Posts Tagged ‘heart disease’

Weekly Review: Paleo Diet v. Vegan

So in my quest to find the perfect diet (which I have definitely not achieved by any means), I’ve come across two diets that have gotten a lot of attention; vegan diet and the paleo diet. Both diets claim to be the most natural, healthy diet possible; able to reduce your chronic diseases and allow you to live a healthier, happier life. They both claim to be scientifically sound, only including foods that we were designed or evolved to eat. And yet, the paleo diet consists mostly of meat, while the vegan diet includes no animal products at all. How can both of these diets claim to be so healthy but not include some of the same major food groups?

In case you’re not familiar with these diets, let me give you a little background.

Vegan: This diet does not permit any animal products. That means no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no butter. A vegan eats mainly fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains.

Paleo: This is a newer fad based on what the human diet supposedly consisted of during the Paleolithic Era, approximately 10,000 years ago. The diet relies heavily of meat, vegetables and starchy plants. Most variations eat some legumes, but not many. Grains are not encouraged and dairy is not allowed in the diet.

Whenever I’m stumped about the best possible diet or exercise, I turn to my favorite source of knowledge… It’s a great search engine specifically for scientific, peer-reviewed journal articles. If you ever read a crazy health or scientific claim and want to check out the truth for yourself, pubmed is a great place to start. So, what is the real science behind these diets? Have they actually been tested?

Vegan: The science behind this diet became mainstream with the publication of The China Study by Dr. Campbell. This was an enormous epidemiological study of the population in China that showed increases in chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes associated with increases in animal products. Basically, the people who ate the most meat and dairy were the most sick. In the literature, I also found that a plant-based diet was associated with improvements in blood glucose (improved diabetes), and reduction in heart disease and inflammation. I had a difficult time finding any research to suggest that a vegan diet harmed people’s health, however I do want to make the caveat that all subjects in these studies were supervised by a nutritionist or physician. Vegans do need to be careful to eat enough calcium, vitamin D, iron and B12.

Paleo: The research for the paleo diet is a little thinner, mostly because this diet hasn’t been developed for very long, and some people can’t seem to agree on exactly what the diet should consist of. There is a nice review article I found that summarizes the research, if you’re interested. In a few randomized controlled trials, the paleo diet did seem to reduce the symptoms of diabetes, and in some studies had a positive effect on BMI.  In another study, the paleo diet reduced inflammation and markers of cardiovascular disease as well. However, most of these studies had a small number of participants and were short term. There may be risks associated with having such a high protein diet and a diet high in saturated fat, so consult your doctor before starting this one.

So who wins? Well, I like to take the best of both worlds. Both diets emphasize a heavy intake of vegetables and fruits, and both diets exclude processed foods and refined sugars. As far as the meat v. grain debate, I still choose to eat both in moderation and choose lower saturated fat options if at all possible.

What do you think? Have you tried either of these diets?


The Unfortunate Truth about Sitting

Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself out the door to exercise. That couch and tv just sound so much more inviting, and besides, you’re so tired from a long day of work. There are just some days when that work out isn’t going to happen. I know. 

Well, this may come as surprising news, but the way you spent your day may be even more important to your health than whether or not you squeeze in that 30 minute workout. I was first made aware of the potential health hazards of sitting at a seminar at the University of South Carolina, where I listened to a speaker discuss his latest research. He found that time spent sitting during the day was a stronger predictor of health and disease risk than time spent exercising, and those who spent 8 hours a day in a chair were potentially in serious trouble. What is especially troubling is that according to an article published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (MSSE) in 2009, leisure time physical activity does not reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) if you sit all day. Meaning, for all of you who have a desk job, getting in that 30 minutes a day may not be enough to improve your long term health.

Don’t lose hope however! There is a way to prevent this, even if you do have a desk job. All you need to do is get up and move every 30 minutes to an hour, even just to walk across the office or up a flight of stairs. Just the act of contracting your major muscle groups for a few minutes at a time can be enough to offset the effects of being sedentary all day. Here are a few tips to help you stay active in an inactive job:

1. Drink a lot of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated, but it will make sure that you have to make multiple trips to the bathroom. Even just that quick walk to the bathroom counts as physical activity, because you are standing and engaging major muscle groups.

2. Use a restroom on another floor if possible. Stairs are your new best friend in the fight to prevent heart disease, and if you work in a building with multiple floors, find a bathroom that you have to walk up a flight of stairs (or two, or three) to get to.

3. Set an alarm. You don’t want to be sitting an stationary for more than 30 minutes if at all possible, but sometimes you get wrapped up in work and forget. If you set an alarm every 30 or 60 minutes, that will remind you just to stand up and take a couple of laps around the office.

4. Stand up for lunch. The more time you can spend in a standing position, the better. Standing up forces you to contract stabilization muscles and your Vo2 (the volume of oxygen you intake to distribute to your muscles) doubles. Make it a habit to remain standing through the duration of your lunch break.

Just following these simple tips will help you reduce your risk for heart disease, AND you’ll be burning more calories during the day. Regular exercise is still important in maintaining a healthy weight, but on those days when you just can’t get yourself out the door, you can still feel good about taking the stairs at work!

Are you all interested in why sitting is bad for you? I’d be happy to write a post about the physiological mechanisms, but I didn’t want to bore you. Leave me a comment if you’d like to learn more!


The Bare Minimum

If you’re trying to convince your significant other that they need to change their lifestyle, sometimes the hardest thing is just to get them started. You’re sure that once they get going, they’ll feel so good they’ll want to continue, but making those first steps off the couch are always the hardest. The first question they may be asking you is “how much do I actually have to exercise?”, or really, “what’s the bare minimum I need to do in order to be healthy?” Well, I have good news; it may be less than you think!

Epidemiological evidence has shown that it actually takes a minimal amount of moderate exercise to reduce your risk of chronic disease and all-cause mortality (dying for any reason in a given period of time).  There were several major studies done to look at the relationship between physical activity and chronic disease which found that as little as 2-4 hours a week of moderate activity can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality by up to 40%! That’s only 30 minutes a day of moderate activity 4-5 times per week.

You might be wondering what actually counts as “moderate activity.” Don’t worry; it doesn’t involve running a 6 minute mile or gasping for air. Think more along the lines of a brisk walk.  Any continuous exercise that involves most major muscle groups and elevates your heart rate to about 120-140 bpm counts as moderate exercise. The exercise should be hard enough that you feel a little breathless, but you can still talk to someone walking next to you.

What’s even better is that this 30 minutes you’re supposed to get in 5 times a week doesn’t even need to be in one exercise bout. You can walk 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening and still get the same disease-preventing benefits! So, the next time your significant other is complaining about how much work it is to get healthy, all you need to tell him (or her) is that just a quick walk before work and a walk after dinner is all they need to do!


%d bloggers like this: