There is so much misinformation that surrounds food, diets, and nutrition that has lasted for decades. Here are five myths you may want to be aware of that rise up again in our current environment of the coronavirus pandemic.
Haven’t we all heard of the days of the “snake oil salesmen?” Those days are not gone – they just take on new disguises.
We are bombarded with health claims and nutrition information – some of what we hear is accurate and based on science and some of it is incorrect or exaggerated to sell products or make news headlines more enticing.
As Timothy Caulfield, author of the following article puts it:
“Cow urine, bleach and cocaine have all been recommended as COVID-19 cures — all guff. The pandemic has been cast as a leaked bioweapon, a byproduct of 5G wireless technology and a political hoax — all poppycock. And countless wellness gurus and alternative-medicine practitioners have pushed unproven potions, pills and practices as ways to ‘boost’ the immune system.”
Haven’t we had enough conflicting information about the coronovirus pandemic – so why do some so-called “experts” add to the misinformation? The following article from Timothy Caulfield titled “Pseudoscience and COVID-19 – we’ve had enough already” explores this issue.
Sorting out Health Information
- Does it make sense? Does it pose a risk? Is it too outrageous to believe?
- What’s the source? Avoid anecdotal evidence or personal experiences.
- Is it selling something? This is a strong red flag of motives. Was it based on good science? If a study, does this meet these standards?
- Was each variable studied? Was it randomized? Was it double-blinded? Was the information interpreted accurately? Was there obvious bias reported by the authors, i.e. conflicts of interest?
- Has it stood the test of time? Has the finding been shown repeatedly in different studies, not just one?
Diet, Chronic Disease and Inflammation
By Sally J. Feltner, MS, PhD
A lot of recent attention has been paid to the role of lifestyle in many chronic diseases (lately referred to as underlying causes of mortality in the Covid-19 viral pandemic). Deaths due to this virus have been strongly associated with age, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes to name a few. Many people with the viral infection have reported to have had at least one or two of these chronic conditions. Obesity alone has been known to be associated with low-grade inflammation.
Diet is one of those lifestyle factors in which somehow, we have gone astray. As we often hear, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is becoming more and more to be a causative factor of our ill health. As a result, body weight is on the rise and we are becoming more sedentary. Obesity is linked to the metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes and has come to be called the diabesity pandemic.
Recently, we have changed our ideas about diet and heart disease. Many doctors still think the high fat, high cholesterol diet of the last decade was to blame. However, this is a simplified view that dismisses the research that now supports the possibility that heart disease is mediated by other biological events other than cholesterol, including oxidative stress (free radicals), insulin sensitivity, endothelial dysfunction and blood clotting mechanisms and most importantly low-grade inflammation. Also, heart disease is now thought to have other risk factors such as high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol that may be or not be related to dietary factors.
(FYI – endothelium is the tissue which forms a single layer of cells lining various organs and cavities of the body, especially the blood vessels, heart, and lymphatic vessels.)
We should be aware that inflammation is a double-edged sword. Inflammation in the body is necessary to protect us from infections and cancer and when appropriate from diseases. In its acute state as when you cut your finger, its reactions are self-limiting and resolve rapidly; the process is meant to heal and repair tissue damage. However, when inflammation is inappropriate, it can get out of hand and contribute to disease, especially chronic diseases. That is when inflammation can become your enemy. In this type, the inflammatory response needs be controlled or managed or at least short lived. Should it continue on, persisting cytokines of the immune system can produce excessive damage, leading to a number of diseases, including fibromyalgia, lupus, MS, and more. Cytokines can persist and overwhelm the immune response by releasing signals in the nervous system and and may contribute to a “cytokine storm” killing healthy cells as well as the offending agents (bacteria or virus).
(FYI – cytokines are small proteins produced by immune defensive cells that affect other cells and the immune response to an infectious agent. They act as cell messengers.
Can Diet as a Lifestyle Make a Difference in our Susceptibility to Disease and Affect Our Overall Health??
Recently, much has been written about specific foods and dietary approaches you can do to that either promote or reduce low grade inflammation. Keep in mind that this is only speculation, and some is just pure marketing by the food industry to promote a certain brand. At this point, we are beginning to research this more conclusively and in order to do that, studies have to measure whether a certain substance in the diet either raises or depresses what is known as inflammatory biomarkers in the body. The most used is one called high sensitivity C-Reactive protein (hsCRP). Others include inflammatory markers interleukin-1 or interleukin-6 as well as others. To do this involves a simple blood sample. I have had one to measure my inflammatory status a few years ago. If you see a study that claims to have noninflammatory properties, look for the way the study was performed – i.e., did it measure the effects on these inflammatory markers.
The goal of this blog post is to guide us to the right anti-inflammatory foods to reduce your risk of illness. Consistently, pick the wrong ones, and you could accelerate the inflammatory disease process.
Foods that allegedly promote inflammation – try to limit these foods as much as possible:
- Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries; choose whole grains instead. They need not be gluten-free unless you have some issues with wheat and need to limit its intake.
- French fries and other fried foods
- Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
- Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hog dogs, sausage)
- Margarine, shortening, lard (high levels of trans fatty acids)
Foods that allegedly reduce inflammation – include in the diet as much as possible
- Tomatoes rich in lycopene and carotenoids – healthy phytochemicals usually with antioxidant propertiesHigher
- Olive oil – rich in monounsaturated fat and phytochemicals
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard and other greens – a randomized German study showed that 8 servings of fruits and vegetables for 4 weeks in men had lower levels of hsCRP.
- Nuts like almonds and walnuts – high in monounsaturated fats
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines – Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduced inflammation.
- Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
- Higher fiber consumption was associated with less inflammation in seven studies, using hsCRP as a marker.
If you’re looking for an eating plan that closely follows the tenets of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean Diet which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy oils (primarily olive oil).
In addition to lowering inflammation, a more, natural, less processed food diet can have noticeable effects on your physical and emotional health.
The Mediterranean Diet In A Nutshell
A Mediterranean diet is a good example of a diet that reduces low-grade inflammation and at the same time appears to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is a diet pattern that has been studied extensively and without a doubt scores high in the healthy column. It comes highly recommended and contains most of the foods labeled Anti-inflammatory.
|High in fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, legumes, unrefined grains|
|Moderate in low-fat dairy|
|Low in meat|
|Moderate to high in fish|
|Moderate alcohol intake|
Simple sugars are considered simple because they are small molecules that require little or no digestion before they can be used by the body. They come in two types: monosaccharides and disaccharides. First, here is a little sugar biochemistry.
Types of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are chemical compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Simple carbs, also called sugars include monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, and galactose) and disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, and maltose). They are found in foods such as table sugar, honey, milk, and fruit.
Complex carbohydrate include oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Glycogen is a polysaccharide found in animals, and starch and fiber polysaccharides are found in plants. Sugars and starches consumed in food are broken down in the digestive tract to monosaccharides which can be absorbed in the bloodstream.
The simple sugars the body uses directly to form energy are glucose and fructose. Galactose is readily converted to glucose by the body. So, basically, all sugars and starches (chains of glucose) end up as glucose in the body. When the body has more glucose than it needs for energy, it converts the excess to fat and and glycogen. The glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles. When the body needs energy, glycogen is broken down making glucose available for energy formation. Glucose can also be obtained from certain amino acids and the glycerol part of fat. A constant supply is needed for the brain, red blood cells, white blood cells and some special cells in the kidney.
What are Added Sugars?
It is now a requirement to state the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel of most food products. Most of the simple sugars in our diet comes from foods and beverages sweeteners as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. Added sugars make up 15% of the total caloric intake of Americans.
High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid sweetener found in many soft drinks, fruit drinks, breakfast cereals and other food products. It consists of 55% fructose and 45% glucose, compared to sucrose that contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose. For example, one 12 oz serving of a soft drink contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar. That’s a lot of sugar and far more than is good for health.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day and men only 9 teaspoons a day.
Source: Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now, 7th Edition.
“Mindful eating is very pleasant” – Thich Nhat Hanh
The following excellent article first caught my eye due to its title – “Of Onions and Olive Oil”? After reading it, I fully appreciate what mindfulness is all about. How apart the thoughts presented are from our typical American way of eating – standing, sitting in the car, in front of the TV, or consuming a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting.
Maybe we should take this time of quarantines, lockdowns, politics and distancing to practice the art of mindfulness even in isolation or with family. It supports the crazy notion that it is not what we eat, but how we eat. SF
” Epidemics unfold as social dramas in three acts,” said by one man named Charles Rosenberg who found inspiration in Albert Camus’s La Peste.
Everyone should read this historical look at epidemics/pandemics of the past and what they tell us about their characteristics and outlooks. There are lessons here to learn and we hope that it is not too late to exercise many of these in our own current dilemma. It was written by David S. Jones and was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, March 12, 2020.
“The headlines this week broadcast the following research: Doctors at NYU Langone Health center conducted the largest study so far of US hospital admissions for COVID-19, focused on New York City. They found obesity, along with age, was the biggest deciding factor in hospital admissions, which may suggest the role of hyper-inflammatory reactions that can happen in those with the disease.”
Just what are the latest facts and implications about our obesity epidemic in the U.S.?
This data is from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in February 2020 and presented in Life Extension Magazine, May 2020.
- A startling result is that 42.4% of adults are obese. Additionally, 31.8% were overweight.
- This situation is expected to not improve statistically. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that by 2030, the percentage of obese American adults will rise to 48.9%. These percentages reflect a total of $446 billion dollars of medical costs annually.
- Women, African Americans, and those with a low socioeconomic status are affected at a significantly higher rate.
What are the medical implications?
- Excess body weight increases the risk of developing and dying from a broad spectrum of cardiovascular diseases, cognitive disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and at least 13 different types of cancers.
- Obesity has been determined to be the underlying cause of approximately 20% of deaths in the United States.
- An analysis of 57 studies encompassing 900,000 individuals published in Lancet found that for every 5 point increment in Body Mass Index was associated with a 30% increased mortality risk.
- Additional negative effects of excess weight include fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, chronic pain syndromes like low back pain, IBS, osteoarthtis, depression, negative pregnancy outcomes, and chronic inflammation.
Foods that Kill
There are many factors that contribute to the rise in obesity rates; however, diet and lifestyle have recently been identified and collectively referred to as components of the Standard American Diet (SAD). One of these is processed food.
- Processed foods tend to be high in added sugar, salt, oil and unhealthy fats are often mentioned as well as ultra-processed foods that are so altered that they hardly resemble their original whole-food state.
- The food industry refers to them as an “industrial product” loaded with additives that attempt to enhance the food’s characteristics such as food stability, shelf life, textures, colors, and flavors. They are often referred to as emulsifiers, humectants, and sequestrants or others that have barely recognizable names. Ultra-processed foods are often ready-to-eat, require minimal preparation and are highly marketed. Ultra-processed foods account for more than 60% of dietary energy in the U.S.
- Populations that have the lowest intake of processed foods exist and have been recently studied and known as the Blue Zones. These are groups of individuals that live an average of 10 years longer than those in cultures who consume the SAD, otherwise known as the Western diet. These areas are found around the globe in Sardinia, Italy, Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Loma Linda, California, and Nicoya, Costa Rica.
- An observational study of Spanish university graduates followed participants for a median of 10.4 years. Consumption of an average of 5.3 servings of ultra-processed food per day, compared to an average of less than 1.5 servings per day, was associated with a 62% increase for all-cause mortality. For each additional serving, this risk increased by 18%.
What Is the Optimal Diet?
There are numerable reports on the health benefits of vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diets. However, there is one diet that has been studied extensively for its healthy effects called the Mediterranean Diet. There is no one Mediterranean diet; however, it is usually associated with the intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, fish, seafood, moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Red meat and sweets are limited as well as a low intake of processed foods. A moderate intake of wine is acceptable. (moderate = 1-2 glasses).
I may be paranoid but salad bars have never been appealing to me. The lettuce alone sits there sometimes for long periods of time and the temperature is almost impossible to maintain to be constant at less than 40 degrees. F. Anything above that for cold foods is called the danger zone for microbe growth. That zone is so important in practicing food safety principles and your health.
Note: The coronovirus itself has never been implicated in any food safety issue to my knowledge. However, until it is determined what its modes of transmission are beyond any doubt, food safety is a good idea for general healthy principles anyway.
We know in times like these, our sugar intake is the last concern on our minds. In fact, we may be eating more of it due to stress and discontent of our current environment. But when this horrible pandemic is over, we have to try to get back to improving our diets as much as possible to make up for lost time. Here is a good article about sugar intake that is in reality reasonable and informative in general about the glycemic index, fructose, and artificial sweeteners and processed foods.
The following article covers the role of fiber in our diet and how it contributes to health. The rise in inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) has triggered a new interest in the role of fiber that is sadly deficient in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Could a lack of fiber be implicated?
The dictionary defines it as:
Dietary fiber(British spelling fibre) or roughage is the portion of plant-derived food that cannot be completely broken down by human digestive enzymes. It has two main components:
- Soluble fiber – which dissolves in water – is readily fermented in the colon into gases and physiologically active by-products, such as short-chain fatty acids produced in the colon by gut bacteria; it is viscous, may be called prebiotic fiber, and delays gastric emptying which, in humans, can result in an extended feeling of fullness.
- Insoluble fiber – which does not dissolve in water – is inert to digestive enzymes in the upper gastrointestinal tract and provides bulking. Some forms of insoluble fiber, such as resistant starches, can be fermented in the colon. Bulking fibers absorb water as they move through the digestive system, easing defecation.