The Metabolic syndrome may not be a household phrase, but it should be. It’s been estimated that more than 30% of the U.S. population may have this disorder. It is defined as a cluster of symptoms that include excess fat around the waist, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, low levels of HDL and high triglyceride (blood fat levels). Diagnosis involves having at least three of these conditions.
The good news is that even a small weight loss (at least 10% of your current weight) may have a positive effect on your health.
After years of research on the subject, the consensus appears to be that there is no single diet that’s right for all of us. However, we have learned that we have a better idea of what healthy eating looks like.
The key is your overall eating pattern, not so much how many grams of carbohydrate, fat or protein you eat, or whether it is animal or plant protein. The choices are many: vegetarian?, vegan?, low fat?, low carb? Or perhaps flexetarian ( a little of both?)
The general healthiest pattern is emerging that consists mostly of nutrient dense whole foods that come from nature and includes few, if any highly processed foods. A closer look at this pattern recommends lots of vegetables and avoid sugar and refined grains.
When assessed for weight control, studies show that when individuals are divided into two major groups either low fat or low carbohydrate…
“When the decade started, America was recognized for the first time as a world power. “The Wright Brothers took flight, Henry Ford took to the road, travelers took the rails aboard luxury trains, and those who had one listened to the radio. The first feature film (The Great Train Robbery) provided entertainment, and Einstein provided a relative theory. “
There was not much progress in the home kitchen. Housewives still slaved over a hot stove fueled by wood, coal or petroleum. Restaurants (both low and high end) often segregated their rooms by sex and/or race, and boasted they were fireproof. Restaurants ranged from oyster houses to exclusive dining rooms that offered both French and English cooking that often only included high society gentlemen.
In 1902, Horn & Hardart, the first automat was introduced as the first “automatic restaurant” concept in the U.S. along with cafeterias and soda fountains that launched the fast-food industry, “a whole new style of “eating out”. Train dining was an elegant affair in its early years. Airline food would only appear three decades later.
Meet Me in St. Louis: The World’s Fair
Peanut butter, ice cream cone, the hamburger, and iced tea had not been on the American Plate in 1904 until introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair that ushered in a new era in American dining.
Novelist, Upton Sinclair, whose 1905 best seller, The Jungle covered, among other topics, the unsavory practices of American meat-packers. The book was so shocking that Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906.
Diamond Jim and Lillian Russell
Financier, Jim Brady, aka Diamond Jim lived a life with food abundance along with his companion, actress Lillian Russell. It was considered at the time that being overweight was a sign of affluence and success. Dinner, his main event featured three dozen oysters, a dozen crabs, six or seven lobsters, terrapin soup, a steak, coffee, a tray of pastries and two pounds of candy. He died at 56, his stomach was said to be six times larger than the average. Lillian was known to match Brady “ forkful for forkful.” The fair Lillian was hefty (considered the ideal for the times.) She was reported to have smoked 500 cigars a month. Grove’s Tasteless Chili Tonic made in St. Louis not only claimed to cure everything, but also adds much-admired heft to the figure.
In 1912 “Immigrants pour into the country ” – between 1910 and 1924, 12 million come through Ellis Island. All are screened for communicable diseases and overall health status. This event began the beginning of a myriad of ethnic restaurants.
What Do We Know About Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer’sDisease?
Changes in the brain can occur years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease occur. It also should be noted that the focus of diet factors on diseases should be the prevention or delay of the disease in question and not a “cure.” Unlike other risk factors for Alzheimer’s that we cannot change such as age and genetics, the current thought is that with lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and cognitive training, many chronic diseases can possibly be avoided adding health to our lifespans.
How could our diet affect our brains?
“It’s possible that certain diet patterns affects biological mechanisms, such as oxidative stress and inflammation that underlie many chronic diseases. Or perhaps diet works indirectly by affecting other disease risks, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. A new avenue of research focuses on the relationship between gut microbes in the digestive system and aging-related processes that lead to Alzheimer’s.”
Several diet patterns show some promise. One is the Mediterranean Diet or its variations, the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) or the DASH diet. (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. All are based on leafy green vegetables and colorful vegetables, berries, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, wine (1 glass a day), whole grains and preferably olive oil.
“For example, two recent studies suggest that, as part of the Mediterranean diet, eating fish may be the strongest factor influencing higher cognitive function and slower cognitive decline. In contrast, the typical Western diet increases cardiovascular disease risk, possibly contributing to faster brain aging.”
The problem with the research is that most is called observational (subject to recall from the participants). To rectify this, several organizations like National Institute of Aging are conducting clinical trials (considered the gold standard of medical proof to shed more light on any cause and effect.
What About Supplements?
Clinical trials in humans have had mixed results, some with positive effects, others with negative results. These types of studies often attempt to measure the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. However, at this time:
Despite early findings of possible benefits for brain health, no vitamin or supplement has been proven to work in people. Overall, evidence is weak as many studies were too small or too short to be conclusive.
Note: I personally conducted animal research using high or low omega-3 or omega-6 diets on breast cancer incidence. The study was repeated two times and no significant differences in breast cancer incidence, tumor weight or immune system parameters were found between the study groups. (SJF)
Note: A deficiency in vitamin B12 or folate due to aging or strictly following a vegan diet may cause memory problems that are reversible with proper treatment. Please consult with your physician.
Reference: National Institute on Aging
This content is partly provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA) scientists and other experts review this content, so it is accurate and up to date. This content was reviewed November 27, 2019.
Your brain is fed by the same blood vessels that keep your heart pumping – so it makes sense that when they become unhealthy or your blood pressure is too high, the damage can affect both your heart and mind.
So what foods are heart healthy are also brain healthy? Two diets that have gained positive attention are elements of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet have been shown by a plethora of research to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It is thought that these two dietary patterns help the brain by keeping blood flowing efficiently and reducing damaging inflammation. Both are low in saturated fat and recommend a diet heavy on plant foods and healthy fats with a low consumption of red meat, sugar, and processed foods.
There are certain components of healthy diets that can be top choices on what makes these diets stand out with healthy benefits:
Omega-3 fatty Fish Oils and Brain Health
Protecting Brain Structure: Myelin
The BASICS: Most all cells contain omega3s (EPA, DHA) and omega-6s in their cell membranes. Most nerve signals cannot be conducted without a special sheath called myelin and fatty acids like EPA and DHA are necessary for cell membrane structure. Myelin insulates the nerve fibers of nerve cells.
Brain cells are susceptible to damaging neurotoxins. Long-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA are important for brain development, production of hormones and checking inflammation. Research has also shown that they lower blood triglyceride levels resulting in decreasing cardiovascular risks. A meta-analysis found that people with the highest consumption of omega-3, EPA and DHA have an association with a 14% risk reduction of death from any cause when compared to people who consume less. A new area of research has suggested that fish oils as EPA and DHA are involved in brain health. This is important since there is evidence that omega-3s can protect against neurotoxins that damage the nervous system including the brain.
1300 elderly women underwent MRIs of the brain to assess how much exposure they had to a type of air pollution called PM for three years prior to the MRI. PM pollution is known to have neurotoxic effects known to be linked to strokes, cognitive decline, and dementia. The new study was published in the journal, Neurology,
Results showed that “women with higher levels blood levels of fish oils (omega-3s) had significantly greater volumes in the brain areas (hippocampus) associated with cognition, and memory, and white matter which contains nerve fibers that connect brain cells. The results indicated that women with higher levels of omega-3s were protected against the brain-damaging effects of PM exposure”.
Improved Depression Symptoms
A meta-analysis published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers reported that relatively high dose supplements with a high concentration of EPA to DHA significantly improved the symptoms of mild to moderate depression (mood, sleep disturbances, and fatigue) in pregnant and postpartum women. Higher doses need to be given by primary care physicians.
The U.S. diet is sadly abundant in omega-6 fatty acids; however, on the other hand, sadly deficient in omega-3 fats —-but that’s another story.
Omega-3 fats contain antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage including the heart and brain. A study published in the June 2020 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean Diet had a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in the following 10 years, compared with those who did not follow that eating pattern. But people who ate the most fish had both a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and also slower cognitive decline when compared to those who ate less fish.
Substituting healthy plant oils like olive oil, sesame oil or canola oil for saturated fat such as butter, helps keep your mind healthy. These simple changes help to keep your blood vessels clear of damaging plaques. Extra-virgin olive oil is particularly rich in antioxidants.
Nuts are great as snacks since they are rich in fiber and protein. The least processed are the best choice.
Some nuts like walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts, contain high amounts of antioxidants. Also, walnuts are rich in a type of plant-based omega-3 fats called alpha linolenic acid which helps fight inflammation and cellular damage.
While not a part of the Mediterranean or DASH diets, plain coffee can provide a good source of antioxidants. However don’t over do it and hold the sugar and cream – two cups a day of black coffee is probably enough, research says.
Courtesy of Best Foods for Women’s Health, Women’s Health Guide, Harvard Medical School
Lose weight and live longer on a vegetarian diet.? From the Harvard Medical School Health Guides
There is a lot of attention being paid to switching to a plant-based diet. There are many published articles on plant-based diets to achieve a lower body mass index, lower blood pressure, and reduced risks for heart disease, diabetes type 2, cancer, and longevity. Plenty of attention is being paid to the health benefits of those centenarians living in the Blue Zones, particularly ones that live with a vegan diet as well as those with a modified vegetarian approach.
The predominant American Blue Zone is represented by the Seventh – Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. “The first Adventist Health Study (AHS-1) was funded by the National Institutes of Health followed 34,000 Adventists in California for 14 years. It was found that the Adventists who most strictly followed the religions’ teachings lived about 10 years longer than people who did not.
“The practices most likely to yield that longevity were narrowed down to five, each adding about two years to life expectancy.” Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.
Eating a plant-based diet with only small amounts of dairy or fish
Maintaining a medium body weight
Eating a handful of nuts four to five times a week
Doing regular physical activity
A flexitarian diet – meat is limited as a condiment and not considered the main attraction. Use vegetables, appetizers instead.
Semi vegetarian diet (no red meat)
Pescetarian – avoid meat and poultry but eat fish and seafood.
Lacto -ovo -vegetarian – skip all meat, fish, and poultry but include dairy and eggs in your diet.
If you’re trying to lose weight -go heavy on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but limit foods high in saturated fats (ice cream, whole milk, and cheese.)
An important aspect of losing weight is often not what you eat – but how much you eat to keep daily calories in check.
Our meals and snacks are taking on gargantuan proportions. The food industry decided they had to make portions larger to stay competitive and people got used to larger sizes very quickly. “Today, normal sizes seem skimpy,” says Marion Nestle,PhD, MPH, Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University.
When eating out, the transition to a plant-based diet is easier than thought. Fill your plate with vegetables – cooked, raw, or in a salad. Check out the sides that are offered. Then gradually introduce all vegetarian meals once or twice a week and if you like, increase it until you are as “vegan” as you want to be.