Confused about what to eat? You are not alone. Even I get frustrated with the constant changes from the experts on what's good, what's bad, what should be avoided or not. It seems like it changes every other year (or every other diet. Am I right?). One week medical reporters tout the benefits of taking a vitamin; the next week they tell us it does no good. I mean... C'Mon where can I find the info I need for ME? That's all we really want to know. Let's see if we can help clear some things up for you.
Assuming you are health-conscious, you likely want to know if you should avoid foods such as eggs, salt and sugar. And you may also want to know if you should take supplements such as fish oil, calcium and vitamin D. While those seem like simple questions, the answers are difficult because we all have genetic differences that impact our nutrient needs. For example, salt can raise blood pressure in one person, but make no difference in another. Hence, genetic variation skews the research results and ensuing recommendations. That is where MOST of us make the wrong decision.
Nowadays there are SO many ways and places you can have your genetics tested. Because who DOESN'T want to find out exactly what they should and should not eat for optimal health? But here's the caveat... If a test (or someone) tells you what is best for you? You could very well take it to far in that direction. For example... Let's say you're told you are salt-sensitive and and your blood pressure will rise if you eat salt, there's a good chance you will likely be inclined to cut back on your salt intake. BUT, if you're told salt has no effect on your blood pressure, you MAY be inclined to abandon all discretion and consume extraordinary amounts of salt that create other health problems? We do not yet know if genetic testing is a wise way to resolve nutrition confusion!
Meaningful nutrition studies are very difficult to produce. Good studies need to explore, for example, the effects of different doses of a vitamin or supplement over a long period of time in a variety of people, including large numbers of men, women, children, seniors, athletes, different ethnicities, etc. The problem is such studies can be very expensive and tough to fund. Food companies don’t reap profits from funding such research because they cannot patent foods. Drug companies, in comparison, can get patents and make huge profits once a drug is proven effective. But THAT is another problem that is still under debate. Many drug companies are only interested in profits and will NEVER tell you that simple nutrition/diet changes will work MUCH better than their drugs will. Best bet here is to do your research.
Here's another problem with studies...
Ethics in nutrition
Unlike drug studies in which the subjects are drug-free until they take the drug, nutrition studies use subjects that already have lots of vitamins in their bodies. Creating a baseline deficiency in each subject would be unethical and nearly impossible. Hence, nutrition research can only contrast a high vitamin intake with a low intake. To determine the thresholds at which a vitamin creates desired (or undesired) effects can take weeks or months--and lots more money. So again, I always revert back to getting the majority of nutrition from whole/natural foods.
Nutrients, many need OTHER nutrients to be effective
It’s hard to know what to study. For example, you may want to know if you should take a calcium supplement to keep your bones strong and reduce your risk of breaking a bone. Studies that look at just calcium supplementation (without vitamin D) indicate calcium does not reduce bone fractures. But research with calcium plus D suggests improved bone health; calcium works synergistically with vitamin D. Also note, calcium and other nutrients have differing effects at different intakes. It’s hard to know at what level the nutrient is most effective and at what level it offers no additional benefits. Yes, it can be confusing, right?
SO what should you study?
Foods contain zillions of compounds. When nutrition researchers attempt to connect a food to a disease, they often don't know which component of the food to study. For example, we know that eating fruits and vegetables reduces cancer. But what components are cancer-protective? Is it vitamin C? Folate? Beta-carotene? Potassium? Fiber? Phytochemicals? That's why your BEST BET is to include several servings a day of a variety of these dense nutrition pack baby's and another GREAT thing? They are VERY low calorie and very filling. Not to mention many of them give you that extra fiber most people are missing in their daily nutrition intake.
Food Affects Our Health in Different Ways in certain conditions
Here's a BIG thing to consider. If you are pregnant (or planning to get pregnant), you may be afraid to eat fish in fear the mercury in fish will damage your baby. Yet, fish contains the best sources of the omega-3 fats that are essential for optimal brain development in the fetus. Consuming too little DHA (of a type of omega-3 fat) can contribute to irreversible brain development problems.
With animal studies, a low intake of DHA results in slower brain maturation, attention problems, impulsivity and problem solving skills. With human studies that supplement the maternal diet with DHA, the babies learn faster and remember information better. By the time the babies have reached age four, these benefits translate into higher IQs. And by age five, longer sustained attention.
If you have been scared away from eating fish because of fear of mercury poisoning, you should be sure to look at the whole picture, whether you are a woman contemplating pregnancy or an aging athlete wanting to reduce the risk of heart disease (fish eaters have less heart disease.) The recommended intake is to enjoy DHA-rich fish such as pink salmon once a week--despite possible mercury content--and another 6 oz. per week of low-mercury fish and shellfish (shrimp, crab, scallops, light tuna, pollock). A typical 5 oz. serving of salmon offers 1,000 mg DHA; the recommended daily intake is 220 mg per day. So EAT THAT FISH!!!
A Poor Diet Takes Years to Unfold
As a young active person in your 20s and 30s, you may think you are bulletproof and immune from heart disease (don't we all?). Perhaps you eat whatever you want (I know I did), whether it’s omelets or pepperoni pizza. And you likely felt fine (then and for many years after).
But if your “see food” diet (you eat what you see) leads to high cholesterol in your 40s and especially beyond, you will have a higher risk of declining mental status as you age. Arteries clogged with cholesterol and saturated fat lead to not only cardiovascular disease, but also to dementia and Alzheimer's. The longer you live, the higher your risk of dementia. While only one percent of 60-year-olds have dementia, 40 percent of 90-year-olds do. Yikes! What can you do to prevent dementia? Enjoy more fruits and vegetables and fish (twice a week) NOW (starting TODAY). What is good for your heart is also good for your brain! So what fruits and veggies are YOU going to include in your diet starting today?
Messages to Lose Weight Should Really Be to Lose Body Fat (weight isn't as important)
One final note... Whatever you do? PLEASE... Don’t crash-diet to lose weight quickly! You’ll lose a significant amount of muscle. This results in a less-healthy body because your health depends on your muscle mass. For optimal health and weight, do strength training to build muscle and eat just a little less at night to lose fat. I KNOW you CAN do it!!!
If you need help putting together a nutrition and fitness plan please reach out to me thru this blog (contact) I will work with you to get you to a better place.
Our next blog will delve into mastering nutrition as we age. Please subscribe and if you really like our blog? Tell your friends