Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Fad Diets: More Nuts Than Berries?

Ever since I read a book entitled “The New Nuts Among the Berries” by Ronald M. Deutsch (1977), I have been interested in fad diets and nutrition quackery for decades and marvel at their persistent presence in our society, not to mention their creativity. Don’t miss the Swamp Diet in the following article. (Spoiler: move away from swamps). Warning: Fad diets can only lead to health problems and none are recommended. Very restrictive diets can be dangerous and should never be followed without medical supervision if at all.



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More Detox Nonsense?

What seems to make sense is not always sensible.  Detox diets and products that promise detox have been around for decades and I thought they had been put to rest. But I guess not thanks to that “health”l guru, Gwyneth Paltrow.

You can thank your liver and kidneys every day for disposal of toxins we may meet.

What will she think of next? I can hardly wait.


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Paleo or Keto: Which is the Best Choice?


Both the Paleolithic and Ketogenic diets have been in the spotlight for the past few years now. How do they compare in safety, efficacy, and which is easiest to follow? Which one is healthiest?

The first article from Authority Nutrition does an excellent job of answering these questions and simply explains the pros and cons of both of them. The second article provides more details from the critics of the ketogenic diet. The long-term effects of consuming very low carbohydrate combined with a high fat diet has, to my knowledge never been tested in a long-term trial or in an epidemiological sense with the exception of using the keto diet for epilepsy treatment primarily in children.



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Dietary Guidelines From Around the World


My Favorite Dietary Guidelines from Around the World

By Sally J. Feltner, Ph.D.,M.S., RDN

Every five years the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are published with recommendations for the public based on the latest research findings. Most all countries do offer similar advice like limit sugar and salt, eat more fruits and vegetables, increase physical activity, consume whole grains, etc. etc. However often they have other various perspectives on what a healthy lifestyle should represent and they make a lot of sense.

So here are some my favorite suggestions that in an ideal world could be considered by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee the next time around, which will be sometime in 2020.

Bermuda: Breast milk is the best choice for infants to start a healthy life.

Brazil: Be wary of food advertising and marketing.
Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Greece: Use olive oil as the main added lipid and drink wine in moderation.

Germany: Allow plenty of time for eating and enjoy mealtimes.

Finland: Read and learn to understand product labels.

Mexico: Avoid overeating; consume smaller portions and stop eating when you feel satisfied.

Hungary: To prevent obesity, provide a good example to your children by observing the principals of healthy nutrition.
Eat calmly, never eat when driving or at work.

Japan: Track your daily food intake to monitor your diet.
Enjoy your meals.

Turkey: Instead of short diets, a lifelong diet including healthy nutritional rules should be applied.

Antiqua/Barbuda: Use safe food handling and food storage practices.

Dominican Republic: Wash your hands with water and soap before every meal to avoid infectious disease.

Honduras: Walk for at least half an hour a day to stay healthy and stress free.
Reduce consumption of fried foods and cold meats to keep your heart healthy.

There are some culture specific Guidelines that are interesting but do not have general applications for most of us. For example:

Thailand: Stop smoking. Drink kava and alcohol responsibly.
China: Consume plenty of soybeans.
Iceland: Vitamin D (vitamin D supplement), cod liver oil or D-tablets is recommended, at least during the winter time.

The chances are slim that any of these will appear in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines. It’s too bad since all suggest positive benefits. If used, these Guidelines would appear not be industry-funded or reflect biases from some pressure groups and food lobbyists that currently attempt to persuade the U.S. committee members.

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A low fat or low carbohydrate diet: Which is it? The DIETFITS study


Will this debate ever end ?- there is hope after reading this study. The results were not so new – other studies have shown similar results.

This study showed that it made little difference whether a dieter chooses a low fat or low carbohydrate diet, but it was the quality of the foods in both groups that resulted in a meaningful weight loss instead of dwelling on calorie restriction. The low carbohydrate group had a larger loss, but the differences were not significant.

The weight loss range was substantial -some losing a lot of weight while a few even gained weight on both of the diets. The distribution curve was startlingly similar between the groups.

This study scored a win for whole foods rather than consuming highly processed foods. Refined carbohydrates are still defined as “junk” so sugar and flour more than likely are not very good food choices for health and/or weight control.

“Before worrying about the details, one should ensure their diet is more whole foods (with ample vegetables) than processed foods. If your chosen diet leaves you feeling hungry, you will likely revert back to old eating habits.” was a quote from the lead author of the study. All weight loss programs/plans should include a weight loss maintenance phase since it makes no sense to lose weight and not be able to keep the weight off permanently. If you plan to lose some weight, this study should be a “must read.” You can find the whole study HERE.

CLICK HERE for a brief summary.

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The Best Diet? The Debate Continues


The debate about the best diet for health (not weight loss) continues with the latest report from U S. News and World Report. Winning top awards are three diets: the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH diet and coming in third, the Flexitarian Diet. These diets are basically saturated fat restricted and recommend the conventional wisdom of a more plant-based approach of whole grains and fruits and vegetables in order to prevent heart disease and diabetes.

On the other hand, there are critics of the report that include the proponents of the low carbohydrate, high fat ketogenic (LCHF-keto) diet that is lately gaining some attention at least for weight loss and claims to reverse diabetes. Many of these claims appear to be anecdotal on the Internet. By the way, the LCHF-keto diet came in last in the report by the nutrition experts. See my previous post HERE.

It still remains to be seen conclusively if  any of these diets can be protective against heart disease.  There is a great deal of research on the Mediterranean Diet and the lower risks of many chronic diseases.  To be fair, research on low carb diets is increasing due to interest on the LCHF diet claims for weight loss, diabetes prevention and lowering some risk factors of heart disease.  At the heart of the conflict is whether saturated fat is an unhealthy or healthy fat. The LCHF diet recommends using saturated fat liberally.

Partisans of both sides may be right or wrong. One fact is that  both are very restrictive and are very hard to follow for long periods of time, especially in our current food environment. There is fat and /or sugar (carbs) in almost every brand and type of processed food products. Often the food industry intentionally puts them there to increase the palatability of the product and to increase profits.

In the meantime,  the best diet remains to be the food choices you make and can incorporate into your lifestyle whether it is vegan, low fat or low carb.  One diet is not for everyone. It is important to consider your genetic background and health history. If you change your diet please consult with your physician for his/her opinions.


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Are There Pro and Anti Inflammatory Foods?

Are There Pro and Anti Inflammatory Foods?

Inflammation occurs as a normal reaction when there is any injury to the body. Acute inflammation is a nonspecific response to any kind of injury and is usually characterized by swelling, heat, and redness, and pain.

All of us have experienced these obvious symptoms at some time. Most of the time, inflammation is a lifesaver that enables our bodies to fend off various disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites. Then just as quickly, the process subsides and healing begins.

Every once in a while, however, the whole process does not shut down on cue, as it should. In any event, inflammation becomes chronic rather than temporary. When that occurs, the body turns on itself with inflammatory effects that seem to underlie a wide variety of diseases, ranging from heart disease and cancer to arthritis. Other diseases where chronic inflammation may be implicated are Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease to name a few.

Lately, there has been growing interest in the role of diet in this inflammatory response and articles and books decry the assumed hazards of pro-inflammatory and promote the claimed benefits of anti-inflammatory foods. How can compounds in foods help fight inflammation or themselves be considered inflammatory?

  1. Providing antioxidants to reduce the damage caused by free radicals that are produced in normal metabolism or due to external environmental stresses. The accumulated damage to cells or DNA known as oxidative stress can trigger diseases, for example tumor initiation or the formation of atherosclerotic plaques
  2. Certain foods called prebiotics support protective gut bacteria that can tame inflammation in the colon. Some examples are beans, onions, garlic and chickpeas.
  3. Obesity is associated with increasing inflammation in the body. Fat cells secrete interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor that can increase inflammation. In addition, weight gain decrease an anti-inflammatory hormone called adiponectin. When weight loss (even 5-10% loss) occurs, the inflammation factors decrease.
  4. Certain foods contain phytochemicals called polyphenols that fight inflammation.
  5. Check out the list of foods high in polyphenols HERE.
  6. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-6, omega-3) can influence the production of eisosanoids that produce anti and pro inflammatory hormones. Check out a previous post HERE.

Foods that can cause inflammation:

There are no surprises here. The list:

  • Refined carbohydrates, i.e. the white foods like white bread and baked goods.
  • Fried foods
  • Sugar sweetened beverages
  • Red and processed meats
  • Margarines, shortening and lard

Foods that fight inflammation:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and sardines)
  • Berries (strawberries, blueberries, cherries) and oranges

Dietary patterns may he anti-inflammatory. When compared to a low fat diet, a Mediterranean Diet decreased inflammatory factors (IL-6 and C-reactive protein) and appeared to favor those factors that decrease our risk of cardiovascular disease.

Anti-inflammtory effects of the Mediterranean Diet: the experience of the PREDIMED Study.

Estruch, R.

Proc. Nutr. Soc. 2010, Aug.69:333-40

From the Abstract: “Compared to a low-fat diet, the Med-Diet produced favorable changes in all risk factors. Thus, participants in both Med-Diet groups reduced blood pressure, improved lipid profile and diminished insulin resistance compared to those allocated a low-fat diet. In addition, the Med-Diet supplemented with virgin olive oil or nuts showed an anti-inflammatory effect reducing serum C-reactive protein, IL-6 and endothelial and monocytary adhesion molecules and chemokines, whereas these parameters increased after the low-fat diet intervention.”