May 182014

I was in Barnes and Noble recently and wandered into the cookbook section, since cooling is a passion of mine.  I was struck by the number of cookbooks aimed at very specific dietary restrictions:  gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian, and more.  And, indeed, you don’t have to look far to see that nutrition, like hem-lengths, goes through fads.

We seem to be in a low-carb fad at the moment, at least if the number of people I meet who claim to be following a paleo diet is any indicator. Never mind that paleo man died pretty young and that following a true paleo diet is impossible since the same animals and conditions don’t exist today, and especially never mind that paleo man ate a an awful lot of insects, which is something Ive yet to encounter any follower of this diet advocating.  The claim is the man has been farming for only 10,000 years (never mind evidence that shows grains were consumed as much as 100,000 years ago) and that this is not long enough for human bodies to have adapted to grain consumption, hence, it – along with beans and legumes – should be eliminated from one’s diet.

To be sure, there are competing diet philosophies, such as the “starchivore” movement led largely by John McDougall. His diet postulated that man should eat lots of grains and legumes, little meat, and moderate to low fat.

No matter what the diet, there are seemingly countless studies supporting the science behind each one. I sometimes lose myself for hours reading such studies and, although I think I have a fairly good mind, confess that I don’t always know what to conclude.  For one, rigorously controlled dietary studies are hard to conduct, since compliance tends to be an issue and people either forget or don’t want to admit some of what they’ve eaten.  And even the most rigorous studies are conducted for a matter of months, not a lifetime., so how is anyone supposed to know what to eat?

I turned to the internet, of course.  Where do people live the longest?  Most sources pointed to these top 5:

  1. Monaco
  2. Macau (China)
  3. Japan
  4. San Marino
  5. Hong Kong

No, the United States isn’t on the list.  It ranks a paltry 35.  And in spite of our images of Monaco as the home of the wealthy, there is no correlation between wealth or health care expenditures and longevity.

So, what do people eat in these countries:

Country Meat Fish Vegetables Grains Beans and Legumes Fats
Monaco Low High High Moderate Moderate Moderate (olive oil)
Macau Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate
Japan Low High High (esp. sea vegetables) Moderate High (soy) Moderate(unsaturated)
San Marino Moderate Moderate High High Moderate Moderate
Singapore Moderate Moderate High High Moderate Moderate


Hmmm.  This chart looks…  balanced.  Not a single hint of a fad diet in the group and definitely no eschewing of grains.  In fact, the greatest commonalities between these diets are:

  • Food is locally grown
  • Little to no processed foods are eaten
  • Vegetables comprise a significant portion of calories

Pretty simple, isn’t it?

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May 132014

One of the items in my Facebook feed this morning was a post from a friend saying she was giving up chocolate because she’d just learned that resveratrol was no good for her.  Intrigued, I did a little googling.  Sure enough, I immediately found lots of reporting on this topic.

Resveratrol May Not Be The Elixir In Red Wine And Chocolate (NPR)
Resveratrol in the diet is no help at all (LA Times)
Resveratrol in Red Wine Not Such a Health-Booster? (WebMD)

Each source duly reported that a new study revealed no correlation between resveratrol and increased longevity or reduced incidences of heart disease or cancer.

Next, I went to the JAMA site and looked at the actual study. The finding there was a little different than what I’d read elsewhere.  The study authors’ conclusion was that

In older community-dwelling adults, total urinary resveratrol metabolite concentration was not associated with inflammatory markers, cardiovascular disease, or cancer or predictive of all-cause mortality. Resveratrol levels achieved with a Western diet did not have a substantial influence on health status and mortality risk of the population in this study.

What jumps out at me is the phrase “achieved with a Western diet.”  A Western Diet is typically defined as one that is high in red meat (and not of the grass-fed variety), sugars, refined grains/cereals, and fried and processed foods.  According to HealthDay News:

People who eat this kind of diet — which includes fried and sweet foods, processed and red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products — are at increased risk for premature death.

Notably, none of the articles that reported on the resveratrol study bothered to discuss how a Western Diet may have affected the study outcome, or indeed, that eating a typical Western Diet is so detrimental to good health that there is no compound that can miraculously un-do the damage it causes.

It is perhaps true that there is no benefit to resveratrol.  But it is far truer that consuming a Western Diet is a fast-track to heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and more.



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May 092014

I’ve been reading about the benefits of resistant starch from several sources, here, here, and here. It’s been credited with helping improve gut flora, improving insulin sensitivity, reducing triglycerides, and reducing the risk of colon cancer. Increased butyrate production is the scientific explanation (description here, for those interested in knowing the “why”)> These are good things.


Resistant starch is found primarily in green bananas, beans, raw oats, and potatoes/pasta that has been cooked and cooled. None of these are things that I currently incorporate in my diet with any regularity.

Then I read about potato starch and tapioca starch, which are good sources of resistant starch that can be mixed into my morning smoothie (or any cold drink). A perfect solution for me, since my morning shake is already a bit of a kitchen sink of vitamins and supplements. Potato starch contains about 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon. And it doesn’t contain any carbs, since it isn’t digested in the stomach but passes straight through to the gut. So I bought some Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch and some Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Flour (in this case, flour=starch), and I plan to try them in my morning shake. A little at a time. Apparently, gut discomfort (think bloating and gas) can result from too much, too soon. So a tablespoons a day too start and then I’ll take it from there.

How about you? Have you tried incorporating resistant starch into your diet? What were your results?

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May 012014

I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. A protein shake made with Jarrow chocolate protein powder, 1/2 a frozen banana, a teaspoon of modified citrus pectin, unsweetened cocoa powder, stevia, ice, and water. Once these ingredients are blended in my Vitamix, I have a creamy, chocolat-y breakfast drink. I also have a “side” of several vitamins and minerals. :) This is a low-calorie, high protein breakfast: 207 calories, 35 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, and 3 grams of fat. Occasionally, I make it with almond milk, which adds another 60 calories or so.

But the reason I eat this every day has nothing to do with its caloric value. I just happen to like it. It’s the perfect pre-workout meal. I drink my shake at around 8am, then head to the gym at 9am. That’s just enough time for digestion to have gotten the liquid feeling out of my stomach while I’m still feeling energized. There’s nothing worse than being hungry at the gym. And when I get back from the gym, my post workout meal is similarly boring: another shake and a huge bowl of either broccoli or cauliflower.

I am a creature of habit.

So I was pretty intrigued to stumble on an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition under the on-so-exciting title Long-ter habituation to food in obese and nonobese women. What was interesting to me was that researchers found that boring people like me, who tend to eat the same things all the time, generally eat less than people who consume a more varied diet. In the study, 32 women ages 20-50, 16 of whom were obese and 16 of whom were normal weight, were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Group 1 was fed macaroni and cheese once a day for five days, while Group 2 received mac and cheese once a week for five weeks.

In both obese and nonobese women, daily presentation of food resulted in faster habituation and less energy intake [read: calories] than did once-weekly presentation of food.

So there’s something to be said for eating a fairly consistent diet. It appears that when we are exposed to a food repeatedly, we don’t eat as much of it. I can attest to this. I drink the same morning shake, day in and day out. But when I’m on vacation and my sche4dule is altered, I eat far more of whatever meal I have instead, even when I am making a healthy choice. In part, this is the nature of restaurant food, but it’s also partly due to the fact that when I’m exposed to many different tastes during a meal — and especially if those tastes move from savory to sweet — I am able to eat much more than if I had only one flavor on my plate.

Of course, within our diets we want to be sure we are getting a wide variety of nutrients. But this research suggests that if you have a favorite healthy dish, feel free to make it your go-to meal.

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Apr 292014

I’ve often said that I consume so much extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) I probably bleed the stuff. As far as I’m concerned, EVOO might as well be a needed food group, occupying the biggest section of myplate.

In fact, much has been written about the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, which include improved heart health, lower cholesterol, improved insulin levels, and reduced blood sugar.

A recent study published in the Annals of Neurology reveals that a diet high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, like EVOO, is protective against congnitive decline. Specifically, researchers looked at older, female participants in the Women’s Health Study and identified three populations: those whose diets were high in saturated fats (SFAs), those whose diets were high in mono-unsaturated fats (MUFAs) and those whose diets were high in polyunsaturated, non-trans-fats (PUFAs). As dietary SFA increased, cognitive ability decreased. Conversely, as MUFA intake increased, so did cognitive ability. There was no correlation between PUFA intake and cognitive ability.

Interested in increasing MUFAs in your diet? Here are some good choices:

  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Grape Seed Oil
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Cashews
  • Pecans
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame Seeds

MUFAs are also found in foods such as beef, butter and cheese, but tend to be accompanied by high levels of SFAs in those foods. For this reason, it’s best to get your MUFAs from the sources listed above.  As far as I’m concerned, EVOO will remain my go-to oil.  It is delicious in salads and on steamed vegetables and excellent for pan sautéing. If you plan to deep fry (who, you?), then use an oil with a higher smoke point, like grapeseed oil.

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