More and more research has shown that the Mediterranean diet seems to be the best nutrition plan to reduce cholesterol, particularly LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), whether or not weight loss occurs. The Mediterranean diet has the characteristics of being low in saturated fat and refined sugar while being high in fiber and whole grains. These qualities make the Mediterranean diet more likely to be effective at managing cholesterol levels and associated cardiovascular disease.
Why is the incidence of heart disease, Type-2 diabetes and obesity still prevalent in America in the twenty-first century?
There is a growing body of research that supports the correlation between our food habits and chronic diseases such as obesity, Type-2 diabetes and heart disease. These aforementioned diseases have been, to some degree, attributed to lifestyle behaviors related to not getting enough exercise as well as eating highly-processed foods which contain an exorbitant amount of sugar and salt. The latter is the focus of this particular blog post.
Humans love sugar and salt and may consume foods containing these substances to the point when narcotic (read: drug-like) effects occur within the body. Yes, sugar and salt may behave like addictive drugs within the body. Blood levels of these substances may develop to a certain point of adaptation when the body needs more and more in order to feel comfortable. Classic food addictions are sodas, ice cream and chips. It's no wonder these substances are ubiquitous in our foods today. We love foods which are sweet and salty because of the taste (pleasurable) as well as the cost (cheap). The problem is that eating foods high in sugar can cause insulin resistance which may develop into chronic diseases (e.g., Type-2 diabetes and obesity). Sugar in excessive amounts in one's diet can become toxic to the body and cause metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease. A diet high in salt may cause water retention which may develop over time into health problems (e.g., hypertension, heart failure and stroke).
The majority of sugar and salt consumed in this country comes from processed and fast foods. Adding sugar and salt to foods is standard practice for food manufacturers because they're inexpensive, mask bad flavors, and act as a preservative (in the case of salt).
How can you limit your consumption of sugar and salt? The key is reading and understanding food labels. Learn to decipher sugar by its many names (i.e., corn sweetener, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, and molasses). Learn to decipher salt by its many names (i.e., baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, monosodium glutamate, sodium benzoate, sodium saccharin, and sodium nitrate).
Here are some tips to reduce your sugar intake:
Eating egg whites and throwing out the egg yolks is a big mistake! To wit: egg yolks contain vitamins A, B2 (riboflavin), B5, B6, B9 (folic acid), B12, and vitamin D in addition to minerals such as selenium, phosphorus and iron. Egg yolks are an excellent source of protein (8g each), omega-3 fats and antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin and carotenoids.
Cholesterol should not be thought of as a health concern when eating whole eggs. Why? Because food cholesterol is NOT the same as blood cholesterol. That is, getting more cholesterol from food does NOT cause higher cholesterol levels within your body. It is a myth perpetuated by the media that cholesterol is the enemy. For one thing, increased blood cholesterol is associated with higher testosterone levels within the blood--that's a good thing! In addition, the media has continued to propagate the myth for several decades that fatty diets and cholesterol are the root cause of heart disease and obesity. The irony is that since the eighties, the rate of obesity and Type-2 diabetes in this country has actually increased from eating low-fat, low-cholesterol foods. The real culprit is excessive carb consumption, not fats.
BOTTOM LINE: Egg yolks are a healthy source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Egg yolks are also a valuable source of protein to maintain strong bones and muscle tissue. The only caveat is to eat the yolks in moderation--two to three daily is okay. Athletes and bodybuilders alike are ahead of the general public on this issue--eating whole eggs is the way to go to stay strong and healthy!
When you lose bodyfat a whole multitude of positive healthy outcomes takes place including:
BOTTOM LINE: Exercise and a healthy diet can resolve many chronic conditions plaguing humans today. Instead of reaching for quick-fix medications which may have side-effects, reach for a dumbbell and eat your broccoli.
Indeed, this trend in eating gluten-free foods is a phenomenon to dieting just as mysterious as the trend in crossfit is to exercise. First a little background. Gluten consists of several proteins present in many grains (e.g., wheat, barley, rye, oats) which provides texture to foods such as breads, cakes, muffins, and pasta but has very little nutritional value. Most people are able to digest the proteins which make up gluten although there are some who either have an autoimmune condition known as celiac disease or have an allergic reaction (gluten sensitivity) to these proteins which prevents nutrient digestion. Celiac disease, an immune disorder affecting about one percent of Americans, causes the development of antibodies which attack the body's intestinal tract, preventing the absorption of the proteins as well as calcium and iron. Symptoms include diarrhea, bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. Gluten sensitivity has been estimated to affect about six percent of Americans and is due to a lack of intestinal enzymes needed to properly digest the proteins which comprise gluten.
The intention to eat gluten-free foods may be considered smart since most foods which contain gluten are refined-processed foods with very little nutritional value. But I suspect most people avoid gluten-containing foods not because of low nutritional quality but instead due to a psychological phobia towards gluten. In other words, they believe they are allergic to gluten but in reality this is not the case. The media may be to blame for this unnecessary scare because it has perpetuated the myth that eating wheat may become addictive and make you fat. Moreover, eating wheat may cause an increased risk of certain systemic diseases (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, osteroporosis, etc.). There is no conclusive evidence to indicate eating wheat may make you fat and/or cause chronic health problems.
The recommendation is to eat more whole wheat and less refined wheat to lessen any possible risk of incurring chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Good substitutes to gluten-containing wheat, barley, and oat foods are buckwheat, corn, rice, and quinoa. Quinoa, in particular, is a superb substitute since it is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids. Quinoa can be cooked just like rice.
BOTTOM LINE: There's no conclusive evidence that eating gluten-free foods is healthier and can effectively cause weight loss. In fact, many gluten-free foods are higher in calories than their regular counterparts. The weight lost from eating gluten-free foods is likely due to eating less refined carbs rather than gluten itself. Since many gluten-free foods are made of refined flour, they lack the fiber found in whole-wheat foods that can aid in weight control. Moreover, wheat gluten may actually have health benefits (e.g., decreases triglyceride levels, provides beneficial intestinal bacteria). Unless you have been diagnosed as having celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, there is no reason to avoid all wheat products. Instead, switch to 100% whole-grain foods and eat less processed foods (e.g., cakes, cookies, pizza, etc.). If you feel better from cutting out gluten foods in your diet, it's most likely due to eating less refined carbs rather than from eliminating gluten.
If you are one of the 30 percent people who believes that you should skip eating breakfast because you don't have time and that you can lose body weight, you are sorely mistaken. There's a reason why that old saying that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" is true. The word breakfast, when understood in literal terminology, means breaking a fast. Having not eaten while sleeping for at least six hours inevitably causes blood sugar levels to drop and the metabolic rate to decrease.
Here's a nice statistic according to a Harvard University study: people who eat breakfast are nearly 50 percent less likely to be obese than those who don't eat breakfast. In other words, you're risk of becoming obese increases when not eating breakfast!
Here are other reasons why eating breakfast is so important:
If you don't eat breakfast because you don't feel hungry in the morning, stop eating after 8pm. By eating less food later in the day, you will eventually feel more hungry in the mornings.
It seems almost every day new research is attesting to another physiological benefit of taking fish oil (i.e., protects against heart disease, reduces joint inflammation, reduces cholesterol levels, etc.). It's the omega-3 fatty acids within fish oil that makes it so remarkable.
Recent research published in the journal Neurology has just noted that eating fatty fish, nuts, and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids regularly may slow down the aging process of the brain and possibly protect against Alzheimer's disease. Research has discovered that a regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids in one's diet may cause a corresponding decrease in the amount of a protein called beta-amyloid commonly found in the brains of people who've died from Alzheimer's disease. It may be the increased amounts of this protein that's attributed to the memory loss exhibited by those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in walnuts, salmon, sardines, tuna, and other fatty fish.
Bottom line: a diet containing healthy fats including fish oil may have an effect in decreasing the loss of memory, reducing heart disease, reducing cholesterol levels as well as lessening joint inflammation.
Does it matter if you get your fiber intake from fortified foods rather than foods naturally high in fiber?
Eating foods naturally high in fiber (e.g., oatmeal, lentils, nuts, broccoli, peas) are considered the best means to obtain its health benefits (e.g., lowers glucose levels, decreases cholesterol levels, boosts bowel function, etc.). Functional foods, foods in which ingredients (e.g., fiber) have been added, are now mainstream and appeal to consumers who may not be able to tolerate or like natural fibrous foods. Functional foods which may make the claim of being "high-fiber" include yogurts, ice cream, sugary cereals, energy bars and even juices. But are functional (fiber-fortified) foods any healthier than natural foods containing fiber?
There's not much evidence indicating fiber-fortified foods have the same effect on the body that naturally-occurring fibrous foods. The reality is that fiber-fortified foods tend to be not very nutritious in other ways (i.e., high sugar). Best recommendation: stick with naturally-occurring fibrous foods which have minimal, if any, processing involved (e.g., whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit).
Simple: cut back on added sugar intake found in sodas and processed food (e.g., packaged foods) in your diet. These foods contain sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which may lower "good" cholesterol (HDL) and raise triglyceride levels--both are risk factors for heart disease. Interesting how the trend for increased heart disease today seems to mirror the trend in rising sugar consumption. To wit: in the late 1970s, sugar consumption was 11% of an adult's caloric intake; whereas today the figure is 16%!
Too little fat in one's diet may contribute to increased protein metabolism for energy once carbs have been depleted. This will certainly cause muscular tissue breakdown (catabolism) to occur and therefore a loss of muscle mass. Overall energy levels will fall dramatically without adequate carbs for fuel and the body is forced to rely on fat for energy (a condition called ketosis). Low fat levels in the blood adversely affect hormone and blood pressure levels, healthy skin and hair, and the transportation of vitamins A, D, E, and K within the bloodstream. An extremely limited intake of fat (esp. unsaturated fat) can result in elevated cholesterol levels which may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Too much fat in one's diet may contribute to the development of atherosclerosis caused by high cholesterol. A high-fat diet strains the metabolic capability of the body, allowing for fatty deposits to develop in the bloodstream, increasing the risk of heart disease. Obesity will most likely result if given enough time for this condition to continue. Other disease risk factors include hypertension, type-2 diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and stroke.
Bottom line: to eat healthy, eat less than 10% saturated fat and strive to keep total fat intake less than 30% of total dietary calories.