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Venus vs. Serena: Plant-Powered Australian Open Finals

January 26, 2017   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Whether you’re rooting for Venus or Serena Williams to win this Saturday’s Australian Open, the real prizewinner is already plant-powered diets. Good luck to both sisters, who pump up their performance with plants!

A vegan diet actually helped Venus—who at 36 is the oldest Australian Open singles finalist—get back in the game after autoimmune disease halted her career in 2011.

“I literally couldn’t play tennis anymore, so it really changed my life,” she recently told Health. “Because it was starting to take away what I loved, I had to make some changes; I had to change my life. Thankfully, I was able to find something that helped me get back to doing what I loved.”

The Williams sisters aren’t the only sports figures fueling their games with fruits and veggies this weekend. This Saturday, vegan racecar driver Andy Lally hopes to win the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Why are so many athletes choosing plant power? The Washington Post recently interviewed athletes, including NFL player David Carter, to find out why and how they stay strong. Protein is definitely not a problem.

“The emphasis really is on having a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day, and, because protein is found in varying amounts in plants, legumes, grains and nuts, it’s pretty easy to get to the recommended amount,” my colleague Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., who specializes in sports dietetics, told The Post. “Most athletes don’t need a different diet, they just need more calories.”

Good luck to Serena, Venus, and Andy this weekend—and to all athletes in their plant-powered pursuits!

2016’s Top 10 Vegan Moments

December 30, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Plant-based diets had a successful year. In 2016, we saw vegan diets at the Olympics and French Open, prominent scientists and government officials embraced plants, and thanks to an infamous Facebook rant, “Gary” made a name for vegan cheese.  

Here are just a few of our favorite plant-based moments from 2016:

1. When the Dietary Guidelines praised vegetarian diets: In January, the government released a new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans that are the most vegan friendly version yet. The new guidelines strengthen recommendations for Americans to limit cholesterol consumption, specifically list vegetarian and vegan diets as health-promoting, and encourage Americans to consume more fruits and vegetables.

2. When Hellmann’s couldn’t beat vegan mayo, so they joined them: It wasn’t long ago that Hellmann’s sued plant-based company Hampton Creek for producing eggless mayo. That’s why it shocked many when in February, Hellmann’s introduced its own vegan mayo spread. 2016 has seen other food industry giants join the plant-based movement: Tyson Foods, the largest meat processor in the country, invested in vegan meat company Beyond Meat; Yoplait owner General Mills invested in Kite Hill, a vegan cheese and yogurt company; and last February, Ben & Jerry’s debuted its long-awaited line of vegan ice cream flavors.

3. When “Gary” made a name for vegan cheese: Upset by vegan cheeses being called “cheese,” a Facebook user suggested in September that these products be renamed “Gary.” The now infamous rant took the Internet by storm. It wasn’t the only time vegan cheese made headlines this year: Reports show that the vegan cheese industry is expanding, and Los Angeles even hosted its first vegan grilled cheese festival.

4. When experts predicted that going vegan would significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions: In March, a new study revealed that a shift toward a plant-based diet would cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent. It was a star-studded issue in 2016, with celebrities like Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and James Cameron using their platforms to raise awareness about the links between meat production and climate change.

5. When plants powered Team USA: Weightlifter Kendrick Farris the caught the nation’s attention by lifting a combined 787 pounds in Rio. How does he get his strength? From an all-vegan diet! Beach volleyball player April Ross also made headlines in Rio for winning an Olympic medal on her plant-powered diet. In 2016, other athletes who powered their performances with plants include NFL player Colin Kaepernick, the NBA’s Wilson Chandler,  and tennis star Novak Djokovic, who won his first French Open title, earned a career Grand Slam—and opened a vegan restaurant!

6. When plant-based “meats” swept the nation: At the beginning of the year, 55 percent of Americans reported that they planned to opt for more plant-based proteins in 2016. And they did. This year, we’ve seen a vegan burger bar change minds in Colorado, vegan tacos selling out in a bakery in Dallas, and a vegan hot dog stand wowing Nebraska – the country’s leading red-meat producing state. Overall, more than a third of Americans now consume meat alternatives, helping to drive the rapidly growing plant-based protein market.

7. When 100 doctors encouraged Americans to break the meat habit: In July, 100 doctors rallied in front of the White House to urge Americans to “break the meat habit” to improve their health. The doctors caught the attention of millions of people at the same time that a brand new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that eating animal protein increases the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, while eating plant protein reduces the risk.

8. When Barnard Medical Center opened its doors: In January 2016, Barnard Medical Center—a primary care facility that emphasizes the power of plant-based nutrition to help fight chronic diseases–proudly opened its doors to patients. Throughout the past year, hundreds of patients have benefited from consultations with physicians and dietitians, support groups, and nutrition education classes.

9. When plants were the key to DJ Khaled’s success: In March, DJ Khaled took to Snapchat to rave about the tasty new foods he was trying on his vegan diet and how he quickly lost weight and gained energy. Other celebrities who sang the praises of plant-based diets in 2016 include Waka Flocka Flame, Miley Cyrus, and Stevie Wonder.

10. When the research concluded that vegan diets are healthy: In December, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics released a position paper summing up the health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets. The paper concluded that eating plant-based is appropriate for people at all stages of life and that it can promote human health and improve the environment.

Carrie Fisher’s Heart Attack Is a Warning for Women

December 27, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Carrie Fisher, famous for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, died today after suffering a heart attack last week. In the coming days—as fans celebrate her life and mourn her untimely death—I hope that her heart attack will help create an urgently needed conversation about women’s heart health.

During the holiday season, everybody is at increased risk for a heart attack. But year-round, women face a greater danger than men: Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack.

What are the signs of a heart attack women should look for? The American Heart Association says that the most common symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. Women are also more likely than men to experience symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

While it’s important to know these signs, I’d say it’s equally important to know how to reduce your risk for a heart attack in the first place. Heart disease causes most heart attacks. It is also the No. 1 killer of women, causing a woman to die every minute.

How can women reduce heart disease risk? Don’t smoke. Stay active. Eat a low-fat, plant-based diet and avoid meat and dairy products to maintain a healthy weight and manage blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

A plant-based diet can also help restore your heart health after a heart attack. Take if from Betty Mizek, who survived a heart attack this April. She recently joined me on the ABC News affiliate in Washington, D.C., to talk about how becoming a Barnard Medical Center patient and transitioning to a plant-based diet has improved her heart health. You can watch her inspiring story here: 

Visit PCRM.org/HeartHealth to learn more.

Five Ways to Fight the 'Christmas Coronary'

December 16, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

It may be the "most wonderful" time of the year--but it's also the most dangerous time of the year. Have you heard of the "Christmas Coronary"? There is a two-week spike in cardiac deaths between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7. But there are steps you can take now to keep your heart healthy this holiday season and into 2017 and beyond.

  1. Hold the Holiday Ham. Processed meats--like holiday hams and "gift" baskets packed with sausage and pepperoni--are dangerous to your heart. Just 50 grams of processed meat a day--about a slice or two of ham--increases the risk for death from heart disease by 24 percent, not to mention its effect on colon cancer risk.
  2. Empty the Egg Nog. Traditional egg nog is loaded with eggs and high-fat dairy products. People who consume the most eggs can increase their risk for heart disease by 19 percent. For people with diabetes, the risk for developing heart disease from eating eggs can increase by 83 percent. The dairy in egg nog is equally dangerous. One study found that for each glass of milk consumed per day, the risk of dying from heart disease increased.
  3. Chuck the Cheese Ball. Cheese is the No. 1 source of saturated fat in the American diet and can increase the risk of early death from heart disease. Cheese is also a leading source of sodium and has as much cholesterol--ounce per ounce--as steak, raising the risk for heart disease.
  4. Prepare a Plant-Based Plate. A recent study found that those following a plant-based diet had lower mortality rates from heart disease, compared to omnivores. Try our holiday menus.
  5. Kickstart Your New Year. Sign-up for the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart that begins Jan. 1.

USDA: Dump Surplus Cheese on Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton

December 8, 2016   Dr. Neal Barnard   ,

Yesterday, members of Congress voted on Texas queso (melted cheese) versus Arkansas cheese dip (Arkansas “won”). Finally, a solution for what the U.S. Department of Agriculture should do with its millions of pounds of surplus cheese: Dump it on Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the cheese-obsessed senators who started the cheesy rivalry. It’s better than the USDA’s current plan to distribute the disease-causing stuff to federal food programs.

 

I say let these cheese-loving members of Congress foot the USDA’s $20 million cheese bill. But as a physician, I have to warn them: Typical cheeses are 70 percent fat and are among the foods highest in cholesterol and sodium, exacerbating obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

 

The USDA could then take that $20 million and purchase more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains that will help keep federal food program participants healthy. If you agree, sign our petition telling the USDA not to dump fatty cheese into federal food programs.

 

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