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:

Salad:

  • 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.

Is the Movement to Label GMOs Anti-Science?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

No gmo 2One of the criticisms I hear about the movement to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that it’s anti-science. Some even go so far as to say it’s an assault on science. While I can’t speak for the entire movement, I can say that the lack of research in humans and troubling findings in some animal studies is enough to make me question the safety and necessity of GMOs.

The research related to GMOs can be hard to sort through. One study may find health problems in animals, but then proponents and biotech scientists say the study is flawed. But are there any scientists that question the safety and effectiveness of GMOs?

Michael_Hansen_ResizedOver the past few months, I have spoken with scientist Michael Hansen, PhD, who is an expert on genetically modified crops. Dr. Hansen works for the Consumers Union, the safety and advocacy arm of the organization Consumer Reports. Consumers Union is not funded by agribusiness, or other multinational companies tied to the biotech or food industry. Therefore its opinions are not influenced by industry money.

Dr. Hansen has testified at many hearings in support of GMO labeling both nationally and internationally. And he has been interviewed on a lot of television and radio shows, including the Dr. Oz Show, which aired on March 26, 2013. He is willing to answer some of my questions about GMOs, also know as genetically engineered crops.

1. Does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do safety testing on genetically modified crops?

No, they do not. Nor do they require any companies to do safety testing of their genetically engineered (GE) crops. The FDA policy on GE was introduced as a deregulatory initiative in 1993. It is based on the notion that genetic engineering is an extension of traditional plant breeding and should be regulated in the same way. In other words, no requirement for human safety testing; instead there are voluntary safety consultations.

2. What are voluntary safety consultations?

The companies that create GE crops do their own food safety assessments, which the FDA reviews. At the end of the consultation process the FDA sends a letter to the company. Here is an excerpt from one letter which says, “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn grain and forage derived from the new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, or other relevant parameters from corn grain and forage currently on the market, and that they do not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA.” [emphasis added]. A version of this sentence is in all 97 “safety” consultation letters.

In other words, the FDA does not state its own opinion about the safety of GE crops. It only states what the company believes.

3. What are the potential health risks associated with Genetically Engineered Crops?

Human safety concerns may arise from genetic engineering due to the introduction of new allergens, an increased level of naturally occurring allergens, plant toxins, or changes in nutrition. GE crops may also have a negative effect on the gut and peripheral immune response. A meta-analysis of animal feeding studies involving GE crops suggests that they cause liver and kidney problems. And a new well-designed, long-term feeding study has found that pigs consuming GE corn and soy had significantly higher rates of severe stomach inflammation and females had significant thickening of the uterus.

In addition, GE plant material is finding its way into the human body with unknown health effects. A study found the toxin from GE corn in 93 percent of maternal and 80 percent of fetal blood samples. Clearly, more research is needed.

4. The Séralini study published in October, 2012, has gotten a lot of criticism. Do you think it has merit?

Yes, I do. The study was a follow-up to Monsanto’s 90-day feeding study on its NK603 corn. The Séralini study, which continued for 2 years, found that female rats fed this GE corn died 2-3 times more quickly, and developed mammary tumors more often than controls that ate non-GE corn. Male rats fed the GE corn had liver and kidney problems at higher rates than controls, and more large tumors than rats fed non-GE corn.

The study received a lot of media attention. It was viciously attacked in the media by pro-GE and industry-affiliated scientists in what appears to have been an orchestrated campaign.

The two main criticisms were that they used too few rats per group and that they used a strain of rat that is prone to mammary tumors as they age. Both criticisms are off base.

The Séralini study used 10 rats per group, the same number of rats that Monsanto used in their 90-day feeding study to look at key biological parameters. If ten rats are too small a sample size to demonstrate health problems, how come ten rats are a sufficient sample size to demonstrate no safety concerns?

As for the type of rat used, Séralini used the same strain, Sprague Dawley (SD), that was used in the Monsanto feeding study on its NK603 GE corn and its 2 year feeding study looking at the safety of glyphosate. Why is use of SD rat’s bad when Séralini uses them, but okay when Monsanto and other biotech companies use them?

If Séralini’s study is flawed, then so is Monsanto’s, and the safety of their GE corn should be reassessed.

5. Have GMOs helped to feed the world, reduce the use of pesticides, or increase yield as proponents have promised?

No. Dr. Charles Benbrook’s work has shown that GE crops in the U.S. have lead to a dramatic expansion in pesticide use, particularly herbicides. Indeed, over the past 16 years there has been an increase of about 404 million pounds more herbicides used on GE crops, compared to non-GE crops. Work by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman has shown that genetic engineering doesn’t really increase crop yield.

6. Why do you think foods with GMO ingredients should be labeled?

There are a lot of uncertainties related to genetically engineered crops including potential allergens and unknown health risks. If these foods are not labeled, it will be very difficult to identify an unexpected health effect resulting from eating a genetically modified food. For more information, see here.

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

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References:

Bernstein, I.L., Bernstein, J.A., Miller, M., Tierzieva, S., Bernstein, D.I., Lummus, Z., Selgrade, M.K., Doerfler, D.L. and V.L. Seligy. 1999. Immune responses in farm workers after exposure to Bacillus thuringiensis pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(7): 575-582. At: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1566654/pdf/envhper00512-0103.pdf

Gupta, A. et al. 2006. Impact of Bt cotton on farmers’ health (in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh). At: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6265 and http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6266

Gendel, S.M. 1998. The use of amino acid sequence alignments to assess potential allergenicity of proteins used in genetically modified foods. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 42: 44-61.

Vazquez-Padron, R.I., Moreno-Fierros, L., Neri-Bazan, L., de la Riva, G.A. and R. Lopez-Revilla. 1999. Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant. Scandinavian Journal of Immunology 49: 578-584.

Finamore, A., Roselli, M., Britti, S., Monastra, G., Ambra, R., Turrini, A. and E. Mengheri. 2008. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 56: 11533-11539. At: http://www.giovannimonastra.info/documenti_pdf/Monastra_J_Agr_Food_Chem_2.pdf

Séralini, G-E, Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Gress, S., de Vendômois, JS and D. Cellier. Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements. Environmental Sciences Europe, 23: 10. At: http://www.enveurope.com/content/pdf/2190-4715-23-10.pdf

Kuiper, HA, Kleter, GA, Notebom, HPJM and EJ Kok. 2001. Assessment of food safety issues related to genetically modified foods. The Plant Journal, 27(6): 503-528.

Carmen, JA. et al. 2013. A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet. Journal of Organic Systems, 8(1): 38-54. At: http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf

Aris, A and S Leblanc. 2011. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reproductive Toxicology, 31(4): 528-533.

Séralini, G-E. et al. 2012. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 50: 4221-4231. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637

Bardocz S, Clark A, Ewen S, Hansen, M, Heinemann J, Latham J, Pusztai A, Schubert D and A Wilson. 2012. Séralini and science: An open letter. Independent Science News. At: http://independentsciencenews.org/health/seralini-and-science-nk603-rat-study-roundup/

Benbrook, C. 2012. Impact of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe, 24:24.

Gurian-Sherman, D. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009.

Update on Snapea Crisps: Are They Healthy Yet?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Last year I published a post about Snapea Crisps entitled, Food Labeling Lies: Are Snapea Crisps Healthy?  Interestingly, it has been one of my most popular posts. Since Calbee—the company that created Snapea Crisps—has made some changes, I wanted to post an update on the product.

snapea crisps lightlysaltedCalbee has changed their packaging, their website, and the amount of fat, carbohydrate, and sodium their product contains. They also came out with different flavors for Snapea Crisps such as Caesar, Black Pepper, and Wasabi Ranch. And they now have Lentil Snaps.

But does that make Snapea Crisps healthier? The short answer is no. Here’s why.

snapea crisps lightlysaltedmenutrition

Snapea Crisps now have:

  • 120 calories per ounce instead of 150
  • 6 grams of fat instead of 8
  • 80 mg of sodium instead of 125
  • 15 grams of carbohydrate instead of 14

But, they are still ground up peas, ground up white rice, corn oil, and salt formed into a pea shape and baked and not puffed peas. The bottom line is this product is still a highly processed food! The kind we need to eat less of or avoid entirely. Their website now says, “Inside every bag of Harvest Snaps we combine taste, quality and simplicity.” I would hardly call their complicated creation “simple!” And they certainly are not my idea of  “…snacking the way it should be,” as their site claims.

sugar snap peasInstead, sticking with real and preferably organic foods in their whole form is still your optimal choice for snacks.

Sugar snap peas are a great option. Other snack ideas include:

  • Sugar plum or sweet 100 cherry tomatoes
  • Baby carrots
  • Sliced jicama
  • Sliced red pepper
  • Frozen grapes
  • Watermelon with a squeeze of lime juice
  • Blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries with a little balsamic glaze
  • Unsweetened applesauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon and walnuts
  • Sliced bananas sprinkled with nuts and then frozen
  • Dried apricots, pears, or apples
  • Any veggie with hummus

All of these options are full of nutrients and fiber. And they are not addictive like processed snack foods so you can more easily stop eating them. On the other hand, Snapea Crisps have the right amount of salt and crunch to keep you going back for more, potentially eating the entire bag! It is also easy to overeat Snapea Crisps because they have what Michael Moss, in his New York Times article, calls “vanishing caloric density”. In other words, they melt in your mouth. Foods that do this, like Snapea Crisps or Cheetos, do not make you feel full. This is the reason I, and most of you, can eat the entire bag with its 420 calories and not feel full.

Are they free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)? Their site says, “Our non-GMO crops are grown and harvested in rich Canadian soils that stretch across the regions of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.” Yet in an email, they told me they test their product periodically (since most corn oil is GMO) and that, “We feel that the presence would be minimal.” So I can’t confirm that they are, in fact, free of GMOs.

Even with the changes to the product, my original advice still stands. Drop the Snapea Crisps and eat real food instead!

For more info, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cabartolotto

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

Got Milk? No Thanks.

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

milk TJMany years ago I decided to go to an Oriental Medicine Doctor. One of the first things he told me to do was to stop consuming dairy, which he said was linked to a number of health conditions. Reluctantly, I complied. After about 2 days without it, I noticed something miraculous: I could actually breathe when I woke up in the morning for the first time in my life. And that was it. I cut out dairy for good and have never looked back.

Since I had such good results, I decided to take a closer look at the research related to dairy. And occasionally, I would tell patients to try cutting it out to see what benefits they might receive. In particular, I told people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and sinus problems. One patient I saw had IBS. He told me he was committed to cutting out dairy for one month. I never saw him again but I did run into his doctor who said, “I don’t know that you did, but my patient is cured!”

How could something we grew up thinking was “nature’s perfect food,” actually turn out to be far from perfect? As a dietitian, I have been inundated with information and propaganda about dairy for years. However, as I started to read more independent research, I quickly realized dairy caused problems for a lot of people and may not be necessary for anyone at all.

So what are the issues with dairy?

  • Lactose intolerance: Some people do not have the enzyme to break down milk sugar, so they get gas, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. Certain ethnic groups such as Asians, blacks, and Native Americans have high rates of lactose intolerance.
  • Sinus problems: Dr. Weil says you can see a dramatic improvement in sinus problems in two months by cutting out dairy. My improvement was practically overnight.
  • Dairy is loaded with hormones. Even if you buy organic milk without recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), it will still have high hormone levels. Why? Because dairy cows are almost always pregnant with lots of circulating hormones that pass to the milk. This is not good news considering that hormones have been linked with an increased risk of breast, prostate, and testicular cancer.
  • Ovarian cancer: Some research has linked dairy with ovarian cancer. While more research is needed, some of the sugars found in milk may increase risk. One study found a higher risk in women who consumed the most lactose.
  • Prostate cancer: Consuming too much calcium appears to increase the risk of prostate cancer. A Harvard study found that men were twice as likely to develop advanced prostate cancer if they drank two or more glasses of milk each day. Another study found that men who consumed 2,000 mg of calcium a day had double the risk compared to men consuming less than 500 mg per day. Until we know more, drinking a lot of milk or talking a lot of calcium is not a good idea for men.

Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times, cut out dairy and his heartburn disappeared in just 24 hours. He wrote about his experience and received 1,300 responses from people reporting that eliminating dairy got rid of migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, eczema, heartburn, acne, hives, asthma, gall bladder issues, body aches, ear infections, colic, seasonal allergies, rhinitis, chronic sinus infections and canker sores.

So what does dairy have to offer?

  • Calcium? You can get the equivalent amount of bioavailable calcium found in one glass of milk from 1¾ cups of kale, 1½ cups of bok choy, 2½ cups of broccoli, 1 cup of turnip greens, or just over ½ cup of calcium set tofu. And there are a lot of alternative milks such as almond or soy that are fortified with calcium.
  • Protein? There are much healthier sources of protein such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and veggies.
  • Vitamin D? Sit in the sun, eat some salmon, or take a vitamin D supplement instead.

TJ almond milkThe good news is that you can easily replace cow’s milk with almond, soy, rice, hemp, or coconut milk instead. I love Trader Joe’s Vanilla Almond Milk. Cheese is a bit harder to replace in terms of taste, but there are options out there. I really like cashew cheese. I make it by soaking cashews overnight and then blending them with a little water, salt, and lemon juice. There are soy cheeses and cheeses made with tapioca starch, rice, and almonds as well. Nutritional yeast is a nice option to have in place of Parmesan cheese.


Why not try cutting dairy out for 30 days and see what happens? If you derive any benefit, please post a comment and let us know what happened!

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References:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/

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

Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Committed to Telling Americans the Truth About What They Are Eating?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

A few days ago, an article appeared in the New York Times entitled, “Food Politics Creates Rift in Panel on Labeling,” by Stephanie Strom. It was about my dismissal from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics work group for not disclosing a business that I don’t even have.

eat right

The work group was tasked to review the evidence related to food technologies, including genetically modified foods. I was happy to be a part of the group because I have seen how industry uses these position papers to support their stance.  Last fall in the state of California, we had a proposition on the ballot that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The state voters’ guide incorrectly said that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics had concluded that “biotech foods are safe.” However, the Academy’s position was expired, so they actually had no position.  The Academy issued a press release about this, but it was too late. The voter guide was already mailed to over 18 million registered voters. And Prop 37 lost. This is why I wanted to be on the group. I was hoping to prevent this from ever happening again.

Being on the work group was an interesting experience. Right off the bat, I had some major concerns, including the following:

  • Two members, Jennie Schmidt and Marianne Smith Edge, disclosed their ties to industry groups such as Monsanto.
  • The evidence review was not going to link to the position paper. And it would only include human studies, not animal. The problem with this is that there are not very many human studies to review.
  • The position paper was going to be written by Christine M. Bruhn, PhD, from UC Davis, a vocal supporter of genetically modified foods who is against labeling. UC Davis has strong ties to Monsanto.

I mentioned some of my concerns with the group and I also sent an email to an Academy employee involved with the project about the potential conflicts of interest. Because of my concerns, members of the group were asked to fill out the Academy’s disclosure statement again and disclose any money they might have received.

On March 22, 2013, I received a letter saying I was dismissed for not disclosing my consulting business, listed on my blog, healthyeatingrocks.com. I was shocked to say the least, especially since I do not have a business. At some point I would like to pursue one, but I am too busy with my full-time job and family obligations.

I sent the Academy 3 emails explaining that I do not have a business, that I did have questions, and would like to talk. Since the dismissal letter specifically stated, “Please contact us if you have any questions,” I was expecting a response back. I waited for over 3 weeks, but I heard nothing

And that is why I decided to talk to the New York Times.

Then the Academy posted a statement that was filled with inaccuracies.

I did not refuse to “disclose any and all conflicts of interest.” Why would I disclose something that does not exist? I did disclose however, that I received $135.00 from two sources that were relevant to the project, as they required.

The Academy also says that “She was simply asked, repeatedly, to disclose this information and she declined to do so.” However, it was my questioning of the group’s policy to include people on the committee with ties to industry that led to the Academy’s request for more information from the entire group, not only me.  And I complied with their request.

It was clear their minds were made up. A nonexistent business, not disclosed, was a bigger concern than two people who are involved with industries that would directly benefit from an evidence review and position paper with a positive slant toward genetically modified foods.

All of this posturing takes away from the real issue: Is it appropriate to have people involved with the biotech industry, which could benefit from the outcome, sit on a biotech-related work group? I don’t think so. Additionally, I found it alarming that the Academy was intent on moving forward with a position paper, written by Christine M. Bruhn, PhD, to be published before the evidence review was complete. She wrote the Academy’s 2006 position paper, which said that GMOs “…enhance the quality, safety, nutritional value, and variety of food available for human consumption and increase the efficacy of food production, processing, food distribution, and environmental and waste management.” I am guessing her 2013 version will offer up more of the same.

Sadly, it is the American people who are the losers in this situation because they will probably not get clear, unbiased, and balanced information about what to eat from the organization that represents the largest group of nutrition-related health professionals in the country.

Considering that we have no long-term evidence showing that genetically modified foods are safe for humans, the most responsible position the Academy could take would be to say, “The long-term health effects of genetically modified foods are unknown. Until and unless we know more, at minimum, they should be labeled.”

Is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics committed to telling Americans the truth about what they are eating? I, for one, am not convinced. What do you think?

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Thanks to all the people who have supported me. Your kind works and notes of encouragement have meant so much to me. Someone even started a petition to get me reinstated to the work group!

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

Are Popchips a Healthy Choice?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Katy Perry likes them; so does Ashton Kutcher. They are described as “tinseltown’s favorite snack”. And their clever ad campaign is creative and fun, with tag lines such as:

  • “Love. Without the handles.”
  • “Less guilty. More pleasure.”
  • “Nothing fake about them.”
  • “Spare me the guilt chip.”

Finding snacks that taste good and are good for us is a worthy goal. But are Popchips really a healthy choice?

pop chips

On the plus side, they do not contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms), unlike most snack chips. An employee assured me that the canola oil is GMO-free.  They also do not have any artificial colors or flavors, which is a good thing. However, they are made of potato flakes, potato starch, oil, rice flour, and salt.

pop chips 2

While these ingredients might not be “fake,” they are highly processed and this is a problem. Processed carbs quickly raise blood sugar.  Our body then produces insulin to lower it, triggering feelings of hunger, and potentially causing you to eat more.

Dr. Walter Willet from Harvard University says that, “… in fact, these kinds of starches–white bread, white rice, potatoes–are starches that are very rapidly converted to glucose, really pure sugar, and almost instantly absorbed into the bloodstream. And these are the kinds of carbohydrates that we really should be minimizing in our diets.”

Additionally, potatoes cause our blood sugar to go up even more than other foods. Dr. Willet also says, “Actually, careful studies have shown, demonstrated, that you get a bigger rise in blood sugar after eating potatoes, a baked potato, say, than you do from eating pure table sugar.”

A recent Harvard study has found that French fries and potato chips cause more weight gain than other foods. Other forms of potatoes also increased weight, even more so than desserts and sweets! “Love, without the handles,” is not sounding so plausible after all.

Since the potatoes in Popchips are highly processed, most of the vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, and fiber are lost. And 3 ounces have 570 mg of sodium (that’s more than ⅓ of the sodium some people should have for the whole day) and 360 calories. If you ate just 3 ounces of Popchips a day, and they were extra calories, you would potentially gain 36 pounds in a year! And it’s super easy to eat more than 3 ounces since most chip manufacturers make their snacks with just the right amount of salt and crunch so you have an intense desire to eat them.

“More pleasure?” Maybe. “Less guilt?” I don’t think so. If you are looking to find a healthy snack, chose real foods instead.

So what are your favorite healthy, whole food, snacks?

Healthy-Snacks-Looking-Delicious

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.