain vegetarian diets are more effective in reducing blood pressure than others, researchers noted.
The full study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The Skinny on Diets
If all goes according to plan, nutrition labels will be getting a big makeover, thanks to a proposal issued by the US Food and Drug Administration and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Yesterday the FDA announced its proposal to update the Nutrition Facts label in order to better reflect the latest health and dietary research and allow consumers to make healthier food choices. “You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” Obama said in her announcement at the White House.
If the proposal gets approved, it would be the first time the labels have been updated since 2006. The Nutrition Facts labels first appeared on food packages 20 years ago.
The proposal is the First Lady’s latest efforts to prioritize healthy eating as part of her Let’s Move! initiative, which recently celebrated its four-year anniversary.
Here are some of the major changes proposed by the FDA:
• Include the number of grams of added sugar
• Increase the font size of number of servings per container and calories. The serving size requirements will be updated to reflect how much people actually eat today.
• Include information about certain nutrients the US population typically does not get enough of in their diets, such as potassium and vitamin D. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required on labels.
• Remove “calories from fat,” as “research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount,” the FDA wrote in its proposal.
The changes will not go into effect immediately. The FDA is accepting public comment on the proposal for the next 90 days.
Between morning workouts, a stressful job, and shuttling kids from school to practice, how does one find the time to plan and prepare healthy meals? Busy Washingtonians have turned to services that whip together nutritious food, often delivered to their door. As a plus, all of the following services use local meat and produce as much as possible.
If You Have No Time at All
DC, Montgomery County, Arlington, Fairfax County. Meals are also available for pickup at 5329 Georgia Avenue, Northwest.
How it works
Users choose from a Lite Bites or Veggie Bites menu each week. The meals are delivered fresh to your home and come with the option of snacks. Kid-friendly meals are also available.
Recent menu choices
Ginger shrimp with mango, green beans, and brown rice; roasted-red-pepper chicken with sautéed spinach and quinoa; turkey meatballs with whole-wheat pesto pasta and veggies.
Three-to-seven-day packages range from $33 to $275; healthybitesfood.com.
If You’re a Gym Rat
DC; Northern Virginia; Baltimore; Montgomery, PG, Howard, Anne Arundel counties.
How it works
Chefs create Paleo and vegetarian lunches and dinners, gluten- and dairy-free. Order meals online and pick up Monday through Thursday at more than 55 gyms and fitness studios.
Recent menu choices
Buffalo chicken with cumin-carrot salad; Paleo corned-beef-and-sauerkraut Reuben with parsnip hash and grilled zucchini; stuffed-grape-leaves casserole; Hawaiian chicken salad with sautéed garlic kale.
Lunches and dinners range from $9.50 to $15.50, with the option of three or five days of meals; dc.mypowersupply.com.
If You Want to Feed Your Inner Chef
DC, Alexandria, Arlington.
How it works
Monday through Thursday, Scratch DC posts a nutritionist-advised dinner on its website; users can order online and set up a 30-minute delivery window. The package contains the recipe and fixings required to create that day’s meal. To save time, all ingredients come chopped, measured, and marinated.
Recent menu choices
Mushroom-and-goat-cheese beef stroganoff; mozzarella chicken caprese and asparagus in a balsamic reduction; butternut-squash-bacon-and-Gruyère risotto and spinach vinaigrette salad.
$25 to $30 per meal, which feeds two; scratchdc.com.
This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
You already know vegetables are good for you. What you may not know, however, is that certain veggies—many that often get overlooked at the grocery store—contain the highest levels of detoxifying properties. We rounded up five vegetables that do the best job at ridding your body of toxins and bacteria and leave you squeaky clean and healthy.
Don’t just go for fennel seeds—the plant’s bulb, leaves, and stalks are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and potassium, too. Fennel is known for its anti-inflammatory, liver- and colon-protecting properties. The seeds are often used to ease digestive pain.
Artichokes contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, coming in seventh on the US Department of Agriculture’s top 20 antioxidant-rich foods list. Studies show that the intimidating-looking vegetable also lowers cholesterol and relieves gastrointestinal problems.
They’re in the same family as kale and broccoli, so you can bet they contain plenty of health benefits, too. These greens are high in vitamins K, A, and C, and have been shown to outshine kale for cholesterol-lowing abilities. One cup contains more than five grams of fiber, which makes it a great source of digestive support.
There’s no denying kale’s powerful detoxing benefits. One cup of the leafy green contains 1,328 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin K, more than 300 percent of vitamin A, and 89 percent of vitamin C. Studies strongly link kale to cancer prevention and heart health. (Also try: broccoli.)
The richly colored root contains betalains, phytonutrients that help detoxify and have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. Note, however, that the longer you cook beets, the more betalain damage they incur. Stick to 15 to 20 minutes of steaming or boiling, and 45 minutes or less for roasting.
Pomegranate season is in full swing, and we just can’t get enough of those yummy seeds, whether they’re tossed into salads, blended into smoothies, or simply eaten raw. But de-seeding a pomegranate has always been a messy hassle—until now.
Fast food restaurants get a bad rap. And in many cases, rightly so (heart attack on a plate, anyone?). But as recently as this week, certain quick-service spots have tried to shed their fried-food personas and offer alternatives for us health-minded folks.
We rounded up some of the “healthier” options that have popped up on fast food restaurants’ menus in recent years—or days, in Burger King’s case.
Burger King: Satisfries
Burger King made headlines this week when it announced its new menu item Satisfries. BK boasts that the fries have 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than McDonald’s fries. And the website says Satisfries fries are “cut from real, whole potatoes,” which begs the question: What are the normal fries made of? (Our verdict: These may be “healthier,” but they’re still fried.)
Confession: I stepped into a Whole Foods for the first time ever this summer. And while yes, it was magical, and yes, I appreciated all of the local and organic produce, as local nutritionist Betsy Ramirez points out, there’s a reason it’s often dubbed “Whole Paycheck.”
But shopping at Whole Foods doesn’t have to be so expensive that you’re silently sobbing as you hand over your credit card. We consulted with grocery-shopping expert Ramirez and fellow nutritionist Danielle Omar to see how they manage to save some major bucks at Whole Foods. Print out this list before you make your next shopping trip, and leave Whole Foods with a heaping bag of healthy groceries—and a much healthier bank account.
1) Check the website for coupons and sale tips.
Each month Whole Foods publishes a Whole Deal coupon booklet that’s available for download. You can also check out the in-store flyer to see what’s on sale for the week at each location. Says Omar, “I take advantage of the Whole Deal coupon booklet every month and work my meal planning for the week around what’s on sale.” Also helpful, says Ramirez, is the Whole Foods recipe app. “Everyone should have this. Not only do you have access to recipes at your fingertips, but you can access your store’s sales flyer. It also features a budget-friendly meal planner broken down by date, nutrition information, and special diet.”
For more than a decade, Chipotle has been known for its use of antibiotic-free meat and sustainable, fresh ingredients. That’s still the case, although a recent statement released by the Denver-based company has raised some eyebrows.
“Chipotle Mexican Grill, the largest restaurant seller of responsibly raised meat, has not changed its standards for responsibly raised beef,” the statement read. “The company is currently evaluating if this strict ‘never-ever’ antibiotic protocol is best for animals, or whether animals can be treated when necessary and allowed to remain in the herd.”
In a move that was years in the making, the FDA last week ruled on what officially qualifies a food product as “gluten-free,” giving a nod to the ever-growing gluten-intolerant community.
According to the FDA, currently 5 percent of food products marked as “gluten-free” actually contain more than 20 parts per million, which is enough to sicken those who are gluten-intolerant or suffer from celiac disease. “When people with celiac disease have to follow the diet and the labels aren’t accurate, it puts people at a lot of risk and can be a huge stressor,” says local registered dietitian Cheryl Harris, who suffers from the disease. The new ruling “means there’s finally accountability and a set standard.”
Here are five key things to know about the FDA’s ruling.
1) The official labeling goes into effect in one year.
Although the FDA made its announcement last week, the new standards for gluten-free labeling don’t go into effect until August 5, 2014. Harris says until then the best thing you can do is look for foods that are marked with gluten-free certifications, such as those from the Gluten-Intolerance Group, which tests products for gluten-levels.
Take it from someone with experience: Eating lunch at your desk can be downright depressing.
But new research suggests that (somehow) it may be make you a better employee than those who eat leisurely lunches out with friends.