Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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In Defense of Lettuce

English: Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. ...

English: Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia). Français : Laitue romaine (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent article in the Washington Post  by Tamar Haspel, described as a food and science writer and oyster farmer, claims that salads are not the best choice for nutritional value or the health of the environment.  This article has raised the ire of the salad lovers of the world based on the Comment Section.  Both have stated good points, but in my opinion, we should not classify salads as “junk food” by any means.  Lettuce alone is not a nutritional powerhouse, but does provide a vehicle for consuming other healthier fruits and vegetables like carrots, peppers, avocados, tomatoes, etc. etc. most of which contain dietary fibers, vitamins and minerals.  On the other hand, some restaurant salads with dressing and other less healthy ingredients are added resulting in a nutritional nightmare.

All lettuce is not created equal – there is the traditional competition between iceberg and romaine lettuce lovers.  In terms of nutritional value, romaine with its darker leaves comes in slightly ahead of its counterpart.  Here are the differences in vitamin content based on % Daily Values.   Romaine comes in ahead in vitamin A, C, K, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6.   The rest of the vitamins are nearly identical (vitamin E, niacin, pantothenic acid)

As far as minerals go, Romaine leads with iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese.  The rest are nearly identical (calcium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium).

Speaking of salads, kale has recently become the leaf of choice for many salad lovers.  Kale significantly beats both iceberg and romaine in almost all vitamin and mineral content.  That would include: calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K, iron, manganese, copper.  It also contains more protein.



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Food Allergies: A Taste Could Be Dangerous

EpiPens are portable epinephrine-dispensing de...

EpiPens are portable epinephrine-dispensing devices which can be used to alleviate the symptoms of severe, acute allergies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia

A food allergy is an abnormal physical reaction of the immune system to a particular food. Food allergens are proteins that are not broken down during cooking or by enzymes in the body during digestion. In contrast, a food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a food that does not invoke an immune response, e.g. lactose intolerance.

When a food allergen enters the blood, it can cause a drop in blood pressure; when they are near the skin, hives can develop; when they make their way to the lungs, asthma can occur. The reactions can appear quickly as a few minutes after eating the offender. This may result in an anaphylactic reaction, which are severe, life-threatening reactions that cause constriction of the airways in the lungs which inhibits the ability to breathe.

Eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common sources of food allergies in children. In adults, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, wheat, soy and eggs are most common. These foods together cause 90 percent of all reactions to food allergens. Some children will outgrow their reactions to milk and up to 20 percent of them outgrow a peanut allergy. Adults are rarely able to rid themselves of a food allergy once it is established.

Food allergies appear to be increasing.  See a previous post HERE.  The following article discusses some of the reasons they be on the rise.


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What’s So Great About Spinach?

1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stem...

1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stems. See Image:spinach_leaves_stems.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Popeye know something? Whose idea was it that this cartoon character pulls out his can of spinach before attempting feats of strength? In every Popeye the sailor cartoon (c.1930), he invariably pulls a can of spinach from his shirt, and eats the entire contents. Upon swallowing the spinach, he displays superhuman powers and he is easily able to save the day from threatening villains.

Spinach originated in Nepal in 647 but spread around the world; by the eleventh century it had reached Europe via North Africa. Often “Florentine” is described when referring to a spinach dish which is attributed to Catherine de” Medici in Florence Italy. Catherine married a French King Henry II  where she taught cooks to prepare spinach, her favorite food.

Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. One serving (1 cup) contains 1111 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin K and 377 percent of vitamin A. It is also rich in vitamins B6, C, and E, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, calcium, thiamine, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients appear in greater concentrations in cooked and frozen spinach. A preferred cooking method is to sauté it in olive oil and pine nuts for a short time to preserve the vitamin and mineral content.

One cup serving of cooked spinach  contains only about 41 calories, 5.4 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of total fat, and 4.5 grams of fiber.

Popeye may not have known that spinach contains a compound called neoxanthin reported to help prostate cancer cells self- destruct. It contains other cancer fighters called flavonoids that in one study slowed down cell division of stomach cancer cells in mice. Another study reported that women  who ate more spinach, the less incidence of breast cancer.

One problem: The Environmental Working Group listed spinach as one of the top twelve foods most contaminated with pesticides. If this is true, eating the organic varieties may be prudent.




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Anti-Inflammation Foods

English: A hand affected by rheumatoid arthritis

English: A hand affected by rheumatoid arthritis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acute Inflammation is a nonspecific first line of  defense response by the body to trauma such as an injury or a bee sting, or an infection by a pathogen.  It sets into motion a process to limit the spread of the trauma resulting in the cardinal signs of the inflammatory response: redness, increased heat, swelling, pain and loss of function.   Acute inflammation is usually of short duration and its purpose is beneficial in removing the injurious agent.  Chronic or out-of-control inflammation in the body is involved with chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers.    Chronic inflammation is not usually apparent and is present for longer periods of time and thus is not  considered beneficial.  It is now fairly accepted  that eating to avoid constant inflammation promotes better health and can ward off disease.   There is no specific anti-inflammatory diet; however, some food seem to promote chronic inflammation while others appear to alleviate its effects.



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Diet and Heart Health?

English: A funnel cake covered in powdered sugar.

English: A funnel cake covered in powdered sugar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are no surprises here, but a recent study appears to support what many nutritionists have been saying for years.  This study was called REGARDS which stands for Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke. The study addresses why Southern states such as North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana are collectively called The Stroke Belt (higher rates of strokes than other U.S. regions).

One of the strengths of the study was the large population size (17,000 participants) and the diversity of race, regions, and socioeconomic data.  One of the weaknesses was the use of a food frequency questionnaire that presents in most studies added risks of inaccurate reporting of food intake, etc. as well as subjective analysis of responses.

There were no Conflicts of Interest Disclosures by the authors.



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Blue Zones and Aging

English: Dan Buettner speaking at The UP Exper...

English: Dan Buettner speaking at The UP Experience 2010 in October 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Blue Zones: Nine Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest by Dan Buettner is an excellent  book on lifestyles around the globe with some interesting descriptions of health and old age from a cultural perspective.  This article succinctly presents a brief summary of each of the Zones in respect to the type of foods the centenarians eat.   Highly recommended book.


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A New Revolution?

Many people have long been concerned about food additives so many fast food resturant chains and food companies are removing many of them.  Will they be missed – probably not!.  Some additives are needed for quality and shelf life.  Processed foods are loaded with them – look at the long ingredient lists some of which take up most of the space on  the food label.



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