Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Food Safety: Awareness, Education and Prevention

An Angry Bacteria

Foodborne illness is not a pleasant topic to think about. However, the most important protection against it is learning more about it and ways to prevent it.  When I taught infectious disease courses, we had what we called a Food Lab for the purpose of detecting certain bacterial contamination on some common foods.

Specifically we found that alfalfa sprouts from a local supplier in a large supermarket, a salad from a local restaurant, and some equipment in a cafeteria in the community all contained some species of E.coli, but we lacked the ability to determine if they were the harmful types. Nevertheless, they should not have been there. In all cases, this suggested the lack of proper food handling practices.

Sometimes, it is impossible to avoid, but with proper cleaning or hand washing procedures during food preparation, it can be prevented.

It is also important to realize the seriousness of some of these infections by reading the stories of the survivors. The following article is about a victim who expresses some valid points about education of the medical community.


CLICK HERE for a previous post on food safety practices in the home.


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Diet and Cancer Prevention: A Common Sense Guide

In the past, diet and cancer associations primarily concentrated on the individual effects of nutrients on tumor growth.  I personally conducted research with rats on the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids on breast cancer incidence and we found no differences in tumor formation between omega-6 and omega-3 fats.

We have now gotten past this narrow approach and find that the study of overall diet patterns are a better way to  convey the best way to counteract tumor initiation, promotion and progression.

The following article is long but contains excellent common sense information on diet and cancer prevention. It also explains why the scientific community has made these recommendations based on what we think we know from current research studies. It is one thing to know what to eat but the best is to know why recommendations are established.





























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The Mediterranean Diet and Cancer Prevention


The Mediterranean Diet scores again – this  time with cancer prevention. In the 1980’s, cancer prevention and diet were hot topics. It was thought at the time that specific nutrients were the key to affecting cancer rates. Examples included omega-3 fatty acids  and individual nutrients, namely beta carotene, and vitamin E were the favorite “supernutrients” of the era. However, disappointing results occurred and the use of beta carotene and vitamin E supplements actually were found to promote certain cancers than protect against them.

More research has correctly centered around the use of diet scores that compare adherence to certain diet patterns like the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet and cancer prevention as well as other chronic diseases. For the latest results, CLICK HERE.


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The Obesity/Diabesity Pandemic – Solutions?

Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of the most common form of diabetes mellitus, type 2, so much so that the epidemic is often called diabesity. It has been described as one of the most important crises that has invaded our public health system. It has now become a pandemic since it meets the definition: (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.

Globally: Source: Lancet

  • Since 1980, the number of adults with diabetes worldwide has quadrupled from 108 million to 422 million in 2014.
  • Diabetes is fast becoming a major problem in low and middle-income countries.
  • From 1980 to 2014, the prevalence of diabetes more than doubles for men in India and China.
  • Half of adults worldwide with diabetes in 2014 lived in five countries: China, India, USA, Brazil and Indonesia.

So what are some possible solutions for the future?  

The standard American diet (SAD) is in much need of an overhaul and our national food systems need to change if we wish to reverse or at least slow down this trend. Many say that it would take the same determination as the campaigns to change behaviors that were utilized during the campaigns against smoking. .

Prevention awareness should be first on the front lines of treating the people with prediabetes that can often be reversible using lifestyle modifications. There are already some prevention models in the community; however, these should be expanded so that they become more easily accessible to more people. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) uses intensive behavioral therapy to help people lose a little bit of weight (typically 5-10%). When this program is followed, the number of people progressing to have diabetes comes down by more than half; In people over 60, the reduction was 70%.

Nutrition education should be incorporated into the school system in the early years to help young children understand the importance of knowing where our food comes from and why healthy foods are the best choice. They can be taught about balanced eating, calories, reading labels and grocery shopping. Nutrition education can also be offered at the middle and high school levels by returning to a totally revamped and modernized home economics course in the curriculum. Involving students in their nutrition education is key.

A lingering problem has existed for many primary care physicians for many years in that they say they were never adequately prepared in nutrition principles in medical schools. In a survey of family physicians (2009), two thirds said that dealing with extremely obese patients is “frustrating “and one-half said treatments are often ineffective. This is reflected by a lack off obesity training.

Shockingly, another survey in 2010 of 140 doctors revealed that nearly one-third were not even familiar with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) prediabetes guidelines. Only 6 percent were able to identify all 11 risk factors and on average, the doctors could only identify just eight of the warning signs. Only 17 percent knew the correct laboratory values for blood glucose and only 11 percent said they would refer a patient to a behavioral weight loss program. If the medical community was more involved in increasing access to prevention programs or other options, more attention might be paid by individuals in seeking these treatments. In other words, people listen to their doctors.

There should be an increased number and access to professional treatments. Medical professionals not trained in obesity management should refer their patients to outside providers such as dietitians, exercise trainers, behavior therapists, psychologists, or a new concept of health coaches. These providers should be trained, certified, and credentialed to protect the public from unscrupulous treatments and to provide quality care. Reimbursement of qualified health professionals needs to be enhanced.

We have become a nation of non-cooks and prefer to have our meals prepared by someone else. Encourage home cooking and home kit meals to help to counter using fast foods and packaged highly processed meals loaded with calories, fat, sugar and salt.

Educate the public on food labeling, ingredient lists and marketing techniques. Beware of food companies that promote products with a “health halo” meaning exaggerated claims are made that appear to make unhealthy foods seem healthy because of an added nutrient or ingredient. Corporations also mislead consumers with their labeling. For example they may include four different types of sugar to keep sugar from being listed as the first ingredient. This is misleading to the consumer when attempting to make wise food choices.

Stop corporate-government partnerships and lobbying influences.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is funded by a myriad of food companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s. The dairy industry has a long history of influencing the food pyramid and Dietary Guidelines. Another health organization guilty of taking in millions from food companies is the American Heart Association. They offer a “Heart – Check logo for a price: $5, 490 to $7,500 that is renewable for another annual fee. The product has to be low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol to gain this “honor.” However, some products such as Boar’s Head processed meats have the logo and still may contain high levels of sodium. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. May 17, 2010

Bottom Line: It will take a concerted effort from government, politics, industry, communities, and other perpetrators of our obesigenic culture to begin to change this disturbing trend and prevention is the key. It may take decades; however, there has to be a beginning.

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The Mediterranean Diet – A Closer Look

The Mediterranean Diet (MeDiet) has been studied in more detail than any other eating plan in the world. Does it deliver its claims that it may be so far the best diet for heart disease prevention?

Thanks to Authority Nutrition, the article looks at the research from subgroups of participants from the PREMIDED Study that studies two types of Mediterranean Diets compared to a healthy low-fat diet.

This article is a long read but an excellent summary and is simply stated.  If you don’t care for details, please read the Results and Conclusions. There is interesting information about consuming a Mediterranean type diet and its proposed benefits for heart disease prevention.

Here is a description of the entire study.

“The PREDIMED study was designed to assess the long-term effects of the MeDiet on incident CVD in men and women at high cardiovascular risk. PREDIMED is a multicenter, randomized, nutritional intervention trial for the primary prevention of CVD performed in Spain from 2003 to 2011. The study was funded by the official Spanish agency for scientific research, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, and food industries donated the key foods used in the study. Full details of the study protocol have been described previously (19). Candidates were selected from primary care facilities affiliated with 11 recruiting sites and were at high risk of CVD but had no clinical disease at enrollment. Criteria for recruitment were age of 55–80 y and the presence of diabetes or ≥3 risk factors (smoking, overweight or obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and family history of early-onset CVD )(Fig. 1). Participants were randomly assigned into 1 of 3 interventions: 1) MeDiet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO); 2) MeDiet supplemented with nuts; and 3) control diet (advice on a low-fat diet). Thus, the 2 MeDiet interventions were high vegetable–fat dietary patterns.”

Emilio Ros, Miguel A. Martínez-González, Ramon Estruch, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, Montserrat Fitó, José A. Martínez, Dolores Corella; Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health: Teachings of the PREDIMED Study, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 5, Issue 3, 1 May 2014, Pages 330S–336S,



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Diabetes Awareness Month

The global statistics speak for themselves.  “This year 10 million more people are living with diabetes than in 2015, meaning that 1 in 11 adults now has diabetes, for a total of 425 million people.” Many people don’t know they even have a condition called pre-diabetes. Prevention is often effective and there are many prevention programs in the U.S; however, they do not seem to be utilized as well as they should be.

In my opinion, people can lose 10% of their body weight on any diet in time if they stick to the program.  The problem: Keeping the weight off. An effective prevention program for obesity/diabetes should contain weight maintenance training in terms of realizing what is necessary to prevent weight regain. Our bodies have developed many mechanisms for putting weight back on, not taking it off. A Forbes article found HERE discusses some pitfalls on weight reduction.


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Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?


It is too bad that prevention is not emphasized more often to the younger population in order to possibly prevent the ravages of chronic diseases later in life. Research suggest that cognitive decline can at least be delayed by “healthy” lifestyle choices earlier in life rather than after the offending damage has occurred.


The younger population appears to be less healthy than previous generations of the same age group affecting retirement age and health care costs. For more, CLICK HERE.