Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Another Lesson from the Blue Zone?

When it comes to the Blue Zones, diet is a central factor in increasing longevity and more importantly , being healthy in our later years. It looks like the plant-based diets win out again and  that we should not rush to consume more saturated fat (aka butter and bacon).  So the debate on saturated fat vs. unsaturated fat will continue, but for now in my opinion, saturated fats should definitely be in the moderation category.




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Food Safety: Awareness, Education and Prevention

An Angry Bacteria

Foodborne illness is not a pleasant topic to think about. However, the most important protection against it is learning more about it and ways to prevent it.  When I taught infectious disease courses, we had what we called a Food Lab for the purpose of detecting certain bacterial contamination on some common foods.

Specifically we found that alfalfa sprouts from a local supplier in a large supermarket, a salad from a local restaurant, and some equipment in a cafeteria in the community all contained some species of E.coli, but we lacked the ability to determine if they were the harmful types. Nevertheless, they should not have been there. In all cases, this suggested the lack of proper food handling practices.

Sometimes, it is impossible to avoid, but with proper cleaning or hand washing procedures during food preparation, it can be prevented.

It is also important to realize the seriousness of some of these infections by reading the stories of the survivors. The following article is about a victim who expresses some valid points about education of the medical community.


CLICK HERE for a previous post on food safety practices in the home.

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Nutrition Quackery

For years, I have been interested in nutrition quackery. Way back in the day, I personally attended conferences presented by the National Council Against Health Fraud and was continually amazed as to the myriad of “quack” cancer treatments promoted by profit seeking individuals that seem to never go away. I also served on the board of the Colorado Dietetic Association where we unsuccessfully  pursued legislation to counteract these practices. I guess they never will completely be put to rest, since cancer patients and their families can often be so vulnerable to the false hopes offered by these “charlatans”.  By the way, to my knowledge, Colorado still has no legislation that confers protection from misleading dietary practices. (Please, correct me if I’m wrong). There is nutrition misinformation which on its own is bad enough, but when it becomes what is called nutrition quackery, it takes on a more dangerous connotation.

It becomes dangerous when cancer patients choose or well-intention-ed family members persuade them to follow dubious advise and ignore the current cancer treatments by conventional medicine practitioners. Patients should have the right to choose medical treatment of any kind, but only when they are fully informed and aware of the false promises and the consequences.

The following excellent article presents some of the myths encountered by many vulnerable individuals in order to either avoid or treat cancer through diet-related means.

But enough of this proselytizing,


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Is Alzheimer’s Disease Caused by a Virus?

Experts suggest that more than 5.5 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common cause of dementia, i.e., Alzheimer’s’ disease may affect about 1 in 9 people. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning that can interfere with a person’s daily life and activities. AD is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. The causes of dementia can vary depending on the type that also includes not only AD, but Lewy body dementia or vascular dementia and it is common for people to have a combination of two types. AD is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906 after he noted symptoms of memory loss, language problems and unpredictable behaviors in a female mental illness patient. After her death and autopsy of her brain, he reported he found abnormal clumps that are now referred to as amyloid plaques and tangled  bundles of fibers now called neurofibrillary or tau tangles. It is thought that these abnormalities stop the function of healthy neurons that ultimately lose their connections and die. The causes of AD are unknown, but can be combinations of genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors. An improper diet has been suggested as a possible contributor by inflicting free radical or inflammatory damages. Positive dietary adjustments may also play a role in preventing the disease. Recently animal research has investigated other prevention treatments that may help to allay the effects of lifestyle factors on Alzheimer’s disease. “The brain of an individual with Alzheimer’s disease is a harsh place filled with buildups of harmful nerve cell junk—amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles—and dramatic loss of nerve cells and connections that occur with severe cognitive decline, such as memory loss. Targeting and disrupting this harmful junk, specifically amyloid plaques, to restore brain function has been the basis of many failed clinical trials. This futility has led to a re-evaluation of the amyloid hypothesis—the central dogma for Alzheimer’s disease pathology based on the toxic accumulation of amyloid plaques.” “At the same time, there have been traces of evidence for exercise playing a preventative role in Alzheimer’s disease, but exactly how this occurs and how to take advantage of it therapeutically has remained elusive. Exercise has been shown to create biochemical changes that fertilize the brain’s environment to mend nerve cell health.”  Excerpt from “How Exercise Might ‘clean” the Alzheimer’s Brain.” by Jonathan D. Grinstein in Scientific American, October 16, 2018. A recent hypothesis presented in this post involves the possible role of an infectious cause. At the heart of current thinking is the association of the herpes virus as a possible suspect and several research studies have provided some support to this proposal. However, the offending agent has yet to be identified.  It took nearly 300 years for science to finally recognize that spontaneous generation did not cause disease; thus, the germ theory began to be recognized. Bottom Line: Prevention may be the key to alleviating the devastating effects of whatever causes AD. Until the scientific community knows more, it may be prudent to practice healthy lifestyle habits (diet and exercise) to delay the damage AD causes. For more details, CLICK HERE.

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Diet and Cancer Prevention: A Common Sense Guide

In the past, diet and cancer associations primarily concentrated on the individual effects of nutrients on tumor growth.  I personally conducted research with rats on the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids on breast cancer incidence and we found no differences in tumor formation between omega-6 and omega-3 fats.

We have now gotten past this narrow approach and find that the study of overall diet patterns are a better way to  convey the best way to counteract tumor initiation, promotion and progression.

The following article is long but contains excellent common sense information on diet and cancer prevention. It also explains why the scientific community has made these recommendations based on what we think we know from current research studies. It is one thing to know what to eat but the best is to know why recommendations are established.





























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Sugar Addiction: Another Opinion


Fat and Sugar

Sugar is one of the most controversial food items in recent years since the nutrition “experts” seem to have divided themselves into two camps  – one is strongly anti-sugar saying it may be partly responsible for most chronic diseases and may be addictive, and the other is less anti-sugar, and generally report only the risks of tooth decay to health and say that it does not meet the criteria of a true addiction. See my previous post: Sugar Addiction: An Opinion.

Of course, the sugar and processed food industry is seriously involved and takes the side of the anti-tooth decay groups.

NOTE: When researchers gave human subjects sugar or fat solutions (they used canola oil.) alone and compared those to a saliva control,  they concluded:  “fat and sugar both produced strong reward effects in the brain.” as shown by a MRI brain scan.  They reported  “It has already been established that sugar ingestion would light up the areas of the brain that are collectively known as reward centers that generate pleasure, indicating possible addictive or narcotic properties.” So it was a surprise to find that fat could also produce the same results. Araujo and Rolls, “Representation in the Human Brain of Food Texture and Oral Fat”, Journal of Neuroscience 24 (2004): 3086-3093.

The following article presents the case for sugar addiction. It also begins to discuss the complexities of addiction and how the sugar industry gears its marketing to sell for profit with very little consideration for health.  An interesting and informative book that should be read by all consumers is Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2010.


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Sugar Addiction: An Opinion



Carbohydrates are among the most abundant nutrients in grains, fruits and vegetables. Types of carbohydrates in these foods include starches, sugars, and fiber.  The two primary classifications are SIMPLE and COMPLEX.

STARCHES – Complex

Complex carbohydrates called starches are found as large chains of glucose and  provide 4 calories per gram.  They are found in grains and some vegetables. Our body breaks down starches into units of glucose, which is a simple carbohydrate, and releases glucose into your bloodstream to be used for energy. Your body stores excess carbohydrate as fat. Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, are naturally richer in nutrients and fiber than refined grains, such as white bread and pasta. Whole grains retain the bran and germ of the grain, while refined grains have been stripped of these components. Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn and beets, have more starch than so-called non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli.

SUGARS – Simple

Fruits and vegetables contain simple carbohydrates, called fructose, or fruit sugar, and glucose. Fruits are higher in fructose and glucose than most vegetables that contribute to their sweetness.  Added sugars are usually refined sugars found in baked goods and soft drinks and tend to be lower in essential nutrients than fruits and vegetables. All sugars provide 4 calories per gram. Your body converts dietary fructose to glucose and uses it for energy. so in essence, all digested carbohydrates eventually end up as glucose in the body to be used for energy production.


Dietary fiber refers to indigestible complex carbohydrates in plant-based foods. Most fruits and vegetables are high-fiber, and whole grains are higher in fiber than refined choices.  Because you do not digest it fiber does not contribute calories to your diet. Most high-fiber foods are rich in additional essential nutrients, such as vitamin C and vitamin A in fruits and vegetables, potassium; niacin and B vitamins are found in whole grains.

This post is intended to support the suggestion that sugar is a fairly benign component of our diets in terms of health issues. Many nutrition groups and those working in the sugar and processed food industries claim that sugar can be part of a healthy diet if used in moderation. The problem: Moderation is fine but how is it defined since sugar and added sugars are found in many processed foods. Many of these foods are often termed “empty calorie foods” or having few nutrients compared to non-processed whole foods which can contain some “natural” sugars. The concept of sugar addiction is discounted in this side of the debate, since not all agree on the definition of “addiction” and many say that not all people become addicted to sugar if at all. For the other side of the debate, see a subsequent post: Sugar Addiction: Another Opinion. CLICK HERE.