FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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The Nordic Diet? Is it Healthy?

The traditional diets rich in butter, meat, potatoes and cream of the Nordic countries are changing and so is the health profiles of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. Fruit and vegetable intake was low due the lack of availability and short growing seasons.

  • In Finland, a national public health program resulted in heart disease mortality that plummeted 55 percent among men and nearly 70 percent among women.
  • In Norway, deaths from heart disease have declined sharply by 40 percent in the 40 to 49 years old age group  since the late 1970’s.
  • Life expectancy has increased in Sweden continues to rise. Cancer rates remain significantly less of a threat in this geographical area according to World Health Organization statistics.

Could their diet changes be one of the factors responsible? Take a look at the Nordic Diet.

CLICK HERE.

Check out a previous post on this diet HERE.


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Does the Mediterranean Diet Work? An Update

A previous post described the general results from the PREDIMED Study, a study that reported on the healthy benefits of a Mediterranean-type diet. See the previous post HERE. Now new results from a subset of volunteers from the same study gives us further insight into the way the Mediterranean diet may be heart healthy.

Researchers randomly chose 296 volunteers with a high risk of heart disease who had previously participated the PREDIMED STUDY. Each was assigned to one of the following three diets for one year:

  • A traditional Mediterranean diet with added 4 tablespoons of virgin olive oil per day
  • A traditional Mediterranean diet with an added handful of nuts per day
  • A healthy control that basically was a low fat diet (decreased red meat, sweets, processed food and high-fat dairy products)

Blood tests to measure high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL) were conducted at the beginning and end of the study. For a more detailed discussion of the role of HDL and LDL as heart disease risks, see the information at the end of this post.

High levels of LDL or “bad” are linked to an increased risk of plaque formation in coronary arteries while high levels of HDL are linked to a decreased risk. LDL promotes atherosclerosis in arteries and HDL absorbs cholesterol and returns it to the liver for removal from the body. Therefore, its role helps to keep the blood vessels open.

Researchers think that it is not just the number of HDL particles that allegedly reduces the risk of heart disease, but its functional ability to do so, i e., how well does HDL work?

The results of this study showed only the control diet lowered total and LDL cholesterol as found in other studies. None of the diets improved HDL levels significantly; however, the Mediterranean diets both improved the functionality of the HDL significantly. Additionally, this benefit was much larger among those who given the diet with the extra amount of olive oil.

The Med Diets enhanced the functional ability of HDL by:

  • HDL removal of cholesterol from plaque in the arteries
  • Protected the process from LDL action on plaque development
  • Increased blood vessel relaxation to open blood flow.

One author concluded: “Following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our “good” cholesterol work in a more complete way.” The study was published in Circulation 135:633-643, 2017, a journal of the American Heart Association

Risk Factors for Heart Disease include:  High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and abnormal blood lipid levels as well as genetics, smoking activity, gender and age.  Some of these risk factors are modifiable by diet.

How are Lipids Transported in the Body?

The liver is the major lipid-producing organ. The liver uses excess protein and carbohydrate to make triglycerides or cholesterol. Triglycerides and cholesterol are carried to the cells by low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), the primary cholesterol delivery system for cells.

LDL’a must be taken up by cells by binding to an LDL receptor on the cell membrane surface or membrane. This binding allows LDLs to be removed from the blood and enter cells where they are broken apart to releases fats and cholesterol for the cell to use. If the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood exceeds the amount that can be taken up by cells due to either too much LDL or too few receptors, the result is a high level of LDL cholesterol and high levels  are associated with an increased risk of heart disease

How is Cholesterol Eliminated?

Cholesterol cannot be broken down by the body so it must be returned to the liver to be eliminated.  This is accomplished by lipoproteins called high-density lipoproteins (HDLs.) HDLs are particles that originate in the intestinal tract and liver and pick up cholesterol and takes it to the liver for disposal if not needed. A high level of HDL decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

So the bottom line:

When you have blood work, the doctor may order blood tests that measures your total cholesterol, your LDL and HDL cholesterol to determine your individual risks of having heart disease in the future.

  • Total Cholesterol: Low risk <200; High risk >240
  • LDL Cholesterol: Low risk <100; High risk   >160
  • HDL Cholesterol: Low risk: > 60; High risk <40
  • Triglycerides: Low risk; <150; High risk >200

So you ideally want your LDL-C to be low and your HDL-C values to be as high as possible (more than likely dependent on diet and genetics. So think L means “lousy” and H means “healthy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Eggs: Yes or No?

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Since the1960’s we have been advised to limit our egg consumption for the simple reason that one egg has over 200 mg. of cholesterol. However, the latest official advice on cholesterol states that the cholesterol coming from the diet does not play a major role in blood cholesterol. In other words, even if you don’t eat any cholesterol, your liver will make all you need. When some people eat cholesterol, their liver production slows and blood levels do not rise; for others that do not regulate cholesterol as well, dietary cholesterol may increase blood cholesterol. However, the increase is typically due to increases in both HDL (“healthy”) and “unhealthy” LDL cholesterol.

Bottom Line: Currently, the vast majority of epidemiological studies do not find a relationship between dietary cholesterol or egg consumption and cardiovascular disease. Many factors affect blood cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol, such as physical activity, body weight, intake of saturated and trans fat, heredity, age, and sex.

Eggs are part of the Mediterranean diet associated with good cardiovascular health. One large egg contains 6 grams of high-quality protein and are low in cholesterol-raising saturated fat. They are a good source of zinc, B vitamins, vitamin A and iron.

The yolk is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that help protect against macular degeneration and cataracts. There is research to suggest eggs may help to weight maintenance. A recent study reports that people who eat an egg-based breakfast ate less calories during the day than people eating a bagel-based breakfast.

CLICK HERE.


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A Meat Link to Heart Disease?

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Two studies that address the links between meat consumption and heart disease.  Again, a plant-based diet comes out ahead of an animal – based diet which also agrees with the epidemiological evidence presented in “The Blue Zones.” However, correlation does not mean causation.

CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE.

 


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The Power of Phytochemicals

Colorful vegetables and fruits

By Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RDN

When we hear the familiar advice “eat more fruits and vegetables” one may think initially that the reason is that these foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals. This is true, but there may be more to the story. They also are filled with compounds called phytochemicals derived from the Greek word, “phyton” meaning plants. Phytochemicals are compounds that include at least hundreds of biologically active non-nutriitious chemicals that confer potential health benefits not only to the plant but also to humans. Phytochemicals can often act as natural pesticides that help plants protect themselves from insects pests.

Some of healthy benefits offered by eating an array of colorful fruits and vegetables can include:

  • Carotenoids – some provide vitamin A and others function as antioxidant protection against free radical damage. They are found in orange and red -colored fruits and vegetables and leafy greens.
  • Flavonoids make capillary blood vessels stronger, block carcinogens and slow the growth of cancer cells. They are found in berries, citrus fruits, purple grapes, green tea and chocolate.
  • Indoles and isothiocynates increase the activity of enzymes that deactivate carcinogens, alter estrogen metabolism and affect gene expression. They are found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
  • Sulfides and allium compounds deactivate carcinogens, kill bacteria, protect against heart disease and are found in onions, garlic, leeks and chives.
  • Phytoestrogens decrease cholesterol absorption, reduce the risk of colon cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells. They are found in soy, tofu, soybeans, soy milk, flax seed and rye bread.
  • Sulforaphane detoxifies carcinogens, protect animals from breast cancer, and is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.

Keep these compounds in mind whenever you are enjoying nutritious colorful fruits and vegetables. Bon appétit!!

 


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Butter: Use Some Common Sense

Butter Is Back? Again?

Butter Is Back? Again?

“Butter is back” screamed from the headlines a few years ago as news spread quickly that saturated fat was the not the dietary villain previously claimed. Most news like this encourages a lot of Americans to throw caution to the wind and add butter back  to their diets with gusto. The following article traces the history of the butter-margarine controversy of past decades and offers some sensible advice about the use of butter in the diet.

CLICK HERE.