The Plant Rx

Your resource for a plant-based diet

Posts Tagged ‘weight’

Doctor Dialogue – How the conversation really should go…

Posted by Jenn on January 31, 2013

Doctor Dialogue

How every physician should practice…

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How does a plant-based diet prevent disease? A short lesson

Posted by Jenn on January 31, 2011

There is an ever-growing mountain of evidence substantiating the numerous health benefits that a plant-based diet provides.

This colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of red blood cells in an artery shows a layer of endothelial cells (beige) surrounded by muscle (pink). by: Steve Gschmeissner / Photo Researchers Inc.

Peer-reviewed medical paper after peer-reviewed medical paper published in the most well-respected of journals have shown that a plant-based diet free of meat and dairy products is the single most powerful tool we have at our disposal to prevent and fight disease.

Not only can heart disease and diabetes be prevented but the disease progression can be stopped and reversed. If that wasn’t enough there is a multitude of research showing how the consumption of a plant-based diet’s can prevent cancer, dramatically reduce cancer recurrence rates, reduce cognitive impairment as we age (Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia) and reduce osteoporosis in addition to a myriad of others. This being the case, how exactly does something as seemingly simple and low-tech as one’s diet manage to do these things?

The short answer is this: via a gas called nitric oxide which is produced by our endothelial cells.  The problem with this very brief explanation is that most people have never heard of nitric oxide, much less endothelial cells. Consequently, that probably isn’t going to help most people understand how the very important the daily decision to eat a plant-based diet is able to accomplish such incredible feats.

What the heck are endothelial cells? and what the heck is Nitric Oxide (NO)? and how do they accomplish the mammoth task of keeping us healthy?

Endothelial cells are the thin single-layer of cells that line the interior surface of all blood vessels.  They are the cells that come in direct contact with blood flowing through our cardiovascular system.  A “healthy” endothelium can be best described as having like a Teflon coating on the vessels’ inner walls; this non-sticky quality enhancing the flow of blood.  An “unhealthy” endothelium, by contrast, acts like Velcro, grabbing white blood cells, platelets and cholesterol and packing them against the inner wall of the blood vessels narrowing them = causing the vessels to thicken over time, thereby inhibiting the flow of blood. This accumulation of “material” leads to the formation of  what are called atherosclerotic “plaques”.

healthy vs unhealthy endothelium

A healthy endothelium is not being covered by any plaque and therefore has the ability to release many beneficial substances into the blood stream.  An unhealthy endothelium  eventually narrows and thickens and resultantly loses flexibility.  The vessels can no longer expand as they should when the heart pumps blood through them. Pumping blood into stiff arteries containing plaque increases resistance to blood flow causing the heart to work harder. Your blood pressure must increase to pump the same volume of blood through these vessels.

That being said, what then determines the overall health of our endothelial cells that make up our endothelium? In other words what makes our endothelium non-stick or sticky?

That is where Nitric Oxide (NO) comes in. Remember, a healthy endothelium is able to release many beneficial substances into our blood stream.  (Note: we are born with a very healthy endothelium which means until we create an environment in which plaques are created, our vessels are healthy, slick and without plaque)  Nitric oxide is one of these substances.  Nitric oxide has a number of important functions.  One of its primary functions according to Dr. Louis J. Ignarro, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine,

“…is to help keep the arteries and veins free of the plaque that causes stroke and to maintain normal blood pressure by relaxing arteries, thereby regulating the rate of blood flow and preventing coronaries (heart attacks)”.

He goes on to explain that,

“Nitric oxide is the body’s natural cardiovascular wonder drug”.

NO accomplishes this by controlling muscle tone of the blood vessels which directly impacts blood pressure control, inhibiting the aggregation of platelets and other particulate such as cholesterol and white blood cells.

Other functions worthy of note include: facilitation of proper kidney function, aiding in the transmission of messages between nerve cells, helping the immune system fight  viral, bacterial and parasitic infections as well as tumors, peristalsis, regulating inflammation, lowering of cholesterol levels and penile erection. Let’s discuss one of these functions in more detail to illustrate.

For example, erection of the penis during sexual excitation is mediated by NO release from the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels of the penis.  The NO release from the endothelial cells cause the blood to pool in the adjacent blood sinuses producing an erection.  Thus, if NO cannot be produced (or produced in sufficient amounts) as the result of a damaged endothelium, then an erection cannot occur. This is why difficulty getting or maintaining an erection is indicative of impending or active heart disease (= ample accumulation of plaque).  If you are currently experiencing impotence, it would be a very good idea to see your doctor such that he or she can discern the cause.

How a poor diet results in poor erections

Causes of endothelial damage  and resultant plaque formation:

  • Smoking – it decreases good cholesterol (HDL) and increases bad cholesterol (LDL) that damages your endothelial cells. Further, nicotine directly damages endothelial cells and the carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke damages the endothelium too.
  • A high fat, high cholesterol diet (particularly animal fat from meat and dairy products; plants do NOT have cholesterol) – LDL directly damages endothelial cells.
  • A diet low in fiber content (animal products do NOT contain any fiber) – High fiber foods absorb bile salts that your body uses in digestion.  Your liver manufactures bile from cholesterol.  Thus, high fiber foods are a natural way to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Diabetes – When blood sugars are beyond the normal range it causes oxidative stress to the endothelial cells resulting in damage to them.
  • Being overweight or obese – Fat cells store vitamin D and vitamin D inhibits vessel calcification (plaques eventually get harder as a result of calcification). Thus, losing weight or being at a healthy weight keeps the vitamin D in your system allowing for utilization thereby preventing plaque calcification. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Alzheimer's Disease, Cancer Prevention, Cholesterol, Dementia, Depression, Diabetes, Heart Disease, In the Media, Inflammation, Stroke, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Protein in a Plant-based Diet: Is combining necessary?

Posted by Jenn on December 20, 2010

Diversity in dry common beans

Image via Wikipedia

It is very easy for a plant-based diet to meet the recommendations for protein, as long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein combining is not necessary; it is more important to eat a varied diet throughout the day.

Some Americans are obsessed with protein. Vegans are bombarded with questions about where they get their protein. Athletes used to eat thick steaks before competition because they thought it would improve their performance. Protein supplements are sold at health food stores. This concern about protein is misplaced. Although protein is certainly an essential nutrient which plays many key roles in the way our bodies function, we do not need huge quantities of it. In reality, we need small amounts of protein. Only one calorie out of every ten we take in needs to come from protein 1. Athletes do not need much more protein than the general public 2. Protein supplements are expensive, unnecessary, and even harmful for some people.

How much protein do we need? The RDA recommends that we take in 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh (or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that we weigh) 1. This recommendation includes a generous safety factor for most people. When we make a few adjustments to account for some plant proteins being digested somewhat differently from animal proteins and for the amino acid mix in some plant proteins, we arrive at a level of 1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight (0.45 grams of protein per pound that we weigh). Since vegans eat a variety of plant protein sources, somewhere between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per kilogram would be a protein recommendation for vegans. If we do a few calculations we see that the protein recommendation for vegans amounts to close to 10% of calories coming from protein. [For example, a 79 kg vegan male aged 25 to 50 years could have an estimated calorie requirement of 2900 calories per day. His protein needs might be as high as 79 kg x 1 gram/kg = 79 grams of protein. 79 grams of protein x 4 calories/gram of protein = 316 calories from protein per day. 316 calories from protein divided by 2900 calories = 10.1% of calories from protein.] If we look at what vegans are eating, we find that between 10-12% of calories come from protein 3. This contrasts with the protein intake of non-vegetarians, which is close to 14-18% of calories.

So, in the United States it appears that vegan diets are commonly lower in protein than standard American diets. Remember, though, with protein, more (than the RDA) is not necessarily better. There do not appear to be health advantages to consuming a high protein diet. Diets that are high in protein may even increase the risk of osteoporosis 4 and kidney disease 5.

Table 1: Sample Menus Showing How Easy It Is To Meet Protein Needs
Protein (grams)
Breakfast: 1 cup Oatmeal 6
1 cup Soymilk 7
1 Bagel 9

Lunch: 2 slices Whole Wheat Bread 5
1 cup Vegetarian Baked Beans 12

Dinner: 5 oz firm Tofu 11
1 cup cooked Broccoli 4
1 cup cooked Brown Rice 5
2 Tbsp Almonds 4

Snack: 2 Tbsp Peanut Butter 8
6 Crackers 2
TOTAL 73 grams

Protein Recommendation for Male Vegan [based on 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight for 70 kilogram (154 pound) male]

56-70 grams
Breakfast: 2 slices Whole Wheat Toast 5
2 Tbsp Peanut Butter 8

Lunch: 6 oz. Soy Yogurt 6
2 Tbsp Almonds 4
1 Baked Potato 4

Dinner: 1 cup cooked Lentils 18
1 cup cooked Bulgur 6

Snack: 1 cup Soymilk 7
TOTAL 58 grams

Protein Recommendation for Female Vegan [based on 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight for 57.5 kilogram (126 pound) female]

46-58 grams
*Additional food should be added to these menus to provide adequate calories and to meet requirements for nutrients besides protein.

Table 2 shows the amount of protein in various vegan foods and also the number of grams of protein per 100 calories. To meet protein recommendations, the typical adult male vegan needs only 2.5 to 2.9 grams of protein per 100 calories and the typical adult female vegan needs only 2.1 to 2.4 grams of protein per 100 calories. These recommendations can be easily met from vegan sources.

Table 2: Protein Content of Selected Vegan Foods
Tempeh 1 cup 41 9.3
Seitan 3 ounces 31 22.1
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 29 9.6
Lentils, cooked 1 cup 18 7.8
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 15 6.7
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 13 6.4
Veggie burger 1 patty 13 13.0
Chickpeas, cooked 1 cup 12 4.2
Veggie baked beans 1 cup 12 5.0
Pinto beans, cooked 1 cup 12 5.7
Black-eyed peas, cooked 1 cup 11 6.2
Tofu, firm 4 ounces 11 11.7
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 10 5.7
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 9 3.5
Tofu, regular 4 ounces 9 10.6
Bagel 1 med.
(3 oz)
9 3.9
Peas, cooked 1 cup 9 6.4
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), cooked 1/2 cup 8 8.4
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp 8 4.3
Veggie dog 1 link 8 13.3
Spaghetti, cooked 1 cup 8 3.7
Almonds 1/4 cup 8 3.7
Soy milk, commercial, plain 1 cup 7 7.0
Soy yogurt, plain 6 ounces 6 4.0
Bulgur, cooked 1 cup 6 3.7
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 6 3.3
Whole wheat bread 2 slices 5 3.9
Cashews 1/4 cup 5 2.7
Almond butter 2 Tbsp 5 2.4
Brown rice, cooked 1 cup 5 2.1
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 5 13.0
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 4 6.8
Potato 1 med.
(6 oz)
4 2.7
Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18, 2005 and manufacturers’ information. 

The recommendation for protein for adult males vegans is around 56-70 grams per day; for adult female vegans it is around 46-58 grams per day (see text). Read the rest of this entry »

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