Category Archives: Plant-Based

Foods that Fight Depression

This is a guest post from Ulka Agarwal, M.D.

As a psychiatrist, my patients often ask me if there are dietary changes they can make to improve their depression. Many cannot tolerate antidepressants, don’t benefit from them, or are reluctant to try medications or seek counseling due to stigma. As a result, they miss an average of 19 work days per year, costing employers up to $44 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. Depression can aggravate other chronic illnesses as well, like diabetes and heart disease. We know that plant-based diets prevent and even treat these chronic illnesses, but can they also improve mood? Our recent study published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion demonstrates how a plant-based nutrition program improves not only depression, but anxiety, fatigue, productivity, and other markers of well-being.

This 18-week study analyzes the health benefits of adopting a plant-based vegan diet in a corporate setting. Study participants, GEICO employees who were either overweight or struggling with type 2 diabetes, adopted a low-fat vegan diet, favoring high-fiber, low-glycemic foods. They learned about preventive nutrition and new cooking tips through weekly “lunch and learn” sessions led by a clinician or cooking instructor. They also formed bonds, sharing helpful health tips along the way and connecting with the group on a daily basis through an online forum. Study participants alleviated symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue, and improved their productivity both at work and outside of work, according to the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire (WPAI):

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They also lost an average of 10 pounds, lowered LDL cholesterol levels by 13 points, and improved blood sugar control, if they had type 2 diabetes. When people improve their physical health they become more physically and socially active and their overall quality of life improves.

How does a plant-based diet improve depression? Depression is related to inflammation in the body and low levels of serotonin. Plant-based foods naturally lower inflammation in the body because they are naturally low in fat and high in antioxidants. High vegetable intake increases the amount of B vitamins in the diet, which have been found to affect mood.

So what are you waiting for? Jump right in with a low-fat, plant-based diet! It’s the best prescription to boost your mood, energy, and productivity, while reducing your risk for chronic illnesses. I know I’ll be prescribing a plant-based diet to all of my patients for their emotional and physical well-being.

To learn more about the study, visit the American Journal of Health Promotion

About Ulka Agarwal, M.D.:

Ulka Agarwal, M.D., is the lead physician and psychiatrist at California State University, East Bay, where she developed and leads a plant-based employee wellness nutrition program.  Dr. Agarwal is the former chief medical officer for the Physicians Committee and a graduate of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship through the University of Arizona.

Fiber is the Key to Good Health

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Fiber plays a key role for digestion, weight loss, and cancer prevention, and can even increase lifespan! But don’t be fooled—many packaged food companies are trying to boost sales by adding extra fiber to their gummy candy or yogurt, but the best source of fiber is plants themselves! Yes, natural fiber is found only in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. So make sure you’re filling your plate with whole, plant-based foods.

What is fiber?

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans and other legumes, and some fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber—found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, kidney beans, and bran—acts like a broom, cleaning your digestive tract.

Both types of fiber are only found in plant foods—meat and dairy products contain no natural fiber. Don’t be fooled by yogurts that prominently advertise their fiber content! That fiber was added during processing. Since dairy products are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, skip the yogurt and head to the produce aisle. Just one cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber! One cup of red lentils has 16 grams of fiber—and 18 grams of protein.

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Weight Loss

If you’re looking to lose weight, filling up on fiber-rich foods is your best bet. My colleagues and I recently published a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showing that simply switching to a plant-based diet leads to significant weight loss, without any calorie counting or exercise.

Cancer Prevention

Not only can fiber help you shed pounds or relieve your digestive woes, it can decrease cancer risk. By improving the intestinal transit of food and waste, fiber helps your body eliminate carcinogens. The U.S. Polyp Prevention Trial also found that a high-fiber diet reduced the occurrence of colon polyps. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examined 13 studies and found that the risk of colorectal cancer decreased as fiber intake increased.

How Can I Get Enough Fiber Each Day?

I recommend a dietary intake of 40 grams of fiber per day—while most Americans are only getting 10-15 grams. But there’s no need to count. It’s easy to boost your fiber content with a few easy swaps. Trade white bread for whole grains. Ditch sugary cereals for heart-healthy oatmeal. Add some fruit to your breakfast or grab an apple or banana when you’re in a hurry. Make sure that everything on your plate has at least a little bit of fiber. Most importantly, skip the animal products. When your menu is plant-strong, you’ll be getting the fiber you need.

Want to see how your fiber intake measures up? Fill out our Fiber Checklist!

Kale by the Pound: Beyoncé Promotes Plant-Based Foods

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How does Beyoncé wake up like that? She loves vegan food! Earlier today, the singer announced her partnership with 22 Days Nutrition’s plant-based home delivery meal service. And it’s not the first time she’s raved about the power of plants. Over the past year, Beyoncé has thrived on multiple vegan challenges and has helped push plant-based diets into the spotlight. On Instagram alone, she’s inspired more than 24 million fans with photos of colorful vegetable stir fries, nutrient-packed leafy green salads, and creative breakfast berry tortillas.

Research shows that when celebrities talk, people listen. By using her platform to show others how easy and appealing it can be to follow a plant-based diet, Beyoncé is helping to spread a message that will save lives.

Around the world, more than 1.4 billion adults are now overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related diseases are ravaging our health care system.

Fortunately, plant-based diets can help. Research shows that diets centered on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes have the power to prevent, and sometimes even reverse, serious chronic diseases.  In recent studies, plant-based diets have proven effective at reversing heart disease, boosting brain health, treating type 2 diabetes, reducing migraine pain, and leading to the most weight loss when compared to other diets. Plant-based diets can even help keep energy levels up and stress levels down.

And even if you thought you’d be weak without meat, you’ll be stronger: Studies show that plant-based diets can strengthen your bones and reduce the risk for hip fractures.

Eating a vegan diet rich in vegetables can also keep you looking flawless by making your skin glow and keeping acne at bay.

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With such all-encompassing benefits, it’s no wonder that plant-based diets are taking center stage in 2015. Like Beyoncé, celebrities including Jennifer Lopez and Ariana Grande are raving about the power of plants. Public figures like Sen. Cory Booker are touting the many benefits of vegan diets, while entire cities are challenging themselves to eat plants to get healthier. More and more schools are taking meat off the menu by adopting Meatless Mondays, while MUSE School CA in Calabasas, Calif., is set to become the nation’s first vegan school later this year. Prominent doctors, like Kim Williams, M.D., president-elect of the American College of Cardiology, are now prescribing plants to their patients, while famed chefs are revamping their menus to move vegetables to the center of the plate.

Who runs the world? In 2015, the answer may very well be vegans!

 

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