Saturday, November 17, 2012
Nearly a decade of extra life -- that's what you get when you move away from eating animal foods and toward a plant-based diet. This is really exciting science for anyone seeking healthy longevity (and who isn't?)!
According to a recent report on the largest study of vegetarians and vegans to date, those eating plant-based diets appear to have a significantly longer life expectancy. Vegetarians live on average almost eight years longer than the general population, which is similar to the gap between smokers and nonsmokers. This is not surprising, given the reasons most of us are dying. In an online video, "Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death," Michael Greger, M.D. explores the role a healthy diet can play in preventing, treating, and even reversing the top 15 killers in the United States. Let's take a closer look at what the good doctor has pulled together...
Heart disease is our leading cause of death. The 35-year follow-up of the Harvard Nurses Health Study was recently published, now the most definitive long-term study on older women's health. Dietary cholesterol intake -- only found in animal foods -- was associated with living a significantly shorter life and fiber intake -- only found in plant foods -- was associated with living a significantly longer life. Consuming the amount of cholesterol found in just a single egg a day may cut a woman's life short as much as smoking five cigarettes daily for 15 years, whereas eating a daily cup of oatmeal's worth of fiber appears to extend a woman's life as much as four hours of jogging a week. (But there's no reason we can't do both!)
What if your cholesterol's normal, though? I hear that a lot. But here's the thing: having a "normal" cholesterol in a society where it's "normal" to drop dead of a heart attack is not necessarily a good thing. According to the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, "For the build-up of plaque in our arteries to cease, it appears that the serum total cholesterol needs to be lowered to the 150 area. In other words the serum total cholesterol must be lowered to that of the average pure vegetarian."
More than 20 years ago, Dr. Dean Ornish showed that heart disease could not just be stopped but actually reversed with a vegan diet, arteries opened up without drugs or surgery. Since this lifestyle cure was discovered, hundreds of thousands have died unnecessary deaths. What more does one have to know about a diet that reverses our deadliest disease?
Cancer is killer number two. Ah, the dreaded "C" word -- but look at this hopeful science. According to the largest forward-looking study on diet and cancer so far performed, "the incidence of all cancers combined is lower among vegetarians." The link between meat and cancer is such that even a paper published in the journal Meat Science recently asked, "Should we become vegetarians, or can we make meat safer?" There are a bunch of additives under investigation to suppress the toxic effects the blood-based "heme" iron, for example, which could provide what they called an "acceptable" way to prevent cancer. Why not just reduce meat consumption? The meat science researchers noted that if such public health guidance were adhered to, "Cancer incidence may be reduced, but farmers and [the] meat industry would suffer important economical problems..." Hmmm, so Big Ag chooses profit over health; what a surprise.
After Dr. Ornish's team showed that the bloodstreams of men eating vegan for a year had nearly eight times the cancer-stopping power, a series of elegant experiments showed that women could boost their defenses against breast cancer after just two weeks on a plant-based diet. See the before and after here. If you or anyone you know has ever had a cancer scare, this research will make your heart soar. Because there is real, true hope -- something you can do to stave off "the big C."
So, the top three leading causes of death used to be heart disease, cancer, then stroke, but the latest CDC stats place COPD third -- lung diseases such as emphysema. Surprisingly, COPD can be prevented with the help of a plant-based diet, and can even be treated with plants. Of course, the tobacco industry viewed these landmark findings a little differently. Instead of adding plants to one's diet to prevent emphysema, wouldn't it be simpler to just add them to the cigarettes? Hence the study "Addition of Açaí [Berries] to Cigarettes Has a Protective Effect Against Emphysema in [Smoking] Mice." Seriously.
The meat industry tried the same tack. Putting fruit extracts in burgers was not without its glitches, though. The blackberries "literally dyed burger patties with a distinct purplish color," and though it was possible to improve the nutritional profile of frankfurters with powdered grape seeds, there were complaints that the grape seed "particles became visible" in the final product. And if there's one thing we know about hot dog eaters, it's that they're picky about what goes in their food!
Onward to strokes: The key to preventing strokes may be to eat potassium-rich foods. Though Chiquita may have had a good PR firm, bananas don't even make the top 50 sources. The leading whole food sources include dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and dates. We eat so few plants that 98 percent of Americans don't even reach the recommended minimum daily intake of potassium. And if you look at killer number five -- accidents -- bananas (and their peels) could be downright dangerous!
Alzheimer's disease is now our sixth leading killer. We've known for nearly 20 years now that those who eat meat -- including chicken and fish -- appear three times more likely to become demented compared to long-term vegetarians. Exciting new research suggests one can treat Alzheimer's using natural plant products such as the spice saffron, which beat out placebo and worked as well as a leading Alzheimer's drug.
Diabetes is next on the kick-the-bucket list. Plant-based diets help prevent, treat, and even reverse Type 2 diabetes. Since vegans are, on average, about 30 pounds skinnier than meat-eaters, this comes as no surprise; but researchers found that vegans appear to have just a fraction of the diabetes risk, even after controlling for their slimmer figures.
Kidney failure, our eighth leading cause of death, may also be prevented and treated with a plant-based diet. The three dietary risk factors Harvard researchers found for declining kidney function were animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol, all of which are only found in animal products.
Leading killer number nine is respiratory infections. With flu shot season upon us, it's good to know that fruit and vegetable consumption can significantly boost one's protective immune response to vaccination. Check out the short video "Kale and the Immune System," and you'll see there's not much kale can't do.
Suicide is number 10. Oh yes, vegan food even has something good to offer on this one! Cross-sectional studies have shown that the moods of those on plant-based diets tend to be superior, but taken in just a snapshot in time one can't tease out cause-and-effect. Maybe happier people end up eating healthier and not the other way around. But this year an interventional trial was published in which all meat, poultry, fish, and eggs were removed from people's diets and a significant improvement in mood scores was found after just two weeks. It can take drugs like Prozac a month or more to take effect. So you may be able to get happier faster by cutting out animal foods than by using drugs.
Drugs can help with the other conditions as well, but instead of taking one drug for cholesterol every day for the rest of your life, maybe a few for high blood pressure or diabetes, the same diet appears to work across the board without the risk of drug side-effects. One study found that prescription medications kill an estimated 106,000 Americans every year. That's not from errors or overdose, but from adverse drug reactions, arguably making doctors the sixth leading cause of death.
Based on a study of 15,000 American vegetarians, those that eat meat have about twice the odds of being on antacids, aspirin, blood pressure medications, insulin, laxatives, painkillers, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers. So plant-based diets are great for those that don't like taking drugs, paying for drugs, or risking adverse side effects.
Imagine if, like President Clinton, our nation embraced a plant-based diet. Imagine if we just significantly cut back on animal products. There is one country that tried. After World War II, Finland joined us in packing on the meat, eggs, and dairy. By the 1970s, the mortality rate from heart disease of Finnish men was the highest in the world, and so they initiated a country-wide program to decrease their saturated fat intake. Farmers were encouraged to switch from dairies to berries. Towns were pitted against each other in friendly cholesterol-lowering competitions. Their efforts resulted in an 80 percent drop in cardiac mortality across the entire country.
Conflicts of interest on the U.S. dietary guidelines committee may have prevented similar action from our own government, but with our health-care crisis deepening, our obesity epidemic widening, and the health of our nation's children in decline, we may need to take it upon our selves, families, and communities to embrace Food Day ideals of healthy, affordable, sustainable foods by moving towards a more plant-centered diet. If we do, we may be afforded added years to enjoy the harvest.
For a plan on how to eat this way, check out The Lean!
For more by Kathy Freston, click here.
For more on diet and nutrition, click here.
Also on HuffPost:
We asked two experts in plant-based eating -- Amy Lanou, Ph.D., an associate professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina Asheville, and Vandana Sheth, R.D., C.D.E, a Los Angeles-based dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics -- for their advice for people who are just starting out on a vegan diet.
Vegetarians Live Longer, Study Finds
By Annie Hauser Some vegetarians can be awfully superior about the health benefits of their plant-based diet. What they might not know is they...
Vegan Diet Mistakes: 5 Common Pitfalls When Starting A Purely Plant-Based Diet
Thinking about adopting a purely plant-based diet? We get it -- after all, it's been linked with decreased stress and increased happiness. And who can...
'The Plant-Powered Diet' Cookbook Extols The Benefits Of Going Meatless
By Dorene Internicola NEW YORK, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Nutrition writer and registered dietitian Sharon Palmer believes that for weight loss, optimal health and longer...
8 Ways Vegetarian Is Good For The Planet
Plant-based diets are growing in popularity with every passing day. An estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population was vegetarian or vegan in 2011, compared...
Kathy Freston: Why Do Vegetarians Live Longer?
If you’re an American, odds are good that you’re overweight or obese.
That’s bad for your health but good for those who try to help you fight the war on fat.
After all in 2009, direct medical and healthcare costs spent on overweight or obese Americans hit $159 billion — up at a 9.4% annual rate from 2003.
Any by 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services expects that figure to climb at a 6.5% annual rate to $319 billion.
By the end of 2012, those overweight or obese Americans are expected to spend $61 billion on products and services to help them drop weight, including:
- Diet foods, drinks, and low-calorie sweeteners;
- Health clubs and workout videos;
- Medically supervised and commercial weight loss programs;
- Children’s weight-loss camps;
- Diet books; and
- Appetite suppressants.
So there’s no wonder that there are 24,900 competitors vying for it, according to IBISWorld.
And they try to win based on their program’s recognition, reputation, effectiveness, safety and price.
In this highly fragmented industry, IBISWorld estimates the market shares of four leaders:
- Weight Watchers International (WTW): 3% market share and $1.8 billion in 2012 revenue,
- Nutrisystem (NTRI): 0.7% and $400 million,
- Medifast (MED): 0.6% and $365 million, and
- Nestle’s Jenny Craig: 0.5% and $319 million.
As David Burwick, President, North America, explained in an October 10 interview, Weight Watchers has a great founding story — experiencing three major stages in its development.
According to Burwick, “Weight Watchers was started in 1963 by a Queens housewife, Jean Nidetch, who was trying to lose weight.”
Nidetch attended sessions at the obesity clinic run by the New York City Board of Health that advised her “No skipping meals. Fish five times a week. Two pieces of bread and two glasses of skim milk a day. More fruits and vegetables.”
Nidetch lost weight but did not like the way the leader ran things so she started hosting friends in her living room, and eventually the group expanded until “dozens were crowding in.”
In those meetings, people discussed the challenges of losing weight and shared new strategies to help them reach their goals.
With advice from a pair of people who attended her meetings, Nidetch launched Weight Watchers International in 1963; and went global in 1967 with 102 franchises in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Great Britain and Israel.
In 1979, H.J. Heinz paid $71 million for Weight Watchers but disgorged it in 1999 to Invus (Invest in the U.S.).
Invus is an investor group founded by the Boston Consulting Group consultants who had advised a Belgian sugar company’s owners to sell their business and use some of the proceeds to invest in the U.S. — and that included buying Weight Watchers from Heinz. In November 2001, Invus sold shares to the public. Their value has risen 84% since then.
Weight Watchers offers consumers two services:
- Weight Watchers meetings: Weight Watchers staff “give members a private and confidential weigh-in, followed by a meeting facilitated by a Leader who also lost weight with the program. Members receive helpful tools, guides, strategies and tips in a supportive and caring environment, with 24 hour access to mobile and internet resources. Meeting fees vary with an average of $42.95 per month,” according to Burwick.
- Weight Watchers Online: Subscribers receive tools to follow the program “completely online at their own pace. Site are customized for the specific needs of men and women. Subscribers have access to “more than 40,000 food options, 3,500 recipes, and interactive tools to help manage daily food choices and activity. Prices vary starting at $5.00 per week.”
Burwick credits some of Weight Watchers recent success to its Points Plus program, based on “the latest nutritional science that factors in the way your body processes food.
Foods are assigned a PointsPlus value based on fat, fiber, carbohydrates and protein guiding you to make smarter food choices.”
Burwick pointed out that “foods laden with sugar and fat would have a higher PointsPlus value than a lean protein. Plus, all fruits and most vegetables have a zero PointsPlus value.
Members can also earn PointsPlus values for activity above and beyond regular daily activity.”
Burwick also pointed out that Weight Watchers is developing a so-called business-to-business strategy. Weight Watchers provides companies with membership options, including hosting meetings on their premises. This makes it possible for workers to obtain the benefits of the service without needing to leave the office.
Nutrisystem focuses just on the food. Its weight-management system is priced between $300 and $400 per month — consisting of monthly food packages, which contain a 28-day supply of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts.
But Nutrisystem is struggling thanks to that high sticker price that is costing the company some customers.
In 2011, it introduced price discounts that sliced into profits and may have contributed to the board’s decision not to renew CEO Joe Reding’s contract — though it has yet to hire a replacement.
Medifast is doing better. As Medifast Chairman and CEO, Michael MacDonald, explained in an October 19 interview, MacDonald took over in February 2012 from his late brother, Brad MacDonald, Executive Chairman of the Board of Medifast Emeritus.
Brad, who fostered Medifast’s growth and played a key role in building up the company’s highly successful Take Shape For Life division in which “10,800 happy Medifast health coaches provide encouragement, education, and mentoring to clients and guide then as they lose weight on the Medifast 5 & 1 Plan.”
Medifast sells weight-loss products including “meal options that range from bars and shakes to hearty soups.” The Medifast weight loss program requires that clients “choose five of 70 Medifast meals” eat one bar at breakfast, another at lunch, and then consume one meal that they prepare for themselves.
Medifast distributes its products through four channels: Medifast Direct (its e-commerce site), Take Shape for Life, 88 corporate and 32 franchise Weight Control Centers, and medical providers.
Within the next five years, MacDonald forecasts that Medifast will become a billion dollar company. He sees its Take Shape for Life unit growing from its current $200 million; its franchises expanding from 32 amd to open 40 more centers in the next three or four years; and its partnership with MedEx, a Mexican pharmaceutical company that will distribute its products as a way prevent obesity among citizens in Mexico City through 5,000 physicians.
Jenny Craig – it offers personalized counseling through 700 retail outlets, over the phone or Internet and sells 80 food items — is struggling.
According to its June 2012 Half Year report, ”Unfortunately, [Jenny Craig] continues to be under pressure in the U.S. We continue to take corrective actions and it’s taking longer time for us to see some results to materialize.”
But as Jenny Craig CEO, Dana Fiser, explained in an October 26 interview, the company has a huge growth opportunity thanks to its approach to alleviating the growing obesity and epidemic.
According to Fiser, “Projected increases in obesity rates and heart disease by 2030 are shocking.”
Fiser believes that Jenny Craig meets the need — underscored by this epidemic — for a “more proactive approach to weight loss and weight management.”
PMRI is tapping its influence — Bill Clinton is a fan of Ornish’s approach — and reams of medical research to encourage people to make diet and lifestyle changes that can reverse heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
In an October 10 interview from his Sausalito, Calif.-office, Ornish explained that he set up PMRI in 1993 as a public non-profit research institute to investigate the effects of diet and lifestyle choices on health and disease.
Ornish cited a series of studies published in medical journals indicating that changes to diet and lifestyle could:
- Reverse heart disease,
- Help people lose 16 pounds within a year,
- Slow the growth of prostate cancer, and
- Change the makeup of genes by adding telomerase to them.
Ornish was proud to note that after years of PMRI’s effort, Medicare officials reviewed the medical research necessary to conclude that Medicare should cover patients’ costs for the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease, which teaches a plant-based, meatless diet, meditation and regular exercise.
This program costs about $30,000 per patient. In 2010, Medicare officially approved this program as an intensive cardiac rehab program, and the first patients started in May 2011.
But making money is not Ornish’s goal; instead he says, “I should make enough to get by.
The true measure of my life will be how many lives I changed for the better.”
The opportunity to help Americans fight fat is huge and growing — and in this fragmented market there are plenty of ways to make money off of it.
Whether any of them permanently reverse the trend remains to be seen.
Weight Watchers Winning $61 Billion War On Fat - Forbes