This Month’s Food as Medicine Roundup: November 29, 2019

Sahra Pak November 29, 2019
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Sahra Pak
As a registered dietitian, Sahra brings her extensive experience in health care and public health to Lighter to improve the health of the population through effective communication, sustainable behavior modification approaches and upstream intervention strategies. Through her work with Los Angeles and Solano County Departments of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and partnering with health advocacy organizations such as CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Sahra has helped create sustainable food systems, adapted public policy, implemented environmental change, and health education programs.


Thank you for checking out this week’s edition of our Food as Medicine News Roundup! Once a month, I’ll share a collection of important and trending articles in the Food as Medicine space.

The holiday season is here! The festivities and family gatherings may be a time for celebration and merriment but unfortunately, it is also a time of year when the risk for cardiac (and noncardiac) death rises. Holiday feasts, increased alcohol consumption, and heightened stress may be a few possible contributing factors. Read on for recent findings on heart-healthy strategies that may benefit your patients during this fun but hectic season. 


Avoiding late-night eating and improving neighborhood walkability may help heart health

At a recent medical conference, the American Heart Association (AHA) shared some preliminary findings from a study they conducted that indicated how nighttime eating, particularly meals with more calories later in the evening, may lead to higher body mass index, higher blood pressure, and poorer long-term blood glucose control for women. The AHA’s Life’s Simple 7® was used to measure the calories of food consumed by study participants who ate after 6 p.m. Those who ate late in the evening, particularly a higher proportion of their daily calories at this time of the day, had poorer heart health - and with every 1% increase in calories, their heart health declined. 

Until now, lifestyle approaches to prevent heart disease have mainly focused on what and how we eat, but when we eat may be a pertinent additional factor to discuss with your patients or clients. 

"These preliminary results indicate that intentional eating that is mindful of the timing and proportion of calories in evening meals may represent a simple, modifiable behavior that can help lower heart disease risk."

⏤Nour Makarem, Ph.D., Lead study author, Columbia University

On the other hand, routine fasting (intermittent fasting) may reduce the risk of heart failure and death in patients with cardiac catheterization. More than 2,000 patients were followed between 2013 and 2015 by researchers at Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. Those who practiced regular intermittent fasting had a higher survival rate than those who did not. In addition, patients that routinely practice intermittent fasting were less likely to be diagnosed with heart failure. 

"It's another example of how we're finding that regularly fasting can lead to better health outcomes and longer lives."

⏤Benjamin Horne, Ph.D, Principal investigator

Although the definitive mechanisms for intermittent fasting’s potential heart health benefits is still unclear, the principal investigator of the study, Dr. Horne, hypothesized that it may be due to the effect of fasting on a patient’s levels of hemoglobin, red blood cell count, human growth hormone, and sodium and bicarbonate levels. Nighttime eating is also a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and obesity so it’s best to keep dinners light and early to feel happy and well-rested the next morning. 

In addition, there are other effective and vital lifestyle factors that contribute to a healthy heart such as increased physical activity. However, not everyone lives in a safe neighborhood to take a walk whenever they wish. A recent study by AHA found that adults that live in less walkable areas have a higher predicted 10-year cardiovascular disease risk when compared with those who live in safe and walkable areas. 

Recommending patients to make healthier meal choices and add some walking to their holiday plans is a good idea. And it is also important to consider the neighborhood in which they live. To fully support your patients, ask if there are any safe or comfortable areas in which they can take a walk and whether they have access to foods that promote and protect health. 

Let’s help make sure every patient has a happy and healthy holiday season via Food (and movement) Rx! 

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