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Could Jack Pearson’s Diet Be to Blame?

February 9, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   heart disease, cholesterol


this is us

Fans of the hit NBC series This Is Us finally learned how the beloved character Jack Pearson died, but did they get the full story? In this week’s episode, after a fire breaks out at the Pearson residence, a doctor explains that excessive smoke inhalation stressed Jack’s heart, triggering a massive heart attack that took his life.

What the doctor didn’t mention is that atherosclerosis, which is a fatty build-up in the arteries, put Jack at risk for the attack. The physical stress his body endured through his heroic and successful attempt at saving his family from the fire likely caused plaque to dislodge and block an artery that supplies the heart with oxygenated blood. A lifetime of eating animal products floods the body’s circulatory system with cholesterol, raising the risk for heart disease.

It couldn’t have helped that the Pearson kids ditched Jack on Super Bowl Sunday, leaving Jack and Rebecca to deal with all of the food they had prepared for a full day of snacking. Food served on game day is traditionally very animal product heavy, making it high in saturated fat and cholesterol. A 2007 study from the Journal of Nutrition found that a single fatty meal can cause the heart to beat harder and raise blood pressure. And a 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the number of heart attacks in one major city doubled during a big sports event.

One has to wonder, was the state of Jack’s heart health a ticking time bomb? Could he have been due for a heart attack sooner or later anyway?

What You Can Do

Ditch animal products and switch to a heart-healthy diet centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Vegan diets have been found to help reduce heart disease risk by reducing inflammation and to lower risk for heart failure. And on game day, try these doctor-approved, crowd-pleasing recipes.

Top Five Meat Alternatives

January 25, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   animal products


By Lee Crosby, R.D., L.D.

According to recent data from the USDA, Americans are expected to eat a record-high average of 222 pounds of meat per person in 2018. That’s devastating news for Americans’ health.

To put it in perspective, studies show that eating just 2 ounces of processed meat per day—less than the amount on a typical ham sandwich—can up the risk for colon cancer by 24 percent. Another recent study found that just one third of an ounce of processed meat a day—the weight of a single poker chip!—can raise the risk for breast cancer.

On top of that, meat can also up our risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.

So what can we do? The good news is that by moving away from meat and opting for a diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, we can reduce our risk for developing these lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Ready to give it a try but not sure how to jump in?

Check out my top 5 easy and healthy meat replacements!

Top Five Meat Alternatives

  1. Beans and lentils are low in fat, but packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that you won’t find in meat. Use beans and lentils to replace meat in chili, tacos, salads, and no-meat loafs.
    Recipes: Black Bean Chipotle Burgers and Sweet Potato Lentil Chili
  2. Tofu is beneficial for cancer prevention, heart health, and bone health! It’s versatile and can work like eggs or meat in scrambles, stir-fries, soups, or sandwiches.
    Recipes: Tofu Zucchini Scramble, Vegetable Lo Mein, and BBQ Tofu Bites
  3. Portobello mushrooms have a meaty flavor and texture that make them an ideal low-fat, cholesterol-free meat alternative! Grill like steaks or burgers or add to fajitas or pasta.
    Recipes: Marinated Mushroom Burgers and Barbecue-Style Portobellos
  4. Seitan, or wheat gluten, is a high-protein meat alternative that mimics meat in taste and texture. Grill, bake, shape into roasts, and add to stir-fries!
    Recipes: Seitan Piccata and Polenta with Hearty Barbecue Sauce
  5. Meat replacements, like veggie burgers and veggie crumbles, are available in most grocery stores. While whole foods are best, these can be great to use for transition foods or special occasions.
    Recommendations: Gardein Ultimate Beefless Ground and Beyond Beef crumbles are both low in fat and gluten free.

Learn more in my recent interview on The Exam Room podcast!

Meat and Dairy Harm State of the Union's Health

January 19, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   heart disease


President's Heart Disease Reflects State of the Union

The president’s recent checkup indicates that he has heart disease. He is not alone. About 92 million American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease, and heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. The 222 pounds of meat, 274 eggs, and 35 pounds of cheese the average American is projected to consume in 2018 certainly won’t help matters. So I invite the president to take a moment at the State of the Union Address on Jan. 30 and invite all Americans to join him in the fight against heart disease by signing up for the bipartisan 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.

President Trump has made no secret of his love for KFC and at McDonald’s, including his reported favorite of two Big Macs, two Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, and a chocolate milkshake. But those foods are loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products that increase his heart disease risk. But here again, he is not alone. Many Americans have less-than-healthy eating habits.

So I’m hoping our President will make America grate. That is, grate carrots, beets, and onions onto their salads. And make America sprinkle slivered walnuts onto their morning oatmeal. And make America fill a whole-grain tortilla with healthy beans, rice, and salsa, for a zero-cholesterol, heart-healthy menu.

And encourage America to ditch meaty, cheesy fast food. A study published in the journal Circulation found that people who eat fast food once a week increase their risk of dying from heart disease by 20 percent. Two to three fast-food meals a week increase the risk of premature death by 50 percent. Four or more fast-food meals a week increase the risk of dying from heart disease by nearly 80 percent. These same proinflammatory products also increase the risk for colorectal cancer by up to one-third, according to a study published this week in JAMA Oncology. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and the third most common cancer in men and in women.

The good news is that healthy foods can make these risks plummet.

The state of the union’s health is not what it needs to be. And our love affair with meat and dairy products is to blame. A plant-based diet can help prevent and reverse heart disease and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. President Trump can help Kickstart the nation’s health on Jan. 30 by promoting a plant-based diet to both sides of the aisle at his State of the Union Address.

Plant-Powered NFL Playoffs: Titans versus Patriots

January 11, 2018   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan


Plant-Powered NFL Playoffs: Titans versus Patriots

Get ready for the first plant-powered NFL playoffs: It’s the Tennessee Titans versus the New England Patriots this Saturday at 8:15 p.m. Players from both teams credit their plant-based diets for fueling their path to the playoffs this season.

Eleven Titans were inspired to try out plant-based diet after linebacker Derrick Morgan and his wife, chef Charity Morgan, who prepares many of their meals, went vegan earlier this year.



“Everybody is making plays. Everybody is healthy. Everybody is eating right, and she’s been a big part,” Titan linebacker Brian Orakpo told ESPN. You find Chef Morgan’s recipes on her website.

The players say they were also motivated by the documentaries What the Health and Forks Over Knives.

The Titans are up against last year’s Super Bowl winners, the New England Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady, who led the Patriots to four Super Bowl wins, is a longtime proponent of plant-based diets and has inspired teammates like Rob Gronkowski to try out a more plant-heavy diet this season.

“I feel looser. I feel my mobility has increased a lot. I feel way more pliable,” Gronkowski said after 12 weeks of working with Brady and his trainer Alex Guerrero this preseason to improve his diet and incorporate more stretching into his workouts.

Good luck to both teams this weekend. No matter the outcome, plant-based diets will prevail!

Healthy Plant-Based Holiday Centerpieces

November 27, 2017   Dr. Neal Barnard   vegan


By Lee Crosby, R.D., L.D.

Meatless Monday holiday centerpieces
Eileen Whelan and Lee Crosby, R.D., L.D.

We all know that we should eat our fruits and vegetables during the holiday season. They not only help prevent holiday weight gain and give our immune systems a boost, but they can brighten up the holiday table, too! This morning, I stopped by Washington’s WJLA today to share ideas for healthy and simple holiday centerpieces:

Bejeweled Fruit Tree

1.  Bejeweled Fruit Tree

Whether at the center of your table or in place of a candy bowl, this tree is simple, beautiful, and healthy. Your kids will love helping you create it. All you need is toothpicks, a bamboo skewer, and your favorite fruits—the more colorful the better! Be sure to load up on blue and purple berries, like blackberries and blueberries. They get their color from pigments called anthocyanins, which may help improve brain function.

Pomander Oranges

2. Pomander Oranges

Wow your guests with this all-natural method of making your house smell amazing! Simply decorate oranges with whole cloves and stack in a glass bowl or vase. Added bonus? A small study showed that just the smell of citrus may help with depression and boost immunity.

Pomegranate and Tangerine Bowls

3. Pomegranate and Tangerine Bowls

Officially the easiest holiday centerpiece in the history of centerpieces: Fill a bowl with pomegranates and flank with two smaller bowls of tangerines. Be sure to grab extra so you can snack on these throughout the holiday season. Pomegranates may help fight prostate cancer, while tangerines have vitamin A and vitamin C, both of which are needed for a healthy immune system.

Cranberry Candles

4. Cranberry Candles

Add some greens to the bottom of small jars or vases, fill with water, float cranberries or blueberries, and top with a floating candle. Beautiful, fast, and easy! Plus, cranberries contain resveratrol, the heart-healthy chemical also found in grape juice.

Three-Tiered Treat Tower

5. Three-Tiered Treat Tower

Use fruits, veggies, nuts, and plant-based cheeses to create a beautiful, edible centerpiece for your holiday table. Added bonus? The healthful fruits, vegetables, and small amounts of nuts and seeds in this tower can help protect your loved ones’ hearts.


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