Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Beth's Amazing Story

Once again, I'm very happy to share the success of another one of my friends. This story shows the dramatic impact of cleaning one's diet can make. It also shows the benefits that can be gained without without having to go completely one way or another. I'd like to thank Beth and Nick for the opportunity to help them, but also for their willingness to share their successes. I'd also like to publicly congratulate them on their recent engagement! 

The 2013 holiday season came and went, but those extra pounds I inevitably put on during it chose to stay behind. Beyond frustrated and angry at myself for allowing this to happen yet again, I decided “Ok, this weekend is my last hoorah, then I’m going on a strict diet.” That particular weekend, my boyfriend Nick and I planned a day trip to NYC to visit an old college friend, Anthony. Anthony is a dedicated vegan, and when Nick and I told him we were going on diets, his response back to us was, “Don’t diet, change your diet.” Those wise words opened the door to one of the most informative conversations of my life.

Though Anthony has tried to help us change our diets in the past, this time Nick and I actually listened and wanted to learn how we could not just diet to lose those pesky holiday pounds, but also be healthier overall. It’s amazing the things you can learn by being open minded and willing to listen. That day, Anthony even cooked us an awesome vegan lunch, courtesy BYOL’s Green Mac N “Cheese” recipe. Always skeptical that vegan food would never fill me up and leave me still hungry, boy was I pleasantly surprised. It not only tasted awesome, but I was stuffed by the end of my meal.

Along with wanting to lose weight and be healthier, I also work in breast cancer research, and seeing the devastation that this disease affects on women every day also became incentive for me to change my eating habits. It is traumatizing to see how common the disease is and how more common it is becoming in increasingly younger women. When you start to see patients come through the door who are younger than you, and I'm only 26, you begin to realize something is just not right. Everyday at work I ask myself, like many people I’m sure, what is the cause of this disease? Well, after our talk with Anthony, I’m more convinced that diet plays a significant role. There are many things in life we have absolutely no control over, but diet is something that we do. If changing my diet can help lower my risk for not just cancer, but other common diseases, such as heart disease, I know I am doing something right for my body.

So I had my motivation, but now I needed to start somewhere. I always thought I was healthy enough, as ate lots of fruits and vegetables to begin with, exercised and drank lots of water, but it wasn't until I started to cut things out of my diet, that I realized how unhealthy I actually was. And how terribly I was actually feeling. Nick and I both decided to do this together and we started cutting out soda, milk, fast food, a lot of meat and candy. Did we and do we have days where we cheat? Yes, I am the first person to admit we are not perfect, and this change is still a work in progress for both of us. But the progress we have both made so far is pretty amazing.

Since changing my diet, I have lost a solid 15 pounds and kept it off. Being that I am 5’7”, losing 15 pounds is not that noticeable when you look at me, but I am able to feel the difference. I have also struggled with running in the past and I now find running easier. I have more energy, throughout the day and during my workouts, and I just feel better. I don’t stress out about needing to make sure I burn enough calories when I work out because I know the majority of what I put in my body now is good for me. All the things that Anthony told us would start happening were happening.  

I also noticed that things I used to enjoy eating, I could no longer eat without getting a stomachache or headache. For example, one of my favorite candies used to be Swedish Fish. One afternoon a co-worker and I decided to splurge and get a mini bag of them from the vending machine downstairs. To my surprise, they tasted nothing like they used to and I found I couldn't finish them. Yep, I had a full-blown stomachache halfway through my bag. I felt like I was eating plastic and the sad part of this experience was, I bought them to “treat” myself. I was actually in awe at the whole experience and this only furthered my motivate not give up and to work harder to live a healthier lifestyle.

While I still have a significant amount of work to do, I am proud at how far I have come so far from where I was six months ago. I am also very thankful to have a friend like Anthony who cares enough about us to help us get on the right path and teach us all we need to know about being healthier, while never being judgmental or dogmatic. I look back now and I can’t imagine living my life with the same everyday eating habits I once had. I hope that in another six months, I can look back at this very moment and see that I have made even more progress.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

TMAO: A Toxic Substance Formed When You Eat Meat Can Make You … Dead Meat

Guest Post by: Robert Ostfeld, M.D., M.Sc. 

We can add another reason to the list of why we should not eat meat. If the saturated fat and cholesterol in meat were not enough, there is a newly identified toxic kid on the block: trimethylamineoxide (TMAO).1,2

When we eat red meat, its carnitine interacts with our gut bacteria, forming trimethylamine, which is then metabolized by the liver into TMAO. And it appears that TMAO is not our friend.1,2

TMAO promotes the formation of cholesterol plaques in our blood vessels, which make them less healthy and may lead to heart attack, stroke, and death. TMAO reduces our body’s ability to excrete cholesterol.1,2 And, if that is not bad enough, TMAO may be linked to death from prostate cancer.3

The good news is that people who eat an exclusively plant-based diet appear to form little TMAO. In fact, when researchers fed steak to a vegan, virtually no TMAO was made. Why is that? Vegans, it seems, do not select for the specific gut bacteria that lead to the formation of TMAO, whereas meat eaters do. Hence, it’s as if plants create a coat of armor in our stomachs, protecting us when they are not even there.

So if we’re protected by plants, is it okay for us to eat steak for just a few days? Are we protected from TMAO? It appears that we may not be. The trillions of bacteria in our gut change very quickly. In fact, they may meaningfully shift even within one to two days!4 So aside from the many other deleterious effects of meat, even one day of steak could cut a chink in the natural armor afforded us by eating plants.

Notably, red meat is not the only source of TMAO. Choline, which is found in chicken, fish, dairy ― and even plants ― is another. Choline is structurally similar to the carnitine in red meat, and with the help of the same gut bacteria, also forms TMAO. Accordingly, when investigators fed omnivores an egg, they made TMAO.1

Although we have no dietary need for carnitine, we do require dietary choline. So how can we get the choline we require without the unwanted company of toxic TMAO? The answer appears to be in the armor. Eating a plant-based diet selects for gut bacteria that do not lead to the formation of TMAO.2 So even though we are eating choline in plants, our stomach’s plant-derived protection is in place, practically freeing us from concern about TMAO.

Science’s understanding of the interaction of our diet and gut bacteria and their influence on our health is at an early stage. However, evidence is mounting that a plant-based diet may be beneficial for this interaction in many ways. Yet another reason to go (or stay) plant based!

Robert Ostfeld, M.D., M.Sc.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.