Animal Protein Linked with an Increased Risk of Dying

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.36.41 PMI know that people on the low-carb or Paleo diets don’t want to hear this, but the source of your protein really does matter. This recently published study found an increased risk of dying for those who consumed more animal products who had one other lifestyle risk factor such as smoking, physical activity, or overweight/obesity. In particular, eating animal protein was linked with a higher risk of heart disease.

plant-based-dietIn contrast, eating more plant-proteins was linked with lower mortality and lower risk of disease. This is not the first study to find this link! In fact, eating more plant proteins is associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and makes insulin work better. In addition, substituting plant proteins for animal proteins lowers the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


What to do?

  • Eat less red meat and processed meats.
  • Eat less of other animal protein foods.
  • Eat more plant proteins such as nuts and beans.
Copyright 2016 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

5 Reasons Why Eating a Plant-Based Diet Makes Good Sense

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Eating more plants and less meat is becoming more popular than ever thanks to plant-based-dietex-presidents, celebrities, best-selling books, and movies such as Forks Over Knives. While vegetarian and vegan diets, are defined by what they exclude, a plant-based diet is defined by what it includes—lots of plant foods! This means eating more veggies, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds instead of animal products and processed foods.

Need some motivation to try a plant-based diet? Here are five good reasons to consider.

1. It’s good for your health.

Dr. Dean Ornish’s research showed that eating a very-low fat, plant-based, vegetarian diet and other lifestyle changes, could, in fact, reverse heart disease. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn also succeeded in arresting and reversing heart disease in patients who were seriously ill.

The Adventist Health Study-2 found that vegetarians had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. While about 50 percent of Americans will develop high blood pressure by the age of 60, research shows that populations that consume a diet comprised mostly of vegetables or who are vegetarian have “virtually no increase in hypertension with age.

Eating red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) is associated with increased rates of cancer and heart disease. And the American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet for the prevention of cancer “…with an emphasis on plant foods”

Lastly, compelling new animal research has found that eating meat causes the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to produce a compound that increases the risk of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

2. It’s easy to lose weight.

Let face it. If you are eating a lot of plant foods, many of which have only 10 to 50 calories per cup, you are going to lose weight. If you eat these foods in place of fast, fatty, processed, and sweet foods, you will cut out a ton of calories—and the best part is—you will feel full!

The classic American meal is a burger, fries, and a coke. At McDonalds, you can buy the following for 1,140 calories:

  • quarter pounder with cheese
  • medium order of fries
  • medium coke

Or you can have the following plant foods for 1,140 calories:


  • 3 cups of spring mix salad greens
  • 3 Tb hummus
  • ½ cup kidney beans
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1 cup tomatoes
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup of sugar snap peas
  • 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil

And for dessert:

  • 2 apples
  • 2 bananas
  • 2 cups of blueberries

Additionally, some research shows that meat is independently associated with obesity.

3. It’s good for the environment.

It takes about 15 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef and about 5 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of chicken. We grow a lot of grain to feed animals, but we would use less water and other energy resources if we ate the grain ourselves.

An article in Scientific American reveals that the amount of beef the average American eats in a year creates as much greenhouse gas as driving a car over 1,800 miles!

A report released by the Environmental Working Group actually calculated how much greenhouse gas is produced by the food we eat. As you can see, animal products are the highest producers. So forget the lamb and eat the lentils!

food and co2

4. It saves you money.

Many people think eating fast food, such as McDonald’s, is the cheapest way to eat. But actually eating plant-based foods can cost even less.

A McDonald’s meal for four people—including 2 Big Macs, a 6-piece Chicken McNuggets meal, a small hamburger, 4 medium fries, and 4 medium drinks—costs around $24.00.

But you could have lentil soup, salad, fruit, and sparkling mineral water, for four people for about $10.00!

Granted, you would spend more time cooking the lentil soup. However, you could make a large pot, put it in the frig or freezer, and have it for lunch or dinner over the next few days ultimately saving both time and money.

Beans, peas, and lentils are some of the cheapest foods you can buy. And a recent report even shows that fruits and veggies are more economical than we once thought.

5. You’re not supporting animal cruelty.

None of us wants to see the horrific treatment that animals are subjected to for our benefit. I know I certainly don’t. But I think it is important for all of us to understand how animal are treated so that we can make a conscious choice.

I will mention just one example, as a case in point: gestation crates for pigs. Once the sows are artificially inseminated, they are put in crates with just enough room for their bodies for their entire pregnancy. As the sows gets larger and larger they often develop pressure sores. They urinate and defecate through slots in the bottom of the crate. The smell of ammonia is strong enough to cause lung problems. Once the sow delivers it is back in the gestation crate. When the animals are spent, they are taken to slaughter. They use these horrific practices to save money and produce more meat, but at what cost? Pigs are intelligent animals and I just cannot be a part of this kind of suffering to save a few dollars.

I am not a vegan, I do occasionally eat animal products, mostly fish and eggs, but when I do eat them I go out of my way buy products from animals that have been humanely raised. One example is Vital Farms eggs. Yes, I pay more for them. However, for the very small amount of animal products I do eat, it’s worth it and does not break the bank.

It’s hard to argue with a plant-based diet when it benefits our health, waistline, environment, wallet, and conscience. Any movement towards more plants and less meat is a big step in the right direction. Why not skip the meat and eat some beans today?

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Mediterranean or Low-fat Vegan Diet: Which Is Better for Prevention of Heart Disease and Stroke?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Recently, a randomized control trial was published looking at the effects of mediterranean diet picturesthe Mediterranean diet on the primary prevention of heart disease. In other words, does the Mediterranean diet prevent heart disease in people that never had it?

A total of 7,447 men and women were enrolled; none with heart disease, but all were at high risk for it. They were randomized into three groups.

  • A control group, which was advised to reduce dietary fat.
  • An experimental group, which was instructed on the Mediterranean diet with the addition of olive oil
  • Another experimental group, which was instructed on the Mediterranean diet with added nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts).

The investigators found that the Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of major cardiovascular events, in particular stroke. This trial adds even more evidence to the pile of research in support of the Mediterranean diet.

But…there has also been some criticism of this research, primarily from the low-fat vegan crowd. Dr. Ornish wrote an article on this research in the Huffington Post.

He says, and rightly so, that “The comparison (control) group did not follow a low-fat diet. As the authors wrote, “We acknowledge that, even though participants in the control group received advice to reduce fat intake, changes in total fat were small.” This is not surprising, since they gave the control group virtually no support at all in following this diet during the first half of the study.”

He also says that “The authors should have concluded that the Mediterranean diet reduced cardiovascular risk when compared to whatever diet they were eating before, not when compared to a low-fat diet, since patients in the control group (“low-fat diet”) were not consuming a low-fat diet.”

So who’s right?

The great news is that both diets are linked with lower rates of heart disease. That’s not surprising considering that both have some key components in common including lots of plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, not much or no red meat, and minimal processed foods.

Both diets impact traditional risk factors for heart disease such as high blood cholesterol or blood pressure. But even more compelling, both diets positively impact the novel risk factors highlighted in the graphic below such as inflammation, arrhythmic risk (irregular and deadly heart beats), endothelial dysfunction (unstable plaque), and thrombosis (clot formation).

risk factors

There are a few differences between the diets. Mediterranean diet followers consume higher amounts of DHA and EPA, also known as omega-3 fats, which are linked with lower rates of heart disease. These fats decrease the risk of clots and stabilize the heart beat. But the low-fat vegan diet has been found to actually reverse heart disease. And people who consume this diet have less stiffness of the arteries, which is what causes high blood pressure as we get older. This is practically unheard of in folks consuming meat.

So we have reason to celebrate! We have two viable options for people to consume that will help lower the risk of heart disease. I am hoping you are doing what you can to eat more veggies and less meat.

Eaitng veggies

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Sodium: Is Your Food Full of It?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD


Consuming too much sodium is not good for the 68 million Americans with high blood pressure. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that a high sodium diet increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke even if you have normal blood pressure.

Based on the most recent evidence, your sodium goal is from about 2,300 to 2,400 mg a day. However, most Americans consume between 3,500 to 5,000 mg per day, which is well above the recommended amount.

Eating mostly unprocessed foods including fruits, veggies, milk, bread, and chicken or other animal protein offers about 1,000 mg of sodium. If you add just a ½ teaspoon of salt, that adds another 1,000 mg. However, for most Americans, 80 percent of our sodium comes from processed, fast, and restaurant food. For example, one biscuit has about 600 mg, one ounce of American cheese has 270 mg, one tablespoon of soy sauce has 1,000 mg, and one hot dog about 510 mg.

orange chickenIf you eat out, the sodium amounts are even higher. Panda Express Two Entrée meal with Orange Chicken has a whopping 2,300 mg of sodium, In and Out Burgers Double Double has 1,440 mg, and even the seemingly healthy McDonalds Grilled Chicken Sandwich has 1,030.

So what can you do to eat less sodium? Here are a few tips.

  • Pay attention to what you are eating. Ask about the sodium amounts in fast and restaurant foods and check the Nutrition Facts on packages.
  • Eat out only 1 to 2 days per week.
  • Eat fewer canned, packaged, and processed foods.
  • Cut out the salt you add while cooking or at the table. Use herbs, spices, vinegar (I especially like balsamic), garlic, onions, wine, or spice mixes such as Mrs. Dash or Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute instead.
  • Most importantly, eat more fresh, healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and lentils.

The great news is that your taste buds will get used to a lower sodium amount in just 3 to 4 weeks. Even a small decrease the amount of sodium you consume will have a big effect on your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

The Truth About Cholesterol Lowering Drugs: Is Diet a Better Option?

Cholesterol lowering drugs—also known as statins—are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world. Almost one quarter of Americans 45 years and older are on a statin drug. You probably know many people who are on a statin or perhaps you are taking one yourself.

It makes a lot of sense to lower your cholesterol since heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States. However there are a lot of concerns about whether taking statin drugs is worth the risk.

Studies have found that statins do not decrease mortality rates in healthy people who do not have heart disease. A recent analysis of 11 studies, which included 65,229 healthy but high-risk men and women, found that taking statins did not decrease the risk of dying. A 2011 Cochrane review found similar results.

In addition, when a healthy person takes a statin, the risk of a heart attack or stroke drops from 3 or 4 percent to 2 percent—not very impressive!

The downside to taking statins is they can cause muscle pain, kidney and liver damage, and fatigue. They have also been linked with memory loss and 1 out of 200 people on statins will develop diabetes. In women, the diabetes risk may even be higher. The Women’s Health Initiative found a 48 percent adjusted increased risk of diabetes for women who were taking statins.

Recent animal research has found that rats given these drugs could not run as far as non-medicated rats. The levels of oxidative stress (a marker for possible cell damage) increased by 226% in exercising rats. And the rats had less stored carbohydrate in their muscle (glycogen). Also, the mitochondria—the mechanism in the cell that produces energy—were not working as well or correctly. This probably explains the fatigue that can come with taking statins. Ironically, these drugs make it harder to exercise for the very people who need it the most!

Let’s take a look at the research around diet. There are many published studies but I am only going to mention two. The “Lifestyle Heart Trial” found that a low-fat vegetarian diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes, lowered cholesterol as much as statin drugs. And the study proved that diet and lifestyle changes could actually reverse heart disease.

The second study compared two diets. One diet was vegetarian, low in fat, and included fiber from bread. This group also took a statin. The other group ate a low-fat vegetarian diet which included a “dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods” such as beans, lentils, oats, psyllium, almonds, and other veggies and fruit high in water-soluble fiber. The group that ate the “portfolio of foods” lowered their cholesterol as much the group taking statin drugs.

When you consider the potential side effects, and that you can get the same decrease in cholesterol by changing your diet and lifestyle, I can’t help but wonder why anyone without a history of heart disease would take these drugs. You would get more benefit from eating a healthy diet and exercising. Not only will these lifestyle changes lower your cholesterol, they will also help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, decrease inflammation, make the plaque in your arteries more stable, slow or halt the progression of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries), lower your risk of cancer and improve your mood. Need I say more?

If you are on a statin, and you have never had a heart attack, stent, or bypass surgery, I would seriously consider changing your diet instead of taking this drug. If your doctor recommends that you take a statin, talk with him or her about holding off so you can try making significant changes to your diet for a month or two and then retest your cholesterol.

Physicians Rita Redberg, MD and Mitchell Katz, MD sum it up nicely by saying: “Advising healthy patients to take a drug that does not offer the possibility to feel better or live longer and has significant adverse effects with potential decrement in quality of life is not in their interest.”

Disclaimer: Talk with your health care provider for advice regarding your particular situation.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.