Calorie Consumption Controversies
The BOTTOM LINE on
Plant-based diets, Juicing, Supplements, and more.
To everyone reading this newsletter (which means you are investing time in the pursuit of greater health and happiness), it is no revelation that the food we consume is a major factor in our risk of disability and death. The Problem: We are bombarded with diets that claim to promote health, assist with weight loss, and reduce disease. The Question: What does the scientific data tell us about what we consume and its effects on our body?
I would like to summarize findings reported this month, hot off the press, in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology entitled Trending Cardiovascular Nutrition Controversies. The impressive list of 12 doctors who authored the article are members of the Prevention of Cardiovascular (CVD) Disease Council. These authors reviewed hundreds of the best published studies on food intake and health outcomes.
Here are their specific findings and recommendations
Eggs and dietary cholesterol
: Significantly limit dietary cholesterol in the form of eggs or any high-cholesterol foods. Shellfish is lower in saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and may be a better choice, but limit amounts. Take home message: We want to DECREASE high fat dairy and fatty meats.
Coconut oil and palm oil are high in SFAs and have deleterious effects, while canola, olive, and sunflower oils are high in the good monounsaturated FAs (MUFAs). The scientific evidence for olive oil is the most comprehensive, with clear evidence for a benefit in reducing CVD.
Berries, brightly colored vegetables
: Antioxidant phytochemicals (flavonoids) are strongly concentrated in blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, red cabbage, red radishes, and eggplant (purple vegetables). They have potent anti-inflammatory properties and scavenge the harmful free radicals. Diets high in these foods have been shown to lower heart attacks, blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
If anti-oxidant foods are healthy, then more must be better, right? Not necessarily. There is a process known as "hormesis" which is a biphasic response to a stressor in which a substance is beneficial at low doses but harmful at higher doses. Thus, although foods rich in antioxidants appear to have health benefits, excellent studies of "high-dose antioxidant supplements have not demonstrated benefits." The authors state there is "no evidence of benefit with the addition of high-dose antioxidant supplements."
Several studies reveal consistent benefits with nut consumption (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans) including reduced deaths from CVD and cancer. Because nuts are high in fat and calorie dense, portion control is necessary! Substitute nuts for unhealthy processed snacks.
Green leafy vegetables
: This includes Swiss chard, arugula, mesclun, celery, collard greens, green beans, kale, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, parsley, Brussel sprouts. A diet rich in these green leafy veggies lowers risk of CVD.
: The doctors state: "whole food consumption is preferred, with juicing primarily reserved for situations when daily intake of vegetables and fruits is inadequate." The process of juicing concentrates calories which can make it easier to ingest excess calories and cause weight gain.
There are 3 gluten-related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Less than 10% of the population falls in one of these categories which should avoid gluten containing foods. For everyone else, the health claims of avoiding gluten are unsubstantiated.
The Plant-Based Diet
: A vegan diet is devoid of all animal products whereas a vegetarian diet is devoid of meat but can include milk products and eggs. All plants contain protein, with legumes (ex. lentils) containing as much or more protein than most animal foods without the sodium or fat. Compared to individuals with high protein animal intake, numerous studies have reported that those with plant based diets having a lower BMI, blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and death rates from all causes, including cancer.
The Bottom Line based on their extensive review: The healthiest dietary patterns are "high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), and nuts in moderation, although some may include limited quantities of lean meats (including poultry and seafood), low-fat dairy products, and liquid vegetable oils. These dietary patterns are also low in 1) saturated, trans, and solid fats; 2) sodium; 3) added sugars; and 4) refined grains."
In this review, "frequent" foods to consume were protein from plant sources, green leafy vegetables, and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Foods "in moderation" included nuts and also olive, sunflower or canola oil because excess consumption can lead to weight gain. Foods to "limit" were those high in dietary cholesterol. Importantly, their list to "avoid" included dietary patterns with added fats, fried food, eggs, organ and processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages, coconut oil, and antioxidant supplements.
Recent findings reported in this review from several studies revealed "all sources of animal protein (eggs, fish, poultry, red meat, and processed red meat) were noted to increase all-cause mortality (i.e. death from all causes including cancer) compared to vegetable protein, with processed red meat being associated with more CVD deaths and egg consumption being associated with more cancer deaths.
The conclusion of this extensive review is loud and clear: "In summary, the future health of the global population largely depends on a shift to healthier dietary patterns." The authors go to say that in the search for miraculous benefits: "consumers are vulnerable to unsubstantiated health benefit claims." Interestingly, I looked into the authors of this extensive review on nutrition controversies. While several were consultants on such boards as a nutritional supplement company, a juicery company, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, when it came down to the best recommendations on what is healthy food consumption, they were not biased in their recommendations. They told it like it is and published their review based on the best data available to date, not on what companies they consulted for.
What's the bottom line: We need to be Living WELL Aware! Wellness is a multi-billion dollar industry, and we all need to be aware of what we are being "sold". While I'm not a vegetarian, the data tells me the more I focus on plant based protein, healthy vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, I can live longer and livelier, avoiding disability and death. Please forward this newsletter to anyone you think might benefit from the information.
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Critique what you eat! It's about Living WELL Aware!