Research shows plant-based diets containing vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, soy, and beans are beneficial for your heart and weight. But you don’t need to go vegan to reap the rewards. The key: eating plants most of the time, over time.
Making the switch to a plant-powered diet is a lifestyle. Start on a festive note with these comfort food swaps:
Creamy, slightly sweet, and a source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fats, soy milk makes an excellent dairy alternative. Instead of leaning on heavy cream in rich drinks, like eggnog, try swapping in soy milk. Use this recipe for inspiration or look for soynog at the grocery store.
You can find pre-baked tofu in most grocery stores to reduce prep time. Add baked tofu to these protein-packed, portion-controlled pot pies.
Say what? A fiber-containing fruit with a neutral flavor and meaty texture that shreds like pulled meat? Yup. With the right amount of moisture and seasoning, jackfruit can make for an excellent plant-based swap for shredded beef, pork, or chicken. Rinse, drain, shred and season one 20-ounce can for your next taco night or check out this recipe.
Medawar E, Huhn S, Villringer A, Veronica Witte A. The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review. Translational Psychiatry. 2019; 12;9(1): 226.
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Turner-McGrievy G, Harris M. Key elements of plant-based diets associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. Current Diabetes Reports. 2014;14(9):524.
Yokoyama Y, Levin SM, Barnard ND. Association between plant-based diets and plasma lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews. 2017; 75(9): 683-698.
By Ayten Salahi, MS, MGH Dietetic Intern
With several new meat alternatives coming to market in recent years, tofu has taken a backseat. However, tofu remains a good source of protein and, unlike more processed meatless products, it typically contains few additives and is low in sodium.
Tofu also contains more isoflavones, plant compounds with potentially protective properties. Research shows eating tofu may lower the risk of heart disease and could help protect against breast cancer.
The amount shown to be beneficial ranges from eating it at least once a week to consuming a serving (1/5 of a block of tofu) at least 3 to 4 times per week.
Not sure how to incorporate tofu into your diet?
Bhagwhat S, Haytowitz DB, and JM Holden. USDA database for the isoflavone content of selected foods: release 2.0. USDA Nutrient Database Laboratory Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center. 2008; 1-69.
Ma L. et al. Isoflavone intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: results from 3 prospective cohort studies. Circulation. 2020; 141(14):1127-1137.
Messina V. Tofu’s many faces. Today’s Dietitian. 2015;17(4):22-26.
Nechuta SJ. et al. Soy food intake after diagnosis of breast cancer and survival: an in-depth analysis of combined evidence from cohort studies of US and Chinese women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012; 96(4):123-132.
Wu AH, Lee E, and C Vigen. Soy isoflavones and breast cancer. American Society of Clinical Oncology Education Book. 2013; 13: 102-106.
By Meredith Berman, MGH Dietetic Intern
Commonly used herbs, like sage, rosemary, and thyme, contain protective plant chemicals that may help fight chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer. These compounds have been shown to attack inflammation and may inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Aim to optimize the potential benefits of herbs by eating them regularly. One way to do this is to grow them at home.
Tips for starting an indoor garden:
Looking for starter plants? Check out your local home improvement or garden store online.
Chohan, M, Naughton DP, Jones L, Opara El. An Investigation of the Relationship Between the Anti-inflammatory Activity, Polyphenolic Content, and Antioxidant Activities of Aooked and In Vitro Digested Culinary Herbs. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2012;2012:627843.
Jiang, T. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. Journal of AOAC International. 2019; 102(2): 395-411.
MacCaskey M and B Marken. Gardening for Dummies. New York, NY: Wiley Publishing.2006.
Opara M and M Chohan.Culinary Herbs and Spices: their Bioactive Properties, the Contribution of Polyphenols and the Challenges in Deducing their True Health Benefits. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2014; 15(10): 19183-19202.
Tapsell, L et al. Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices: the Past, the Present, the Future. Medical Journal of Australia. 2006; 185(4): S1-S24.
By Kristin Otto, Dietetic Intern
Getting enough vitamin A, C, and E is important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Most of us don't need supplements to do this. In fact, you can support your immune system even while minimizing grocery store trips.
Here's how to stock your kitchen with healthy foods that have low perishability:
Labeling Daily Values. NIH Dietary Supplement Label Database. Accessed April 2020.
USDA Nutrient Database Laboratory. Accessed April 2020.
Vitamin A. NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements. Last updated February 14 2020. Accessed March 2020.
Vitamin C. NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements. Last updated February 27 2020. Accessed March 2020.
Vitamin E. NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements. Last updated February 28 2020. Accessed March 2020.
By Kristine Miklos, MS, RD, LDN
Approximately one-third of the world’s food supply is lost or wasted every year. Fruits and vegetables have the highest waste of any food, so we’ve gathered a few tips to help pack produce onto your plate and divert it from the dumpster.
Root Vegetables: Get Soup Savvy
Blending root vegetables is a quick, easy way to savor the flavors of the season. (They are easily frozen this way too.)
Leafy Greens: Wilted? That Works!
Sauteing leafy greens is a useful cooking strategy when their crispness begins to decline.
Cauliflower: Go Halfsies with Grains
Cauliflower’s chameleon-like flavor makes it one of the most versatile vegetables out there.
FAO. Cutting Food Waste to Feed the World. 2011. Last accessed 2020.
Ever wonder why certain fruits and vegetables are so vibrant? The red to blue-violet hues come from protective plant compounds called anthocyanins.
Along with providing color, anthocyanins may help protect your heart.
They are found in:
Anthocyanins may decrease blood pressure and increase flexibility of artery walls. They have also been associated with reducing inflammation in the body, which may decrease risk of chronic diseases like heart disease. Anthocyanin-rich foods might also defend against heart attacks by protecting the lining of heart and blood vessels.
But having strawberries solely on Valentine’s Day isn’t going to cut it.
Research suggests consuming at least ½ cup of anthocyanin-containing foods daily may have benefits. As for those berries? They may be particularly good for your heart – eating them more than 3 times per week may reduce risk of a heart attack.
Need inspiration? Try this quinoa breakfast bowl with strawberries.
Bhagwat H, Haytowitz D, Holden J. USDA database for the flavonoid content of selected foods. USDA Agriculture Research Service. 2013.
Cassidy A, Mukamal K, Liu L, Franz M, Eliassen A, and Rimm E. High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Circulation. 2013;127(2): 188-196.
Cassidy A, Rogers G, Peterson J, Dwyer J, Lin H, et al. Higher dietary anthocyanin and flavonol intakes are associated with anti-inflammatory effects in a population of US adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015; 102(1): 172-181.
Hassellund S, Flaa A, Kjeldsen S, Selijeflot I, Karlsen A, Erlund I, and Rostrup M. Effects of anthocyanins on cardiovascular risk factors and inflammation in pre-hypertensive men: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled crossover study. Journal of Human Hypertension. 2013; 27: 100-106.
Jennings A, Welch A, Fairweather-Tait S, Minihane A, Chowiencyzk P, et al. Higher anthocyanin intake is associated with lower arterial stiffness and central blood pressure in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012; 96(4): 781-788.
By Alyssa Tisdale, MGH Dietetic Intern
Regularly eating cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, may be associated with a lower risk of cancer. Studies also show that consuming cruciferous vegetables may help improve cancer survival and reduce risk of early death from chronic diseases, like heart disease.
Other cruciferous vegetables include:
Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur compounds that promote detoxification pathways in the liver and help eliminate toxins and waste. Research has shown these compounds may help attack cancer cells and could protect the heart by reducing inflammation.
Cruciferous vegetables, like most fruits and vegetables, are also rich disease-fighting plant compounds like antioxidants. Eat cruciferous vegetables often. Some research correlates consuming about 4 to 6 ounces per day with benefits. (This would be the equivalent of eating at least a cup daily.)
Try these ideas to increase your cruciferous vegetable intake:
Abdull Razis AF, Konsue N, and C Ioannides. Isothiocyanates and xenobiotic detoxification. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2018;62(18):e1700916.
Farvid MS, Chen WY, Rosner BA, Tamimi, RM, Willett WC and AH Eliassen. Fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer incidence: repeated measures over 30 years of follow‐up. Int. J. Cancer. 2019;144(7):1496-1510.
Grundemann C and R Huber. Chemoprevention with isothiocyanates – from bench to bedside. 2018;414:(26-33).
Wu QJ, et al. Pre-diagnostic cruciferous vegetables intake and lung cancer survival among Chinese women. Sci Rep. 2015;5(10306).
Zhang X, et al. Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011; 94(1): 240–246.
The humble peanut often takes a backseat to trendier nuts. However, peanuts also offer healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, typically at a lesser cost. In fact, per serving peanuts contain more protein than any other nut.
Eating nuts – including peanuts – has been linked to a reduced risk of death from heart disease.
Opt for a small handful of nuts for a snack. Instead of deli meat, try one or two tablespoons of nut butter in a sandwich. (Bored with plain old peanut butter? Try this.)
Also, save those skins. Some studies have found preserving the peanut skin (found on in-shell and Spanish peanuts) can almost double the antioxidant concentration. Try this recipe.
But what about aflatoxin? Yes, peanuts – like most nuts – are susceptible to this toxin. However, outbreaks seldom occur in the U.S. thanks to mandatory testing.
Keep all nut products in the fridge to extend their shelf life.
Aflatoxin Program. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service. Accessed May 2019.
Arya SS, Salve AR, Chauhan S. Peanuts as a Functional Food: a Review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016;53(1):31-41.
Go Nuts (But Just a Little!). American Heart Association; 2015. Accessed April 2019.
'Going Nuts' May Help Heart Health. American Heart Association; 2015. Accessed May 2019.
Kumar P, Mahato DK, Kamle M, Mohanta TK, Kang SG. Aflatoxins: a Global Concern for Food Safety, Human Health and Their Management. Front Microbiol. 2016;7:1-9.
Sotos-Prieto M, et al. Association of Changes in Diet Quality with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. N Engl J Med. 2017; 377:143-153.
Zheng W, Shu XO. Prospective Evaluation of the Association of Nut/Peanut Consumption with Total and Cause-specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(5):755-766.
With the assortment of health labels on our foods today, it is a confusing time for consumers. A common question: does organic matter?
Organic produce tests lower in pesticides, but research is mixed on whether it contains more nutrients.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a list of foods each year with the least and most pesticide residues (called the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen, respectively). If you’d like to make a change, choosing organic produce from the Dirty Dozen list is the best bang for your buck.
The Dirty Dozen
The Clean Fifteen
Regardless, research shows eating enough fruits and vegetables may help lower risk of premature death from chronic illnesses, like heart disease. While it is recommended to eat 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day, only about 10% of us get that much.
So if organic isn’t in the budget, don’t fret. A non-organic apple is better than no apple at all.
Brantsæter A et al. Organic food in the diet: exposure and health implications. Annual Review of Public Health. 2017; 38: 295-313.
Lee-Kwan S, Moore L, Blanck H, Harris D, and D Galuska. Disparities in state-specific adult fruit and vegetable consumption — United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep (CDC). 2017; 66:1241–1247.
Slavin J and B Lloyd. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Adv Nutr. 2012; 3(4): 506–516.
* A small amount of sweet corn and papaya in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Organic versions cannot be genetically modified.
Incorporating vegetables into breakfast is not always easy, but smoothies can help kick start your day with powerhouse nutrients in a travel-friendly format.
Blended food can feel less filling, but incorporating protein, fat, and fiber into your smoothies increases fullness by slowing down digestion and adding volume.
Other strategies for promoting satiety include sipping slowly and chewing a handful of nuts (instead of adding protein and fat to your smoothie).
MAKE A BALANCED BREAKFAST BY USING THIS CHART
Here are two smoothie ideas to get you started:
1 cup frozen mixed berries + 1 cup cauliflower + ½ cup unsweetened almond milk + ½ cup plain Greek yogurt + 1 tablespoon peanut butter + 1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup blueberries + ½ banana + 1 cup spinach + ½ cup milk + 1 teaspoon grated ginger with small handful of almonds on the side (about ¼ cup)
Dhillon, J et al. The effects of increased protein intake on fullness: a meta-analysis and its limitations. J Acad Nutr Diet; 2016. 116(6): 968-983
Rogers, PJ and R Shahrokni. A comparison of the satiety effects of a fruit smoothie, its fresh fruit equivalent and other drinks. Nutrients; 2018. 10(4):431.
Slavin, JL. Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber. J Am Diet Assoc; 2008. 108(10): 1716-3.