A blog about nothing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

THE WHITES

Everyone knows how important it is to eat your vegetables, and when you think of veggies what generally comes to mind? Spinach, broccoli, peas and carrots.

While it is true that green vegetables are the most nutritious foods, when piling the veggies on your plate it is advisable to choose a wide variety of colors. Foods like red peppers, squashes, eggplant, and their brightly-colored friends each boast different nutrient profiles based on the pigment of their skin.

But what about white vegetables? Sadly, they don't get the press (or intake) they deserve.



U.S. dietary guidance tells us to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, including dark green, orange, red, and starchy vegetables. However, no such recommendation exists for the whites, a group that includes potatoes, cauliflowers, turnips, onions, parsnips, mushrooms, corn, and kohlrabi.

There is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating how adding one or more of these vegetables can increase shortfall nutrients, notably fiber, potassium, and magnesium, as well as help increase overall vegetable consumption especially among children and teens.

So why do potatoes receive such bad press? After all, they are an excellent source of dietary fiber and potassium, which tend to be underconsumed in the U.S. Despite all these positive attributes, the popular press has aligned potatoes with an unhealthy diet, branding them as contributing factors to obesity. It is true that popular potato foods (fries and chips) often contain more fat than carbohydrate, and because fat is a concentrated energy source, eating a lot of it can, well, make you fat. But fat is not what is in the potatoes but what is added to them.

And then there is the glycemic index, a measure of a food's effect on blood sugar. The glycemic index of white vegetables, especially potatoes, can be high and may be misleading "if not interpreted in the context of the overall contribution that the white vegetable makes to the carbohydrate and nutrient composition of the diet and their functionality in satiety and metabolic control within usual meals." In other words, potatoes may have a lot of sugar, but because they have a lot of fiber, you'll be full before you consume an excessive amount of calories (provided you don't fry them or douse them with oil), and along with that fiber you'll get your money's worth in vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients.

This being said, it's probably not a good idea to simply load a bunch of potatoes on your plate and eat them in isolation. But who does that...unless they happen to be French fries? Eating potatoes in addition to other veggies or protein foods like beans would be the more judicious approach.


There is a growing body of evidence of the association between potassium intake and blood pressure reduction in adults. Lower blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, two of the top three killers in America (cancer being the third). Potassium also protects against age-related bone loss and helps reduce the risk of kidney stones - but you must get it from food, not by taking potassium supplements. And potatoes are very high in potassium, providing twice the potassium found in bananas (which, incidentally, is another white produce item). But when eating potatoes remember to go easy on the salt, since low potassium-to-sodium intake ratios are more strongly related to cardiovascular disease risk than either nutrient alone. In other words, eating salt with potassium cancels out the heart-protective benefits of the latter nutrient.



And in addition to being a low-fat food, potatoes and other white vegetables are particularly rich in vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese and dietary fiber. Potatoes provide 25% of the vegetable phenolics in the American diet. Phenolics are a class of newly-discovered chemicals which include flavonoids (quercetin), phenolic acids, and carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) and are only found in fruits and vegetables. And of the vegetables, potatoes are your best source.

Cooking tips: scrub potatoes, dice them into 1-inch cubes (leaving the skin on, because that's where the fiber is), and steam for 10-15 minutes, depending on how soft you like them cooked. Go easy on the salt and do not add oil or butter. Instead, spritz on some lemon and add a dash of nutritional yeast, olive tapenade if you're feeling feisty.

Eat potatoes and other white vegetables every day.

THE 30-SERVING PLAN

Efforts have been made to standardize the American diet and steer it away from fast foods, high fat animal products, and refined carbohydrate. Thus the USDA recommendations. The current My Plate features 6 food groups. They are fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grains, dairy, and oils (optional).

If in order to meet the definition for food an edible must provide nourishment that outweighs the potential detriments associated with it, then half of these groups don't count. There are risks associated with eating grains (weight gain, inflammation, sensitivities) and dairy (osteoporosis, kidney stones, cancer), while oils provide empty calories you can easily wind up wearing around your waist.

The focus instead should be on fruits, vegetables, and so-called protein foods, which include beans and peas as well as a moderate amount of seeds. The USDA recommends 11 servings of these foods, but diets that avoid dairy, meat, nuts, grains, and oils can easily double the recommended intake and include 20 or more servings, especially when the focus is on fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories and high in water, fiber, and micronutrients.

You may wonder, isn't 3 food groups instead of 5-6 limiting and restrictive? Or, how can you eat the same thing every day? Our answer: the body craves regularity. Watch your pet or your baby, who seem to know instinctively when feeding time comes around. And with over 100 beans, greens, sweets, and seeds to choose from, variation is written in.

This is why we've concocted the 30 Serving a Day Plan. Follow this advice and you will aim for 10 servings of vegetables and vegetable fruits, 8 servings of fruits, 6 servings of starches, 4 glasses of water, and 2 tbsp. of seeds.

10
Vegetables and Vegetable Fruits
1 serving is 1 cup raw/cooked or 2 cups leafy greens
Choose a variety of colors (green, red, yellow, orange, white)
Calories: 600
Provides: 25 g fiber, 25 g protein, 25 g fat, 50% or more of 15 nutrients
 
8
Fruits
1 serving is 1 cup or 1 medium fruit
Calories: 600
Provides: 25 g fiber, 20% or more of 14 nutrients
 
6
Starches
1 serving is 1/2 cup cooked beans, 1 cup potatoes
Calories: 600
Provides: 35 g fiber, 35 g protein 25% or more of 14 nutrients
 
4
8-oz glasses of water
Note: recs are to drink 8 glasses, but emphasizing a lot of high-water content foods cuts the requirement in half
 
2
tbsp. flax or chia seeds
Calories: 150
Provides: Essential fatty acids
 
Total calories: 2000
Fiber: 97.5 g
Protein: 75 g
100% of all nutrients except vitamin D (sunlight), B12 (yeast)
If you exercise and require additional calories, eat more fruit for rapidly-digested energy.

Sample Plan

Breakfast: smoothie of 2 bananas, 2 oranges, 2 cups berries, 2 tbsp. flax or chia seeds (add 2 cups spinach if desired)

Snacks: Apple or orange

Lunch: Large green salad (4 cups) topped with 1.5 cups beans and 1 cup avocado

Dinner: Start with an hors d'oeuvres of diced vegetable fruits (cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers), lightly steam broccoli and have with 1 or 2 cups of potato/sweet potato

Dessert: Fresh fruit

Note: Bananas can double as fruit and starches. Also, avocado and olives double as fruit and vegetable fruits. So you can play with your intake to make it work.

Helpful hints: Make judicious use of condiments including lemon juice, soy sauce, hot sauce, coconut butter, mustard, stevia, cinnamon, cocoa, and nutritional yeast. At 9 g protein per 3-tbsp serving, nutritional yeast is a great way to increase protein consumption - and meet vitamin B12 requirement.

Try to eat this way for a whole weekend. Weekends provide greater freedom to experiment and the leisure to prepare your own food. You may find you enjoy this dietstyle so much you extend it throughout the week.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

FRUIT IS YOUR FRIEND


Fruit is nature's prize. It is sweet, delicious, juicy, convenient and, exotic fruits and berries aside, generally affordable.

Think of it in the grand picture. What is the purpose of fruit, that love child of the tree? Just as peacocks and other animals (including humans) try to increase fitness by appearing as physically appealing as possible, trees also have an interest in perpetuation of their species, and to this end they create the most colorful, juiciest, sweetest bulbs of pleasure they can, encasing in them their seeds, in the hopes that animals (not just squirrels but us too) will be enticed by them, eat them, maybe transport them, possibly discard them in fertile ground, and in months years or decades, a new tree will spring. And the new tree, with its green leaves, converts carbon dioxide to oxygen for us to breathe. And so the cycle of life perpetuates itself.

It's sometimes difficult to remember this if you don't garden or have a tree or at times pick your own fruit. And for some, eating fruit may be considered off limits or, gasp, a health risk. In fact, some experts recommend limiting fruit consumption to just one piece per day. They say that the sugar fructose, due to its effects on the liver and metabolism, should be avoided, limited to 10 or 15 grams per day in some people, which is the equivalent of one or two apples. One or two apples? For the whole day? What about oranges, and melons, bananas, dates, figs, persimmons, berries, grapes, and all the other fruits nature provides? How can nature's perfect food be off limits? It's like creating a ban on water or sunlight.

So we looked at the literature and examined what the recent findings suggested about fructose, fruit sugar.

First a little background. Fructose is so named because it is the main sugar in most fruits, especially apples, pears, berries, and dried fruits. But fructose is also present in some vegetables, as well as natural sweeteners (honey) and artificial sweeteners (the much maligned high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS). And sucrose, or table sugar, which is in virtually every sweet carbohydrate under the sun (grains, processed foods, many vegetables, even beans contain some sucrose), is equal parts glucose and fructose.

A little physiology/biochemistry. When you eat fructose, it gets absorbed not by active transport (like glucose) but by passive diffusion, which requires less energy, making it easier to digest. And because it is farther down the sugar breakdown pathway (also known as glycolysis) it is more rapidly converted to energy (ATP).
So far, so good, yes? Would it surprise you then to hear that experts say that because of these hallmark traits (ease of absorption/conversion to energy), fructose should be avoided. It's like saying avoid the sun because it is the best source of vitamin D. Crazy! But this is what is often said: Too much fructose, because of its ease of digestion, can be converted to fats, causing fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, contributing to diabetes, and obesity, and a host of other health issues. Is this true, or are these claim scare tactics?

First, a bit more background.

Sugar consumption has come under increased scrutiny as the number of overweight and obese Americans has skyrocketed. But the factors that can lead to weight gain are complex and multifactorial. Foods are more available than ever, and the diversity of foods continues to expand. In fact, over 10,000 new grocery items are introduced annually. Food expenditures have increased, and people are buying more food to please tastes rather than nourish cells. Therefore sugar consumption is only 1 part of the complex dietary component of trends in overweight, and even within the realm of sugar consumption, it is not fruit that should be implicated but soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, which account for the largest percentage of total average daily intake of added and total fructose. Thanks, HFCS!

These days Americans are eating more fructose than ever.  The average daily intake is around 50 grams per day, and fructose intake increased in all gender and age groups since 1978.
Fifty grams a day. Now, an apple has 10 grams of fructose. So that would mean people are eating 5 apples a day? When was the last time you had more than one? Of course most people are getting their fruit sugar in coke, gatorade, and other processed drinks. But even the fructose present in soft drinks, divorced from fiber and nutrients as it is, may not be the bad guy some experts believe.

We've borrowed this from an article summarizing recent findings and published in the periodical "Advances in Nutrition":

"Recent research reviews have reported that fructose consumption up to the 90th percentile population consumption level in either healthy weight or obese individuals does not result in increased triglycerides or weight gain. No adverse effect on triglycerides or weight was observed in multiple trials using fructose at up to the 95th percentile population consumption level. Meta-analyses also documented that no increases in blood pressure or propensity toward obesity occurred at up to the 90th percentile population consumption levels of fructose. A recently completed trial in our research laboratory involving 352 overweight or obese individuals who consumed up to the 90th percentile population consumption levels for fructose as part of mixed-nutrient, eucaloric diets did not show any adverse effect on total cholesterol (P = 0.88) or LDL cholesterol (P = 0.85). A significant 14% increase in triglycerides was noted, although it must be emphasized that triglyceride levels remained within the normal range both before and after measurement."

To summarize: No metabolic derangements in fructose intake at or above the 90th percentile, which is 75 to 100 grams of fructose per day, equivalent of about 10 bananas or 10 apples. (Once again, the scientists were not using apples and bananas but rather a liter of sugar water.) And simple physiology/biochemistry bears this out. The vast majority of the fructose that is metabolized in the liver is converted into glucose, glycogen, lactate, and carbon dioxide. Fifty percent fructose is converted in the liver to glucose, 25% to lactate, and 15% to 18% to glycogen. Glycogen is a storage form of sugar. A few percent of ingested fructose is metabolized to carbon dioxide. Only a very small percentage (on the order of 1%–5% depending on the specific conditions used and underlying nutritional and metabolic status of individuals studied) is converted to free fatty acids.


 
Even in settings of extreme carbohydrate overload, only a small percentage of carbohydrates is converted into fats. In one experiment in which individuals were fed over 1,500 extra calories per day in excess carbohydrates, only about 3 grams of fat was generated. Other studies showed that healthy individuals who were fed 1 g/kg of fructose did not experience increased liver fat. Yet another study found similar results in individuals who consumed 30% of energy from fructose over a 4-week time frame.

Had enough science and stats? Let's fast forward to the article's concluding paragraph:

"In conclusion, recent randomized clinical trials have suggested that there are no adverse effects on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol or HDL cholesterol at amounts ranging up to the 90th percentile level of fructose consumption. Taken together, these findings suggest that we must be very cautious when attributing adverse health consequences to the consumption of fructose...particularly at normal population consumption levels. "

Fruit is too tasty and nutritious to be avoided. Indeed it should make up a large portion of the calories you consume. Many can go as high as fifty percent or more. In addition to fructose, fruit (and legumes) contain prebiotics. These non-digestible carbohydrates (insoluble fiber) make their way through the gut and help good bacteria grow, multiply, and flourish. Good bacteria are probiotics.  Prebiotics? Well, prebiotics feed them and keep them healthy, and then they in turn keep you healthy.

And so, the fructose present in fruit, far from posing any threat to your health, is a natural source of rapidly-absorbable, easily-convertible energy delivered in a sweet, juicy, vitamin-rich and colorful casing which combines with the priobiotics, fiber, water and other nutrients to maximize your health and longevity. Pick yourself up some today, and tell a friend!

THE PERFECT LUNCH

It's always better to prepare your own food, that way you know exactly what goes into it. And if you come prepared for lunch you will be less tempted by the vending machines, free lunches, and fast food joints that lurk everywhere. (The majority of junk food purchases are impulse buys.)

An easy lunch is to combine your favorite bean with your favorite green, and add a little fat for flavor. There's no cooking required, and preparation time is under 10 minutes. Here's how to do it:

Take 10 oz. of a leafy green vegetable, for example kale. This is approximately 2 bunches, or 4 cups chopped. Get the curly kind, which tastes great raw.

Rinse and empty into a bowl, then mash it down with your hands really good. You gotta sorta tear it, and knead it, as you would dough, so that the leaves are crushed a bit. This breaks down the cell walls and aids digestion.

Next, add an avocado or 2 tbsp. of coconut butter and continue to mash.

Mix in some seasonings (salt, spices, soy sauce, lemon juice). If you're counting calories use 1/2 an avocado instead of a whole one.

Finally, mix in 1 can of your favorite legume. Our favorites include black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and today's favorite, garbanzos. Don't be shy. Use a whole can, which has 3 1/2 cup servings.



And voila! You have yourself a tasty treat as delicious as it is nutritious.


Calories (if using a whole avocado): 850
Fiber: 33 grams
Nutrients: 25% or more of the daily value for 18 vitamins and minerals.

The fiber and slow-digesting carbs of the beans will keep you satisfied till dinner. The freshness of the kale and its high water content will keep you alert and your spirits high - no food coma here - and the savory fats will delight your taste buds while your health is served.

Take a bite and you'll find yourself asking, "Is medicine supposed to taste this good?"

 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS

The current recommendation for protein is to consume .8g/kg of body weight per day. A 150-lb individual adhering to this advice would consume 56 grams of protein per day. As each gram of protein has 4 calories, this equates to roughly 225 calories, or about 11% of calories on a 2,000-calorie per day diet.

Advocates of higher protein intakes argue that this recommendation does not apply to everyone, since the data on which it was based derived from studies involving sedentary individuals, and active folks would seem to need more protein. If athletes (and if you exercise regularly, this means you) do require more protein, reflected as grams per day, how much more depends on the type of exercise you engage in.

Authorities suggest that endurance athletes require additional protein as an auxiliary fuel source, while those who engage in strength training require extra amino acids to serve as building blocks for muscle synthesis. Although both groups (marathoners and muscleheads alike) would seem to require more protein than sedentary individuals, the additional protein requirements in grams per kg per day for endurance aficionados is less than for bodybuilders.

Here are the recommendations for a 150-lb individual:

1. Sedentary individuals: .8g/kg/d or 56g/224 calories, which we've stated is 11% of calories on a 2,000-calorie per day diet.

2. Endurance athletes: 1.3g/kg/d. This is 90 g/protein a day, or 360 calories. Since endurance training typically consumes somewhere between 600 and 1,000 calories per hour depending on intensity, the calorie requirement for runners is higher than for sedentary individuals, and endurance athletes often require 3,000 calories per day to replace glucose and glycogen stores. 90g/day of protein is 12% of calories on a 3,000-calorie per day diet.

3. Strength training: 1.6g/kg/d. This is around 110 grams per day, twice the amount required by sedentary individuals. Strength training burns more calories than sitting but less than swimming, so the caloric requirements for weight lifters are somewhere between the endurance athlete and the couch potato. Let's say 2,500 calories per day for the 150-lb person. Four hundred forty calories is 18% of 2,500. Therefore, our weight lifter should aim to consume around 18% of his calories from protein.

Now the question arises, where to get the extra protein? You don't need to look very far. As most foods contain at least 10% protein - and in the case of beans, seeds, and many vegetables as much as 20 to 40% - simply eating more food will ensure that you meet your daily protein quota.

And remember that choosing complete protein sources is not necessary. This myth, propagated in the 80s, has been roundly dispelled. All foods provide all amino acids, and choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, and seeds will easily fulfill the protein requirement for individuals of all ages and activity levels. No need for protein bars and fancy powders and other expensive supplements that by taxing the digestion and acidifying the blood do more harm than good. Opt instead to eat more leafy greens, which as the above chart shows are very high in protein. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils) are another good option. One can of kidney beans has 20 grams of protein. Two cans a day (40 grams protein) are what separates the couch potato from the ultramarathoner. Well, that and about 30 miles.

BEAT THE HEAT

June gloom seems behind us and with the longest day of the year fast approaching, it's getting warmer out. No need to curtail your fitness regimen. To beat the heat, simply exercise earlier in the day if possible, and remember to consume adequate fluids.

The American College of Sports Medicine has issued the following position stand regarding fluid replacement:

1. Drink 500 ml (16 oz) of fluid 2 hours before exercise.

2. Drink early and often, especially during exercise sessions lasting longer than 1 hour.

3. Cool fluids are more readily absorbed than room temperature drinks.

4. For exercise sessions lasting less than one hour, plain water is fine. But for longer sessions/races, try and consume between 30 to 60 grams (120 to 240 calories) of carbohydrate with some added sodium for each hour of exertion.

5. Aim to consume between 1/2 and 1 liter of fluid per hour. By choosing sports drinks you can ensure that each liter consumed provides adequate carbs and sodium to fuel your performance for races as long as the marathon. For example, 20 oz. of Gatorade has 34 grams of carbohydrate and 270 mg sodium.

Athletes with faster metabolism/more lean body mass may wish to add one gel (Powerbar, Gu) per hour. One gel has about 100 calories/25 grams of carbs. And some flavors have added caffeine.


 
These recommendations are especially important to keep in mind when racing, as even mild dehydration (less than 2% body weight, or 3 lbs in the 150-lb athlete) has been shown to reduce aerobic performance and increase perceived effort. Two percent of body weight is not a lot. It is equivalent to 32 oz of fluid, which you can easily sweat off in an hour of running in warm weather.
 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

SAY NO TO DRUGS

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was living in Colorado, where I was an intern in family medicine. I had just worked a 30-hour shift, beginning at 6 the previous morning and going till noon the following day. Starved and sleep-deprived, I decided to stay at clinic an extra hour and sit in on the lunch lecture. I wanted free food and intended to doze.

The talk was given by a pharmaceutical rep. He was discussing the benefits of a new antihypertensive drug. These drugs lower the blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. I already knew about several classes of such medications. Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBS), calcium channel blockers, and going back to medical school had for each class memorized the the mechanisms of action, side effect profiles, pharmachokinetics and dynamics of several medications, some 20 or more in all. My brain was near bursting with this information and ways of conveying it to patients so that their heads wouldn't burst. Medical training was filled with lessons (didactics) on drugs and their treatments. Never mind that many drugs don't work all that well, in many cases being hardly more effective than placebo.



Needless to say, I fell asleep before the lecture was over.

On my way home from work, I walked into the grocery store in a zombie-like trance. I can't remember what I was looking for. After call shifts I usually made a bee-line to the beer section for a trusty six-pack of some foreign beer or microbrew. On my way to the cold drinks I happened to look to my left, where I noticed the produce section. And there they were. All these different types of leafy green vegetables. More than I had ever seen in one place. Maybe they had just gotten a shipment in, or relocated the section. I don't know, but I had never noticed such a cornucopia. I mean, I knew spinach and lettuce, but there were half a dozen more.

I took a closer look. Spritzed with water, the produce glistened, and fresh scents wafted my way. I read the names of the items. Swiss chard, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, parsley, oregano, basil and other herbs. All for under a dollar each (2008 prices; now they're closer to $2 or $2.50 per bunch, still relatively cheap). And I thought, why don't I know anything about these foods? Surely they must beneficially impact health, perhaps even prevent some or many of the diseases I am learning how to treat with drugs.

And so I made it my aim to learn about these foods, and to eat them, and if things went well, to recommend them to others.


I ditched the beer idea and filled up my shopping cart with greens, deciding to start with chard.


Swiss chard. A leafy green vegetable similar to spinach. Chard has many health benefits. A one-hundred calorie serving of cooked chard (3 cups) provides 25% or more of 12 essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, including over 600% of the RDA for vitamin A. Clearly, chard is a nutritional powerhouse.

But let's explore one of the lesser known benefits which pertains to blood pressure and may be of particular interest to the athlete.

Chard is high in nitrates. These compounds are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide (NO) is a powerful vasodilator. This means it enlarges blood vessels, lowering blood pressure while increasing blood flow to the organs. This is particularly important when engaged in exercise. Studies have been conducted using beet juice, a nitrate source. In one study, cyclists were given 16 oz of beetroot juice for six days before an event and increased power output and time trail performance. In another study, beet juice was shown to improve oxygen utilization, meaning cyclists required less oxygen to cycle just as fast.

Chard has a higher nitrate content than beets. In fact, leafy greens have more nitrates than any other vegetables. Don't be dissuaded by the bad press nitrates have received. While it is true that processed meats (cured and smoked beef and pork) are preserved with nitrates, the health risks (particularly the cancer risks) associated with these foods are due to the foods themselves more than the preservatives used; for this reason the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding all processed meats like the plague they are. This includes bacon and ham. Because of the health benefits of eating vegetables, and the relatively high levels of nitrates in many vegetables, experts are calling into question the low values of nitrate consumption traditionally recommended. The nitrates in whole plant foods should not be avoided but rather emphasized in the diet.

So eat chard. But remember, many nutrients including nitrates are heat sensitive and are destroyed with cooking. Chard is not generally eaten raw, but luckily it requires a very short cooking time, and you will love the silky texture. Simply boil chard for 3 minutes (after removing the stems), mix in some lemon, spices, and maybe some coconut butter, top with fresh tomato and beans, and you have yourself a blood vessel expanding meal that will fuel you to victory in your next event.

By emphasizing chard and other leafy green vegetables you naturally reduce your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, lower your blood pressure, and render anti-hypertensives unnecessary, proving once again that your food is your best medicine and farmer's markets are the pharmacies of the future.

INDULGE YOUR SWEET TOOTH

Face it. We all have a sweet tooth. Whether you admit it or not, you have a "weakness" for sweets of one type of another.

The taste bud for sweet is on the tip of the tongue for a reason, suggesting this weakness is actually a strength in that it is in the interest of fitness. That is, if the sweets you choose are of the right variety. Indulging in skittles, snickers, m&ms and menthos and other empty calories is a recipe for weight gain and a host of health disorders, but by choosing fresh fruits and the water, fiber, and micronutrients they provide along with the sugar for rapid energy, you can ensure that your sweet tooth is in the best interest of your health, just as nature intended.

And when you think of healthy fruits, berries, apples, oranges, and melons may come to mind. But one fruit not commonly noted for its high health index is the date.

Phoenix dactylifera Linn, that is. That date palm is one of the oldest trees cultivated by man, with references dating back to Biblical times. And in folk-lore, dates are ascribed many medicinal properties. Dates have served as the staple food for millions of people around the world for several centuries. But in the West, they are relegated to a back-seat status, considered to be sweet nothings the indulgence of which could lead to weight gain and tooth decay. In short, dates have been hardly recognized as the health food that they are. And they are. Oh yes, they are. Studies on the health benefits of dates, although inadequate till recently, have refuted the dogma of dates as junk food and elevated them to the status of a medicinal food.

Dates contain ten minerals, the major being selenium, copper, potassium, and magnesium. Eating 100 g (315 calories) of dates can provide over 15% of the recommended daily allowance from these nutrients, in addition to B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Not the stuff of candies. Dates are also high in fiber and a good source of antioxidants, mainly carotenoids and phenolics. While low in protein, dates do contain over 20 different amino acids, some of which are not present in the most popular fruits such as oranges, apples and bananas. Rich in the simple sugars glucose and fructose, dates are sweet as can be, but many varieties are low GI foods that won't play havoc with your blood sugar levels. Instead they provide rapid energy in an easily digestible package.

There are many varieties of dates, the most available of which are deglet noor and medjool. Our favorite are medjool dates. Soft, sweet, succulent, they are the perfect snack or dessert, and go excellent combined with other fruits, especially bananas and apples.

The world production of dates has increased threefold since the year we were born (1973), outpacing the world's population growth, which has doubled in this time. The total world export of dates has also increased, indicating higher demand, which would explain the recent wave of price increases at our local market.

So eat dates today. Scientists have recently dubbed them an "almost ideal food" for good reason. Your food is truly your medicine.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22214443

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18949591

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12850886

Monday, June 17, 2013

THE TRUTH ABOUT FATS

The place that fats should occupy in the diet is a matter of contention. Low fat diets such as the one advocated by Dean Ornish, M.D. suggest a fat intake of 10% of calories, while other medical experts such as Joseph Mercola consume as much as 50% or more of their calories from fat. Who's right?

Let's examine the science and develop our own conclusion.

Fat as one of the three macronutrients (protein and carbohydrates are the other two) comprises various proportions in food depending on the food. Oils, for example, are 100% fat, as is butter. Nuts and high fat animal products derive the majority of their calories from fat. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes have modest to minimal fat content.

The body uses fat for energy. Fatty acids are long chains of carbon molecules which are broken down/oxidized to provide fuel. This oxidation creates harmful metabolites (oxidants) which your body must neutralize with the appropriately named antioxidants, particularly the vitamins A, C, and E and certain minerals.

The problem is, fat generally contains few if any of these oh so important antioxidants, so your source of these nutrients must come elsewhere. From where exactly? Vitamin C is derived exclusively from plant products. Foods highest in this vitamin include peppers, citrus, papaya, broccoli, kale, strawberries, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. While some animal products contain vitamin A (liver, herring, salmon, milk, and eggs), the vitamin is much more prevalent in foods of plant origin, including sweet potato, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and peppers. The same goes for vitamin E, which is present in greatest quantities in plant foods (nuts, seeds, spinach, chard, broccoli, mango, tomato).

Plant foods are not only highest in the antioxidant vitamins that neutralize free radicals and other products of cellular metabolism and protect your body from aging and disease. They are also the highest in virtually all other vitamins and minerals, making plant foods the most nutritious foods available. The foods heading the list of nutrient density are leafy green vegetables, followed by other vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seeds. These foods derive most of their calories from carbohydrate and to a lesser extent from protein; they are generally lower in fat. Indeed fat content seems to go up as the overall nutritive value of a food decreases. Consider that the least nutritious foods are oils, nut butters, refined carbohydrates (french fries, potato chips), and high fat animal products (cheese, butter, eggs). These foods all derive a substantial portion of calories from fat.


Because the most nutritious foods are lower in fat, emphasizing these foods results in a diet whose total caloric breakdown mirrors what is present in these foods, which ends up being around 70 percent carbohydrate and 10 to 15 percent protein and fat.

Of course it is beneficial to include some fat in the diet. Other than being used as an energy source, some types of fat (the polyunsaturated fatty acids) serve essential functions as precursors to cellular messengers and components of the cell membrane,  with a large concentration in nervous and eye tissue. Because your body cannot produce essential fatty acids, you must consume them in your diet, and because fat is present in all foods, you won't have to look far. Leafy greens, seeds, and algae are all good sources.

But not all fatty acids are necessary/beneficial, and the more fat you consume, the more unnecessary and harmful fatty acids you are at risk of taking in. Saturated fats (found in animal products and to a lesser extent in chocolate, coconut, and palm kernel oils), trans fats (margarines, fried foods, pastries) are of no benefit and can actually harm the body in amounts exceeding, well, zero. Translation: don't eat 'em.

Finally, there is the issue of caloric density. If you are calorie-conscious or trying to lose weight or maintain your ideal weight, it is best to opt for nutrient-dense foods over those with a high amount of calories relative to weight, and with few exceptions nutrient-dense foods and calorically-dense foods are mutually exclusive. Fat is twice as calorically-dense as protein or carbohydrate, so foods that derive a large portion of their calories from fat are more caloric, and also tend to have less water and fiber (and vitamins and minerals) than fruits and vegetables. A hundred grams of almonds has nearly 600 calories. The same weight in apples has 52. You do the math.

Congratulations. We are now also experts on fat. Our conclusion: Eat plant products freely and make judicious use of high fat products (avocados, coconuts, olives, seeds) to ensure your diet is maximally nutritious, which we have shown is by definition low in fat.

Friday, June 14, 2013

THE REAL KILLER

We are currently experiencing an epidemic in inflammation and inflammatory conditions. The list includes diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis) and many other disorders.

Experts have implicated the disproportionate consumption of inflammatory precursors. These fatty acids, which are called, variously, omega-6 fatty acids, linoleic acid, and arachidonic acid, our body uses to produce compounds such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes whose effects include pain, disease, and aging. This is an oversimplification of a complex scientific topic, but it is nonetheless true.

Efforts should be made to decrease consumption of inflammatory fatty acids in favor of plant-based compounds with anti-inflammatory effects. These fatty acids, called omega-3 fatty acids, occur in foods such as leafy green vegetables, flax seeds, and chia seeds.

As you can see, the list of dietary omega-3 sources is very short.

On the other hand, foods which are high in inflammatory fatty acids are so widespread in the average diet as to seem ubiquitous.

Sources of linoleic acid (LA): grains, nuts, and oils (olive, soybean, canola, etc.)

Sources of aracidonic acid (AA): meat products including eggs, beef, sausage, burgers.

The harmful food which heads the list of both LA and AA as being highest in these inflammatory fatty acids and should be avoided at all costs?

Chicken.

Chicken is not a health food. It is not a weight loss food. Whether breaded, roasted, fried, grilled, or baked, be it the leg, thigh, wing, or breast, skinless or boneless or whole, chicken is poison.

When you think of chicken focus on the K.

Even if your dietary choices are not at all influenced by animal rights or environmental issues, you deserve to know the effects of the food you put in your body.

And the problem is we as a country in the 21st century are eating more chicken than ever before in history, over 80 pounds per person per year. Next time you bite into that McNugget or chicken sandwich remember the truth:

You can forget the images of blood and gore and focus on your health.

Chicken kills.

It is becoming increasingly clear within the scientific community that nearly all diseases have the same cause, that is, a diet-induced pro-inflammatory state. And treatment must be aimed at the underlying cause. Eradicate inflammation and fix your diet by excluding animal products and increasing your intakes of plant-based foods.

In a world where life spans are longer than ever and people spend their final days wasting away in medical intensive care units, squandering their life savings and enduring crushing debilitation and despair, now more than ever it is important to remember the words of jazz musician Eubie Blake, who lived well into his 90s. He said, "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."

Start now.


FOOD AS FUEL

Diet and exercise, diet and exercise, diet and exercise. Like love and marriage, the two seem to go together like a horse and carriage. And for good reason: what you eat and how much you move exert a synergistic effect to favorably impact your health.

But what is the influence of one on the other. In other words, does diet impact your fitness level and exercise performance? We know that exercise increases your caloric expenditure and can cause you to consume more food, which is fine provided it is of the nutrient-rich variety. If too often you reward yourself after a 3-mile jog with a large muffin of the coffee-shop variety, you can wind up adding to your fat stores rather than trimming down, since muffins, bagels, and other calorie bombs can easily contain twice the calories you're trying to replenish (muffin: 600 calories; 3-mile jog: 300). The resultant net gain you wind up wearing around your waist, hips, face, or thighs.

But joking aside, does a healthy diet, in and of itself, improve your physical fitness? Yes, says Amy Donaldson, a young mother who by adopting a plant-based approach knocked nearly a half an hour off her half-marathon time, running a personal best 2:21. What's most impressive about this feat is that Amy did not alter her training. All she did was modify the foods she ate, choosing fruits and vegetables over meat and dairy. Go Amy!

Now, while we love anecdotal evidence, we want to know: What does the literature say? Early studies point to a tremendous increase in endurance performance associated with a high carbohydrate diet, quadruple what was seen in a high fat, high protein diet. It was from these studies that the concept of carb loading derived.

According to an article on vegetarian diet and endurance performance published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, endurance athletes (runners, bikers, swimmers, and the like) are urged to consume a diet of 70% carbohydrate in order to maximize muscle glycogen stores and guard against fatigue. And deemphasizing animal foods (which have no carbohydrate) in favor of carb-rich fruits, vegetables, and beans makes it easy to meet the carb target and maximize performance. The article also notes the cardioprotective quality inherent in plant-based foods. In addition, the antioxidants present in plant foods (vitamins like A, C, and E) protect against the oxidative stress of exercise. These antioxidants are present almost exclusively in fruits and vegetables.

So in the race called life, carbs seem to be the fuel of choice, and the best sources bar none are plants.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

FATTY ACID RATIO

A plant-based diet is critical in maintaining the proper nutrient balance. Human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1. In Western diets the ratio is closer to 20-1. Excessive omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and such a high omega-6/omega-3 ratio promote diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Increased levels of omega-3 and a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio exert suppressive effects, protecting against heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and providing relief in conditions including asthma and autoimmune disorders.

Because meat, soy, grains, nuts, and oils contain an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids, a diet which emphasizes these foods is not in the best interest of health. A diet which emphasizes fruits, vegetables (especially leafy green varieties, which are rich in omega-3), beans and some seeds is best.

Choose flaxseeds and chia seeds over nuts. The former are high in omega-3 and low in omega-6. Also, choose beans and other legumes over soybeans and soy-based products (1/2 cup of tofu has 5,466 mg omega-6 and just 733 mg omega-3). Finally, when choosing overt fat sources (foods which derive most of their calories from fat), opt for olives and avocados over oils (soybean, olive, canola). Yes, olives and avocados are high in omega-6. One avocado has 2,200 mg omega-6 and only 150 mg of omega-3. But the omega-3/omega-6 ratio in flaxseed (2,350 to 600) will offset the disproportionate amount of omega-6 present in avocado. Therefore, for each avocado you consume (perhaps one a day), add 1 tbsp of flaxseed. Some may wish to add a DHA supplement (with or without EPA) to top off omega-3 consumption. This is particularly relevant for diets relying heavily on grains, oils, nuts, and other sources of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA), as large quantities of this EFA inhibit the production of DHA.

A judicious plant-based approach will ensure that your consumption of essential fatty acids is close to the 1:1 ratio on which our ancestors evolved.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

FOOD AND MOOD


The prevalence of mental disorders is so high that it can accurately be called an epidemic. The National Institutes of Health estimates that over 25 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This translates into nearly 60 million people, probably more, as this estimate is ten years old.

Nearly half of the diagnosed mental disorders in a given year are classified as mood disorders. Things like depression, bipolar, and dysthymia. Symptoms of depression include low self-esteem, loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, fatigue, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances.

For many years, the belief has been that a deficit in certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters underlies depression, and so treatment has been aimed at restoring levels of serotonin and norepinephrine to normal with drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin. But these powerful drugs have side effects which can be worse than the symptoms they are supposed to treat. Things like suicidality, nausea, weight gain, diarrhea, erectile dysfunction, etc. which make one wonder how they could possibly be first line treatment.

Isn't there something better?

Some physicians recognize the link between mood disorders and lifestyle factors which seem to influence the level of the neurotransmitters targeted by pharmacotherapy, and for good reason. Exercise has been shown to be just as effective as drugs in relieving the symptoms of depression. And many claims have been made about particular nutrients and their impact on mood. We are told to eat more vitamin D, or up our intake of omega-3. Macronutrient - carbs, protein, and fat - have also been studied for their effects on mood. It is without question that eating a nutrient-rich diet provides physiological benefits; however, none of the studies investigating a particular nutrient's effect on mood has been conclusive.

But what about food groups? Are there food groups in the diet whose exclusion or inclusion influences mood? Scientists have recently investigated the matter and their findings are quite interesting. In a follow-up study to one which showed that vegetarians reported significantly less negative emotions than omnivores, a randomized controlled trial was conducted in which subjects were placed in one of three groups: an omnivorous group eating meat, fish, and poultry; a fish group eating fish a few times a week but no meat or poultry; and a vegetarian group avoiding meat, fish, and poultry. After the two-week dietary intervention the only group to report significant improvement in mood and stress levels was the vegetarian group. This is a ground-breaking study as it is the first to focus on the impact a plant-based diet has on mood. And hopefully not the last. Additional studies of this kind may help to bring dietary considerations to the fore where they belong in a psychiatrist's armamentarium.

BE A BEANER



This past weekend I was at Big Bear's Holcomb Valley Trail run finishing a 33-miler at 7,000+ feet above sea level. My ten-minute mile pace was the slowest I'd ever run in my life and yet sufficed for an age-group 3rd place... hardest physical thing I've ever done, yada yada.

Anyway, I get to talking with the guy who finished some 30 minutes before me. He tells me that two weeks before the race he had run (and won) a 10-mile trail race. Then, the following week he had run a 2:31 marathon, narrowly beating a guy half his age for the victory. And after coming in 3rd in our Holcomb Valley 33-miler, he was ANGRY HE DIDN'T WIN! Did I mention this guy was older than me?

I thought, is this guy human??? And so I asked him. "What do you do to run so fast and so often?" says I. I was expecting him to tell me he trained in the rarified air of Mars, or that he had tiger blood in his veins. Know what he says?

"I eat beans."

Okay, maybe he didn't say this. Maybe, after running for 5 1/2 hours straight at nearly 2 miles above sea level, mostly alone, I had a mixture of high-altitude sickness and excessive fatigue, which combined to induce these auditory hallucinations. But the runner in question was Hispanic, and the reputation Mexicans have of eating more legumes than other ethnicities is based on fact. So if indeed he attested to regular consumption of legumes, he'd be honoring his heritage (and mine, as I'm 1/4 Mexican).

Beans are a slow-burning carbohydrate. They provide sustained energy without blood sugar spikes and are therefore the perfect runner's food.

At under $1 per can, beans are affordable, and you can get them pretty much anywhere food is sold. If you choose to boil your own, they are easy to prepare. When buying in a can, make sure to opt for varieties without added sugar, and to strain and rinse them thoroughly. Then simply mix into your favorite dish. Make beans a meal in and of themselves, have them with avocado and/or salsa, or add them to greens.

Start with 1/2-cup per day and work up to 1 or 2 cups. By rinsing them well you wash away the hard to digest oligosaccharides. To aid digestibility, make sure you combine them with high-water content foods. This means vegetables and vegetable fruits rather than rice, meat, cheese, and tortillas. By starting small and working up you ensure your body will have time to adjust to the new addition to your diet.

Our favorite legumes are garbanzos, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans. Lentils require short preparation times, no soaking, and are very easy to digest. Lima beans, split peas, azukis, and black-eyed peas are also good.

And beans are not just for the athlete. Studies have shown including just four weekly servings of your favorite legumes results in more effective weight loss, a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and lower levels of inflammatory markers.

Furthermore, consuming just 1/2 cup per day of legumes results in increased intakes of fiber, protein, zinc, iron, and magnesium, and lower intakes of fat and saturated fat. And diets which include beans (and leafy greens) are an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin important for cognitive function. Irritability, depression, fatigue, and memory lapse can be a sign you are not getting enough. Eat beans every day and you'll have no problem remembering how important they are!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A CALORIE IS NOT JUST A CALORIE

Much debate exists as to which calorie type should predominate in the diet. Some advocate a high protein approach, while others follow carbohydrate rich fare. Though your body requires all three macronutrient types - protein, fat, and carbohydrate - their respective effects on the body differ markedly.

Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates are deemed the most nutritious, since the foods in which carbohydrates predominate - fruits, vegetables, beans - are highest in vitamin and mineral content, while foods comprised mainly of fats and/or proteins (animal products, nuts, oils) are less nutritionally dense.

Nutrition aside, the million dollar question is, What effect do the various calorie types have on body weight?

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition helps us answer this question. Researchers conducted a population-based, cross-sectional study of approximately 4500 middle-aged and elderly men and women to investigate the effects different macronutrient intakes have on percent body fat. They found that in the general population, higher protein intake was associated with more body fat. In a subset of the population - those who were moderate body mass and stable weight - it was a higher fat intake which was associated with higher body fat.

In other words, both high protein diets and higher fat diets are associated with higher percent body fat. In the case of high carbohydrate intake, the reverse is true. The more carbs you eat, the less fat you wear around your waist/hips/thighs/buttocks.

Emphasize carbs over protein and fat, and to get the most nutrition per calorie, focus on the high quality carbs found in fruits, vegetables and beans over those found in grains.

INFLAMMATION


It is always best to obtain your nutrients from fresh, whole foods. But owing to differences in soil and climate, and variations in vitamin levels found in food, it can be hard if not impossible to determine with certainty that you are getting adequate amounts of all nutrients.

Traditional advice is to take a multi-vitamin to top off nutritional requirements and ensure adequate daily intake of all major vitamins and minerals. And most supplements do contain 50% or more of the USRDA of the major micronutrients (iron, B vitamins, etc).

But what is left out? These days vitamin pills contain a host of pseudonutrients such as extracts and powders from herbs whose usefulness in the diet has not been adequately determined. But what most vitamins do not contain is arguably one of the most important nutrients in food.

Enter Omega-3 fatty acids.

There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids. For simplicity let's use the abbreviations here. ALA is found in plant sources including leafy green vegetables, flax and chia seeds, and in smaller amounts in other plant foods. DHA and EPA are present in fish and other animal sources. DHA is also found in seaweed. ALA is the parent Omega-3, as your body converts it into DHA/EPA with the aid of the enzyme delta-6 desaturase, but the process is inefficient in diets in which Omega-6 acids predominate. High Omega-6 intakes use up the desaturase enzyme, which is too busy making inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. This suggests the importance of obtaining DHA and EPA as well as ALA in the diet, especially for lovers of nuts, oils and grains (all high in Omega-6).



Omega-3s are involved in mood, memory, cardiovascular health, and inflammation, among many other things. Dry skin, attention/cognitive dysfunction, and low energy levels may be signs of deficiency. EPA levels are decreased in people with dementia. Depressed patients have lower levels of all Omega-3 fatty acids and experience symptom improvement with EPA supplementation. Studies have shown adding DHA in the diets of people lacking this fatty acid improved memory and reaction time, and Omega-3s also play a central role in the aging process. In fact, the amount of DHA found in the blood is proportional to a cell DNA's telomere length (the lower the level the shorter the length the older the cell/more times it has divided). DHA may prevent age-related brain deterioration, for example as seen in Alzheimer's. Moreover, older vegans with Parkinson's have been witnessed in the clinical setting to have nonexistent levels of DHA in their blood

It may be for these reasons that the Omega-3 index is being touted as the only blood test you'll ever need. But the test itself is expensive relative to the food sources of the acids it detects and must be ordered through your physician. A more expedient and cost-effective option may be to consume adequate amounts of these essential fatty acids in your diet.

But how much Omega-3 is enough? About a gram a day if you're a female, a gram and a half for males, give or take, says the Institute of Medicine. But the Institute does not differentiate among the Omega-3 subtypes. This requirement seems to apply if the source is EPA/DHA. But if your source is the plant-derived ALA, you may need to take upwards of 10 grams (equivalent to about 3 tbsp. of chia seeds), but such a high dose brings with it problems of its own, including an increased risk of prostate cancer and macular degeneration.

It would be more judicious to include a moderate amount of ALA in the diet - say, in the form of 1-2 tablespoons of flax or chia seeds, and then choose the appropriate dietary source of DHA/EPA. If you consume animal products, this may come from fatty fish, free range eggs or grass fed beef. Vegans may wish to include an algae-derived DHA/EPA source, such as the one Joel Fuhrman endorses, which contains around 250 mg of these important fatty acids. Cod liver oil and other fish oils are another option. They are less expensive and contain far more of these fatty acids. Of course, if you shun animal foods and/or are environmentally conscious this may not be the best option, as the oceans are nearly depleted of marine life due to the increased demand for seafood. If you do eat meat, you may wish to supplement with fish oil in lieu of getting levels checked, take for a few months, and note physiological responses - mood, skin, and other indicators of Omega-3 status. Note that it takes about a month for blood levels to equilibrate, and a maximal response is seen with a DHA dosage of 2g/day, though taking this much is probably unnecessary. If after DHA/EPA supplementation an improvement in symptoms is seen, then transition to a plant-based source. It is more expensive, but if you eat fewer nuts, oils, and grains, you may need to take less of it, as you will produce more.

A final note. More important than the amount of EPA/DHA in your diet may be the ratio of these anti-inflammatory fatty acids to Omega-6 fatty acids, which have pro-inflammatory effects. The optimal ratio seems to be approximately 1, meaning equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6. Western diets have intakes of Omega-6 that are 15-16-folder higher than Omega-3. This is due to the preponderance of nuts, grains, meat, and oils, all high in Omega-6. By shunning these foods in favor of fruits, vegetables, beans, and some seeds, you can bring your Omega-6 levels down and decrease your requirement of EPA/DHA as you will have higher levels of the desaturase enzyme responsible for making DHA and EPA from ALA. A good thing. Just make sure to get enough folic acid, an important B-vitamin which enhances blood levels of DHA. Folate is found in beans and leafy greens.

Don't miss including this important nutrient in your diet in sufficient quantities. Your life (quality, longevity) may depend on it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

THE C WORD


Diet is a four-letter word, which is apropos, since the food you eat can carry health consequences that are profane.

Take high-protein diets. Promoters of such a dietstyle tout the weight loss and strength building effects of eating like our ancestors did for millennia. Weight loss. Muscle mass. Strength gains. These are all short term results. What about long term consequences of favoring animal products? These cavemen ancestors of ours had life expectancies which barely reached the thirties. (This held true in later eras, even through the early part of the 20th century.) It's not to say that eating meat led to an early death; skeletal remains suggest that our ancestors died as a result of trauma, infection, or other such causes, and recent increases in life expectancy are largely due to advances in public health (cleaner water, vaccines, etc).

Nevertheless, most cavemen did not live very long, so it becomes difficult to assess the impact of a meatcentric diet in an older population. Had our ancestors lived to a ripe old age as do we modern humans - the current life expectancy is 78 years and growing, and a much larger portion of the population reaches old age than ever before in history - and had our ancestors persisted in a diet emphasizing meat, what would have been the consequences? Can we say? Yes, we can.

Many modern Americans eat in such a way, breakfasting on eggs, chowing on chicken breast for lunch, and slicing into a steak or roast or chunk of salmon for dinner. And what is the effect?

Cancer.

Cancer is a disease of old age - most cases occur in your 50s or 60s - and cancer is on the rise. A person's lifetime risk of cancer is nearly 50%. This means that 1 in 2 men and women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. Think of how many people you know who have been diagnosed with the disease. Staggering.

Not coincidentally, per capita animal protein is also higher than it has been historically. In the last century, consumption of meat has risen dramatically, from 10 billion pounds in 1909 to over 50 billion pounds in 2012. That's a 500% increase! Yes, per capita meat consumption has begun to drop in the last few years, but still the average person consumes around 270 pounds of meat per year.



Not coincidentally, if you look at cancer mortality over the same period of time (20th century into the 21st century), we find that cancer mortality rates skyrocketed throughout the last century, reached a peak in the 1990's, and though they have been declining slightly since then, at 190 deaths per 100,000 members of the population per year are still over three times what they were in the year 1900.

Death Rates by Cause of Death, 1900–2005

(per 100,000 population)

YearTuberculosis,
all forms
Malignant
neoplasms
(cancer)
Major
cardiovascular
diseases
Influenza
and pneumonia
Motor
vehicle
accidents
1900194.464.0345.2202.2n.a.
1910153.876.2371.9155.91.8
1920113.183.4364.9207.310.3
193071.197.4414.4102.526.7
194045.9120.3485.770.326.2
195022.5139.8510.831.323.1
19606.1149.2521.837.321.3
19702.6162.8496.030.926.9
19800.9183.9436.424.123.5
19900.7203.2368.332.018.8
20000.3200.5340.424.315.2
20010.3194.4323.921.815.4
20020.3193.8318.322.915.5
20030.2191.5310.322.415.4
20040.2187.4293.820.915.0
20050.2188.7288.821.315.3

Cancer incidence figures are hard to come by, and organizations like to manipulate cancer stats to make them appear less dire than they are, but the fact that meat eating and cancer risk are related goes without saying.  Dietary factors are responsible for a large portion of cancers seen particularly in the Western Hemisphere. The World Health Organization associates diet with carcinomas of the pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, stomach, colon and cervix. And a study featured in the journal Medical Hypotheses supports a low-fat vegan diet to be especially protective in regard to cancers of the breast and prostate. Interestingly, the same author has shown in another study that low-fat vegan foods, through the same mechanism (lowering circulating levels of certain growth factors seen in cancer) may slow the aging process.

But this is only an aside.

Granted, other changes have taken place in the last 100 years that may influence cancer's rise. These include a consumption of processed and fast foods, Omega-6 saturated diets, exposure to thousands of chemical pollutants never before seen in the history of mankind, entrance of known carcinogens such as chlorine and fluoride in the public water supply, and the explosion of cigarette smoking in society after WWII.

But if it were true that these factors and not an increase in animal protein consumption were the true contributors/causes of cancer, we would expect to see the same rates of cancer in meat-eaters and vegetarians/vegans alike.

But we don't.

Many and various are the studies which have shown that vegetarian diets, and to a greater extent vegan diets, confer a protection against cancer, none more so than a recent and very elegant study conducted at Loma Linda University, which showed that vegan women had 34 percent lower rates of cancers of the breast, cervix, and ovary compared to a group of healthy omnivores who ate substantially less meat than the general population. The risk of dying from a heart attack is also less in plant eaters, notable since heart disease tops cancer as the nation's biggest killer.

Recent literature has touted the success of the war on cancer, but it is a success of cancer treatment, not prevention. Drugs and invasive surgery, though effective on existing malignant neoplasms, are powerless in preventing a tumor's occurrence. For many, the battle is lost once cancer rears its ugly head. Does it have to be you or a loved one? No it doesn't. Of what good is reaching your target weight by eating certain foods if in 10, 20, or 30 years those very foods bring with them sickness and death and cut your life in half?

There are other ways of eating which carry with them the benefit of weight loss and improved fitness without the attendant risk of cancer. So eat more plants. The overall quality of your diet can be gauged by the proportion, by calories, of fruits, vegetables, beans and seeds you consume.

Think long term. Lifespans being longer than they have ever been before, it is now more important than ever to maintain optimal health well into old age, since you may reach the century mark or beyond, and we hope you do so in vibrant health, vim, and vigor.

VIVE LE FIBRE!


The most important nutrient in your diet is not usually considered a nutrient at all. Ask your friends to name one and they will likely mention a vitamin or a mineral, or maybe say protein. And they'd be correct. But if you asked said friends to name the most important nutrient, or the one whose presence and quantity in the diet goes far in indicating the quality of the diet, who in their right minds would say fiber?

Yes, fiber.

The nutrient that is not a nutrient, probably because it is calorie free and traditionally thought to be useless as an energy source. But it just so happens that the foods with the highest amounts of fiber (we're talking whole foods here, not processed junk in boxes and jars like cereals and powders) are without exception the healthiest on the planet.

First, what is fiber? Textbooks will tell you that fiber is the indigestible portion of plants. Because the body cannot absorb fiber, it remains in the digestive tract, moving through the 30-foot-long intestinal tube and acting like a rake to sweep out debris, adding bulk and softening the stool. Fiber is therefore a natural prevention for constipation, hemorrhoids, anal fissures and the like. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both types are usually found in fiber-rich foods. Soluble fibers absorb water, soften stool, and lower cholesterol, while insoluble fibers exert a rake-like influence and move food through the gut.

But is fiber really nondigestible? Maybe for humans, but not for the bacteria lining our intestines. These naturally-occurring, beneficial bacteria which are part of the normal gut flora - they are also known as probiotics - break down fiber into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are the preferred energy source of the colon (that long tube that begins by your appendix and ends at your anus). SCFAs, and the fiber from which they are derived, not only exert a protective influence against colon cancer. They also stimulate blood flow and assist with fluid and electrolyte uptake, as shown by a study published in the American Physiological Society. All good things.

And just which foods contain fiber? If fiber is the indigestible/resistant portions of plants...you guessed it: plants.

Most rank fiber-rich foods on the basis of grams of fiber per cup of food, but this can be misleading, as concentrated foods (grains) contain way more calories per cup than water-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, beans). Consider that a cup of black beans contains 15 grams of fiber and 225 calories, while a cup of cauliflower, at 30 calories, contains 3.5 grams of fiber. By the old system (fiber per cup), beans would seem to be the better source. However, if you evaluate these fiber-rich foods by calorie, you'll find that while beans have about 6 1/2 grams of fiber per 100 calories, cauliflower has nearly double that amount (11 1/2 grams). For the calorie conscious, a better system evaluates foods based on amount of fiber per 100 calories.

So instead of counting calories, or carbs, or fat, all of which are restrictive methods which may leave you feeling limited and deprived, count fiber. Try to eat more fiber, as much as you can. In fact, aim to eat 100 grams a day. Why 100 grams? If the average fruit, vegetable, bean or seed contains about 5 grams of fiber per 100 calories (and some, like raspberries, contain as many as 14 grams of fiber per 100 cals), shooting for 100 grams of fiber per day will ensure that you eat 2,000 calories of these ultra-nutritious foods. For some, 2,000 cals per day may constitute the daily intake, done. For bigger/more active folks, this will leave an extra 500 or so calories for less nutritious foods such as grains, nuts, and (heaven forbid) animal products (eggs, dairy, meat).

To practice eating 100 grams of fiber per day, focus on fruit, especially berries, which are highest in fiber. Apples, bananas, and citrus fruits are other good choices. (Dried fruits - prunes, raisins, etc. - are inferior options as they are divorced from the water that aids digestibility, which may result in stomach upset for some.) For lunch enjoy a big green salad with fruit or beans, and for dinner work up to a cup or two of your favorite legume, along with vegetables, both cooked and raw.

Use a calorie counter such as fitday or nutridiary to verify that you are reaching your goal. You won't have record food consumption for very long. A couple/few days of eating fiber rich foods will give you a good idea of the quantities you should aim for.

Some say that adding fiber to the diet should be done incrementally. While this may be true with beans - to which your body must adjust by increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut - fruits and vegetables, especially raw varieties, can be eaten in superabundance without any digestive difficulty whatsoever.

And we know how tempting it is to meet the fiber requirement by eating mostly fruit. Fruit is sweet and easy, but make sure to include a large quantity of vegetables at lunch and/or dinner. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found increased consumption of the fiber found in vegetables to be associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. This same association was not found in fibers from other foods.

Vive le fibre!