Dear Decaturish – Celebrate American Heart Month
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Reducetarianism. Flexitarian. VB6. If these terms aren’t already familiar to you, this February during American Heart Month you might hear them, as they are practical strategies for addressing the leading cause of death in the United States: heart disease.
Many of us struggle with daily battles of losing weight, or chronic matters such as diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol. We seek the latest and greatest ways for addressing and combatting our health obstacles. For many reasons, plant-strong diets are increasingly recommended as one of the most effective means of reducing the risk for heart disease.
The Surgeon General calls for a 15 percent drop in saturated fats, which is important for combatting obesity and cardiovascular disease. The number one source of saturated fat is dairy. It should come as no surprise then that the American Heart Association said, “we recognize the role of plant-based foods in a healthy dietary pattern, as evidenced by our recommendations that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.”
The president of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Kim Williams, advises his patients struggling with hypertension and high cholesterol to eat more plant-based meals. “I recommend a plant-based diet because I know it’s going to lower their blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity and decrease their cholesterol,” he said.
Dr. Williams was able to decrease his own high cholesterol levels — and his risk of heart disease — after switching to a plant-based lifestyle in 2003.
Enjoying more plant-based meals is a great and delicious way to help shed unwanted pounds. Dr. Holly Lofton of the Obesity Action Coalition touts the benefits, saying, “Adopting a plant based diet…is a common thread in many popular meal plans that are aimed at improving health and promoting weight loss.”
Simply decreasing meat consumption in favor of more fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains is a popular means of integrating these changes into our lives. Eating less meat as opposed to abstaining from meat altogether might feel less daunting and more obtainable. Reducetarianism stresses the importance of less, rather than none, to help cut down on meat without going cold turkey (pun intended).
Flexitarians, as my nine-year-old daughter calls herself, are interested in adding foods to their diet rather than taking away. This idea, coined over a decade ago by registered dietician, Dawn Jackson Blatner, involves being flexible enough to free yourself from the monotony of eating animal products each meal. Instead, flexitarians expand their culinary horizons by adding more legumes, tofu, fruits and vegetables to their diets.
Many prefer the approach pioneered by The New York Times food columnist, Mark Bittman, VB6–Vegan Before 6. This plan advocates eating delicious grains, beans, vegetables, nuts and fruits until dinner time.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rates of obesity among U.S. men and women continue to rise. In October, The World Health Organization confirmed that processed meat – including pork, chicken, and turkey – is carcinogenic. Given the evidence, it’s clear that we need to change the way we eat.
The decision to choose more plant-based foods is as simple as following the Three Rs: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diets by switching to products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards, which in turn decreases the number of animals being bred and confined on factory farms.
The good news is that there are many ways to fit this goal into your lifestyle.
Meatless Monday is a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health initiative that aims to help individuals eat meat-free one day per week. Vegetarian Tuesday is the name of this type of program at my daughter’s elementary school in City Schools of Decatur. As mentioned, VB6, flexitarian or reducetarianism are other options. There is a plan for every lifestyle.
Why not give it a go to celebrate American Heart Month? You and your loved ones deserve it.
– Rebecca Portman, Georgia Food Policy Coordinator for The Humane Society of the United States.