Ancel Keys – Big Fat Confusion?

Leave a comment

An early picture of Ancel Keys, This image is ...

An early picture of Ancel Keys, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time Magazine 1961. Ancel Keys appears on the cover to claim that saturated fat in the diet clogged arteries and caused heart disease.

Time Magazine, 2014. Eat Butter. Scientists were wrong about saturated fat. They don’t cause heart disease.

How did the low saturated fat message begin?  How, when and why did this confusion begin?

Ancel Benjamin Keys was born in 1904 in Colorado Springs, Colorado to teenage parents. In his younger years he had various jobs including a clerk in a Woolworth store. He finished college in 3 years with Honors at Berkeley and earned a MS in Biology followed by a PhD from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. In 1930 he traveled to Copenhagen to work with Nobel laureate, August Krogh where he studied the ability of eels to survive in both fresh and salt-water environments. He then went to Cambridge and obtained a second PhD in animal physiology from King’s College.

What made Keys famous was his Seven Countries Study, a study that remains controversial to this day. He initially observed that heart disease rates dropped in countries forced to alter their high fat diets because of the war rationing and reversed to higher rates when these diets returned.

He suspected dietary factors, particularly saturated fat, that might play a key role in atherosclerosis. After conducting some well-designed studies to support his theory, “he formulated an equation that simply showed a 2.7% mg/dl rise in cholesterol for every 1% of calories derived from saturated fat. The equation also suggested that polyunsaturated fat lowered serum cholesterol and dietary cholesterol raised serum cholesterol but to a lesser extent than saturated fat. “ Journal of Clinical Lipidology, page 435

Keys had based his theory on when he had previously visited Italy and Spain. He observed in Naples, Italy that only heart disease patients in hospitals were wealthy men. In Madrid, Spain he took blood samples from some men in one of the poorer districts where heart disease was rare and compared them to samples of more well-off patients with heart disease. What he found were differences in their serum cholesterol values with the higher levels in the wealthy and lower values in the poorer population. The diets of the two groups also differed with the poorer diets lower in fat than those of the wealthy. These observations were central to his theory that saturated fat or animal fat and dietary cholesterol contributed to heart disease.  Levenstein, Harvey, Junk Science Week: Lipophobia and the Bad Science Diet, Financial Post, June 11,2012.

The theory gained some steam when in 1955, President Dwight David Eisenhower had a heart attack at age 64, “ Over the next six weeks, twice-daily press conferences were held on his condition. After his attack, he dieted religiously with a low-fat diet and had his cholesterol measured ten times a year (it had been 165 mg initially)”. Taubes, Gary. Good Calories, Bad Calories, page 1-4.   The low-fat diet had little effect and his cholesterol continued to rise as well as his weight.

Between 1955 and 1958, Keys began to study the male population aged 40 to 59 in rural areas in certain countries. He used electrocardiograph data to detect heart abnormalities and cardiovascular disease. The countries included Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, Finland, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Japan. The countries he had chosen represented varied intakes of saturated or animal fat; lower levels were found in some populations in Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, and Japan. Finland, the Netherlands, and the U.S. represented higher levels of animal fat in their diets. Five and ten years later, the researchers returned to identify those who had experienced heart attacks. The lowest rates were found in Crete and Japan with the lowest levels of animal fat; the highest was found in East Finland and the U. S. with the highest levels of animal fat. All in all, Keys studied nearly 13,000 men.  From this study, he concluded that “saturated fats as a percentage of calories was the most powerful lifestyle predictor of heart disease. “Blood cholesterol was the important physiological variable. “ Journal of Clinical Lipidology, page 437.

In 1961 Keys appeared on the cover of Time magaine with the Seven Countries Study’s alleged link between fat, cholesterol and heart disease that fueled the fear of dietary fat in America. Two weeks later the American Heart Association (AHA) endorsed the theory.  With this announcement, the vegetable oil producers could not get their advertisements out fast enough. Wesson Oil said: “polyunsaturated Wesson is unsurpassed by any leading oil in its ability to reduce blood cholesterol.” Nutrition scientists jumped on the bandwagon. For example, Harvard nutritionist, Frederick Stare advised swallowing three tablespoons of polyunsaturated oil each day. Lipophobia had begun in earnest. Levenstein, Harvey, Lipophobia and the bad science.

Consumption of margarine doubled from 1950 to 1972 and that of vegetable oil rose by over 50% in the 10 years from 1966 to 1976. Ironically, based on the thesis of Keys that saturated fat was the culprit, the AHA and other agencies had urged food processors to use trans fats to replace the alleged deadly saturated fat. Ironically, the most common source of trans fats turned out to be the very margarine they had promoted as heart healthy. From 1956 to 1976, per-capita butter consumption fell by over half.

Key’s hypothesis strengthened in 1977 with Senator George McGovern’s publication of the First Dietary Goals for the U.S., which was the first time that any government group had told Americans to eat less fat and cholesterol to improve health. The document became gospel and had a tremendous impact on consumers and the food industry. In 1980, Hegsted and McGinnis produced the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans that concurred with “avoiding too much fat and cholesterol and eating more foods with adequate starch and fiber.”

However, three major studies failed in their support for Key’s hypothesis and without going into the details, each one raised doubts about the  hypothesis.

The Key’s Seven Countries Study, so pivotal in lipophobia has been debunked by many, particularly those who favor the idea of eating meat.. On the other hand, vegans favor the thesis. Here is what the critics of the study say: First, Keys did not randomly choose countries but is accused of picking those countries most likely to support his theory. He excluded France whose diet has been notoriously rich in saturated fat along with a low heart disease rate (The French Paradox). He also excluded Switzerland, Sweden, and West Germany with the similar higher saturated fat intakes but with lower rates of heart disease. He originally gathered data from 22 countries.   However, some point out that even when all 22 countries are analyzed, the trend that fat intake is associated with heart disease still weakly exists.

Ancel Keys died in November of 2004 at the age of 100 years old.

Key’s thesis is still hotly debated to this day because of its limitations and lack of  conclusive support from the research community. There are still adherents of the efficacy of the low fat diet, particularly in its effects on atherosclerosis regression or prevention.  The debate has now switched to which diet is heart healthy – a low-fat or a low-carbohydrate diet. However, that is another story.

I truly don’t know if Keys was right or wrong. The purpose of this post is to point out that his legacy remains as one of the leading food crusaders that changed the American plate.  Is the low fat craze finally coming to an end?  Has this national experiment failed?  Will the low carbohydrate diet help curb the obesity epidemic or prevent heart disease?  Sounds like a “soap opera, doesn’t it?  One thing is certain – atherosclerosis is a complicated disorder and until its origin and pathology is conclusively determined, no one will know who was right.

 

The Pandemic and the Mind

The pandemic is making us depressed and anxious – can healthy food provide relief?

To the average person, it may seem eminently reasonable to assume that food affects our brains along with the rest of our bodies. But only within the past decade or so have researchers begun to establish the crucial link between diet and the mind.

The U.K. Mental Health Foundation reports that food plays an important role not only in depression but in schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease as well.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, including our eating habits. Comfort food was made for times like these, and it seems the healthy food trend that took root in recent years is reversing, at least for the time being. Shopping habits have shifted in favor of old processed favorites like frozen pizza, toaster waffles and canned spaghetti. These are convenience foods with long shelf lives that are designed to deliver pleasure. The typical American diet is often loaded with processed foods, pizza, fast food, white flour and sugary sodas.

Money is tight in many households, and busy parents are putting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table instead of home cooking and using whole food. Open a box and there is dinner.  Besides, convenience foods are engineered  by the food industry to taste good and make us feel good at least in the short term.

But wait – there’s more. That’s because a growing body of research is showing that our food choices don’t just affect our waistlines. What we eat also may affect our mood and behavior. In other words, there may be something in the food we’re eating (or not eating) that’s influencing our state of mind.

The emerging field of nutritional psychology contends that modern western diets have contributed to increased rates of mental illness, particularly depression. Diets that follow a Mediterranean pattern of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish and olive oil, have been linked to lower rates of depression. A diet change of just a few weeks has been found to lift moods. In a 2010 study, women who ate diets high in vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains were less likely to suffer from depression.

As a third of all Americans are reporting that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health, we might now need nutritious foods more than ever. One way to start is to simply cut down on “junk” foods and look for simple ways to prepare whole nutritious foods.

Source: Discover Magazine, September/October, 2020

Vitamin D and Infectious Disease

Vitamin D Foods

Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease

Affiliations

Free article

Abstract

Vitamin D is responsible for regulation of calcium and phosphate metabolism and maintaining a healthy mineralized skeleton. It is also known as an immunomodulatory hormone. Experimental studies have shown that 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, the active form of vitamin D, exerts immunologic activities on multiple components of the innate and adaptive immune system as well as endothelial membrane stability. Association between low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased risk of developing several immune-related diseases and disorders, including psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, sepsis, respiratory infection, and COVID-19, has been observed. Accordingly, a number of clinical trials aiming to determine the efficacy of administration of vitamin D and its metabolites for treatment of these diseases have been conducted with variable outcomes. Interestingly, recent evidence suggests that some individuals might benefit from vitamin D more or less than others as high inter-individual difference in broad gene expression in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells in response to vitamin D supplementation has been observed. Although it is still debatable what level of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is optimal, it is advisable to increase vitamin D intake and have sensible sunlight exposure to maintain serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D at least 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L), and preferably at 40-60 ng/mL (100-150 nmol/L) to achieve the optimal overall health benefits of vitamin D.

This abstract and article was published in Nutrients, 2020: 12(7), 2097

In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, questions are raised and answers sought about the role of nutrition in the prevention of infectious diseases. In this case, vitamin D (a fat soluble vitamin stored in the body) is examined.

Vitamin D Facts:

RDA Women: 600 IU; Men: 600 IU; UL: 4000 IU. Toxicity possible with long-term use of 10,000 IU daily. 1 microgram (mcg) vitamin D = 40 IU.

Primary Functions: Needed for absorption of calcium and phosphorus for bone formation nerve and muscle activity. Inhibits inflammation and is involved in insulin secretion and blood glucose level maintenance.

Consequences of Deficiency: Weak, deformed bones (children), loss of calcium from bones (adults), osteoporosis.

Concenquences of Overdose: Mental retardation in young children, abnormal bone growth and formation. Nausea, diarrhea, irritability, weight loss. Deposition of calcium in organs such as kidneys, liver and heart.

Primary Food Sources: Vitamin D – fortified milk, cereals, and other foods. Fish

Highlights: Vitamin D3, the most active form is manufactured from a form of cholesterol in skin cells upon exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Inadequate vitamin D status is common. Breast-fed infants with little sun exposure benefit from vitamin D supplements. People with very dark skin, especially from Asian and Afro-Carribbean descent find it difficult to make vitamin D from limited sunlight.

NOTE: It’s important to know that megadoses of any vitamin or mineral are never recommended, unless there is a medical reason for doing so. In this case, a Canadian study reported that among 303 middle-aged and older adults (who were not vitamin D deficient), those who were randomly assigned to get 4,000 IU  of vitamin D  a day for 3 years lost more bone in their arms  than those who got 400 IU a day. Those who got 10,000 IU a day lost more bone in their arms and shins than those who got 400 IU a day.  See the consequences of overdose. 

 

 

Chronic Disease: Can Your Lifestyle Make a Difference?

 

Lately in the literature, lifestyle medicine has been mentioned as an effective practice that influences our overall health and risk of diseases in general. Many of the  leading causes of death in developed countries have been referred to as chronic diseases and ways to prevent these diseases is to practice a “healthy lifestyle”. But what does that exactly mean? Some research has suggested that our susceptibility to Covid-19 may even be altered by our lifestyles, obesity being named a risk factor.

In 1999, a Harvard-trained cardiologist, James E. Rippe published a textbook entitled Lifestyle Medicine in which he expressed his hope for a “new emphasis in medicine related to the links between daily behaviors and outcomes”. The idea slowly took root. In 2006, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, a Seventh Day Adventist institution in California, debuted the country’s first lifestyle medicine education program. A few years later the School of Medicine Greenville at the University of South Carolina went a step further, integrating lifestyle medicine into every facet of the curriculum and requiring prospective physicians in medical schools to spend 50 hours over two years covering the ways in which diet, nutrition and exercise impact the various organs and systems. Several other medical school programs have followed, that have been dedicated to the principals that healthy food, rich in nutrients, healthy fats, and lean protein, can be a potent weapon in the doctor’s bag.”

“How much a role does nutrition play in health? “It is the thing, says Jennifer Trilik , an associate professor at USC Greenville who directs the schools lifestyle medicine program. “if we’re talking about obesity, cardiovascular disease,  cancer, there’s so much evidence that saturated fat and trans-fat cause chronic inflammation, damaged the DNA and create growths in an adult body that shouldn’t be there. On the other hand, apples and blueberries have so many healthy antioxidants. We were made to eat whole foods and plant based foods, not processed ones out of a bag.

CLICK HERE.

Vitamin C and Respiratory Infections

What Do We Know About Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient in humans. Without it we die.

Most animals internally produce their own vitamin C; humans do not so we need to obtain it from the diet or other external sources  (supplements). It is a water-soluble vitamin and cannot be stored in the body.

Severe deficiency may develop within three weeks of very low intake. This can result in a sub-clinical form of scurvy that can be manifested in increased susceptibility to infections. This is often shown initially by easy bruising.

Diets lacking in fruits and vegetables (such as a low-carbohydrate diet) often do not provide enough vitamin C.

Functions of vitamin C

  • Needed for manufacture of collagen
  • Helps the body fight infections, repair wounds
  • Act as antioxidant
  • Enhances iron absorption.

Primary food sources:

Fruits: guava, oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwi fruit

Vegetables: broccoli, green and red peppers, collards, tomato, potatoes, ready to eat cereals (fortified)

FYI: The RDA for vitamin C is 15-75 mg/d for children, 75 mg/d for adult women, 90 mg/d for adult men, and 85 to 120 mg for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The Tolerable Upper Limit is 2000 mg/d. Oral Intakes of 1 gram or more a day can cause nausea, cramps, and diarrhea and may increase the risk of kidney stones.

Impact on Infections

Some studies show that in common infectious diseases, supplemental vitamin C lessens the severity and duration of symptoms.

In severe respiratory diseases such as bronchitis or pneumonia, vitamin C has been shown to reduce symptoms and shorten hospital stays. Some studies report rapid clearance on chest x-rays of patients with lung infections, following intravenous vitamin C treatment.

From the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) at Oregon State University comes this:

“March 13, 2020 – The Linus Pauling Institute is closely watching the clinical trials with intravenous (IV) vitamin C and COVID-19-related pneumonia with great interest. However, there currently are no available data to show vitamin C can prevent or successfully treat COVID-19 infections. Once the trial data are available for review, the LPI will comment on the efficacy of IV vitamin C in COVID-19.

In 1970, Dr. Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize winner,  published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, a book that revolutionized the way the world viewed vitamin C and infectious disease. Dr. Pauling believed that increasing the daily dose of vitamin C could help the body mount a strong immune response when confronted with a respiratory infection.

Many people worldwide have reported better health after taking large amounts of vitamin C. To date, clinical trials have shown that vitamin C supplements can shorten the duration of the common cold. However, there are no data to suggest that vitamin C supplements can stop respiratory infections in the general population.  Results from trials with participants undergoing heavy physical activity indicate a benefit of oral vitamin C on common cold incidence. There are no such trials on influenza or coronavirus.

The LPI continues to advocate for rigorous research on both oral and IV vitamin C for treating both inflammation and infection. Yet, the facts are that there have been few rigorous studies on vitamin C and respiratory infections. Clinical trials with IV vitamin C and coronavirus-related pneumonia are currently underway in China. These trials are of great interest to the LPI, and we will monitor them closely.

Meanwhile, the LPI recommends taking these steps to support a healthy immune system: Eat a healthy diet and ensure that you meet the recommended intakes of all micronutrients, especially vitamins A, C, D, E, as well as zinc

Oregon State University has established a COVID-19 website to provide detailed and updated information; links to OSU, local, state and federal resources; and some frequently asked questions. Please regularly check this website for important updates.”

Source: Nutrition Now, Brown, Seventh Edition

Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

Detox? A Lot of Pseudoscience

Before you dust off that juicer, you should take a long hard look at the latest fad – detoxing your body from alleged accumulated toxins from environmental chemicals that supposedly lead to illness. When searching Amazon, detox, natural, and hygiene is frequently mentioned in the titles of the latest diet books, not to mention the myriad of products from tablets, massages, tinctures and tea bags that promise to cleanse your body of these impurities and your hard earned money. You can go on two-day to seven-day detox diets which promise cleansing and weight loss. You may lose weight, but that is more than likely due to starvation rather than the diet itself. These toxins are never identified by the manufacturers of these products. When asked to provide some scientific evidence that support their claims, no one seems to be able to provide evidence that “detoxification” is not a bogus treatment.   Despite this, the detox industry has become a huge business with a little help from some celebrities like Ann Hathaway and Gwyneth Paltrow. If toxins build up in the body with no way to excrete them, we would die or need serious medical intervention. However, we have kidneys, a liver, a colon, skin and lungs that physiologically are designed to rid our bodies of any unnecessary substances we don’t need.

Detox is actually not a new concept.  Health reform began in earnest in the 19th century in America. During that time, there had to be a great deal of food anxiety; food often was adulterated with chemicals in order to make it palatable. As Upton Sinclair in 1909 writes of the meatpacking industry in his famous book, The Jungle: “And then there was “potted game” and ‘potted grouse’ and ‘potted ham’ made out of the waste ends of smoked beef… and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white… and potatoes, skins and all, and finally the hard, cartilaginous gullets of beef… All this was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something.” Ronald Deutsch, The New Nuts Among the Berries: How Nutrition Nonsense Captured America, Bull Publishing, 1977.

Food preservation was crude and foodborne illnesses were rampant. People had little resources to turn to in dealing with even the common diseases of society. Whom did they have to rely on for medical advice on how to remain healthy in an age of so much misinformation and confusion? People were vulnerable to just about any ideas from anyone medical or nonmedical that would help them to maintain health and avoid disease.

In the 1848 edition of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine was listed the general causes of illness: “diseased parents, night air, sedentary habits, anger, wet feet and abrupt changes of temperature.” “The causes of fever included injury, bad air, violent emotion, irregular bowels and extremes of heat and cold.” I’m going with the “diseased parent theory.
Cholera, shortly to be epidemic in many British cities, was caused by rancid or putrid food, by ‘cold fruits’ such as cucumbers and melons, and by passionate fear or rage.” William Buchan, Domestic Medicine, 1848: A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases; Google eBook .

There are two major ideas that flourished and dominated  the 19th century that led to the premise that toxins must be removed from the body by detoxification – auto-intoxication and the natural hygiene theory..

AUTO-INTOXICATION

During the 19th century, people were told that constipation was at the root of most diseases and the term, autointoxication, became the mantra of the medical community. In 1852, a publication called The People’s Medical Lighthouse, a series of popular scientific essays on nature, uses and diseases of the lung, heart, liver, stomach, kidney, womb and blood had this to say about this common digestive problem: “daily evacuation of the bowels is of utmost importance to the maintenance of health”; without the daily movement, the entire system will become deranged and corrupted.” People’s Medicine Lighthouse, Lecture 71. Harmon Knox Root, A.M, M.D. 1852.

The term auto-intoxication was coined by Charles Bouchard, a French physician. Other physicians further defined the theory by describing the phenomenon as caused by the putrefaction or decay of proteins in the intestine generating offending toxins. This theory dominated a major part of the 19th century and has survived to this day

The obsession with the auto-intoxication theory led to the marketing and sales of a myriad of bowel cleansing products along with laxatives, enema and colonic irrigation equipment. These gimmicks are still available today. Although doctors prescribe colon cleansing as preparation for medical procedures such as colonoscopy, most do not recommend colon cleansing for detoxification. Their reasoning is simple: Your digestive system and bowel naturally eliminate waste material and bacteria; your body does not need colon cleansing to do so.

In fact, colon cleansing can sometimes be harmful. Colon cleansing can cause side effects, such as cramping, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. More serious concerns with colon cleansing are that it can increase your risk of dehydration, lead to bowel perforations, increase the risk of infection, and cause changes in electrolytes. Civilisation and the colon: constipation as the “disease of diseases. James Whorton BMJ 2000; 321: 1586-9

According to Quackwatch In 2009, “Dr. Edzard Ernst tabulated the therapeutic claims he found on the Web sites of six “professional organizations of colonic irrigations.” The themes he found included detoxification, normalization of intestinal function, treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, and weight loss. He also found claims elated to asthma, menstrual irregularities, circulatory disorders, skin problems, and improvements in energy levels. Searching Medline and Embase, he was unable to find a single controlled clinical trial that substantiated any of these claims.   Quackwatch, Gastrointestinal Quackery: Colonics, Laxatives, and More, Stephen Barrett, MD. August 4, 2010 www.quackwatch.com

My own investigations of the online “yellow pages” in searching for “Colon Cleansing” revealed that there were about twelve establishments advertising this service in my city of Asheville, North Carolina as of this writing.

NATURAL HYGIENE

Isaac Jennings, MD put forth the original ideas of natural hygiene in 1822 and became known as “The Father of Natural Hygiene.” He helped to developed a healing system called “Orthopathy” that claimed that Nature knows better than the most learned physicians of the time. That could be true – my opinion. Among earliest promoter of natural remedies was Samuel Thompson, a New Hampshire farmer who prepared “botanics”, as they were called, made from native herbs. In 1835, Dr. William Alcott, a graduate of Yale Medical school mixed part time farming with his medical practice. Other professors from Dartmouth and Amherst followed. A popular health cure came in the form of water cures. In 1849, the Water Cure Journal, Physiology, Hydropathy and the Laws of Life, edited by Dr. Russell Trall entered the health reform movement. By 1850, the Journal had 20,000 subscribers. Dr. Trall is quoted as saying: Typhoid and pneumonia are neither more nor less than a cleansing process – a struggle of the vital powers to relieve the system of its accumulated impurities”. http://www.whale.to/v/trall2.html.

A vulnerable public eagerly received their proclamations due to limited information and confusion on the causes of disease. Other proponents among many included Arnold Ehret, a German author of several books on diet, detoxification, fruitarianism, fasting, food combining, naturopathy, physical culture and vitalism. There was also Herbert M. Shelton who opened schools in Natural Hygiene and founded the American Society of Natural Hygienists Universal Healing, wwwuniversalhealingbelize.com/Brief- history- of –naturalhygiene.

In a previous post, the misguided principles of detoxification were supported and practiced by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg .  Detoxification still is alive and thriving in the form of a pseudo-medical concept..  The bottom line:  Detoxification is  primarily designed to “sell you something”.  If you want to “detox”, do not smoke, do exercise and eat a healthy balanced diet.

 

Ultra Processed Foods to Avoid

Ultra-processed foods are often thought as the nemesis of healthy eating. However, they are so ubiquitous in our food supply, it is so difficult to avoid them in the supermarket (they are displayed for our convenience and capture our cravings for sugar, salt, and fat as well.)  The problem: If we tried to avoid all processed foods, there would be few choices in the supermarket. The best way for starters is to try to cut down on snack foods — they are highly processed and offer few nutrients.

CLICK HERE.

 

 

 

What Else is in Your Food?

Twenty five years ago, It was largely assumed that health benefits came from the vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables. That conclusion turned out to be incorrect because supplementation with specific vitamins and minerals failed to yield the same health benefits as did diets rich in fruits and vegetables. In addition, use of individual vitamin and mineral supplements was found to increase health risks in some studies, but not all. So, what else is in our foods?

Now nutrition and other scientists are investigating the effects of thousands of other substances in food on health.  The subjects of many current studies are plant chemicals known as phytochemicals or phytonutrients.   Phytochemicals are not considered essential nutrients because deficiency diseases do not develop when we fail to consume them. They are considered to be nutrients however because they are biologically active and perform health promoting functions in the body. Most bioactive food constituents are derived from plants.

Phytochemicals play a variety of roles for plants as they provide protection for the plant against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections; ward off insects; and prevent tissue damage due to oxidation. Some operate as plant hormones or participate in the regulation of gene function, while others provide plants with flavor and color.

More than 2000 types of phytochemicals, that act as pigments, have been identified and give plants a wide variety of colors. Some of these phytochemicals have been identified: beta-carotene (orange), lycopene (red), anthocyanins (blue to purple), allicin (white), and lutein (yellow-green). Many of them function as antioxidants in the human body as well as help us to fight against many chronic diseases in other ways.

The following are examples of vegetables you can buy or plant in the garden (organic not necessary) that provide some specific human health benefits that are thought to be due to either established nutrients or phytochemicals. Keep in mind that some have more research behind their claims; however, many do not and simply rely on presumed health benefits.

  1. Kale is a member of the cabbage family and is known to contain vitamins A, K, and C, as well as essential minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It is also rich in fiber and acts as a prebiotic that increases nutrient absorption in the gut. Kale also contains antioxidants that protect against oxidative damage and other aspects of chronic disease. Its nutrient density exceeds that of other vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, or those of the onion family.
  2. Onions have been known for their healing properties for centuries. One study compared wound healing results after the daily application of onion gel and found that scars were significantly less noticeable after just four weeks of use. Recent research has suggested that onions also contain compounds useful for the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and inflammatory diseases. Most of these benefits can be traced to onion’s high concentration of sulfur amino acids, phytochemicals such as flavonoids, phytosterols, and saponins – compounds that have anticancer, antibiotic, and antithrombotic activity.
  3. Potatoes are a rich source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C. Little attention is paid to potatoes recently due to their high calorie density and their relationship with obesity and diabetes. If they are eaten in whole form and not as French fries or chips, they can be healthy due to their high potassium content. Often, they are the only source of potassium for many people including children. Adequate potassium can protect us from hypertension.
  4. Tomatoes contain the phytochemical, lycopene, the carotenoid responsible for its red color and acts as an strong antioxidant. An increased intake has been associated with a decreased risk of prostate and breast cancers.
  5. Cauliflower in both forms, white or purple are high in phenolic compounds (a phytochemical) and antioxidants. Purple cauliflower is especially high in anthocyanins that is a potent anti-inflammatory and antiviral compound.
  6. Bell Peppers contain antioxidants that may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Green, yellow, and red peppers are all high in phenolic compounds and vitamin C.

Bottom Line: As you can see, antioxidant activity can collectively have a powerful effect against free radical damage. This is enhanced by the many phytochemicals associated with a variety of vegetables and fruits, not just reliance on one or two of them in the diet.

 

The Best Advice on Eating Red Meat

The Red Meat Debate: Use Some Common Sense

 

For the past decade or so red and processed meats (beef in particular) has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Two NYT articles are presented here to that addresses this issue and helps to clarify how to deal with this ongoing issue.

The red meat debate continues as we wake up  this morning to the news that consumption of red and processed meats are of little risk to our health.

CLICK HERE.

November 5, 2015

Back in 2015, an article appeared to agree with the current assessment about red and processed meat and in addition tells us how to deal with the disturbing reports about red and processed meat and heart disease and cancer.

So what can we really believe? The following article first appeared in 2015 and seems to me to take a common sense approach to the debate that never ceases. Hint: Life is a risk.

CLICK HERE.