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Intact Grains vs. Whole Grains

by | Nov 29, 2010
Photo by Venex_jpb

Photo by Venex_jpb

If there is a single subject that befuddles the health-conscious eater, it is undoubtedly carbohydrates.

Most of us have seen the impressive results of at least temporarily restricting carbs, but studies examining the long-term effects of carbohydrate restriction are often ambiguous. Also, while some experts argue fervently for a low-carb lifestyle, some nutritionists still warn about the dangers of eating too much fat or protein.

So how do we know what to believe?

A full examination of the science behind carbohydrate metabolism is beyond the scope of a single blog post, and is in fact not entirely understood by the scientific community (for a thorough review of this topic read Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I have reviewed here).

However, there are a few things we do know about carbohydrates that are worth pointing out.

Lesson 1: Refined grains contribute to nearly every chronic disease in modern civilization.

It is universally agreed in the nutrition community that refined, processed carbohydrates are the worst things to eat on the entire planet.

And it is impossible to overstate how remarkable this is.

The nutrition community is one of the most disagreeable bunches in all of science. But across the board–from vegans like Colin Campbell to carnivores like Robert Atkins–not a single one of them considers processed carbs to be nutritionally neutral. They all consider them dangerous.

Without question, refined carbohydrates contribute to poor health.

Lesson 2: Vegetables protect against nearly every chronic disease in modern civilization.

Where things start to get more complicated is with unrefined carbohydrates, and the various iterations of this definition. There is ample evidence that the carbohydrates contained in vegetables are not harmful, and possibly beneficial.

To call these vegetable carbohydrates “fiber” is to oversimplify the science, but suffice to say that vegetables are good for you and contribute to your good health.

This is also generally agreed upon.

Lesson 3: Whole grains are different from intact grains.

Few people will argue against my first two points. But bring up whole grains and you will unleash a fury of controversy. Some people believe whole grains to be the cornerstone of any healthy diet, while others consider them superfluous and possibly detrimental to good health. You can find dozens of PhDs and MDs to back up your claims no matter what camp you align with.

So why is there so much disagreement? What does the science say?

The problem is that nutrition science conducted in free-living humans is virtually impossible to interpret. This is largely because the studies are so difficult to control and people’s behavior and self-reporting are so unreliable. Another problem is that the definition of “whole grains” has been watered down to a point where it is virtually meaningless.

One reason whole grains are hard to identify is because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created a definition that is friendly to food companies, but not to consumers.

The FDA requirements for a manufacturer to use the term “whole grain” on its label (along with the respective health claims) are as follows:

“Cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked caryopsis, whose principal anatomical components – the starchy endosperm, germ and bran – are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis – should be considered a whole grain food.” (emphasis added by me)

Get it? To be considered “whole,” grains do not actually have to be intact.

Thus food manufacturers create products using this loose definition to their advantage, demolishing grains as normal, then adding back the required ratios of grain parts (germ and bran) to meet the standard.

This is how products like Froot Loops get spiffy health labels claiming they lower heart disease when any unbiased nutrition scientist would agree that, with 41% sugar by weight, Froot Loops almost certainly contribute to heart disease.

On the other hand, there is compelling data that intact whole grains contribute to better health.

Lesson 4: Eating grains is a personal choice, not a nutritional imperative.

The good news is that it is really easy to tell the difference between fake “whole” grains and intact whole grains. If a food actually looks like a grain (i.e., it retains its original form and bran covering), then it is an intact grain. If it looks like a Cheerio, chip, loaf of bread or pasta with a “whole grain” label, then it is a fake whole grain.

People following a primal or paleo diet will argue that this difference is irrelevant and that all grains (and legumes?!) are unnecessary for good health. Personally I disagree, but remain fairly neutral on the personal choice of removing grains from the diet entirely.

Grains do not appear to be necessary for survival (Inuit tribes survive without them), but optimal nutrition may require slightly more effort than would be necessary following a traditional balanced diet.

This is generally how I feel about all healthy, restrictive regimens such as vegetarian, vegan and raw diets. You can make it work for yourself if you are willing to make sacrifices and put in the effort.

However you should be aware that for many people, myself included, cutting whole grains out of your diet completely is extremely difficult and, if you ask me, unnecessarily painful.

Conclusion

When making food choices about grains, the critical question is not whether or not a food is “whole” grain but whether the grain is intact. For this reason, it matters very little if you substitute “whole grain” products for regular refined products such as pasta.

Examples of intact grains are oats, barley, brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa (sort of) and faro. White rice is not a whole grain, and is closer to a refined grain than a whole grain.

For optimal health, processed and refined grains should be eaten very sparingly. Small amounts such as those eaten in traditional cultures can be part of any healthstyle, but including them is a personal choice that will depend on your own goals and preferences.

The irony is that if you are able to remove processed foods from your diet, the way you eat could probably be described as low-carb. But this label really undermines a healthstyle based on real food.

Though I eat relatively few grains compared to most Americans, I cringe when I see the shining example of low-carb living, The Atkins Diet website, with images of fake pancakes and pasta plastered all over it. If that is what low-carb is, I want nothing to do with it.

Processed food is still processed food, whether the carbohydrates have been synthetically removed or not. Stick to eating real food and you’ll never have to worry about carbs.

Do you count your carbohydrates?

Originally published November 25, 2009.

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30 Ways To Slow and Prevent Aging

by | Nov 18, 2009

Darya PinoToday is my 30th birthday and a perfect time to reflect on life, the universe and everything.

Despite being female and thus held to tough and often unrealistic physical standards, hitting the end of my third decade doesn’t cause me anxiety about either my appearance or place in the world.

In my experience, age is not an amount of time but a state of mind. As a child I always wanted to be a grown up, so I acted like one. It freaked my parents out sometimes, but that’s just how I was. In my mind, I still feel pretty much the same in that regard. I love to work hard and I thrive in positions of responsibility. Since both these traits get more important with age, I have actually enjoyed stepping into the adult role I’ve always felt I belonged in.

But that’s only one part of me.

In many other ways I’m as juvenile as ever. If you spend much time with me on Twitter (@summertomato) you’ve probably noticed I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy. I blame my dad for that one. I’m also still shocked every time I hear that friends my age are getting married and having children. In my brain we’re not nearly old enough for that yet! But in reality, it is my friends who are normal and I’m the outlier.

Oh, and did I mention I’m still in school? Up until a couple years ago I carried a backpack with me everywhere, for better or for worse.

Darya's GunsAll these things give me a sense of agelessness, so it is hard to think of this birthday as anything but another day to do things I love. But part of my peace of mind certainly comes from the fact that I’m in pretty good shape physically–probably the best of my life. And at 30 this is definitely something to be proud of.

Summer Tomato readers know I attribute my good health almost entirely to my eating habits. I also spend a good amount of time in the gym, though I don’t workout nearly as much as I used to. But healthstyle extends to more than just diet and exercise.

Here I’ve compiled my favorite 30 habits to slow aging and keep you young in more than just your heart.

30 Healthstyle Tips To Keep You Young

  1. Be happy The physical damage caused to your body by stress has only recently become appreciated by the scientific community. Fill your life with things you love and get rid of almost everything else. Practice stress relieving activities like meditation and exercise, and learn to appreciate joy when you find it. Happiness does a body good.
  2. Eat vegetables There is good evidence that oxidative damage caused by toxins and metabolism contributes to the aging process at a cellular level. Foods (but not supplements) high in antioxidants seem to protect us from oxidative stress.
  3. Avoid sugar Sugar is a direct cause of aging and significantly reduces lifespan in organisms from yeast to primates. Not by a small amount either.
  4. Moisturize The appearance of your skin is largely dependent upon moisture. Help it out by using moisturizers to keep your skin soft and hydrated. Work with a professional to determine what type is best for you.
  5. Don’t raise your eyebrows Credit my mother for teaching me this one, it has been a lifesaver. As a kid she used to warn me about raising my eyebrows, saying it would give me wrinkles and I’d regret it. I thought she was crazy, but still learned to express myself without much forehead crinkling. As a result I have far fewer forehead lines than some people years younger than me.
  6. Sleep For me the most important determinant of how I look (and feel) on a given day is how much sleep I get. Seven hours is my ideal, but everyone is different.
  7. Eat fish Some evidence suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are particularly beneficial to the skin.
  8. Wear sunscreen I love the sun and spend as much time in it as possible, but I never walk out the door without sunscreen on my face. UV radiation from the sun damages your skin and promotes aging.
  9. Don’t smoke Smoking is one of the easiest ways to look older than you really are and shorten your life at the same time. Avoid both primary and secondary smoke like the plague.
  10. Step out of your comfort zone Mental exercise seems to be one of the key elements of quality aging, but this doesn’t mean you should sit around all day doing crossword puzzles. Neuroscientist and cognitive aging specialist Dr. Adam Gazzaley suggests going out of your way to challenge yourself mentally, doing things like traveling and learning new languages even over the age of 60.
  11. Take vitamin D Some research suggests that vitamin D may be particularly important in slowing the aging process. The jury is still out on the value of vitamin D supplements for aging, but they seem to have enough other benefits that it’s worth the investment.
  12. Eat fruit Like vegetables, fruits have an enormous amount of antioxidants and help with hydration. Vitamin C in particular is thought to benefit skin.
  13. No foundation or powder makeup Generally I avoid putting any makeup directly onto my skin. I realize I have a very flexible work environment and this is not possible for every woman, but skipping the makeup does help maintain your skin’s hydration and elasticity. I do wear makeup occasionally, maybe once or twice per week. But in general I find that mascara and lip gloss are enough for most situations.
  14. Hydrate Your skin is very sensitive to water levels. Stay hydrated by sipping water and eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
  15. Whiten teeth I know this isn’t something you can find at the farmers market, but when you drink as much coffee and red wine as I do, minor (and admittedly superficial) fixes like teeth whitening can go a long way. If you don’t believe me, try and remember the last time you saw a 20-year-old with yellow teeth….
  16. Wear sunglasses If you’re a happy person (and I know you are), your wrinkles will most likely be caused by smiling and show up predominantly around your eyes. Block out extra sun (and look super cool) by always wearing sunglasses when you go outside.
  17. Eat beans and lentils Legumes are a fabulous source of minerals that can help keep your skin hydrated and looking young.
  18. Tea Afternoon tea time is one of the greatest discoveries I’ve ever made. Not only is tea full of antioxidants and other cancer-fighting compounds, a midday break can be just what the doctor ordered to sip away stress.
  19. Cardio I’m not the biggest believer in cardio exercise for weight loss, but it is still important for vascular health. Not to mention how awesome you feel after a good session. Cardio doesn’t need to kill you, but you should do it regularly.
  20. Strength training Building strong, toned muscles is one of the most effective ways to look younger than your years. Ask anyone who looks fabulous and they’ll swear by strength training. A little goes a long way.
  21. Eat intact whole grains Intact grains (not fake “whole” grains that are ground into flour) are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and soluble fiber. They are also perfect fuel for those killer workouts.
  22. Olive oil It is hard to think of something more versatile, healthy and delicious than olive oil. It breaks my heart that dietary fat got such a bad rap the past few decades, since the benefits of healthy fats like olive oil are innumerable. Fat isn’t just “not bad” for you, it’s essential.
  23. Kill your television We all have things we enjoy watching (I’m partial to NBA championship teams), but if it takes up a significant amount of your time each week (>5 hrs) it may be time to reevaluate. How many years of your life do you really want to spend on your couch?
  24. Don’t stuff yourself Cutting back on calories is the single most effective way to slow aging and extend life. I don’t advise starving yourself, but it’s a good idea to avoid overeating in any situation.
  25. Eat nuts Nuts are the perfect snack food and are filled with anti-aging fats, vitamins and minerals. They are also great for suppressing appetite–just don’t eat more than a handful.
  26. Avoid dairy Studies of aging skin have shown that milk and milk products are associated with acne, which can lead to scaring and age spots.
  27. Avoid processed meats Processed meats are associated with many different health problems in humans. No need to get too hung up on this, but you may not want to eat deli meat every single day if you want to stay young.
  28. No processed carbohydrates Just like sugar, processed carbohydrates are a direct cause of aging and disease. I eat these things occasionally, but don’t let it happen too often.
  29. Coconut oil Fats come in all different shapes and sizes, and I try to incorporate a good mix of all of them. Medium-chain fatty acids like those found in coconut oil are starting to be recognized as important by researchers, but the evidence is limited. Coconut oil is also a healthy source of saturated fat for vegetarians. I always use coconut oil when cooking Southeast Asian food.
  30. Red wine Red wine has a powerful anti-aging compound in it known as resveratrol. Though it is unlikely that the dosage of resveratrol in red wine is high enough to impact lifespan, drinking alcohol in moderation is also associated with decreased risk of heart disease and other vascular problems. Cheers!

Do you have any anti-aging secrets?

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7 Day Detox and Weight Loss Plan

by | Jul 6, 2009
Vegetables

Vegetables

I don’t know about you guys, but I had a crazy weekend. In a very uncharacteristic move (I usually work weekends) I found myself at 5 different parties over a 3 day period. Four of these parties involved food.

I did my best to stick with my plan to eat healthy, and mostly I did, but the sheer volume and frequency of eating and drinking was a bit too much and by Sunday night I felt pretty gross.

It is natural to occasionally let your healthstyle slip, and there’s no need to get upset about it, but it is important to get it under control as quickly as possible. This is the essence of weight maintenance–something we all need to master if we want to stay healthy.

I never follow strict schedules or diets, but there are a few rules I keep in mind when I want to get my health and weight back into my comfort zone. These things work best for me, but please let us know what works best for you in the comments section.

10 Weight Loss Rules

  1. Cook at home The most important thing for me when eating healthy is cooking for myself. Eating small portions of healthy food is nearly impossible at restaurants. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner this week will be made from scratch from the beautiful veggies and fruit I got at the farmers market on Saturday.
  2. Small portions I will be cooking and serving myself smaller portions of food this week, approximately 80% of the volume I would normally eat. I will cut down on everything in general, but most of the calorie reduction will come from starchy carbohydrates and protein. Basically, vegetables (and the olive oil I cook them in) are the only foods I will not restrict.
  3. No dessert I didn’t mention cutting out sugar in point #2 because I don’t consider sugar a regular part of my diet. However, normally I allow myself to indulge in dessert for special occasions and other events. This week I will politely turn down any offers of extra calories.
  4. No carbs Flour-based products, also not a staple of my diet, are off the table this week too. No bread at all in any form, no pasta, noodles, white rice, etc. I will still eat whole grains like my morning muesli and the occasional addition of brown rice or quinoa to salads and dinners, but these servings will be smaller than usual.
  5. Less protein Many self-proclaimed fitness gurus will disagree with me on this one, but I find that my optimal protein intake for weight loss is not as high as you might think. I have nothing against protein as a weight loss tool (especially when greater weight loss is necessary), but protein adds a lot of calories to your diet compared to vegetables. So really this rule is more about portion control than protein itself. For the next few days my protein will come from lentils, nuts, whole grains and fish. Servings will be about 3 oz. I will still be careful to get enough protein and fat in each meal so I don’t increase my appetite.
  6. No alcohol Alcohol can be healthy, but it can also impair your judgment about what and when to eat. It also has quite a few extra calories and can create hormone imbalances when consumed regularly. I’m going to skip the wine with dinner, at least until Friday.
  7. Daily workouts I always try to work out every weekday, but excuses come easier on some days than others. No excuses this week: weights and cardio Monday through Friday. I may even try to work in a hike or some other physical activities next weekend.
  8. Stay hydrated People will argue about how much or how little water is really necessary, but none of this changes the fact that water makes me feel better. Water helps me control my appetite, feel more awake and have better workouts. I always carry around my CamelBak, but this week I will try to fill it up a little more often.
  9. Enough sleep For me, the hardest healthy habit to maintain is getting enough sleep. I usually stay up too late and get up early, but this can really take its toll over time. For the next several days I will try to keep myself on something of a regular sleeping schedule.
  10. Be good next weekend I have found one of the more futile activities is eating right and being healthy all week then completely throwing all self-restraint out the window on weekends. To really recover from a bad weekend, I need a full 7 days of self-control and good behavior. In essence this will translate into two good weeks, since the inertia from one healthy week can sustain me until the following weekend. The only real barrier is that first weekend, filled with parties and dinner invitations. It’s fine to go out with friends, but skip the fried mac and cheese and hold it together for just a few more days.

What are your favorite tips for getting your health back on track after a wild weekend?

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How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Foods To Avoid

by | Apr 22, 2009
Junk Food

Junk Food

What truly liberated me from worrying about food all the time was shifting my thoughts and fears away from things I couldn’t or shouldn’t eat and instead focusing on delicious foods–foods I love–that also make me healthy. Changing my relationship with food in this way turned it from something that caused me anxiety to something that brought me pleasure.

One unexpected benefit of choosing healthy, tasty foods over bland diet foods was that many of my old cravings for sugary, unhealthy fare disappeared. While I have not found a clear scientific explanation for this, it stands to reason that a nourished body would be less prone to strong feelings of need toward certain foods. I was amazed how powerful it can be to focus on health instead of dieting. These days, really unhealthy foods barely even tempt me.

(This post is the final post of the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Part one is Stock Your Pantry, part two is Essential Groceries, part three is Seasonal Shopping, part four is Stock Your Freezer and part five is Balanced Meals. Get future posts by signing up for email or RSS updates–always free of cost and spam.)

Upgrading your healthstyle will go far in helping you overcome your cravings, but as I much as I would love to tell you that you can eat any foods you want in any quantities you want, we all know this is not true. While you are focusing on eating more of the foods you love there are also foods that are generally worth avoiding as part as your daily healthstyle.

There is room for anything in a healthy life, but here are some foods that DO NOT promote health and can lead to weight gain:

  • Sugar In any form, sugar wreaks havoc on your health and metabolism. Two keys to protecting yourself from sugar damage are quantity and timing. Do not eat too much sugar at once (stick to small desserts) and do not eat sugar very frequently. I try to limit real desserts to once or twice per week (max) and satisfy all other sweets cravings with fruit. Eating whole grains is particularly effective at reducing sugar cravings.
  • Refined flour Processed grains (all flour) are almost as bad as sugar in their effect on your metabolism. In fact, your body processes them exactly the same way. Generally look for alternatives to breads, pastas and other foods made with flour. Instead focus on getting carbohydrates from intact whole grains. Try to limit refined flour foods to less than once per day. If you are actively trying to lose weight, I would make an effort to cut these out completely.
  • Trans fat Twenty years ago scientists believed they had solved the problem of saturated fat by replacing it with an artificial solid fat made from plants. It turned out these processed fats, trans-fats, are one of the most dangerous foods you can put into your body. Not only do they raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol, they also contribute to lowering your “good” HDL cholesterol–a double whammy for your health. No amount of trans-fat is considered safe in the diet (the data is striking), and you should avoid these processed fats completely. Better to eat foods made with real butter. Better yet, choose healthy fats from vegetable sources like coconut oil, olive oil and canola oil.
  • Anything processed It is worth emphasizing that nothing processed has ever proven to be healthier for you than real whole foods–even foods with fantastic health claims on the package. In fact, as Michael Pollan points out in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, a health claim on a package is a pretty good sign that a food is bad for you. There are no stickers for “Whole Grain” or “Low Carb” on your vegetables, and those are what you should be eating.
  • Red meat As I discussed earlier this week, red meat is probably not good for you. Some people argue that it is really bad for you, and some people think it is not so bad. It appears to not be quite as bad as processed foods, but there are plenty of compelling reasons to limit how much red meat you eat. For myself personally, cancer is a bigger fear than heart disease. But there is also some data that saturated fat plays a role in insulin resistance. I recommend less than one (4 oz) serving of red meat per week. The same can be said about poultry with skin.

I do not recommend completely eliminating foods you love–even if they are bad for you–because this is not something you can maintain forever and it strips some of the joy from life. Instead I suggest trying a few customizable strategies to be sure that the less healthy foods you love bring you happiness, but do not damage your body:

  • Reduce, Don’t Eliminate Simply being aware of how often you eat these foods and trying to stick to the guidelines above can drastically improve your healthstyle. If you currently eat a lot of sugar, processed foods or red meat, do not attempt to completely overhaul your diet overnight. Make changes gradually or it will be very difficult to make them permanent.
  • Be Picky When you first start to upgrade your healthstyle, identify foods you can do without and those you can’t live without. Some changes will be easier for some people, while others are nearly impossible. Focus on the easier changes and do not beat yourself up over things that are difficult for you. Every little change you make will add up to a healthier you.
  • Set Up Simple Rules It is often hard to keep track of everything you do or do not eat. A food journal or Twitter can help with this, but the simpler your healthstyle the better. Setting up simple, easy to remember rules for yourself can help you make healthy changes. The guidelines above are a great place to start. For example, if you decide in advance you can only have one dessert per week, you can be sure that the one you choose is well worth the wait. Use simple rules to both increase your good habits and decrease your bad ones. Experiment to find simple rules that work for you. For example, if you love to eat pizza make a deal with yourself that if you have it you must have a big pile greens on the side–this may also help you eat one less piece.

Please share with us the strategies and rules you use to upgrade your healthstyle!

This is the final post in the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Much thanks to those of you have shared your tips and insights in the comments so far. Summer Tomato will continue to build upon these ideas and help make it easier for you to upgrade your healthstyle. If you have specific questions, concerns or even an idea for a future post please submit them in the Ask Me section.

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Vegetables, Nuts and Overall Healthy Diet Protect Against Heart Disease

by | Apr 20, 2009
Vegetables

Vegetables

Most scientists agree that diet plays an important role in heart disease, but until now there has been no comprehensive analysis of which dietary factors most strongly affect disease outcome. A new meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reviews six decades of research (1950-2007) to assess how different dietary factors affect heart disease. Vegetables, nuts, “Mediterranean” and high-quality dietary patterns are strongly protective, while trans-fat, foods with high glycemic index or load and a “Western” dietary pattern were shown to be harmful.

The Study

This new study is unique for several reasons. First, the authors were only interested in factors that influenced heart disease directly, not simply heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol levels. Also, emphasis was placed on high-quality studies designed to identify strong dietary associations (cohort studies and randomized controlled trials) with long periods of follow up (at least one year). They asked whether the studies they reviewed were consistent with other data such as epidemiological reports, and sought to establish a causal link between diet and heart disease outcomes. Another important goal of the analysis was to identify factors that lack sufficient evidence to be conclusive and require further research.

Results

In addition to identifying vegetables, nuts, high-quality and Mediterranean dietary patterns as being strongly protective against heart disease, they also found monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil), dietary folate (e.g. whole grains, not supplements), dietary vitamins C and E (not supplements), alcohol consumption (in any form) and omega-3 fatty acids from fish (not plants, e.g. flax) to be moderately protective.

Factors that were not associated with heart disease in this study were dietary supplements (e.g. vitamins C and E), total fat, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats (from plants), meat, eggs and milk. It is important to note, however, that negative findings in this analysis are not necessarily indicative of a lack of causality. Rather, it may indicate insufficient data to observe a significant positive association.

Dietary Patterns

The authors point out that “only overall healthy dietary patterns are significantly associated with coronary heart disease” in the controlled trials, while “evidence for most individual nutrients or foods is too modest to be conclusive.” They suggest that the reason an association exists for dietary patterns and not individual nutrients is that patterns “have the advantage of taking into account the complex interactions and cumulative effects of multiple nutrients within the entire diet.” The authors recommend future trials test various dietary patterns for disease outcome, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Taking this further, most dietary factors that were shown to be protective when consumed as part of a healthy diet were not protective when taken in supplement form. This finding bolsters the argument that overall diet rather than individual foods or nutrients are the best strategy for protecting against heart disease. The authors conclude that their findings suggest “investigating dietary patterns in cohort studies and randomized controlled trials for common and complex chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease.”

Based on their analysis, the dietary pattern that best protects against heart disease is rich in vegetables, nuts, fish, healthy fats, whole grains, and fruit. Likewise, the worst dietary pattern consists of refined carbohydrates and artificial trans-fats. The lesson: the best diet consists of plants, fish and whole foods, while processed foods contribute to heart disease.

What about red meat and saturated fats?

Interestingly, there was insufficient data to conclude that red meat or saturated fats are harmful for the heart. This is not terribly surprising, since the data has always been inconsistent. However, I would point out that many studies have looked at the role of red meat and saturated fat in coronary risk and the outcome always shows either harm or no result. And as explained above, no result can be indicative of a lack of statistical power rather than lack of causation. Importantly however, I cannot recall a single study suggesting that red meat and saturated fat is actually good for you.

From this the best we can conclude is that red meat or saturated fat may be involved in promoting heart disease, but if they are the effect is likely to be less harmful than a diet of processed foods. Practically this means small doses of saturated fat may not do much harm when eaten as a part of an overall healthy diet. This is a fairly compelling argument for exercising moderation.

Conclusions

Before you run out and order a ribeye, keep in mind that heart disease is not the only debilitating chronic disease that plagues our culture. Red meat is also associated with several kinds of cancer. Likewise, refined carbohydrates are highly correlated with type 2 diabetes. Vegetables and whole grains are protective against these other diseases as well, and fish may play a role in protecting against neurodegenerative diseases.

The take home lesson is that both diet and disease are complex systems that involve innumerable factors in several different regions of the body. When choosing what to eat it is important that you consider the context of your overall diet and do not get caught up is single foods or a single disease threat.

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