FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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Coconut Oil: Friend or Foe?

There is a lot of nutrition “chatter” about the merits and “dangers” of coconut oil.  Check out a comprehensive review of the pros and cons of using coconut oil with the research behind it. The good news: we do not consume it in great amounts, so enjoying some of its good points is probably not a big deal.

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Fighting Prostate Cancer with Food?

Plants contain phytochemicals

Nutrition and cancer associations have  been studied for years and unfortunately never have produced any practical, reasonable or consistent results as far as dietary therapeutic or preventive effects. Here are two interesting studies that at least suggest that maybe, just maybe, some cancer cells could be controlled by dietary phytochemicals from plant foods. The question remains as to just what combinations of these plant chemicals do the best job or are most efficacious and safe.

So what to do in the meantime? In my opinion, the take home message is to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits containing phytochemicals that work in a synergistic manner rather than individually. It appears that eating one type of food the media often labels “superfood”  for example, would probably have little effect on cancer cell destruction. That does help to explain why cancer research has not so far produced any promising dietary interventions. But stay tuned as we learn more. Be aware that dietary treatments for cancer have  dominated the area of nutrition quackery for decades.  There are few clinical trials available that test the diet-cancer hypothesis. For sure, cancer patients should not be reliant on untested cancer treatments from any source.

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An interesting video about this topic has been published from  Michael Greger, MD, FACLM on his website, NutritionFacts.org. To view this website and video:

CLICK HERE.


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Processed Foods and Health

BIG FOOD

When discussing healthy diets, the advice is often to stay away from processed foods. Actually, this is almost impossible since most foods undergo some form of processing to ensure food safety of perishable foods. I think that a better message would be that we should attempt to avoid ultra-processed foods, many of which have high levels of sodium, fat or sugar. At a glance, these foods are easily identified by their extremely long ingredient lists. A recent report from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) found that more than 60% of the food purchased annually in the U.S. is highly processed, This trend will continue as long as consumers buy these boxed and bagged products that fill our landfills and detract from environmental responsibility.

The highly processed foods are those found in the center aisles of the supermarket and include frozen and ready-made meals, cereals, snacks, cheese spreads, and other packaged items. These foods are commonly filled with additives or preservatives to improve flavor, texture and extend shelf life.

What effects can these foods have on our health and why?

Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disea  

Obesity has been associated with our excessive intake of sugar and linked to a plethora of adverse health issues that include metabolic syndrome, diabetes type 2, and cardiovascular disease. If you look at the ingredient lists, you may find on some products sugar listed by many names. Sugar means sucrose but is contained in brown sugar, granulated, raw or powdered sugars. However, your sugar vocabulary should include high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, dextrose, glucose, maltose, lactose and fructose. There is also corn syrup, honey, molasses, malt syrup, sugar syrup, and fruit juice concentrate. Some research suggests that sugar triggers the same sense of pleasure and cravings within the brain that also triggers drug addiction.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease encompasses two major diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The blame may go to additives called emulsifiers. They are found in many processed foods like breads, peanut butter, cake mixes, salad dressings, sauces, yogurt, pudding, processed cheese, and ice cream. Emulsifiers function to keep water and oil mixed in food products that contain ingredients that would normally separate.

Emulsifiers used in processed foods function in the same way as those found in household soaps or detergents.  When mice were fed diets high in common food emulsifiers, they developed diseases similar to ones already discussed (obesity and metabolic syndrome, as well as IBD. The conclusions of the authors were that bacteria in the microbiome  affected the mucus protective layer that separates them from the intestinal wall, similarly to how a detergent works to remove dirt in industrial applications. It is thought by some that this process causes an inflammatory reaction that may contribute to the incidence of these diseases.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases are characterized by when the body attacks its own cells. At last count, there are about 100 of these diseases and the more common ones include; diabetes type 1, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

The intestine is lined with epithelial cells that function to serve as a protective membrane to prevent  toxins, harmful bacteria, or other substances called antigens that could cross this barrier and cause an immune reaction in the body.  Intestinal permeability is a term describing the control of material passing from inside the gastrointestinal tract through the cells lining the gut wall, into the rest of the body. (Wikipedia). The media refers to intestinal permeability  as “leaky gut syndrome,” but is debunked by many in the medical profession, due to a lack of quality research to support it. Nevertheless, the possibility of emulsifiers and other processed food additives conceivably could damage or affect intestinal permeability leading to an autoimmune disease. Other additives that could affect this permeability in addition to emulsifiers are glucose, salt, organic solvents, and gluten and all are used in processed food products.  (WebMD, Digestive disorders/leaky gut syndrome).

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer has been associated with processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, deli meats or any other meat product chemically treated with preservatives. This also can include red meat consumed daily. The chemicals used have been linked to have carcinogenic properties.

The link between sodium nitrites and cancer may be the culprit. Processed meats are manufactured using sodium nitrite. During the process of cooking certain meats, sodium nitrites combine with naturally present amines in the meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds.

Eating a diet of primarily whole foods rather than reliance on highly processed foods may help prevent some of the common diseases of our culture from food intolerance to cancer prevention. Processed foods may have subtle effects on our bodies that are difficult to assess or determine. Listen to your brain-gut reactions that may help you identify some of the effects that some unknown additive may have on your health. Digestive distress can be an indication that your body is sensitive to a certain ingredient and can be simply alleviated by consuming fewer ultra processed foods.

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Probiotics: What We Think We Know?

Yogurt in the Supermarket

In my opinion, there is still not enough research to fully assess the efficacy and/or safety of probiotics.  Probiotic supplements are not regulated by the FDA. It may be prudent to encourage higher intakes of yogurt with live cultures that also provide some essential nutrients – protein and calcium, for example. Check the labels carefully since some yogurts have high sugar contents.

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Super Beets?

Beet Root

Folk lore has placed beets into many Eastern cultures as an excellent liver tonic and blood purifier. Beets contain a very powerful red color from a compound called betacyanin and according to some, claim it is potent cancer fighter. This pigment turns your urine red if enough is consumed – don’t panic -you are not bleeding internally. What are the health benefits of beets and how do they stack up nutritionally?

Beets are good sources of potassium, a vitally important mineral for heart health. We used to consume diets higher in potassium in a potassium-sodium ratio conducive to human health; now this ratio has reversed – and tilted to too much sodium and too little potassium. Potassium is also found in bananas and other fruits,vegetables like potatoes (white and sweet), winter squash, white beans and low-fat yogurt.

Beets are somewhat high in sugar, but not significantly.  Besides they provide us with other needed nutrients. However. diabetics should limit their intake of beets based on their doctor’s advice.

They can be baked or roasted, boiled, steamed, shredded raw and added to salads. The leaves are also nutritious and contain fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.  Beets can be used in juicing and are best mixed with some combination of carrots, apples, spinach, and ginger.

What is in a serving?

Cooked Beetroot (0.5 cup, cooked, drained, sliced) USDA National Nutrient Database

  • Calories 37
  • Protein 1.4 g.
  • Carbohydrates 8.4 g.
  • Fiber 1.7 g.
  • Potassium 259 mg.
  • Sodium 65 mg.
  • Magnesium 20 mg.
  • Folate 68 DFE

Recently, an advertisement appeared for a product called “Super Beets”: the Circulation Superfood

From their Website, their claims were somewhat vague:

  • Promote Improved Natural Energy
  • Support Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
  • Promoted Improved Stamina

They infer heart health due to its nitrate composition. Dietary nitrates are converted to nitric oxide which may have some cardiovascular benefits.  As far as the Super Beets supplement, the  claim is that 1 shot of Super Beets = 3 Non GMO beets. One canister is $ 39.95.

As with all supplements, there is no FDA approval. However, there is some evidence that beets may be heart healthy and enhance athletic  performance due to its nitrate content. For an excellent review of this topic, click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Websites: How reliable are they?


 

The article provides good advice for any website, but especially medical or nutrition websites.  They often seem to promote misinformation that sometimes borders on the absurd or at the least,  unsubstantiated by sound research.

Who can you believe? The term “nutritionist” is not legally defined and is used by a wide variety of people from those who seek a PhD from a non-accredited school to health food store representatives with no formal training. Registered Dietitians (RD) are nutritional professionals who have completed a a four year college degree and additionally  have met established criteria to certify them to provide nutrition counseling. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Medical Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research are non -profit organizations that provide reliable sources of nutrition information.

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What is a Healthy Diet? An Update

The following post is an excellent source for links to the discussion of healthy diets.  It is a brief summary of what nutrition science “knows” at the present time.

CLICK HERE.

For the complete discussion found in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (March, 2017), click HERE. It is a long article; however, it provides a lot of details on the latest recommendations about “healthy” diets and the research behind them. It can be read as a PDF.