Make 2020 A “No Dieting” Year

Research has shown us that simply the process of dieting can make us fatter. Year after year a tremendous number of people attempt to diet.  However, long-term studies of of those who diet consistently find they are more likely to end up gaining weight in the next few years than people who don’t diet.

Restrictive diets can lead to cravings, binge-eating, depression, and other eating disorders. The body has a range of weights referred to as a set-point at which it prefers to maintain in terms of body weight. When this set point is challenged by chronic dieting, you trigger the body’s natural hormonal and nervous systems mechanisms  to protect your body from perceived starvation. One of these is to lower your metabolic rate and thus conserve energy so you burn fewer calories.  The following article offers some sensible tips to avoid strict dieting and still be able to manage your weight loss or maintenance.

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Processed Food: Are We Addicted?

The following post may explain in part the possibility of food addiction, a highly controversial topic especially when it comes to processed foods.

Perhaps it is best explained by this excerpt from Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

” The blood gets especially besieged when processed food is ingested, flooding the system with its heavy loads of salt, sugar, and fat…, there, narcotics and food…act much alike. Once ingested, they race along the same pathways, using the same neurological circuity to reach the brain’s pleasure zones, those areas that reward us with enjoyable feelings for doing the right thing by our bodies. Or, as the case may be, for doing what the brain has been led to believe is the right thing.”

The following link provides us with a video (suggested (13 min.) and the text of a recent TED talk. Interesting analysis.

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Fiber: The Basis of a Plant-based Diet?

 

Such an important nutrient, but never the talk of the town. Actually it gets little attention on the large scale of “most talked about nutrition issues list”.  What is low in calories, prevents constipation, may lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and is generally underconsumed by people on the Standard American Diet (SAD)?  The answer? Fiber!!

Total fiber intake in U.S. children and adults is about 15 grams a day. When teaching nutrition, most students in my classes after diet analyses, were lucky if they went over 9 grams a day. The recommendation is 28 grams a day for women and 35 grams a day for men.

It was thought that fiber contributed little caloric value since it is not broken down by human digestive enzymes. Recent studies suggest that bacteria in the colon are able to break down many types of fibers to some extent (2 calories/gram). They excrete fatty acids as a waste product and then used as an energy source by the colon and the rest of the body. When you think about it, fiber may be responsible to a great extent for the health benefits of a plant-based diet.

There are two major classifications of dietary fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers slow down glucose absorption and reduces fat and cholesterol absorption. They are found in oats, barley, fruit pulp, dried beans and psyllium.  They are fibers that are not fibrous.

Insoluble fibers are particularly beneficial for preventing constipation. They are found more in wheat bran,  legumes, seeds, and the skin on fruits and vegetables.

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What Do Microbiologists Eat? Or Not Eat?

During my teaching days, I taught a course in infectious disease for several years. As part of our lab sessions, we  did some sampling to test  some common areas in the cafeteria as well as some local food samples from a few local restaurants (salads) and other produce from the supermarket.

As a result in our lab, we found E.coli growing in the ice tea spouts in the cafeteria and growing in the alfalfa sprouts at the local supermarket. The presence of these types of bacteria suggest  fecal contamination – need I say more?  Raw sprout contamination is not new. Raw sprouts are not recommended for pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, or the  elderly. Keep in mind that the species of E. coli can range from “friendly bacteria” to dangerous pathogens (E. coli 157:H7.)

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Restricted Eating Can Improve the Metabolic Syndrome

What is Restricted Eating?

Time-restricted eating is a type of intermittent fasting, a topic found in abundance lately in reference to health and/or weight loss interventions. Often weight loss appears to be the primary outcome of diets; however, there important health benefits associated with consuming an optimum diet, not just weight loss alone.

This time-frame of eating can vary according to the person’s preference and the plan they choose to follow. Typically, though, the eating window in time-restricted programs ranges from 6–12 hours a day.

Outside of this period, a person consumes no calories. They should, however, drink water or no-calorie beverages to remain hydrated. In some time-restricted diet plans, people may also consume unsweetened coffee or tea with no cream.

Although time-restricted eating will not work for everyone, those who have their doctor’s approval may find it beneficial. Some recent studies have shown that it can aid weight loss and may lower the risk of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

What is the Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of health risks, including elevated blood pressure, altered blood lipids, high blood glucose, insulin resistance, and a large waist circumference that increases the chance of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

A group of researchers from the U. of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies looked at 19 participants, 13 men and 6 women who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.  For a 12 -week period, their eating was restricted to a maximum of 10 hours a day, during which time they could eat anything they wanted, and in whatever quantities they wished.

The study defined at baseline the eating window as the interval which 95% of calories were consumed and in this case was about 15 hours every day. At the end of the study, a 29% reduction in the eating interval to 10 hours a day resulted in a 3% reduction in weight, BMI and percent body fat and a 4% reduction in waist circumference.. Patients also reported that they had a more restful sleep and many saw a reduction in cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

The authors concluded: Time-restricted eating is a powerfully potential lifestyle intervention that can be added to standard medical practice to treat metabolic syndrome.

The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

 

 

Eating Leafy Greens Safely

EATING Leafy Greens Safely from Consumer Report, March 2020

Many nutritionists declare that eating leafy greens are one of the hallmarks of eating a healthy diet.  This is true, but due to various environmental events this advice has been questioned.  The main culprit in this story is romaine lettuce that has too many times been implicated with outbreaks of food borne illnesses caused by a bacterium called E. coli.

Take the case of Cheryl in 1992.

Her mother, Susan knew something was wrong when she found her 6-year old daughter, Cheryl doubled up in pain and moaning. Her husband, Tom took her to the hospital after they realized Cheryl was also suffering from severe bloody diarrhea.  Susan and Tom spent the rest of the day wondering what was going on. Appendicitis was mentioned as a possibility.  By the morning, Cheryl was transferred to the ICU and given powerful painkillers. The next afternoon more tests  showed that Cheryl did not have appendicitis. Now what? New tubes were connected to Cheryl’s body, but her condition only worsened as the day wore on.

Cheryl continued to get worse which resulted in a heart attack and she was eventually put on life support; the damage to her heart and brain and kidneys were irreversible. The time had come to remove her ventilator. Susan sat there holding her six-year old daughter who five days previous had stayed home from school with a stomachache. Now she was gone.

The cause still remained a medical mystery until one physician had listed as a possible cause hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a rare disease leading to anemia and kidney failure. He had read that research identified E. coli as the primary cause of HUS. Most E. coli strains are harmless to humans, but one strain E. coli 0157:H7 can be deadly since  this bacterium manufactures a toxin that attacks red blood cells.  Stool cultures from Cheryl confirmed the presence of the E.coli O157:H7.

Soon other children had been infected and presented to emergency rooms over the Northwest U.S. “The headlines read: At least 45 people in Western Washington, most of them children, have fallen ill from an outbreak of a bacterial illness commonly linked to under-cooked beef, the state Department of Health officials said yesterday” The bacterium was identified as E. coli 0157:H7 and identified the source was hamburger meat served at a Jack in the Box restaurant that resulted in the death of four children and over seven hundred others who were gravely ill.  These potentially lethal outbreaks have forever changed America’s relationship with food. Previously, most consumers thought of food poisoning as a short-lived nuisance, if they thought of it at all. Now it has become more of a threat to the public and the produce industry in addition to the meat-industry.

Outbreaks Continue:  Consumer Reports, A Safety Guide to Leafy Greens, March 2020.

“According to the CDC, from 2006 and 2019 romaine and other leafy greens, such as bags of spinach and spring mix, have been involved in at least 46 multistate E. coli outbreaks. Some research shows that greens cause more cases of food poisoning than any other food, including beef.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73,000 Americans become infected with this strain from all sources each year and about 60 people die as a result.

“Many victims of these outbreaks have had their lives seriously disrupted. Many have needed kidney transplants and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses because they chose to eat a presumably healthy food,” says Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer in Seattle who negotiated settlements for many victims.

For every reported case, there are many, many more cases that are not reported, says the CDC. Something has gone wrong with the processing practices we now employ and can occur during any of the steps required to grow, harvest, and package salad greens. Salad greens in the U.S. are primarily grown in two main areas: Salinas Valley, California and Yuma, Arizona, depending on the season.

However, leafy greens, especially romaine lettuce have consistently been found to be the culprit in a great majority of cases from all causes. Sales of romaine have plummeted from sales of $563 million in 2017 to $465 million presently. Still, growers are trying to figure out at what stage of the plant’s growth, a potentially deadly bacteria finds its way into and onto lettuce leaves. As bacteria are killed in products that are consumed after cooking, salads are usually eaten raw. In raw foods, this final “kill” step of cooking simply does not exist making it more difficult to contain any outbreaks. Even more simply, consumer demand for salad greens has increased significantly. Romaine became the trendy lettuce and popular for salads, burritos, wraps. Even most mixed greens bags contain some romaine.

How Greens Become Contaminated

Growing the Seeds

Bacteria such as E. coli are found in animal feces from cattle and sheep and the leaves of the growing plants can take up the microbes into their roots and thus the leaves.  Many of these lettuce farms are unfortunately found close to animal feedlots and the runoff from the feedlot waste ends up into the water used to irrigate the growing crops. It also may be carried by the wind from feedlots onto the adjacent growing plants. Wild animals or birds can deposit bacteria onto the fields. One major outbreak was attributed to the presence of wild boar contaminating the fields.

Harvesting the Fields

Machinery that helps to harvest may carry bacteria onto the fields.  Workers may not practice proper hand washing when harvesting crops (this is hard to maintain in the field setting. When plant leaves are cut during harvesting, the ends provide a reservoir of nutrients for the bacteria to thrive on and bacteria to enter the leaves.

Processing Plants

For bagged greens, plants from many sources are mixed together. If there is even one contaminated leaf in the mix, the rest will soon become contaminated as well. Equipment is not sanitized properly, and workers do not practice adequate hand washing procedures. Greens are washed in a sanitizing solution that may be recycled.

Triple-washed Greens

Most consumers feel reassured when buying bagged greens that state on the label, “Triple-washed, Ready to Eat. This creates a false sense of security since most bacteria are almost impossible to remove. It only takes 10 microscopic bacterial cells of E. coli, for example, to be considered an infectious dose. Therefore, this process may cut bacterial contamination, but it does not guarantee all the bacteria are “killed.”

Fifty-six percent of Americans rinse their lettuce before eating it, but mere water does little to remove harmful bacteria. Bagged lettuce contains greens from many farms and the leaves have all been cut. ” According to the results from a 2006 spinach outbreak, the tainted greens were eventually traced to one small section of just one small section of just one growers’ field.”

Prevention

Prevention is a complicated problem. More regulations are needed, but growers say they have already made most of the changes that are known to improve food safety.  “There’s no such thing as zero risk” according to Channah Rock, Ph.D., a researcher.  People need to be alerted to outbreaks and recalls more quickly to stop the contaminated food from reaching the market. In my opinion, feedlots should not be allowed to operate so close to produce fields – and stricter water testing is needed. As with all regulations, delays are inevitable. For example, stricter rules were implemented to take place in 2018. Now they have been pushed out to at least 2022.  Delays like this are unacceptable when consumers’ lives are involved.

The Safest Ways to Eat Salad

Even though there are problems, in my opinion, consumers should know the facts of the hazards and make their own decisions as to whether to eat raw salad greens or not. 25% of Americans say they eat lettuce less often now than before. I personally avoid raw salads but find this unfortunate due to their high nutrient density and recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables. Here Is what you can do until the industry can make greens less risky.

  • Cook sturdier greens until wilted: Use spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, bok choy
  • Consider buying whole head lettuce, not bagged. The heads are less processed, cut, and easier to wash before eating. Their inner leaves are more protected and are less likely to meet with sources of contamination.
  • Keep packaged lettuce cold and eat it soon. Bacteria grow more quickly at room temperatures. Watch the expiration dates. Do not use damaged or bruised leaves.
  • Look for hydroponic or green-house grown greens. These are more protected against animal droppings in soil or water. Cleanliness depends on the water source and hand hygiene of the workers.
  • Soak greens in white vinegar for 10 minutes, then rinse. This will only reduce bacteria levels, not kill all bacteria. Forget salad rinses that only will clean off dirt or chemicals. They do not kill bacteria.
  • Stay informed. You can follow recalls at FDAfood and USDAFoodSafety. On either sites, you can sign up for email alerts.

The Standard American Diet: SAD Realities

The American Plate

When the truth is addressed, we really do not know much about nutrition science,  especially its physiological influences on our health. This dilemma results in the ongoing debates about just what is a healthy diet. In reality, nutrition is an infant science that has been ignored by some who feel  it is relatively an unimportant  factor on our health issues.

Doctors do not help the situation – most will admit that they never received much education about how the diet can affect heath parameters. My own doctor never mentioned the fact that even though I had lost 20 pounds intentionally since my last visit, he never asked me any particulars about the diet that got me there. One would think that he might have inquired if  the weight loss was not intentional, therefore indicating a health problem. He also never mentioned the resulting  lab value changes, primarily total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglyceride, blood glucose, blood pressure values that had improved with the dietary changes I had made on my own.

But most people are not aware of how diet can affect our heath (the emphasis has been only on weight loss).  When doctors don’t  mention it, patients do not receive the        proper information on diet interventions. For example, if their total cholesterol is too high, they are told to eat a low cholesterol, low fat diet (outdated advice) and/or placed on a statin drug.  Nutrition science has come a long way since those days from a couple of decades ago. The prudent way would be to give diet a chance. Diet advice is abundant on the internet. However, you should be careful about some of it – look for help from certified nutritionists (Registered dietitians or others with certification from a health coach program, for example.)

The following article written by Reinoud Schuijers explains quite well the problems with the Standard American Diet (SAD)  as the three “assassins” – refined vegetable oils, sugar and grains. He seems to follow a keto-type diet; however, research has not yet fully investigated the long-term effects of this highly restrictive plan.

Take charge of your own heath and encourage your doctor to help you take the path to healthy lifestyles. The internet is teeming with diet advice, but use it wisely. In my opinion (contrary to the following article) it may help to consult with a certified dietitian or certified health coach). But you don’t need to follow complicated meal plans – the best diet is one you form based on your lifestyle and food preferences. Say away from highly restrictive plans, fads and detoxification schemes as well as diet pills.

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