FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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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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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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Are Chickpeas a Healthy Plant Choice?

 

Plant-based diets are one of the more recent recommendations based on the rising popularity of the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH diet, the MIND diet and the traditional diets of the longest living populations showcased in The Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner.

One category of plants known as pulses or legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) have many health benefits and are an excellent way to shift your diet into more of a plant-based mode.

Chickpeas or garbanzo beans were cultivated from a wild plant found in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East as far back in history as circa 5000 B.C.E. Chickpeas, are also grown in California, Montana, North Dakota and other states. Historically, about 70 percent of the chickpea crop in these regions was exported each year,  but that has changed because of the rising domestic demand for hummus.

Chickpeas are named because instead of a smooth surface like most beans, they have a bumpy surface that resembles the beak of a chicken. Chickpeas are an excellent source of vitamin B6, folate, fiber, protein, thiamine, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and zinc.

One cup (canned, drained) USDA Food Composition Database

210 calories

10.7 g of protein

3.7 g. of fat

34 g. of carbohydrate

9.6 g. of fiber (great source of fiber)

Research suggests the following health benefits from chickpea consumption:

  • Lowers blood cholesterol
  • Lowers blood glucose
  • Lowers risk of diabetes type 2
  • Helps with weight loss by adding satiety
  • Is a great snack food

Five-Minute Hummus

Ingredients

  1. 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  2. 1 clove garlic
  3. 1⁄4 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
  4. 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  5. 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste; optional)
  6. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  7. kosher salt
  8. 1/4 teaspoon paprika

Directions

  1. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas and garlic with the olive oil, lemon juice, tahini (if using), cumin, and ¾ teaspoon salt until smooth and creamy. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water as necessary to achieve the desired consistency.
  2. Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the paprika before serving.


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Change Your Microbiome?

Spherical bacteria

Recent attention to the microbiome has supported the premise that we depend on a vast army of microbes to  protect us against germs, help us digest and assimilate food,  release energy, and produce vitamins. Can we change it to further give us additional health benefits?

CLICK HERE.


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The Lessons from Okinawa

Okinawan Market

Some of my favorite ways to study the effects of diets and lifestyles on health  is to take an objective look at the healthiest cultures on the planet. Although these studies are observational, they study real people living in a real environment. They provide us with invaluable information about how health and longevity are affected by the culture in which we live.  Granted, your diet is only part of the total equation.  And it must be emphasized that these healthy patterns are based on traditional habits of these cultures. When Western-type diets invade these populations, time and time again, their positive health statistics change generally for the worst. Please watch the video and then go out and buy some sweet potatoes.

CLICK HERE.


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Can a Supplement Extend Life?

One of the current theories of aging or longevity is the Telomere Theory. This theory claims that shorter or longer telomeres can predict how long we live. See a previous post HERE. Research tells us that the evidence of lifestyle interventions (diets, supplements, etc) to support these claims is weak. Bottom line: Be skeptical of companies that promote  diets or supplements that promise to affect your telomeres leading to increased health or longevity.

CLICK HERE.