The Rise in Comfort Foods

Interesting observation on what type of foods we choose when in a state of crisis – makes common sense. The focus on healthy eating for now may have to take a backseat for awhile due to the restrictions from the coronvirus invasion.

Keep safe – to keep your immune system “healthy” get plenty of sleep, eat as well as you can, stay hydrated and most of all stay away from crowds. Wash hands often and after bringing in merchandise from outside, e.g. grocery bags, disinfect your kitchen counters, handles, and knobs on appliances with antiseptic wipes, bleach solutions or disinfectant sprays. It all can help.

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How to Boost Your Immune System

In our current environment of the coronavirus, we are told to stay healthy and take precautions such as hand washing, avoiding large crowds, cleaning surfaces, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, etc. No one seems to mention that  every second of every day the body is working to protect us from armies of hostile bacteria, fungi and viruses that swarm on our skin; yet we usually remain amazingly healthy most of the time.

The body has evolved to approach these foes – if you’re  not with us – you’re against us! So the components of the immune system work together to destroy any foreign invader. To implement that stance, it relies on two built-in defense systems, the innate defense system and the adaptive defense system that act both independently and cooperatively. However, it is extremely important to support this system with a healthy lifestyle for optimum functioning and its ability to keep us well. 

Innate defenses include:

Surface barriers (skin, mucous membranes)

Internal defenses (phagocytes, natural killer cells, inflammation, antimicrobial proteins, fever

Adaptive defenses include:

Humoral immunity (B cells, plasma cells, antibodies, memory cells)

Cellular immunity (Helper T cells, cytotoxic T-cells, memory cells)

These two systems are deeply intertwined and when operating effectively, they protect us from most infectious microorganisms, cancer cells, and (unfortunately) organ transplants and grafts.

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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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Antioxidant Supplements: Do We Need Them?

Antioxidant Foods

Antioxidants and Free Radicals

All cells face constant threats from what are known as free radicals.  We obtain these potential scoundrels from the metabolism of the food we eat, the air we breathe and from sunlight’s action. Free radicals are in varying chemical states, but their main danger lies in their need for obtaining electrons for stability. In order to do this, they “steal” electrons from nearby substances such as body cells and DNA, causing potential damage and destruction. They may damage the instructions in a DNA strand creating a harmful mutation or create  low-density lipoproteins (LDL) that could increase heart disease risk in an artery of the heart, or alter a cell membrane that could affect what enters or leaves a body cell. The body also uses free radicals in a necessary way as part of the immune system to help destroy foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins.

Antioxidants are found naturally in the body such as glutathione, coenzyme Q10, superoxide dismutase among other systems. We obtain many from various foods in the form of vitamins (C, E, beta-carotene and related carotenoids), minerals (selenium, manganese) and various phytonutrients such as flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, phytoestrogens, and many more found in many plant foods.

Antioxidants probably number in the hundreds or thousands of different substances. Their main function is to act as an electron donor to help squelch the actions of harmful free radicals. Some antioxidants in certain situations can be called prooxidants – electron grabbers. This is likely to be the method found in the defense of the body (e.g. immune system)  Nevertheless, they are all considered to be unique with different roles. “So, no single antioxidant can do the work of the whole crowd.” We obviously need a variety of foods to provide as many as we need to get the job done.

Health Benefits of Antioxidants – What’s the Hype?

Antioxidants came into attention when the research suggested that free radical damage may be involved in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and vision loss. Studies initially indicated that people who ate the most fruits and vegetables had lower risk of these diseases than people who ate lesser amounts. Clinical trials began to test individual nutrients found in fruits and vegetables that were known antioxidants (vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene) to test their efficacy against these diseases. This took the food and supplement industry and media by storm for a long time with proclaiming protection against diseases by consuming large amounts of antioxidants provided by their products.

However, despite these results and disappointments, antioxidant supplements represent a $500 million-dollar industry that continues to grow. Antioxidants continue to be added to cereals, sports and energy bars and drinks, and other processed foods. Lately, however, the hype appears to have abated somewhat due to the reports of no effects of these vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals (my opinion).

Heart Disease and Antioxidants

In the Women’s Health Study, 39,876 women took 600 IU of natural vitamin E or a placebo every other day for 10 years. The results? At the end, the rates of major cardiovascular events and cancer were no lower among those taking vitamin E than they were among those taking the placebo.  One large study (the HOPE Trial) found that those taking Vitamin E versus a placebo showed no benefits vs the placebo and vitamin E and that those in the Vitamin E group actually had higher risks of heart failure and hospitalization for heart failure.  Not all trials were negative, however. In a recent trial of vitamin E in Israel, there was a market reduction in coronary heart disease among people with type 2 diabetes.

In the Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study, vitamin E, vitamin C and/or beta-carotene had much the same effect as a placebo on myocardial infarction, stroke, coronary revascularization, or cardiovascular death, although there was a modest and significant benefit for vitamin E among women with existing cardiovascular disease.

Age-Related Eye Disease and Antioxidants

Some good news for  antioxidant supplements was found in a six-year trial, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). The results were that a combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc offered some protection against the onset of advanced age-related macular degeneration in people who were high risk for the disease.

Potential Hazards of Antioxidants

Several studies have raised some concerns about supplemental beta-carotene.  One study even found that when smokers were fed beta-carotene supplements, the chances of developing lung cancer were increased.  Follow-up studies reported the same results. Another possible caution: In the SU.VI.MAX Trial, rates of skin cancer were higher in women assigned to take vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc supplements.

The studies so far have been inconclusive and are far from providing strong evidence that supplementation with antioxidants have much impact on chronic disease prevention. There was some positive benefits of beta-carotene on cognitive function in the Physicians’ Health Study after 18 years of follow-up; however most studies are of shorter duration, so few comparisons can be made.

What to do? There is abundant evidence that the first observations of fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption were correct since subsequent studies have supported the fact that consumption of antioxidants via eating natural whole foods provides protection against many of our common chronic diseases.

Bottom Line: Get your antioxidants from whole, natural foods, not supplements. Research is still limited and results are not conclusive, but supplement companies still claim benefits even though more evidence of safety and efficacy is sorely needed.

The Simple Way to Eat?

Was a new diet part of your 2020 resolutions?  Great, but forget the new fads, diet pills, and starvation deprivation. There are many of the old diets still around- keto, paleo, Whole 30, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig to mention a few.  Just look at the magazine covers at the supermarket checkout – keto seems to have taken over all the others. The keto diet is quite restrictive, difficult to maintain and the long-term effects are not known. There is little evidence that  this type of restriction, although shown to be effective for weight loss, may not be a lifestyle choice for most people. Is there a better way? In my opinion, yes. The best diet is one you can live with and with a few adjustments compatible with the foods you choose. The best diet is one that with a little guidance and knowledge, is decided by you.

The following article is worth looking at if you want a simple approach.  All you need is a plate, a bottle of water, real food and of course, your commitment. And even better, this plan lets you be in control in following a reasonable and evidence-based plan that can fit easily into your lifestyle.

The article speaks for itself and provides a few links to add to the basics, i.e. some things you need to know like a guide to non-starchy vegetables. Oh, you may have to give up fast food and processed foods for a while. But, you may be glad when you realize that you will feel a lot better (and healthier) and the effort will be well worth it.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to say that weight loss itself is easy – it ‘s hard work but worth it when your goals are either weight loss or just changing to a healthier lifestyle.    That is why this plan is appealing. it is straightforward and makes sense.

So join the new “non-diet” approach that will help you lose some pounds but even better, eating for health. That is what eating should be about, not body image, eating disorders and food restriction. Learning how to eat rather than  just what to eat  is the answer (my opinion). ENJOY!!

One more thing – Always consult a registered dietitian, certified nutritionist, and your primary physician to discuss any dietary change to make sure it is nutrient dense. Also make sure you have no underlying medical problems like high cholesterol, hypertension, pre-diabetes, diabetes or digestive issues, for example.

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Eating for Longevity and Good Health

THE BLUE ZONES

Source: The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People, Dan Buettner

What factors have led us to the Standard American Diet (SAD)?  What changed in the American food culture that led us to the current obesity/diabetes epidemics?

As we evolved, we as a species needed calories for survival purposes and our bodies developed many life-saving mechanisms to keep us from starvation. That worked very well for eons until our food environment changed dramatically. “Relatively recently in human history, refined starchy foods took the place of tubers and herbaceous plants in our diets. Sugar crept in. The quality and quantity of foods available changed drastically in the last few decades, with results at once triumphant and disastrous.” Page 153.

Primarily since the mid-20th century, “food science and government policy conspired to favor wheat, soybeans, sugar, and corn over other crops. The food processing industry devised ways to use them to create cheaper food products that could be replicated in factories around the world. According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the number of calories the average American consumed jumped by about 530 calories a day, a 24.5 percent increase.” At the same time, we have managed to have engineered physical activity out of our daily lives. “Page 154.

Our lifestyles need to change to counteract these facts. A study of five “hot spots” on the globe of good health and longevity has shown us the way to become the most long-lived cultures and examples of good health in the later years. These include: Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Ogliastra region in Sardinia, Loma Linda, California, and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rico, collectively called the Blue Zones. How do they live and more specifically what and how do they eat?

These are the “six powerful food practices” of the Blue Zone populations that are associated with longer, fuller lives.

Make breakfast or lunch the biggest meal of the day with a light, early dinner and most food is consumed before noon.   Most do not regularly make a habit of snacking and when they do, a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts is sufficient. An Israeli study found that dieting women who ate half of their daily calories at breakfast,  third at lunch and a seventh at dinner lost an average of 19 pounds in 12 weeks along with a drop in triglycerides, glucose, insulin and hormones that trigger hunger.

Cook at home. Always try to eat breakfast at home. Pack a lunch the night before. Prep ingredients for dinner in the morning and using a slow cooker can make dinner easy. Use Sundays to cook meals for the week and freeze for later use in the week.

Hari Hachi Bu. This saying is a 2500-year-old Confucian adage that reminds Okinawans to stop eating when they feel their stomach is 80% full.  Many people in Blue Zone American cities use the method of wearing a blue bracelet to remind them to use this tool. Wear the bracelet (does not have to be blue)  for six weeks as a reminder to be mindful of this practice that listens to inner signals innately found to detect hunger. After six weeks, it should be part of your eating patterns.

Fast Fasts. You can experience intermittent fasting every 24 hours by scheduling the time you eat to only 8 hours of the day. As best you can, try eating only two meals a day; a big late-morning brunch and second meal around 5 p.m. It is important to consult your doctor before any kind of fasting.  Avoid starvation diets as they may lead to binge-eating. When fasting, eat foods that are nutrient dense and provide plant or animal protein at each meal.

Eat with family and friends. A 2011 study found that children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times a week are more likely to be at a normal weight range than those who share fewer family meals together. Don’t eat alone, standing up, when driving. If you eat alone, avoid reading, watching TV or using your phone – all leads to mindless eating.

Celebrate and enjoy food.  From Buettner: “pick one day of the week and make it your day to splurge on a meal with your favorite foods. The Blue Zone centenarians primarily eat a plant-based diet, but they don’t give up that slice of birthday cake.”  Some are vegetarians; others are not.  Deprivation and restriction can lead to binge-eating.

A new cookbook is now available that is beautifully illustrated with the people and food of the Blue Zones.  Find it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble – The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, Dan Buettner, 2019.