Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Which Cut of Meat? It May Not Matter Much

Calling all Carnivores! Here is some useful information (I never knew this).

Have you ever wondered how a London Broil or a flat iron steak differ? Here’s an interesting answer.

See a previous post on “Why Do Americans Eat So Much Beef?



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Plant-Based Burgers: Are They “Healthier”?

A Veggie Burger

Meatless burgers have now become mainstream with their recent presence at Burger King, McDonald’s and supermarkets.  Subsequently a new debate on their health benefits and consumer acceptance will ensue. How do they compare to a regular meat burger and/or other so-called veggie burgers derived from plants (black bean, mushroom etc, etc.) Have you tried the Impossible Burger or a Beyond Beef Burger yet?


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The Red Meat Debate: Use Some Common Sense

October 1, 2019:

For the past decade or so red and processed meats (beef in particular) has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Two NYT articles are presented here to that addresses this issue and helps to clarify how to deal with this ongoing issue.

The red meat debate continues as we wake up  this morning to the news that consumption of red and processed meats are of little risk to our health.


November 5, 2015

Back in 2015, an article appeared to agree with the current assessment about red and processed meat and in addition tells us how to deal with the disturbing reports about red and processed meat and heart disease and cancer.

So what can we really believe? The following article first appeared in 2015 and seems to me to take a common sense approach to the debate that never ceases. Hint: Life is a risk.


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Why Do Doctors Ignore Nutrition?

How many people get diet advice from their physicians? My personal experience has been that most docs do not mention it – even though the internet is teeming with advice – some legitimate but more often nonsense.

Why isn’t there more attention paid by medical professionals to one of the most historic public health issues the world has ever seen –  that being the obesity and childhood obesity health problems, often referred to as an epidemic? At last count, in the U.S. there has been an alarming percentage of people with either obesity issues or its cousin, diabetes/ pre-diabetes type 2 with no real solutions in sight.

Based on the latest statistics from the CDC:


  • The prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015~2016.
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

People listen to their doctors (or should) but when nutrition is not mentioned as part of at least a routine visit, it tends to minimize its importance for overall health and well -being. At the same  time, segments of the public health community are screaming that obesity is the latest scourge to our heath.


There is a distinct “disconnect” as stated in the following article.


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Is Fish Brain Food? Examining the Omega 6 and Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 and Omega-3 and Brain Health

Fat is a key nutrient in our diet and is often the first thing you may note on a food label. Most foods contain a mixture of many different types of fat: the commonest are saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Are some good and some bad.? This conundrum is often debated among nutritionists and still a definitive answer remains elusive.

What kind of nutrients are best for keeping our brains healthy?

Can lifestyle factors including diet help to prevent or alleviate the signs of dementia and neurodegenerative disease? Lately there has been an interest in examining some imbalances in the U.S. diet that may be influencing the onset and/or severity of these diseases.

Recently there was a major published study that looked at the effects of certain foods and food components on cognitive functioning titled “Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function and MRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain.”  A group of elderly Americans (n = 116 heathy adults with an average age of 69) underwent cognitive testing, MRI scans to assess brain function, and blood tests to assess nutrient status.

The Results: The results identified five categories of plasma nutrients associated with enhanced cognitive performance that measured general intelligence, executive function, and memory. The plasma nutrients associated with improved cognitive performance included carotenoids (like lycopene), homocysteine-lowering vitamins (folate, B6, B12), Vitamin D, and a healthy balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.

MRI imaging revealed enhanced brain network connectivity in those with higher plasma carotenoid status and healthy balances of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids.

Conclusion of the Authors:

These findings contribute to “the development of novel nutritional therapies for the targeted treatment and clinical management of cognitive and neurological impairments in the aging brain”.

This study was published in NeuroImage, Volume 188, March 2019, Pages 239-251.

What exactly are the omega-6 and omega 3 fats?

We have to begin with the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, linoleic (omega-6) (LA)  and alpha linolenic acids (omega-three) (ALA). They are called essential because they cannot be made in the body and must be acquired from the diet.

Linoleic acid (LA) is required for growth, healthy skin and normal functioning of the reproductive system and is a structural part of cell membranes.  Foods high in omega 6 fats include unhealthy foods like processed snacks, fast foods, cakes, fatty meats, and cured meats. Other omega 6 foods are healthy including tofu, walnuts, and peanut butter. They are also prevalent in vegetable oils, like corn oil, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils. Linoleic acid is converted in the body to another fatty acid called arachidonic acid (AA). Food sources of AA include meat, poultry, and eggs. The adequate daily intake (AI) for omega 6 foods is 17000 mg per day.

Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is also a structural compound of cell membranes and found in high amounts in the brain. Alpha linolenic acid is found in walnuts, dark, leafy green vegetables, flaxseed and chia seeds, canola and soybean oils.

ALA is converted in the body to two more fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DHA). This conversion rate of ALA to EPA can be slow and may depend on many factors, one being the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

EPA and DHA are found in fish, krill, and algae oil capsules as well as in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring and trout. The AI for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 grams (men) and 1.1 g (women).

Arachidonic acid and EPA are necessary for making hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids that participate in regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting, inflammation, and a host of other important body functions.

So, the major players so far are: LA, ALA, AA, EPA, and DHA.

What is the omega-6/omega-3 ratio?

It is not enough to consume adequate levels of omega-3 fats but to avoid over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. Most modern diets contain excessive amounts of omega-6s and insufficient amounts of omega-3s. Americans regularly eat vegetable oils but eat fish infrequently, so we end up with many more omega-6s and fewer omega-3s.

The optimal 6 to 3 ratio approaches 4:1 that may be difficult for some people in our current food environment to achieve, so we try for 4:1 in hopes of realistically attaining less than 10:1. On average in the U.S., the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is a disastrous 16:1. Soybean oil is so ubiquitous that an astounding percent of calories in the American diet (especially processed foods) are estimated to come from this single omega-6 source.

How Do Eicosanoids Affect Health?

Omega-6 fatty acids produce eicosanoids that tend to favor higher blood pressure, more blood clotting, and inflammatory compounds in the body.  They are often referred to as “bad” eicosanoids.

Omega-3 fatty acids produce eicosanoids with opposing effects, i.e., lower blood pressure, less blood clotting, and anti-inflammatory effects.  They are often referred to a “good” eicosanoids.

Eicosanoids from omega-3 EPA can diminish the effects of the “bad” eicosanoids by producing opposing compounds that will help tip the ratio back to a more favorable eicosanoid environment in the cell.

Another way to improve the fatty acid ratio is to help block excess arachidonic acid formation. By making sure your body has an adequate amount of EPA that acts as an inhibitor of the enzyme that can produces the “bad” eicosanoids.   The higher the EPA in the diet, the more the enzyme is inhibited, and the less “bad” eicosanoids are produced.

The problem with vegetable oils

Vegetable oils that turn rancid easily have been used since lard was designated as having a high saturated fat content when the low-fat craze to prevent heart disease was in full swing. The troubled history of these oils has never been resolved.  In a series of workshops in the 1980’s, it was observed that using diets high in soybean oil showed subjects dying of cancer at very high rates. Gallstones were also associated with diets high in vegetable oils. Subsequent research demonstrated that these oils that are high in omega-6, compete with the healthier omega-3’s found in fish virtually at important spots in every cell membrane throughout the body, including those in the brain. (Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise).

The vast amount of omega-6 that has entered our food supply via vegetable oils appear to have literally swamped the omega-3’s (the supply of which has remained relatively constant over the past century. (Teicholz,  page 275-6). Conversely, the American Heart Association encourages Americans to eat more vegetable oils due to their ability to lower LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol.) So the debate on “healthy” oils will continue to the confusion.

Nonetheless, excessive intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, has several risks. The double bonds in the fatty acid molecules are very reactive. They tend to react with oxygen, forming chain reactions of free radicals. These free radicals can cause cell damage, which is one of the mechanisms behind aging and the onset of cancer.

If you want to improve your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, it’s probably a bad idea to eat a lot of omega-3 to compensate. Having a relatively low, balanced amount of each is best. Using olive oil in salad dressings and coconut oil for cooking is recommended. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat and coconut oil is more stable since it has more saturated fat content.

What to Take Away from all this:

Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and α-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, are considered essential fatty acids because they cannot be made in the body by humans.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important structural components of cell membranes, serve as precursors to eicosanoids and provide a source of energy. Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in particular exert anti-inflammatory effects; it is recommended to increase their presence in the diet.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can be synthesized from ALA, but due to low conversion efficiency, it is recommended to consume foods rich in EPA and DHA or consume fewer omega-6 foods.

Some but not all observational studies using supplements have found fish intake to be associated with lower risks of cognitive deterioration and Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not yet clear whether supplementation with marine-derived omega-3 PUFA can help prevent cognitive decline. There is a great need for intervention studies, especially with DHA to determine if improvements in brain health will occur. The Rancho Bernardo Study of Healthy Aging found a protective effect of DHA from diet on various aspects of cognitive decline and/or dementia.

Best to cut down on omega-6 foods (processed and junk foods), add a couple of fish meals a week, use olive oil for salads, coconut oil for cooking.

Top 10 Foods with the Highest Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio

Food Ratio of Three to Six 
Snow crab (3 oz) 61:1
Atlantic cod (6 oz) 29:1
Tuna (6 oz) 25 :1 
Mussels (3 oz) 25:1
Broccoli Rabe (1 cup) 7:1
Spinach (1 cup) 5:1 
Flax seeds (1 oz)  4:1
Mangos (1 cup) 3;1
Lettuce (1 cup) 2:1
Kidney beans (1 cup) 2:1


Judith E. Brown. Nutrition Now Seventh Edition, 2013.

Life Extension, October 2019

Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University





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Our National Eating Disorder: Facing the Facts

Preventing obesity in childhood and adults is the primary goal. Many adults gain weight at a slow pace as they age (about a pound a year); however, others gain a substantial amount in a shorter period of time primarily between the ages of 25 and 34 years. Perhaps we are taking the wrong approach in helping people restrict that “natural” weight gain by using very restrictive fad diets (less calories) that often fail to result in maintaining weight after weight loss.

Since our food environment does not seem to change, more emphasis on mindful eating should be taught early in life by paying more attention to the “I’m hungry” and “I’m full” signals of our bodies.  Because appetite is triggered by external cues such as the sight and smell of food, it is usually appetite, and not hunger that makes us stop for ice cream or chocolate chip cookies while at the mall.

Getting eight hours of sleep at night may also be somewhat effective. Lack of sleep is linked to obesity, new evidence shows. Inadequate sleep impacts secretion of the signal hormones ghrelin, which increases appetite, and leptin, which indicates when the body is satiated. This can lead to increased food intake without the compensating energy expenditure. Paying attention to the kinds and amounts of food we consume can also help.  Studies have also indicated that eating fast may lead to eating more. It takes about 15 minutes for your brain to decode that your stomach is full.


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The 2020 Dietary Guidelines : What Can You Believe?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide science-based recommendations to promote health and to reduce the risk of major chronic diseases through diet and physical activity. Due to the focus on heath promotion and disease prevention for the public, they form the basis of federal food and nutrition programs and policies. The first edition was published in 1980 and are updated every five years. But there are always debates and controversies associated with their content and the next edition will more than likely fulfill that promise.

Is it not almost impossible to solve a problem when we continually bury our heads in the sand and not look at the reality of the problem? Of course, and that appears to be what may happen again when the advisory committees for the new 2020 Dietary Guidelines are concluded and the guidelines established early next year (hopefully).

Most developed countries have some form of Dietary Guidelines.

Country Example of Dietary Guidelines
Japan Eat 30 or more different kinds of food a day.
China Eat clean and safe food.
United Kingdom Encourage and support the production of lower saturated fat foods.
Mexico Eat more dried beans and less food of animal origin.
South Africa Enjoy a variety of foods. Be active.
Cuba Fish and chicken are the healthiest meats.

The following article contains a link to the list of 80 questions facing the committees.

Another link of interest from the Washington Post is entitled “How the Trump administration limited the scope of the 2020 dietary guidelines.”

Putting politics aside, it will be an interesting process to watch in the coming months. It goes without saying that the food industry will be having their lobbyists in full swing as it is reported that the 2020 committee consists of 20 people with 12 of them having worked closely with the food industry. Some members have ties with the industry that include the National Potato Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the trade association of the snack food industry. Nine were nominated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which has in the past received funding from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Mars. I think that Coca-Cola recently broke some ties with this organization, however.

The article follows with all the links mentioned. For more on this timely topic and for future knowledge, CLICK HERE.




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EAT: The Lancet Way


The Question: Can we actually “eat our way out of climate change by eating less meat”?

The following article is a graphic description of what has been presented earlier this year on how we should eat to save the planet.  The emphasis is sustainability, our health and the health of the planet.

The recommendations are brutal for meat-eaters. How about one quarter-pounder a week for instance?

How will this affect the coming Dietary Guidelines for 2020?  Should be interesting???


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The Future of Food?

From the Impossible Burger to Ramen Noodles, what is next? The latest offering appears to be the ramen noodle that has been bioengineered to contain certain characteristics that are supposed to make it a “superfood”. Here is the latest creation.

Check out the potassium – even though the U.S. diet may be sadly lacking – do we need that much in one serving of ramen noodles? (over 3,000 mg or 107% of the Daily Value according to the Nutrition Facts Label.)  Over-the-counter supplements and multivitamins cannot contain more than 100 milligrams of potassium because the mineral can cause serious side effects in people with kidney disease and may also interact with certain high blood pressure medications and over-the-counter painkillers, as well as laxatives.

How much potassium should you take?

There is no set upper limit for potassium. So it’s not clear exactly how much potassium you can take safely. However, very high doses of potassium can be deadly.

The Institute of Medicine has set an adequate intake for potassium. Getting this amount of potassium from diet, with or without supplements, should be enough to keep you healthy. The FDA has determined that foods that contain at least 350 milligrams of potassium can bear the following label: “Diets containing foods that are good sources of potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.”


Adequate Intake (AI)


0-6 months

400 mg/day

7-12 months

700 mg/day

1-3 years

3,000 mg/day

4-8 years

3,800 mg/day

9-13 years

4,500 mg/day

14 years and up

4,700 mg/day


18 years and up

4,700 mg/day

Pregnant women

4,700 mg/day

Breastfeeding women

5,100 mg/day

Always take potassium supplements with a full glass of water or juice.

There is no set upper limit for potassium. So it’s not clear exactly how much potassium you can take safely. However, very high doses of potassium can be deadly. This does not apply to consuming foods that are high in potassium:  Potatoes, winter squash, white beans, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, avocados, meats, milk and milk products, raisins, spinach.


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Following a Plant-Based Diet? Simplified

The recommendation to follow a plant-based diet has been applauded as a  way to cut your risks of chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, hypertension, obesity and diabetes). The truth is that following this type of diet is healthy for our environment as well and many maintain that if we do not, we may not be able to sustain a high meat diet for the entire planet.

What does a plant-based diet really mean? Obviously eating more plants, but this important message needs more clarification. The following article simply tells us about some studies where a more vegetarian approach has resulted in some healthy outcomes. It even has some recipes (although I have not tried any).

There are some indications that even just cutting back on meat-based meals and increase healthier foods (less processed) can have benefits, even weight loss and maintenance. Many of the cultures studied around the world with the best health and longevity statistics occasionally eat some meat.