Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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The Mind Diet


More research on a Mediterranean-type diet on prevention of cognitive decline.  Again, the results may have been slightly overstated in the headlines, so we still need better study designs to support these claims. Nevertheless, these types of diets have shown consistent beneficial effects on the incidence of chronic diseases.


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The Diet Mentality


Lately there has been a renewed interest in how repeated dieting leads to weight gain. Most people who lose large amounts of weight eventually regain all they have lost and more. Repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, referred to as weight cycling decrease the likelihood that future attempts at weight loss will be successful.  There are other approaches to  weight management called intuitive eating or mindful eating  that may offer an alternative to this dilemma.  An older approach is the recognition of the Health At Every Size (HAES) philosophy.


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Detox or Not?

English: Simplifast lemon detox diet beverage

English: Simplifast lemon detox diet beverage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saint Augustine once said that “fasting cleanses the soul [and] raises the mind.” Historically, fasting has its roots in religion and spirituality, but these days has been adopted as a quick pathway to weight loss. These “detox diets” or “cleanses” are everywhere. Take a look at the various book titles: “The Fast Track Detox Diet,” “The Raw Food Detox Diet,” “Super Cleanse: Detox Your Body for Long-Lasting Health and Beauty” and “21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox.” As many as 3 million Americans think that colonic hydrotherapy, a component of many detox methods,  is the answer to good health.   Proponents say detox diets rid the body of impurities and boost energy.  Colonic therapy can be downright dangerous leading to complications such as:

  • Dehydration risks
  • Possibility of  bowel perforations
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Changes in your electrolytes, which can be dangerous if you have kidney disease or other health problems

In general, apart from colonic detox methods,  stay away from any diet approach including detox diets that:

  • promises accelerated weight loss by using a special liquid concoction. Such a diet, when followed long term, can lead to serious side effects, as well as malnutrition and malaise.
  • eliminates entire food groups for extended periods of time, as this can cause essential nutrient deficiencies. Eliminating nonessential items, such as alcohol, caffeine or meat, is fine, but a healthy diet should include essential oils, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and complete proteins.

For a excellent review of this dietary approach, visit the article found on WebMD.


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Heart Health and Alzheimer’s Disease

Could it be that if you protect yourself against heart disease that you may also be helping to prevent late-onset cognitive problems or dementia?   The causes of dementia depend on the age at which symptoms begin. In the elderly population (usually defined in this context as over 65 years of age), a large majority of cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD), vascular dementia or both. Vitamin B12 deficiency may also be the basis for symptoms of difficulty in maintaining balance, depression, confusion, dementia, and poor memory that mimic AD or vascular problems. Fortunately, vitamin B12 – induced dementia can be reversed with the administration of either oral or injected cobalamin (B12).

Recent research on dementia has centered more on AD, since it is estimated that by 2050, 15,000,000 people may have this devastating condition. The studies on nutrition and AD have been sparse, but now it is believed that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain. AD patients have more cases of metabolic syndrome and diabetes than non-demented patients. This leads us back to the risk factors for heart disease as well as for AD (low HDL, high LDL, high triglycerides, abdominal obesity (being an apple), high blood pressure, and impaired glucose tolerance. A new study with 1,130 Medicare patients found that people with low levels of beneficial HDL were 60% more likely to develop late-onset AD than people with higher HDL levels. They also had higher levels of LDL and total cholesterol, but after adjusting for age, sex, ethnicity, vascular risk factors, and statin treatment, only HDL remained significant.

What happens between the heart and the brain? It is thought that cardiovascular risk factors have one thing in common at least – that nitric oxide (NO) is depleted in the cells lining the blood vessels, which is called endothelial dysfunction. NO helps to keep the blood vessels dilated allowing more blood flow to body cells. Research tells us that endothelial dysfunction initiates a series of events in the brain that encourages its production of amyloid plaques precursors, that are characteristic of AD.

How to we raise our HDL? The classic ways are weight loss, smoking cessation, exercise, taking statins or other lipid-lowering medications, drinking alcohol in moderation, and eating a heart-heatlhy diet. OK, there are the magic words – what is a heart healthy diet? We used to think that lowering saturated fat was the key – now we are looking at the low-carbohydrate diet for help. From the studies I have read so far – low refined carbohydrate diets when compared with low-fat diets raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower triglyceride levels.   There, I’ve said it (I remember when saturated fat was so taboo). This may account for the new generation of low carbohydrate diet books such as the French Dukan Diet and a new revival of the Atkins Diet (yes, once again).  I am not promoting these fad diets which appear to be very restrictive.  However, limiting refined carbohydrates and including the healthy ones like vegetables, berries, whole grains could be a better approach for some people.  (more later on these diets).

Again as said in other posts, know your risk factor numbers for heart disease and now possibly AD – it just might make a difference in the future for your brain health as well as your heart.


Lessons from the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean diet was originally based on foods consumed by the people of Crete, Greece, southern Italy and other Mediterranean countries where rates of chronic disease were low and life expectancy long.

The Mediterranean dietary plan emphasized daily consumption of bread, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, cheese and yogurt, dried beans and nuts.  Daily physical activity, a traditional part of life in these areas, is emphasized.  Fish, poultry, eggs, and sweets are recommended weekly and red meat monthly.  Wine with meals is part of the plan.

Study after study has shown health benefits with decreased mortality from all causes, lower heart disease risk, diabetes, type 2, obesity and some types of cancer.  It has beneficial effects on abdominal obesity, lipid levels, glucose metabolism, and blood pressure levels – all risk factors for metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes type 2.  Some studies suggest a beneficial effect on the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent meta-analysis of epidemiology and clinical trials published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on March 15, 2011, analyzed 50 studies on the diet, with an overall population of about one-half million individuals. The results showed that adherence to a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of metabolic syndrome and improved its components such as decreased waist circumference, increased high density lipoprotein, decreased triglycerides,  reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and improved glucose metabolism.

This study is of great importance to public health, since all population groups and various cultures can easily adopt this dietary pattern.

I have often enjoyed the Website, which showcases not only the Mediterranean Diet but also the healthy Asian diet.  It is well maintained with background, research, and recipes on these healthy eating lifestyles.  Check it out on my BlogRoll or by the link above.


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