Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Six Foods with Proven Health Benefits

Long before there were pharmaceuticals, there was food. Countless cultures have treated illness and promoted good heath using what they found in the world around them. Hippocrates, "the father of medicine", around 400 BCE famously advised, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".

This is still good advice almost 2,500 years later. Unlike drugs, food contains a symphony of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that can interact to help us fend off disease. Unfortunately, well designed clinical studies are often hard to find because they can be very expensive to do (and there is not much of a return on investment in proving that kale can make you healthier). And evidence or not, marketing departments breathlessly promote the latest miracle food.

Here are six foods for which the evidence of health benefits is convincing, any or all of which you can conveniently add to your diet.

1. Berries.
    Berries of all sorts are a rich source of nutrients and research
    suggests they     they can have a powerful effect on human health
    by reducing chronic inflammation and cancer risk. Plus,
    blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries all taste
    great. Toss some on your morning cereal.

2. Cruciferous Vegetables.
    George H. W. Bush may hate them but you shouldn't. Broccoli,
    cauliflower,     cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy (Chinese
    cabbage) and kale are known to     reduce "oxidative stress"
    which helps with cardio-vascular health, blood sugar
    management and cancer prevention. If you are like me and the
    very mention of these foods provokes a gag reflex, there is
    hope. You don't have to cook them the way my mother did (boil
    them until they could be eaten with a straw). They can be roasted,
    stir fried or tossed raw into salads. Try Google to find recipes
    that you will find appealing.

3. Fish.
    Any fish. Sure some are better than others but all are better than
    meat and poultry. The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are effective
    anti-inflammatories that help protect your heart.  Find a few
    varieties that you enjoy and then do so once or twice a week.
    (There is more to the Fish Story but that is for another day.)

4. Fermented Foods.
    Unless you are living in a cave without WiFi, you've heard about
    the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics. This refers to the biome
    of healthy bacteria that inhabit our bodies, the digestive tract in
    particular, and which account for about 3% of your body weight.
    Eating fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi,
    tempeh and miso provides a favorable environment for these
    microorganisms which in turn improved digestion and strengthens
    your immune system.

5. Green Tea.
    The epugallocatechin gallate (you can gall it EGCG) in green tea
    has been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects
    and possible heart-health benefits as well. The only real drawback
    is that you have to drink a lot of it. If you enjoy the taste, try
    making green iced tea to replace the sugary drinks in your diet.

6. Nuts.
    Numerous studies have shown that consuming nuts aids in
    cardiac function, blood sugar management and weight control.
    Use roasted, unsalted nuts to replace less healthy snacks, you
    only need a small handful a day to get the benefits.

As with most all diet advice, you do not need to dive right in to the deep end of the pool. Add some of these foods to your existing meals, try different varieties and recipes, find what you enjoy. Any step forward is progress.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Arsenic in Your Food

Do you remember the film "Arsenic and Old Lace"? This was director Frank Capra's classic 1944 film about two elderly sisters in Brooklyn and their ongoing effort to permit lonely bachelors to die with smiles on their faces - by serving said bachelors elderberry wine spiked with arsenic.

It turns out that here in 2018 you don't have to add the arsenic, you can find it already in your food.

Arsenic is used as an additive in chicken and pig feeds to promote faster growth and a Johns Hopkins study found that the arsenic-based drugs fed to poultry remains in their flesh and is transformed into cancer-causing inorganic arsenic (iAs) when cooked. Manure from arsenic treated birds is often used as a fertilizer which then gets into our ground water and crops.

Arsenic has been found in a variety of crops including apples, Brussels sprouts, beets, carrots and wheat. But rice seems particularly adept at absorbing arsenic from groundwater. Rice and many products made from rice have arsenic levels "significantly" higher than the 5ppm set by the EPA as an acceptable limit, according to Consumer Reports.

More bad news? Men who had 2.5 beers per day had arsenic levels more than 30% higher than nonconsumers, and women who drank five to six glasses of wine per week had levels 20% higher than nonconsumers. The arsenic may be coming from the water used to brew these beverages, but beer and wine producers also use a filtration material, diatomaceous earth, that's known to harbor arsenic.

While the FDA assures us that arsenic levels in our food are safe, you may want to take reasonable steps to limit your exposure.

Don't just cook your rice, rinse it well first. When cooking, double the water to rice ratio to 6::1 and discard the excess after cooking. Brown rice tends to have higher arsenic levels that white rice does. Rice grown in California, India and Pakistan normally has lower arsenic levels than rice grown elsewhere.

Consume less conventionally raised chicken.

As always, you cannot depend on the government, let alone the producers, to keep your food safe. Its on you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Reducing Cancer Risk

According to the CDC, in 2015 there were 595,930 Americans who died of cancer. Whether it was the standard treatment protocols that killed them or the cancer itself is unknown. The United States declared "war" on cancer in 1971, and nearly 600,000 of us continue to die from its effects each year. It is the second leading killer of Americans after heart disease.

We can argue about how the "war" is going after 41 years, trillions of dollars and millions of deaths. But one thing about which there is no argument is that, in the words of public health expert Graham Colditz, "The real key here is that most cancers are not just a result of bad luck or chance. The majority are preventable."


While some cancers are indeed the result of genetic factors, the vast majority are directly linked to our sedentary lifestyles, high fat, high sugar diets and our consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Not all cancers can be prevented by lifestyle changes, but many can.

What are the most important things that you can do to reduce your risk? None of them should be a big surprise.


For every five points your body mass index (BMI) exceeds the normal range of 18.5 - 24.9, your risk of colorectal and breast cancer doubles. People who are obese - a BMI of 30 or higher - are at elevated risk for 13 distinct types of cancer. Exercise also strengthens the immune system and speeds digestion. All that is required to start realizing anti-cancer benefits is 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day - take your dog for a walk. You don't need to become a gym rat.

Fix Your Diet.

This is neither difficult nor complicated. Eliminate most of the crap - soda, sugary and salty snacks, processed "convenience" foods (cancer is really not all that convenient) and white flour. Eat less red meat and more fish. Dial the carbs back a little and fill your plate with vegetables. Snack on fruit. Drink tea or water. The fact is that most people "don't like" eating healthy simply because they don't do it. Force yourself for a month or three and you will find you enjoy it just fine.

Eliminate Tobacco and Scale Back on the Alcohol.

Alcohol is a known carcinogen. Limit your drinking to 1 drink a day. And a drink is 1.5 oz of spirits, 5 oz of wine or 12 oz of beer. Smoking is linked to more than 80% of all lung cancers and raises the risk of 12 other cancers significantly. Just stop doing it.

Wear Sunscreen.

Nearly 90% of all skin cancers are lined to sun exposure. And Colorado (where I live) leads the nation in melanomas, with a rate 30% higher than the national average.

Get a Good Night's Sleep.

Americans are sleep deprived, and that increases your chances of developing cancers. Getting less than 6 hours sleep a night can suppress your immune system and reduce your natural "killer cells" -  cells that can attack cancer cells when they appear in your body - by as much as 70%.

The bottom line is that there is a lot that you can do to lower your risk of joining those who perish in the "war". Even small changes can make a big difference. What are you waiting for? A diagnosis?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Five Foods that Fight Inflammation

"Low-grade" inflammation can be present in your body at the cellular level for years without any notable symptoms. But such constant irritation can eventually manifest itself as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and allergies - among other things.

Here are five foods that you can include in your diet that will help to tame the inflammation threat.

1. Broccoli

The antioxidants in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like kale and Brussels sprouts are strongly linked to lower levels of cellular inflammation according to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Don't let the fact that you loathed eating them as a kid rob you of their health benefits. There are ways of preparing them that you mom never heard of that are both easy and tasty. Yes. Even Brussels sprouts.

2. Wheat berries

The "gluten free" fad notwithstanding, whole wheat and the polyphenol antioxidants it contains are an ally in the fight against inflammation. Toss them on salads and into soups, stews and even chili.

3. Extra virgin olive oil

In addition to the proven benefits of its monounsaturated fats, olive oil contains oleocanthal, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory mimicked by NSAID drugs like Ibuprofen.

4. Salmon

The Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon are well known for their anti-inflammatory power. Plus salmon tastes fantastic.

5. Grapefruit

A Harvard study concluded that women with a higher intake of flavenoid antioxidants from grapefruit had significantly lower inflammation levels than those who ate little or no grapefruit.

Grapefruit can interact negatively with several prescription medications. So if you are taking any, check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding grapefruit to your regular diet.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

House Guts Restaurant Disclosure Requirement

This past February, in the cynically misleadingly titled "Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act" - a bill that obfuscates disclosure - the US House of Representatives essentially gutted the the requirement that restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and movie theaters disclose the calorie content of the items on their menus.

The requirement was imposed as part of the Affordable Care Act and set to go into effect on May 5, 2017. Inexplicably, the Food and Drug Administration delayed the implementation by one year, to May 5, 2018 on the day before the rule was to take effect. This seems particularly illogical given that by May 4th, everyone was prepared to implement it.

But not to be outperformed in hypocrisy by the agency tasked with safeguarding our food, the House bill delayed implementation indefinitely. And just to be sure we were not mislead by being given accurate information about what we are eating, the bill permits serving sizes to be set at any size desired and not disclosed.

So that 100 calorie muffin you just ordered is going to set you back 500 calories if you eat the entire thing. Because the restaurant decided a "serving" was 1/5 of a muffin. Seems like common sense to me!

This monstrosity of a bill could still die if the Senate does not pass it. If you were ever thinking of contacting your Senators to express an opinion, this would be a really good time to do it.

"Common Sense Disclosure" my ass.