You ARE what you eat and drink and you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet! Although there are many ways to improve your health, what you put in your mouth is by far the MOST important lifestyle issue. The average American eats about 1,996 pounds (nearly a ton) of food a year. 2-3 pounds a day! You better believe what you eat is important. Poor nutrition contributes more to chronic disease and death than smoking, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption COMBINED! This includes dementia, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A poor diet alone accounts for 1/3rd of all cancer cases. What you eat has even been shown to turn on and off cancer-causing genes! You can’t blame poor health on genetics. A family history of disease, including high cholesterol, obesity, cancer and even dementia, has more to do with the lifestyle and eating habits we learned from our families growing up than with the genes we inherited. Those habits can be changed.
The “Standard American Diet” (appropriately known as SAD), also known as the “Western” diet, consists of: 39% oil and sugar, 30% animal products, 20% grains, 95% of which are highly refined and only 11% fruits and vegetables and most of that is ketchup, orange juice and rice! Populations in the world which traditionally had little chronic disease and lived much longer than Americans are start to see their health and longevity deteriorate as they adopt an American/Western diet. Countries are beginning to eat like us, live like us, and die like us. Examples include Japan where they traditionally ate a lot of rice and soy products and breast and prostate cancer were rare now have seen massive increases with the introduction of a more Western diet. The same is seen in The Marshall Islands in the South Pacific where diabetes did not exist until an American military base was established ushering in fast food. Now this processed food is more dominant and 50% of adults now have diabetes.
Good nutrition is not just about avoiding bad food; it’s also about adding more good food. More whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables and fruits! Just adding 1 serving of fruit or vegetables a day, organic or not, will make a significant improvement in your health. Just thinking about what you eat is a start in the right direction. Doing a 2-week diet diary (Diet Diary and Food Guide) helps to give you a better idea of what and how much you actually eat.
Nutritional guidance and information, whether from a doctor, nutritionist or the internet, is confusing and often contradictory. There are many differences in opinion about what is “the best diet”. Despite these differences, there is consistent agreement about a few things like avoiding saturated fat, sugar, processed food, dairy and the importance of eating more quality whole foods especially lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Keep in mind that the ONLY diet scientifically proven in numerous long-term studies to reverse heart disease, along with many other chronic diseases, is a whole foods, plant-based, low-fat, low salt and low sugar diet. Many researchers, including Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. John McDougal, Dr. Nathan Pritikin and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn have reproduced this finding in many studies involving thousands of patients. These are not just scientists but actual doctors treating and curing actual patients. Each additional serving of fruits and vegetables a day is associated with a 5% reduction in premature all-cause mortality. Just replacing 3% of daily calories from processed meat by plants reduces premature death by 34%.
We evolved craving foods, which are nutritionally dense. Eating these foods provided energy, both which we could use immediately and our bodies could store for times of famine. Often these foods were rich in naturally occurring sugar, salt and fat. These products have been insidiously added to what we eat by the food industry to keep us addicted. The combination of the two or three together is particularly addicting. Our tastes buds, which are replaced every 7-10 days, and addictive drive can change but it takes a little time. It takes 2-4 weeks for neuroadaptation to less sugar and salt but up to 3 months for humans to neuroadapt to less fat. The important point is that we can adapt.
Some people do have specific nutritional needs like allergies or sensitivities. You have to find what works for you, makes you feel the best and improves your health long-term (not just in the first few weeks or months). Keep in mind that when you eliminate something bad from your diet like sugar or dairy you may feel worse for a few weeks because of withdrawal, just like with drugs, so be patient. These foods bind to and stimulate the same brain receptors as heroin and morphine. You literally are addicted to them. Below are some specific nutritional topics that are important to understand and incorporate into your daily habits.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
WHAT NOT TO EAT
ELIMINATE IT. The single, most important health measure you can take overall, dietary or otherwise, is to limit or eliminate all added sugars and sweeteners, even the artificial ones. BOOM! Humans are hardwired to like sweet things but it is in the context of whole fruits and vegetables. Artificial or processed sugar however is not good. Avoid it. Sugar is unhealthy. All forms (except whole fruit which is packed with other healthful ingredients like fiber, vitamins and minerals). We evolved to crave sugar since this is our primary energy source. However, sugar was scarce, usually found in the form of fruit or sweeter vegetables like carrots. Today, sugar is available everywhere and permeates all of our processed foods and our cravings for it have expanded. Americans consume on average 152 lbs. of added processed sugar annually, much higher than the 53 lbs. average of all other industrialized countries! Although there has been a general slowly decreasing consumption of sodas over the years, there are plenty of other sources of sugar that you would not expect. Sugar stimulates the brain and creates addictive cravings the same way heroin, morphine and Demerol do! It is 8x more addictive than cocaine and more than 10x more addictive than tobacco. It should be considered poison! Artificial sweeteners are just as bad. Cocaine addicted animals chose sugar including artificial sweeteners over cocaine when given a choice. Studies actually show that 0 calorie beverages with artificial sweeteners actually increase sugar cravings in people and lead to more weight gain than “non-diet” ones.
Processed sugar leads to elevated glucose levels in the blood, which results in an insulin spike. Insulin drives tryptophan into the brain. Tryptophan is the amino acid precursor to serotonin, the “happy” neuropeptide. This is why one of the reasons why it is addictive. Exercise, by the way, has this SAME impact on tryptophan, driving it into the brain and boosting serotonin levels, making you feel good.
Quite simply, added sugar causes cancer! A recent French study of over 100,000 people followed on average for 42 years revealed that as little as 3 oz. or a sugary drink (1/4 of a regular soda) a day increased breast cancer risk by 22% and overall cancer risk by 18%.
Sugar is most definitely a recreational drug. It has many similarities to more traditional drugs like cocaine and heroin such as:
- Changing one’s physical state
- Changing one’s mental and emotional state.
- Stimulating dopamine receptors in the brain
- Inducing feelings of euphoria – the “sugar high”. This is usually followed by an emotional crash and then cravings.
There are 3 defined criteria defining addiction to any behavior or drug and sugar checks all the boxes:
- Increasing intake
- Withdrawal symptoms when discontinued
- Cravings that lead to relapse.
When people who consume large amounts of sugar are given Narcan, the drug given to overdosed drug addicts to reverse the drug effects, their sugar cravings decreased! It’s a drug!
Studies on mice and rats show that when given a choice, 94% of them chose the sugar. Most already addicted to cocaine switched to sugar when offered the choice and they were willing to do more work for sugar than cocaine. Studies also show cross tolerance and cross dependence. What this means is that when animals were addicted to sugar, their responses to morphine were significantly diminished.
Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, regulates how our cells use and store sugar and it also contributes to fat storage in our tissues. Our bodies use glucose as a primary fuel source but processed and refined sugar causes insulin production to spike. High insulin levels are linked to diabetes, obesity, strokes, dementia, ADHD, inflammation, heart disease and cancer. Insulin does not spike the same way when complex sugars like healthy carbohydrates or whole fruits are consumed. Fruit juice will spike insulin since it does not contain fiber but not as much as sugar sweetened beverages. For example, adding berries to a meal of potatoes and chicken actually lowers blood sugars and insulin spikes because of the added fiber and nutrients. By the way, adding chicken to the potato increases insulin production because of the fat in the chicken causing insulin resistance and also because protein itself stimulates insulin secretion. Adding blended raspberries to sugar-water actually lowers the blood sugar and insulin spike, which occurs with the sugar-water alone.
Sugar also stimulates cancer cell growth. A test called a PET scan looks for cancer cells in the body. It is based on the fact that cancer cells feed on sugar. Excess sugar consumption, especially in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, has been linked to worsening heart disease, diabetes as well as behavioral changes like ADHD and depression. Only 1 can of soda a day has been shown to increase inflammatory markers in the blood. Overall, cancer cells metabolize sugar 50x more than normal cells, having a 10x greater affinity for glucose and a 100x greater affinity for fructose than normal cells. This does not include the natural sugars found in whole fruits and vegetables however. The reason for this affinity is that one of the mechanisms though to cause cancer is the abnormal deterioration and malfunction of the cell mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, which generates ATP. They can be thought of as the “lungs” of the cell. When they don’t work, cancer cells need to rely on another energy source and sugar is the easiest, most readily available source.
Sugar acts as a diuretic. It sounds counterintuitive that drinking a beverage can actually cause dehydration, but that is exactly what happens. Above 4 gm/100 ml (3.5 oz), the sugar causes the intestines to release water. In addition, the rapid rise in blood sugar causes your kidneys to releae more water. The average Coke contains 3x that concentration to sugar. The same goes for fruit juice. OJ for example contains 2x that amount of sigar. The same goes for sugary foods. The sweether it is, the more water you lose.
The most common disease leading to liver transplantation today is Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). This disease is also known as NASH, Non-Alcoholic Steato Hepatosis. It affects about 20% of adults and 17% of kids! A major contributor to this epidemic is excessive sugar intake, which triggers the liver to produce fat in a process called liponeogenesis. NAFLD causes all kinds of secondary issues. The top causes of NAFLD are (and note that the top 2 are sugar!):
- SUGAR SWEETENED BEVERAGES. Not only does this include soda, but also “healthy” things like store-bought Kombucha and even Green Teas.
- ADDED SUGARS. There are obvious ones like doughnuts but there are hidden sources which include salad dressings, BBQ sauce, pasta sauces and even bread.
- FRIED FOODS, #1 among them in the US are French fries and chips.
- VEGETABLE OILS like soy, cotton, canola and especially the tropical ones like palm and coconut, which is 95% saturated fat, the worst kind.
- PROCESSED MEATS like hot dogs, bacon and deli meats.
- WHITE BREAD and PASTA (essentially sugar). Hyper-refined grains are essentially the same as added sugars as far as the body and the liver are concerned.
Sugar is hidden in many unexpected foods like salad dressings, bread and pasta sauces, which can contain more added sugar than full-dairy ice cream! Read labels but be aware that “sugar” has, at last count, over 263 different names on packaging. Food companies also will use different forms of sugar in a food item as a strategy to have them appear lower on the ingredients list since any one form is in a lesser amount, yet the total amount of sugar may still be quite high. Sugar, like fat and salt, is added to foods to make us crave them more. Also watch for “sugar-free” labels. These probably contain aspartame or some other artificial sweetener. Aspartame is found in over 6000 common food items. Studies have shown the after one week of consuming aspartame daily, even at 1/2 what the FDA recommends as a safe dose, irritability and depression symptoms were noted.
Food companies will hide sugars by chemically modifying them. A common example is maltodextrin. Maltodextrin is used as a thickener, filler or preservative in many processed foods. It’s an artificially produced white powder that can be enzymatically derived from any starch, most commonly made from corn, rice, potato starch or wheat which are almost always genetically modified. It has absolutely no nutritional value. Because it is so heavily processed, it spikes blood sugar leading to insulin spikes and the subsequent blood sugar crash. Other bad side effects of this ingredient include suppressing the growth of healthy gut bacteria as well as causing allergic reactions or other adverse reactions.
Glucose is the natural form of sugar and although excessive amounts of it are also not good, fructose, the form which is often added to foods seems to be the real culprit. 40% of the sugar Americans consume is in the form of fructose. Fructose, mostly in the form of mechanically modifies High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is particularly toxic. It’s used in most foods because it is cheaper than real sugar. It is 55% fructose. A more potent, chemically modified version, HFCS-90, is 90% fructose and it can be simply labeled as “fructose”.
The body can process glucose as an energy source, but not fructose. The only organ which can process fructose is the liver and this can only happen when fructose is converted to fat. The body can’t get any energy directly out of fructose like it can from glucose.
5 ways that sugar, primarily fructose, contributes to weight gain and obesity:
- Fructose causes insulin resistance and raises insulin levels in the body, which increases the deposition of fat in the fat cells.
- Fructose causes resistance to a hormone called leptin, which makes the brain not “see” that the fat cells are full of fat. This leads to increased food intake and decreased fat burning.
- Fructose does not make you feel full after meals. It does not lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and it doesn’t reduce blood flow in the centers of the brain that control appetite. This increases overall food intake.
- Sugar, with its powerful effect on the reward system of the brain, causes addiction in certain individuals. This activates powerful reward-seeking behavior that also increases food intake.
- Excess sugar gets processed by the liver which has to do something with it. It converts it to palmitic acid, the original name for saturated fat, though a process of neolipogenesis (new fat formation). So, although healthy carbohydrates don’t make you fat, excess sugar WILL, especially in the form of processed fructose.
The fructose found in whole fruit counts, but to a much lesser degree as it is accompanied with fiber and all the healthy phytonutrients. The same damaging effect is not seen. An average piece of fruit has 6 grams of fructose. A 20 oz. soda contains 36 grams, and it’s all processed, refined and devoid of any fiber or nutrients.
Most of the fructose (~90%) we consume is actually converted into the much less damaging form glucose in the small intestine. It’s when we overwhelm our bodies with massive amounts of refined fructose that some makes its way past the small intestine, into the blood and eventually to the liver where, also overwhelmed, some of it gets converted into new fat.
Although they are promoted as “0 calorie” sweeteners, they are in almost all cases worse than table sugar. They can be as much as 1000x sweeter and trigger the addictive brain responses to a significantly greater degree. In addition, they are known to actually break down the intestinal barrier leading to leaky gut and alter the microbiome, favoring a much unhealthier balance of microbes. Artificial sweeteners induce changes in the microbiome as well, promoting inflammation, insulin resistance and liver injury. One in particular, trehalose, which also improves stability and texture of food, promotes the growth of particularly virulent strains of C. Diff. Its implementation in the food industry times perfectly with the worldwide explosion of those specific strains of C. Diff.
“OK” NATURAL SWEETENERS.
The best sweeteners are the ones which come from whole fruit like dates or smashed bananas. However, there are some processed ones which are OK and have little impact on glucose and insulin levels. Some include:
- ALLULOSE. D-Psicose (C6H12O6), also known as D-allulose, or simply allulose, is a low-calorie epimer (mirror image) of fructose and is used by some major commercial food and beverage manufacturers as a low-calorie sweetener. First identified in wheat in the 1940s, allulose is naturally present in small quantities in certain other foods like, jackfruit, figs, raisins, brown sugar and maple syrup. It’s about 75% as sweet as table sugar.
- MONK FRUIT is a small Asian melon that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Monk fruit extract is derived by crushing the fruit, then drying the juice into a concentrated powder that has no calories, carbs or sugar. Monk fruit extract is extremely sweet, which comes from an antioxidant in the fruit called Mogroside V. It’s very concentrated and is 400x as sweet as sugar.
- STEVIA is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana). It has zero calories but is 200x sweeter than table sugar.
ERYTHRITOL used to be on the “OK” list but recent studies suggest otherwise. Erythritol is a sugar molecule made by all plants and all mammals as well. The degree of sweetness of erythritol ranges between 70-80% that of sugar. Sugar has 4 calories per gram, but erythritol has zero. Partly because of that, it is commonly used as an artificial sweetener in processed foods. It is used however in massive amounts, feeding our sugar addiction. Concentration is often 1000x more than what exists in our bodies.
Although we do make erythritol in our bodies, it is present in very small amounts. Erythritol can be measured in the body and elevated levels are associated with various chronic diseases. Erythritol also has been associated with increased clotting and as such, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
ALL sweeteners are not healthy and the more fructose they contain, the worse they are. If you must use sweeteners, use natural ones like raw unpasteurized honey (which is 40% fructose and 30% glucose), spices like cinnamon or fruits like dates. Be careful of other “natural” sugars such as agave. Agave, a syrup made from cactus, often advertised as “natural and healthy” is at least 55% fructose, the same amount as the extremely unhealthy High Fructose Corn Syrup. Some forms of agave have as much as 97% fructose.
For more information about sugars, how they impact on health and contribute to obesity, click here: SUGARS – THE BASICS.
Another good document to review is: GLUCOSE, SPIKES and FOOD TIMING
Finally, the sugar industry is intimately associated with the development of the slave trade. For more information about the interesting history of sugar, click here. THE HISTORY OF SUGAR.
Here is an interesting bit of information. An interview with a professional football team owner, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed that the players refused to drink Gatorade because of how bad it is for you. Because of advertising contracts, the team is obligated to have the large Gatorade bins on the sidelines but they contain no Gatorade!
The Milk and Cookie Disease. Sugar, fat and dairy all slow gastric emptying and increase acidity. Here is a link to this topic on my Kid’s Health page.
NON-ALCOHOLIC FATTY LIVER DISEASE. Also called NASH, Non Alcoholic Sheato Hepatosis or FLD, Fatty Liver Disease, this disease now affects nearly 25% of all kids and 45% of adults. The most common cause of liver scarring (hepatitis) used to be alcohol, followed by the virus Hepatitis C. These often led to liver failure and the need for a liver transplant, if the patient was healthy enough for that. Today, the #1 disease leading to liver transplant is simply eating and drinking (non alcoholic drinks mind you) yourself into liver failure. The liver’s ability to monitor cholesterol levels in the blood is impaired when there is too much fat in the body. Especially when that fat deposits in the liver itself. As a result, it continues to make cholesterol, even though our bodies don’t actually need it. The SAD (standard American Diet) is directly responsible for NASH and is often associated with diabetes, the most common disease in the US. Although you would think that, based on the name of the condition, eating too much fat would be the main culprit, it isn’t. It’s sugar. Fat is also significant, but not as much as sugar. Below is the list of the most common culprits when it comes to developing this reversible condition:
- Sugar sweetened beverages. We drink so much soda, juice (yes it’s bad) and flavored beverages (even the “0” calorie ones) that separated out from all the other sugar we consume, it is the worst offender.
- Added sugars in other forms like salad dressings, condiments, spreads and sauces.
- Fried Food. Anything fried is simply unhealthy. In addition to all the added fat from the oil, cancer-causing compounds are formed in the heating process.
- Oils, especially vegetable oils like sunflower and safflower. In addition, tropical oils like coconut and palm are very unhealthy. They contain upwards of 95% saturated fat.
- Processed foods. Not just a source of sugar and fat, they contain chemicals which break down the intestinal barrier and lead to gut disruption. This leads to poor digestion and various chronic diseases.
- White bread. Although clearly a processed food, Americans eat so much of it that it deserves it ranks high all by itself. Not only is it terrible for NAFLD, but it is one of the highest sources of salt in the American diet contributing significantly to elevated blood pressure.
- Animal products. The vast majority of the unhealthy fats we eat, especially saturated fat, come from animal products. In addition, animal products contain NO fiber which is essential for good health.
It IS reversible if scarring (fibrosis) has not yet occurred. But you must eliminate the bad foods and replace them with whole plants. Fruits (not juice), Vegetables, Whole grains, Beans, Nuts and Seeds.
The Living Closer Foundation tries to teach children how to look at labels on foods to understand the amount of sugar. One experiment they do with kids is to demonstrate that if you put the same sugar in a coke into a cup of tea, it is nearly unpalatable to drink. The carbonation in soda masks the taste of sugar.
Although not really appreciated in the medical community, the inability to tolerate and break down regular sugar can be a culprit when it comes to undiagnosed bowel/GI symptoms. Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID) occurs in about 1 in 5000 Americans. Incidence can be as high as 10% in certain populations like Canadian Inuit. Simply put, people who have this condition lack the enzyme to properly break down sucrose, in the same way that people with lactose intolerance lose the enzyme to break down the primary sugar in dairy, lactose. Some cases of IBS (irritable Bowel Syndrome), essentially a garbage can diagnosis used when we really don’t have an explanation for a patient’s symptoms, could actually be CSID. The same goes for diagnoses like Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and constipation.
It can be diagnosed by eliminating sugar and then reintroducing it to see how you feel. The 4-4-4 Simple Oral Sugar Challenge is such a test. The carbon-13 breath test is thought to directly measure sucrase activity and is the most definitive method to aid in diagnosing CSID that does not require an invasive procedure to obtain tissue samples from your intestine. Unlike the breath test for SIBO which is only 50% accurate, the SCID breath test is more than 85% accurate. Lastly, there is a Disaccharidase Assay, which is a blood test but it is only performed by specific labs.
Sucraid (sacrosidase) Oral Solution is an FDA-approved drug for use as an oral enzyme replacement therapy for CSID. Sucraid replaces the activity of sucrase, which is the digestive enzyme that breaks down sucrose. Sucraid may lessen the gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms associated with CSID. This is similar to Lactase, an enzyme replacement for people who have lactose intolerance and have a lot of GI symptoms.
Of course, the simplest way to avoid symptoms and feel better is to avoid dairy, in the case of lactose intolerance, or sugars, in the case of CSID.
“Eat the food the God made. Not the food that man made”
ELIMINATE THEM. Any food altered from its whole, raw form is technically processed however there is a difference between cooking potatoes and eating Twinkies. 62% of the food purchases made by Americans in grocery stores are highly processed foods full of fat, salt, and sugar. More than 80% of calories consumed from grocery stores in 2012 were from ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat food items. 80% of the sodium (salt) in modern diets comes from processed foods. 70% of the food found in most grocery stores did not even exist 25 years ago. In the 1970’s, a typical grocery store had about 15 thousand products. Today, the average is 50 thousand. It’s all unhealthy manufactured garbage. Because of all the processed foods consumed, 60% of the average American’s diet consists of processed wheat, corn or rice, the vast majority of which is conventionally grown meaning the it is loaded with chemicals.
They are simply unhealthy. For every 10% increase in calories from processed food consumed regularly, there is a 14% increased risk in premature all cause mortality and 25% increased risk for dementia.
We are inundated by processed foods. What business does a hardware store like Home Depot, electronics store like Best Buy or office supply store like Staples have selling food? Excluding stores meant to sell food, like grocery stores or “markets”, 40% of retail stores in the US sell junk food, usually right at the checkout where you are most vulnerable to buy some, usually by impulse. When you buy a hammer at Home Depot or a printer at Best Buy, you can munch out on crap at the checkout line.
Even the hospital system is a common source of unhealthy food! In fact, 47% of US hospitals have long-term contracts with fast food franchises like McDonald’s which are prominently located in their lobbies! A good example is the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. What a great way to start a sick kid’s path back to wellness! Give them a “Happy” Meal! A medical student at the University of Pennsylvania who lobbied to have McDonald’s removed, had his medical training threatened by no other than the Dean of Medicine.
If it comes in a bag or a package, has more than 5 ingredients or if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, don’t eat it! These “foods” are unhealthy, cause inflammation and raise insulin levels. WHOLE food is much better. A simple rule to follow is this: if it’s not something your grandmother could make herself or would recognize as food, don’t eat it!
Although all food altered from its natural form is considered processed, there are different levels of processing. Processing eliminates many of the healthy nutrients found in foods and the more processed they are, the unhealthier the food is. Processing essentially break foods down making them easier to digest and absorb into the bloodstream. This often leads to more rapid rises in blood sugar and fata levels. For example, eating “quick-cooking” rolled oats lead to a much more rapid rise in blood sugar than whole oat groats or steel cut oats. Eating whole peanuts results in absorption of only 60% of the fat in those nuts as compared with eating the same amount of nuts as peanut butter. Whole olives have many healthful nutrients however when pressed into olive oil, all the healthy fiber and most of the nutrients are removed and all you are left with is some flavor and a whopping 14 grams of fat per tbsp. Olives are healthy to eat. Olive oil is significantly less healthy. One of the beneficial compounds olives contain is hydroxytyrosol, which is a potent protector of the thin endothelial lining of our arteries, responsible for keeping them relaxed and pliable. It is removed during the pressing of olives into olive oil. When wheat is processed and refined into flour, 25 naturally occurring nutrients are stripped away then it’s “enriched’ with 5 isolated nutrients that were removed. Then chemical additives and preservatives are added to preserve shelf life and make bread fluffier. The more processed a food, the less digestion is required, the faster it gets absorbed into the blood stream, the higher the sugar spike and subsequent insulin rise to deal with and transport the sugar and the greater the resulting crash in blood sugar afterwards. As an example, oatmeal has various degrees of processing. Oat grouts, the whole hulled kernels of oats, are the best and healthiest. When grouts are chopped, they are called “steel-cut” and although they are still pretty healthy, they are absorbed a little faster and there is a greater impact on blood sugar and subsequent insulin production. The next level of processing oats is when they are steamed and pressed, which is called “rolled oats” and this has an even greater impact on blood sugar. They are more convenient because they are much faster to cook, but less healthy. The worst are the small packages of “instant oats” which are often microwaveable and also are loaded with added sugars. Pastries, protein bars, refined flour, chips, crackers, cereals, soda, preserved meats, fruit snacks… these are all other examples of highly processed foods and should be avoided. The Marshall Islands are a group of islands in the South Pacific. In the 1950’s, their diabetes rate was almost 0%. With the placement of an American military base and the introduction of processed foods, the local population started abandoning local, traditional foods for the easier, Standard American Diet of processed foods and Animal products. The adult diabetes rate is now over 50%! A typical child’s diet consists of sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, with Kool-Aid powder sprinkled on top!
Most processed and packaged foods contain, among other things, a lot of vegetable and seed oils like canola, sesame, grape seed, sunflower and safflower. There are extremely pro inflammatory containing trans fats, omega-6 fatty acids and aldehyde compounds, all things you do not want to consume. Avoid these fats as much as possible. The typical ratio of unhealthy omega-6 fats to healthy omega-3 fats in traditional diets up until 100 years ago was approximately 1:1-5:1. Today, the Standard American Diet has a ratio closer to 20-25:1, leaning very much on the inflammatory side of the equation. In some areas of the US, the ratio approaches 50:1! Animal fats have a much greater ratio of omega-6 but the plant seed oils take the cake. Corn oil for example has an 83:1 ratio.
They also often contain “natural flavors”. A single “natural flavor” can consist of 50 to 100 different components, according to the Environmental Working Group. Often, these include solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives, substances that preserve the natural ingredients being used or help them mix with each other. Sometimes, these additives are synthetic. There are over 10,000 food additives, many of which like artificial food dyes, are illegal in many other countries.
Avoid anything that makes some kind of health claim on the packaging like “Low Fat”, “All Natural”, “Low Sugar” or “Fortified With…”. It’s guaranteed to be hiding something unhealthy in the fine print. If it needs to be fortified, it must be deficient in the first place.
Food companies create foods to make us addicted to them. They add sugar, salt and fat along with a variety of other chemicals and food additives to processed foods to increase their “crave ability” and to create what they call the “bliss point”. They try to make them more addictive. Go to this page for more information about how food companies try to make us more addicted to their products: Important things to remember about FOOD, EATING and HEALTH.
Processed foods and sugars contribute to all kinds of issues including obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diseases, colorectal cancer and even anxiety, depression and ADHD. Studies on violent prison inmates show that improving their diet, primarily by significantly reducing processed foods and sugar, resulted in a 56% reduction in subsequent violent crime. By adding a simple multivitamin as well further decreased the rate by 80%. Consuming processed, refined foods lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar which triggers a large and rapid release of insulin from the pancreas. This high level of insulin leads to a rapid drop in blood sugar as it gets transported into cells for storage or use as energy. This hypoglycemic response triggers a protective response by the liver which releases stored triglycerides thinking that the body needs an alternative source of energy however, in most people today, it just gets converted into fat. In addition, the excessive amounts of sugar in the blood can’t get stored or used and gets converted into triglycerides by the liver in a process called de novo lipogenesis. which also contributes to high triglyceride levels and obesity. A 2018 metabolic ward study (patients lived in a facility and were fed food ie: no cheating) showed that eating hyper processed foods caused an additional consumption of 500 calories a day as compared with those eating whole fruits and vegetables, contributing to weight gain. Compared with a regular diet, adding more whole foods actually reduced food consumption by 200 calories. So going from a diet heavy in processed food to one favoring whole foods, leads to a 700 calorie difference if all you did was eat until you felt full.
One of the problems with processed foods is that they are very calorically dense and are hyper palatable (very tasty and overstimulate the taste buds). You can eat a LOT without feeling full. There are 3 Factors which make food satiating (filling). Processed foods are often devoid of all 3!
- Protein content. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient.
- Fiber content. Absorbs water. Stretches stomach, turns off ghrelin
- Water content. Water removed from processed food since it reduces shelf life.
It is estimated that between 5-7% of people are addicted to food. They can’t control their cravings and the foods they tend to binge on are mostly processed, high salt and fat foods. Similar to sugar, processed foods, especially ones with refined flower, can be more addictive than cocaine and tobacco. If you are concerned about food addiction, take an online quiz at FoodFreedomQuiz.com. One simple way to minimize these food temptations is to remove all processed foods from your home. There is a saying: “If it’s in your home, it’s in your mouth!”
There are degrees of food processing. The NOVA scale puts processed foods into categories. Below are links to a summary of the categories with examples as well as an article about it:
BREAD and PASTA. The term “Sitting down and Breaking Bread”, demonstrates how vital bread has been to humankind but bread is also a classic example of how processing can be bad. There is a reason gluten sensitive people can travel to Europe and eat the food with significantly fewer reactions. The food is healthier and fresher. Traditional bread is made from 4 ingredients: salt, wheat, water and yeast. Traditional bakers will take up to 3 days to make a loaf of bread, allowing the bread to rise for 12 or more hours which give the yeast, which do have the enzymes capable of fully breaking down gluten, more time to break down the indigestible parts of gluten. Humans lack the enzymes to completely break down gluten but yeast does not. In the US and many developed parts of the world, mass made bread is only allowed to rise for 2 hours leading to residual indigestible fragments which cause inflammatory symptoms. In addition, preservatives, oils, sugars and many other additives are put in man-made bread leading to a longer shelf life but a toxic soup which causes inflammation and disease in humans. Traditionally made breads go bad in 1-2 days! Now that’s fresh. Lastly, pesticide regulation is significantly stricter in other parts of the world. Again, fewer chemicals going into the body. Lastly, in the US, we use an extremely hybridized form of wheat called Dwarf Wheat. In ancient times, wheat was tall and gluten composed only 4% of the protein. During the Renaissance, we started hybridizing wheat to increase yields and the proportion of kernels to the shaft increased, also increasing the percentage of gluten to 8%. Today’s modern Dwarf Wheat is almost 12% gluten. The wheat genes have also been manipulated to produce addition starches which give the wheat more texture but are also more difficult for humans to break down and digest. THE BOTTOM LINE, stick to fresh, whole, unprocessed food, not processed foods!
Here is a great reference about the importance of real wheat in our diet: “Eat Wheat” by Dr. John Douillard.
THE WHITER THE BREAD, THE SOONER YOU’RE DEAD
Although wheat is the primary grain consumed in the western world, it is consumed mostly as flour. In the US, 98% of the wheat consumed as flour. White flour is produced when you strip away the bran and the germ from wheat, leaving you with a fiber and nutrient depleted starch. It was originally produced to increase its shelf life, providing commercial value, but leading to devastating health effects.
Bellow is a list of the nutrients lost as a percentage when whole wheat is refined into white flour:
- Protein: 25% lost
- Fiber: 95%
- Calcium: 56%
- Copper: 62%
- Iron: 84%
- Manganese: 82%
- Phosphorus: 69%
- Potassium: 74%
- Selenium: 52%
- Zinc: 76%
- Vitamin B1: 73%
- Vitamin B2: 81%
- Vitamin B3: 80%
- Vitamin B5: 56%
- Vitamin B6: 87%
- Folate (B9): 59%
- Vitamin E: 95%
Most of these are not restored when flour is “enriched”. In fact, only 5 usually are added back. These restored nutrients include iron and B vitamins (folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine). Calcium may on occasion also be supplemented.
Make no mistake that all oil is a processed food. Take for example olive oil; you take a whole fruit in this case olives, packed with fiber and various nutrients, you squeeze the crap out of it and express the oil, filter it to get rid of the sediment, and you are left with the oil, minus all the other healthful benefits. Are there some nutrients in olive oil? Sure, but the whole fruit is significantly better. The type of oil certainly is a factor. How much saturated fat, what proportion of healthy omega 3s vs unhealthy omega 6s… But ultimately, it is still fat. And ALL oils contain 9 grams of fat per tablespoon with ~ 120 calories. It adds up. And then when heated, oil starts to change, generating carcinogenic compounds which we then consume. Oils can be used in a healthy manner, but if you start to read labels, and pay attention as you cook, the amount of oils can really add up. When purchasing and storing oils, try to use dark, glass bottles and keep them in low light to prevent oxidation. There are healthier oils and ones you should just plainly stay away from.
Here is a list of common oils, ranked healthiest to least healthy.
- FLAXSEED OIL. Flax seeds are a great source of healthy omega 3 fatty acids, along with various vitamins, minerals along with fiber. Flax seeds must be ground however to be properly digested.
- HEMP SEED OIL. Hemp plants and marijuana plants are both the same species. Legally, hemp is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent or less THC, while marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC. Hemp hearts (seeds from the plant) are an extremely rich source of healthy protein and omega 3 fats. You won’t get high eating hemp hearts, nor will you fail a drug test.
- EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (EVOO). Extra virgin means that it is the first pressing of the olives. This is the healthiest variety of olive oil. Make sure that it is not mixed or blended.
- CANOLA OIL. Canola was originally a trademark name of the Rapeseed Association of Canada, and the name was a condensation of “Can” from Canada and “OLA ” meaning “Oil, low acid”, but is now a generic term for edible varieties of rapeseed oil in North America and Australasia.
- PUMPKIN SEED OIL. Not very commonly used, it is higher in zinc and has a low smoke point, which is the heat at which it starts to burn. The higher the smoke point, the more heat tolerant it is and the healthier it is to cook with.
- OLIVE OIL (Standard). Although detrimental to arterial function, it is still associated with lower mortality.
- SUNFLOWER and SAFFLOWER. Very high in omega 6s. Definitely detrimental to arterial function. They are the most commonly used oils in processed foods, including things like dips and dressings.
- AVOCADO OIL. Neutral oil overall. It does have the benefit of having a higher smoke point.
- SOYBEAN OIL. It is high in Omega 6 (proinflammatory fatty acids) and really impairs artery function. Plant omega 6s are not as proinflammatory as animal sourced omega 6s but they do crowd out the beneficial, anti inflammatory omega 3s.
- PALM FRUIT OIL. Palm oil is terrible for arterial function and its production is terrible for the environment and is decimating the orangutan population. This is commonly used in various processed foods, especially nut butters. If they say “spread”, then it probably has added oil.
- COCONUT OIL. Although is has more saturated fat than butter, it doesn’t raise LDL as much s butter, but it is #2 in that respect.
- PALM KERNEL OIL. This is not the same as palm oil, which comes from the palm fruit. Palm kernel oil comes from the kernel.
- BUTTER. Butter is a dairy product which comes from churning milk fat. It is fat. Although not actually an oil, butter is mentioned here because it is often used interchangeably with oil. It is the worst on the list since it is loaded with saturated fat (60%) and cholesterol and is a significant contributor to LDL elevation, vascular disease, obesity, diabetes and… It does contain some vitamins, particularly vitamins, especially A, E, D, and K2 but has virtually no antioxidants.
Below is a chart listing the saturated fat (SF), Omega3 (O3), fatty acid score (FA) and antioxidant score (AO), along with an overall score of some of the available oils. They are listed from best to worst:
Flaxseed Oil: 9% SF, 57% O3, 52 FA, 4/10 AO, Overall: 100/100
Hemp Seed: 9% SF, 21% O3, 16.5 FA, 7.5/10 AO, Overall: 58/100
EVOO: 13% SF, 1% O3, -5.5 FA, 5.5/10 AO, Overall: 54/100
Canola: 7% SF, 9% O3, 5.5 FA, 5/10 AO, Overall: 44/100
Pumpkin Seed: 18% SF, 0% O3, -9 FA, 8.5/10 AO, Overall: 33/100
Olive (standard): 13% SF, 1% O3, -5.5 FA, 3/10 AO, Overall: 31/100
Sunflower/Safflower: 10% SF, 0% O3, -5 FA, 6/10 AO, Overall: 30/100
Avocado: 12% SF, 0% O3, -6 FA, 30/10 AO, Overall: 28/100
Soybean: 14% SF, 6% O3, -1 FA, 5/10 AO, Overall: 23/100
Palm Fruit: 48% SF, 0% O3, -24 FA, 4/10 AO, Overall: 4/100
Coconut: 84% SF, 0%O3, -39 FA 9/10 AO, Overall: 1/100
Palm Kernel: 79% SF, 0% O3, -42 FA, 5/10 AO – Overall: 0/100
Most seeds are very bitter and their oils taste terrible which is why they are bleached, deodorized and refined. All done using industrial techniques, often using harsh chemicals. Not something you should be eating too much of!
ELIMINATE ALL FORMS OF IT. Milk does NOT do a body good! Milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, butter, casein, whey protein… It’s all unhealthy and completely unnecessary. Dairy is liquid meat. It is amazing how we have normalized consumption of this product. Humans are the only species on Earth that consume mothers’ milk and its by-products like cheese after infancy. And it’s not even our own mother’s milk; it’s that of another mammal! Breast milk evolved over millions of years to provide the appropriate nutrition to the infants of that species. All animals eventually stop consuming mother’s milk when they get big enough but we continue to consume it in various forms. Until a few thousand years ago, 100% of humans stopped making the enzyme lactase and thus became unable to process lactose, the main sugar in dairy. This occurred approximately when they became teenagers, no longer needing dairy for nourishment. At some point, in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, a genetic mutation occurred allowing humans to continue to make this enzyme and thus continue to consume dairy and hence the milk/cheese/yogurt revolution started. Today, 70% of humans still stop producing this enzyme and are “lactose intolerant”. Lactose intolerance is the single most common food intolerance in the world.
In addition to the inability to breakdown lactose, dairy allergy is the most common food allergy in the US among kids and adults. The most common allergen resulting in death from severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) is dairy.
Human milk actually has the lowest protein content of all mammals but it’s what human babies need. Cow’s milk is designed to grow a 60 lb. newborn calf into a huge 600 lb. cow in the span of only 1 year by providing more protein, hormones and growth factors. It takes humans 18-20 years to reach mature weight. Calves grow at a rate 40x faster than human babies. That kind of continued cellular growth stimulation can’t be good as we age and develop cancerous cells (which occurs continuously). Milk is made by a mother of a species to feed specifically that species’ newborns. If you feed a calf human milk, it won’t grow and will starve. If you feed a human cow’s milk, it will get fat and sick. Dairy labeled “hormone-free” still contains naturally occurring hormones like estrogen and growth hormones which can fluctuate greatly depending on the pregnant state or lactation state of the cow (as much as 17 times). There are over 60 different hormones in milk! And those are just the naturally occurring ones. Why so many hormones? Because it is breast milk from a cow meant to grow the baby cow into an adult! Duh!! When we see a big child, we jokingly say “it must be the hormones in the milk”. IT IS! Before we consumed so much dairy, girls used to start menstruating at 18 years of age. Now, they can start as early as 8 with breast development starting even earlier than that! Reaction to dairy proteins has been linked to a number of conditions including migraine headaches (in as many as 50% of sufferers) as well as rheumatoid arthritis. As a parent, if I could change one thing in the past, it would have been to eliminate milk and milk products from the family’s diet. If you have a condition with “mystery symptoms” which no one can figure out, considering a 3-4 week break from all forms of dairy and see how you feel.
½ of the world’s population does not consume dairy at all and they are all healthier than Americans are. They are just as tall and strong, if not stronger. In fact, the countries which consume the most dairy have the highest rates of heart disease and osteoporosis. There is a reason that you no longer see the adds for “Got Milk” or “Milk. It Does a Body Good”. They made false and misleading claims and the dairy industry was forced to stop publishing them. Dairy does NOT promote strong bones or healthy childhood growth. The 3-servings-a-day recommended by the the American Dietary Guidelines is antiquated and disease promoting.
To learn more about the dairy industry and how they promoted the milk industry, check out this article: A Twisted History Of Milk.
The protein in milk, particularly casein, while perfect for baby cows, is too large and difficult for us to digest. Calves have a particular enzyme, rennin, not present in humans, that coagulates and helps breaks down casein. According to renowned nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell, “Cows’ milk protein may be the single most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed.”
Just like the meat people raise and eat today is significantly less healthy than it was in the past, so too is dairy. In addition to all the chemical contaminants, antibiotics and added hormones, milk has been altered in a way which increases the estrogens it contains. In order to produce milk (which is lactation), a dairy cow must have recently given birth. When a cow is impregnated, she usually stops lactating for about 4 months until they deliver their calf. Over the years, cows have been bred to continue to produce milk all throughout their pregnancy so there is no down time and no subsequent decrease in the flow of milk and money. Milk produced during pregnancy has much higher levels of hormones, up to 40x. The result is milk with much higher than normal concentration of estrogens and some of its metabolites like estrone, estradiol and progesterone. These bind to the same receptors in our bodies as do our own human hormones. Within 15 minutes of drinking milk, these hormones can be measured in human urine indicating how quickly they get absorbed. Estrogens contribute to various cancers like breast, uterine and ovarian and also contribute to various diseases like infertility, acne, and even thyroid disease (excessive amounts of estrogen suppress thyroid function). Some of the other hormones in dairy contribute prostate cancer and breast cancer in men as well. Dairy consumption also has a strong link to fertility problems. The higher the dairy consumption, the lower the sperm count in men. In addition, sperm motility (ability to swim) and their shape is impacted. The same goes for ovulation in women. More dairy leads to more infertility.
Prostate cancer risks increase 3x with a first order relative with prostate cancer but risks go up 300x from a fatty diet. And dairy is a significant source of fat in the American diet. There is actually a stronger link between prostate cancer and dairy than there is between smoking and lung cancer!
For more information about our history with cattle and how we have changed them, look at this document: OUR-HISTORY-WITH-CATTLE.
The Milk and Cookie Disease. Sugar, fat and dairy all slow gastric emptying and increase acidity. Here is a link to this topic on my Kid’s Health page.
CHEESE is concentrated, curdled and fermented milk. It’s full of fat, salt, sugar (lactose), all of which make it taste good resulting in us craving it. In fact, cheese is the highest dietary source of fat and salt in the American diet. It is also a concentrated source of hormones, chemicals and proteins like casein, its main protein. Casein does not break down into individual amino acids the way most other proteins do. It breaks down into chains of AA of various lengths. Some of its break down products are opioid-like compounds called casomorphins. They bind to the same brain receptors as morphine and heroin. It’s why people become addicted to it. Human breast milk also contains casomorphins. It’s also why babies crave their mother’s breast milk and often fall asleep after feeding. One specific casomorphin morphiceptin has 10% of the activity on the brain as heroin and morphine, hence its addictive effects. There are cows bred to produce a different form of casein, known as A2 casein. The cows are dubbed “A2 Cows“. Although studies in pigs show less production of casomorphins from the casein in the milk produced by these cows, this difference is NOT seen in humans. Cheese is the most significant contributor to weight gain overall in the American diet. Americans consumed just 4 lbs. of it in 1909, when the Department of Agriculture started tracking nutrition trends. Today, the average is over 35 lbs. per person and 60% of that cheese is consumed in the form of pizza!
The most popular cheese consumed in the US is nacho cheese. In fact, this gooey mess produced by Tostitos, Frito Lay and Velveeta account for 40% of the cheese sold in America!
Here are some reasons that cheese causes obesity:
- It’s loaded with calories. 1 gram of sugar has 4 calories but 1 gram of fat has 9 calories. Cheese is loaded with fat. 70% of the calories in cheese is fat. To put that in perspective, the leanest red meat is 29% fat and the leanest chicken is actually 23% fat (probably much more than you would expect). Some fish are higher (like salmon) and some are lower. A cup of milk has 149 calories (70% of which comes from saturated fat) whereas a cup of cheddar has nearly 986, almost 7x more.
- Fat from food gets absorbed and stored as fat much faster than other macronutrients because…it’s already fat! And cheese contains a lot of fat. 70% of its calories come from fat, compared with 29% for the leanest cut of red meat and 23% of the calories in the leanest chicken (YES chicken contains almost as much fat as red meat!). Chicken also contains the same amount of cholesterol as red meat. Carbs get mostly converted into energy (unless you’re consuming large amounts of unprocessed carbs). Protein is the source of our cellular building blocks and also does not readily get converted into fat. Fat accumulation in your cells slows your metabolism as you age by impacting on the production of mitochondria, the energy machinery of your cells. It concentrates cholesterol and saturated fat, both definitively shown to contribute to heart disease and dementia. 2 oz of cheddar has as much saturated fat (11 grams) as 8 slices of bacon or 6.5 eggs! That same amount of cheddar also contains 56 mg of cholesterol. An 8oz glass of regular milk has the same amount of saturated fat as 4 slices of bacon.
- It concentrates dairy proteins, particularly casein. 1 cup of milk contains 7.7 grams of protein. A cup of cheddar has 57 grams of protein, the approximate amount the average person needs a day! In addition to having about 10% of the opioid activity on the brain as pure heroin, it triggers allergies and inflammation and it causes and worsens a variety of conditions including migraines, asthma, arthritis, rashes, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
- Cheese contains no fiber. Only fruits and vegetables contain fiber. Animal products do not. Fiber is the most deficient nutrient in our diet and it’s crucial for maintaining a healthy weight.
- Cheese is the highest source of sodium in the American diet. Salt is added to cheese first of all to add the salty flavor, which we crave, and to halt the fermentation process. High salt intake leads to fluid retention leading to increased water weight. Here is a comparison of 2 oz. of the following:
a) Potato Chips – 330 mg of sodium
b) Cheddar – 350 mg of sodium
c) Feta – 520 mg of sodium
d) Velveeta – more than 800 mg!
Here is a link more information about dairy and cheese also describing how cheese is made: “Cheese and Dairy“.
Casein is an excitotoxin, a toxic compound which causes inflammation. In the case of casein, it has a significant inflammatory effect on the brain. Casein has also been shown to turn on cancer-causing genes. Dairy is linked to breast (>50% increased risk with one serving a day) and prostate cancer, dementia and even male infertility. Just 1 serving of high fat dairy a day increases a woman chance of dying of recurrent breast cancer by 49%! Prostate cancer patients have a 73% greater chance of recurrence if they consume 4 or more servings of dairy per week. Most adults develop lactose intolerance (the inability to digest dairy since we stop producing the enzyme which breaks it down). We usually lose the ability to break down lactose by the age of two. Overall, 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. The breakdown of lactose intolerance by culture is as follows: 95% of Asian, 75% of African-Americans, 53% of Latinos and 33% of Caucasians. Obviously, we were not meant to consume it after infancy. Humans who are able to consume dairy as adults actually have a genetic mutation allowing them to do so. This mutation was felt to originate in Europe of the Middle East. The dairy consumers are the mutants! Humans only started to consume dairy ~ 7000 years ago, just a fraction of time from an evolutionary standpoint. We did not evolve to consume it as adults. In addition to not being able to process the sugar lactose, at least 10% of people are outright allergic to the main dairy proteins, casein and whey. This is felt to be an underestimation since there is such resistance to even consider dairy a cause of some conditions.
Pasteurization is the process of heating the milk to kill bacteria which is harmful to us. It increases its transportability and shelf life. It also breaks down the enzymes which assist in digesting dairy. Some people drink unpasteurized ilk but they are taking a chance at getting sick from contamination. 70% of dairy cows have mastitis, an infection of their udders from which the milk comes out. This contaminates milk and even if it comes from an uninfected cow, because all milk is combined, essentially 100% of milk starts off contaminated. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t . Don’t take risks with your health. Just avoid milk products altogether.
Lactose is found in milk and milk products from all mammals, including goat and sheep. Human breast milk also contains lactose. If milk had an ingredient label, the first and most significant constituemt would be sugar, in the form of lactose. The second most significant ingredient would be fat, the vast majority of which would be saturated fat.
A more and more commonly seen condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, often masquerading as reflux, is very highly correlated to allergy to casein and whey proteins from dairy.
Milk is also a chemical concoction. One study identified 21 different chemicals, medications and hormone residues. Even in organic milk, there are a number of naturally occurring hormones since it is after all breast milk for a baby cow.
Cow’s milk is gross. Cows have been bred to produce more milk. In addition, they are pumped with hormones and antibiotics to that end as well. In the last 30 years, the average dairy cow produces 61% more milk annually. To do so, they are kept pregnant almost continuously, exclusively artificially inseminated. Their lives are shortened by almost ¾ of their typical life expectancy because of the demands on their bodies, along with the fact that once they no longer produce milk, they no longer generate money so they are slaughtered for their meat. As a result of all the milking, they often develop painful, often lethal infections of their breasts and teats called mastitis. It is so common that there is actually an “acceptable” number of pus cells which are allowable in the milk you buy at the supermarket. ~ 1.1 million cells per spoonful in fact!!!! They water down the terminology calling them “somatic” cells.
By the way, goat and sheep milk and cheese may sound healthier, but they have even more saturated fat than cow’s milk. They may have marginally less growth hormones or estrogens, but not by much.
Many foods and beverages like coffee, tea, berries and cacao (for chocolate) contain many nutritious phytonutrients and antioxidants. Their health benefits however are reduced by as much as 95% by adding dairy. Milk chocolate, cream with your berries or milk in your coffee really reduce the beneficial effects of these healthful products. The same negative effect is NOT seen with non-dairy “milk” beverages made from such other more healthful sources like soy or almonds. Many other sources are now available like oats, cashew and macadamia nuts and flax seeds. These are easy to even make on your own at home.
Just because it is “lactose-free” or “low-fat” doesn’t make it any better. There is more on this in the “Common Questions” page but in a nutshell, they are just as unhealthy and should be eliminated. Yogurt is touted as a healthy food but it also not good for you, even the “Greek” variety. This is all marketing.
With respect to calcium, we have always been taught that we need dairy to get calcium for stronger bones. That is nonsense. First of all, cows don’t make calcium, they get it from the grass they eat. Secondly, calcium from plant sources is better absorbed and not packaged with all the other bad things that come with dairy like estrogen, growth hormones, fat, antibiotics and environmental pollutants. Studies show that children who are vegan have exactly the same bone strength and growth curves as those raised on dairy. Also, those countries that consume the most dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Not only does dairy not help with bone strength, it hinders it. A Harvard study revealed that in men who consumed milk as teenagers, there was a 9% increased rate of hip fractures for each glass consumed. If they drank 1 glass, the rate was 9% higher. With 2 glasses, an 18% increased rate was observed… Calcium from plant sources is much better absorbed (>50%) and utilized by the body than calcium from meat and dairy (<30%).
Antibodies to 17 amino acids in dairy are the same 17 amino acids on the surface of pancreatic islet cells which are the cells which produce insulin. Our bodies form antibodies to these cow/milk proteins, considering them foreign. Type 1 diabetes occurs when those same antibodies miss-identify our own the amino acid sequence in our pancreatic cells, attacking and killing them. This is why dairy causes Type 1 Diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease and this interaction was first identified in the 1970’s! One glass of milk spikes insulin 300% which raises cancer risks significantly and obviously impact on blood sugar.
The dairy lobby is as powerful as any other in Washington and it pumps millions of dollars into advertising campaigns. It floods our schools with free milk and promotions about how healthy milk is. It isn’t. The US government is tasked by law to promote American agricultural industries like dairy and meat production. It gives fast food companies incentives if they promote dairy which is why Pizza Hut has a pizza on its menu that has 1 pound of cheese per serving! It is also why Subway removed 2 sandwiches from their menu that did not have cheese on them. US taxpayers (you and me) bough $11 million-worth of cheese in 2017 which the dairy industry could not sell. That is only a small part of the $23.9 billion in subsidies that the agricultural industry, primary the livestock and dairy sectors, receive a year. In 2017, there were 1.2 billion lbs. of excess cheese rotting in the US and over 180 million gallons of milk were dumped by dairy farmers who could not sell it because of decreased demand.
PUS IN MILK! Cows have been bred to produce more milk. In addition, they are pumped with hormones and antibiotics to that end as well. In the last 30 years, the average dairy cow produces 61% more milk annually. To do so, they are kept pregnant almost continuously, exclusively artificially inseminated. Their lives are shortened by almost ¾ of their typical life expectancy because of the demands on their bodies, along with the fact that once they no longer produce milk, they no longer generate money so they are slaughtered for their meat. As a result of all the milking, they often develop painful, often lethal infections of their breasts and teats called mastitis. It is so common, that there is actually an “acceptable” number of pus cells which are allowable in the milk you buy at the supermarket. ~ 1.1 million cells per spoonful in fact!!!! They water down the terminology calling them “somatic” cells.
If you love cheese, the good news is that there are many great options out there now. Although these are by no means healthy vegan foods (lots of oils and fat) but they are healthier nonetheless than the cow’s milk alternatives. Some examples are Miyoko’s, Treeline or Violife cheeses. It is also fairly easy to make your own non-dairy “cheeses”. As an example, look up the book “This Cheese is Nuts!: Delicious Vegan Cheese at Home” by Julie Piatt
As far as milk is concerned, there are numerous alternatives including almond, soy, cashew, hemp, flax and even oat milk. There is more information comparing different kinds on my “Common Questions” page. Keep them organic however, especially soy. Be careful however of some of the additives. A great, inexpensive gadget for home to make all kinds of plant-based milks is from a company called the Almond Cow. I have one and it’s great. Easy to use and more importantly, easier to clean up than using a blender and cheesecloth. www.almondcow.co. Another more expensive but robust and multifunctional milk maker is from Nutramilk.
“The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy“ by Dr. Neil Barnard describes the downside of dairy and the abusive industry that generates it.
For more information, check out Switch 4 Good. This an organization was initiated by Olympic athlete and world record holder Dotsie Bausch about how elite athletes are thriving without dairy and how unhealthy it actually is.
Although they do have some advantages on paper, they are not as healthy as you might think and may cause much more damage than you are aware of.
Eggs have been touted as the most nutritious food. After all, an egg contains everything needed to create a chick, which eventually grows into a chicken. Although eggs do contain various nutrients, they also come packaged with a lot of compounds which are harmful. Any of the potentially beneficial compounds can are easily obtainable from healthier foods, like fruits and vegetables, and the protein from eggs is of poorer quality than the protein you get from plants. In addition, the fat and cholesterol found in eggs can harm heart health and lead to diabetes, as well as prostate and colorectal cancers. 1 egg/day = 12% increase in serum LDL cholesterol, the bad kind.
The egg industry likes to boast about how much of lutein (L), zeaxanthin (Z) and meso-zeaxanthin (MZ), healthy macular pigments which maintain healthy vision, they have in their products, but the real superstars are dark green leafy vegetables. A half-cup of kale has 50 times more of these beneficial compounds than an egg, a spinach salad, or a 50-egg omelet.
Heart Disease. About 60% of the calories in eggs are from fat, most of which is saturated fat, the dangerous kind. Eggs are also loaded with cholesterol, about 200 milligrams for an average-sized egg. That’s more than double the amount in a Big Mac. Fat and cholesterol contribute to heart disease. It is undeniable. A 2021 study found that the addition of only 1/2 an egg per day was associated with more deaths from heart disease, cancer, and all causes. In general, for every 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol consumed per day, mortality risk increases by up to 24%. Despite these concerning statistics, the egg industry-funded research has downplayed the effects of egg consumption on cholesterol levels. This is patently wrong and deceptive.
In addition to the cholesterol and fat, eggs are high in the compound choline. In excess, easily achieved with eggs, a compound known as trimethylamine oxide, TMAO, is generated. This very inflammatory compound has also been strongly linked to heart disease.
Diabetes. Consuming only 1 or more eggs per day increases the risk of diabetes by 60%, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Researchers compared egg consumption with blood glucose levels in more than 8,000 participants from the China Health and Nutrition Survey. Those who habitually consumed the most eggs increased their risk for diabetes when compared to those who ate the fewest eggs. Why? There are likely numerous factors but the clear one is that the fat in eggs affects how insulin functions, impairing its ability to transport sugar in the blood into the cells where it is used or stored as energy. Fat is the fundamental molecule leading to insulin resistance, which is the basic cause of type 2 diabetes, an epidemic in developed countries.
Cancer. Eating eggs has also been connected to developing certain types of cancer such as colon, rectal, and prostate.
The egg industry likes to boast that they contain nutrients which help with eye health. Only 1/2 cup of greens contain 50x more, without the cholesterol, fat and choline which turns into the very inflammatory compound TMAO in the body.
As far as other issues are concerned, the egg industry leads to unimaginable animal suffering. The egg industry significantly contributes to local pollution and to global warming. See my sections on both animal issues and the environment for more information.
More on eggs below.
For much more on the unhealthy impact of eggs on our health, please look at this brief article from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Health Concerns With Eggs Fact Sheet
MEAT, FISH and other ANIMAL PRODUCTS
LIMIT OR ELIMINATE THEM. Just like increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet has been clearly shown to be beneficial to overall health, cutting back or eliminating animal products from your diet has been definitively shown to also be healthier for you. Simply put, animal products have NO fiber (what our healthy gut microbes thrive on) and 64x fewer antioxidants as fruits and vegetable. 98% of the centenarians (people who live past 100 years) in the world are either vegetarian or vegan. Limit animal products as much as possible. This includes chicken, turkey, fish, dairy, eggs and red meat (beef and pork). They cause inflammation and studies clearly show that the fewer animal products you eat, the lower your risk for many conditions including dementia, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, cancer and even depression. Eating meat and dairy is almost as bad as smoking with respect to increasing cancer rates! Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) consider processed meat a class 1 cancer causing agent putting it in the same category as smoking, asbestos and plutonium!
Animal protein itself is unhealthy. Consuming it leads to a 75% increase in premature all-cause mortality and a 400-500% increased risk of diabetes, prostate, breast and colon cancer and heart disease. Regular meat consumption increases risks of end stage kidney disease by 500%, heart attack by 300% and Alzheimer’s Disease by 300%. One serving of processed meat a day increases your risk of developing diabetes by 50%. One serving of chicken or red meat a day increases your risk of developing high blood pressure by 30%, independent of any other risk factors, even in those who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. In a study looking at the 7th Day Adventists (who are mostly plant-based but some do occasionally consume animal products), those who consumed meat or dairy even once a week had a 74% increased risk of developing diabetes over those who were 100% plant-based.
There are many other health reasons to avoid eating meat. Click here for more.
Part of the problem with animal protein is that it moves very slowly through our long intestinal tract. Herbivores (plant-eaters) have long tracts whereas carnivores have short tracts. Meat and other animal products tend to putrefy (rot), rather than digest. Toxins from putrefaction of animal products prevent oligodendrocytes (a type of neuroglia whose main functions are to provide support and insulation to axons in the central nervous system) from making myelin, the insulation which covers nerves, leading to CNS depression and mood disruption. Leaky gut, a condition caused by inflammation of the lining of the gut, often seen in a diet which contains a lot of processed foods, allows animal proteins to enter the bloodstream unprocessed (undigested), triggering the immune system to identify them as foreign, setting up an autoimmune reaction.
It’s a misconception that you need meat for protein or dairy for calcium. In fact, there is no study that has ever shown that you need any meat at all to thrive. Plants provide all the nutrients our bodies need. As I mentioned above, if all you ate was broccoli or asparagus all day, you would get 100% of the nutrients you need. The same cannot be said for just eating meat or dairy. The longest-lived societies with the least chronic disease in the world are PLANT-BASED consuming animal products very sparingly. The absolute longest lived, healthiest groups eat no animal products at all (see the Blue Zones reference). There is no meat-based society in the world that has ever been identified which has low disease rates or any impressive longevity statistics. Going plant-based is healthier for you, more humane for the animals and is better for the environment. People sometimes use the excuse of needing to eat meat because they are iron deficient. There is plenty of iron in many vegetables and the iron in plants is better absorbed and less inflammatory. Meat contains heme-iron which is very oxidizing, inflammatory and is poorly absorbed compared with iron from plants. In addition, heme iron continues to get taken up by the body even when you are no longer deficient resulting in excess iron stores. Excess iron, along with other meals like aluminum and copper, have been linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s Dementia. The iron in plant sources is not heme-iron and stops getting absorbed when you are no longer deficient decreasing the risks of having too much iron in your system. Japan, a country which traditionally ate very little meat, had almost no prostate cancer or dementia. As meat consumption increased with the adoption of the Standard American Diet (SAD), prostate cancer rates rose by 25% and there was a 7x increase in Alzheimer’s dementia.
As of 2020, the average American consumes 274 pounds of meat (excluding fish/seafood). This is triple the world average and a 40% rise since 1961. We are obsessed with it. A new British study shows that 2/3rds of surveyed men would rather live 10 years less than give up meat! The ironic thing is that they are getting their wish. Studies clearly show that regular meat consumption (and most Americans eat meat, or some kind of animal product, with EVERY meal) is associate with significant increased risks for premature, all-cause death.
The American Institute for Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund reported that for every 1.8 ounces or 50 g of process meat eaten, equivalent of one hot dog, the risk of stomach cancer increases by 18%. The World Health Organization reported significant increases in colorectal cancer also with every 50gm increase in processed meat consumption. Other studies have linked to cancer with red meat alone, grass-fed or not.
79% of meat in US supermarkets is contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. This includes beef, chicken, turkey and pork. E. Coli, a common bacterium in feces, is commonly found contaminating meat. 80% of these E. Coli are resistant to at least 1 antibiotic and 50% of E. Coli isolated from chicken was resistant to 5 or more antibiotics. Some of this resistance is felt to be partly because 80% of the antibiotics used in the US is used in the factory animal production. It’s given to healthy animals to 1) prevent them from getting sick and 2) it helps them grow up to 15% larger. Larger animals = more meat = more money! Unfortunately, more than 30% of the workers on these animal farms suffer with MRSA (methicillin resistant staph aureus – the “flesh-eating bacteria”) infections. Do you really want to be bringing that into your home and eating it? Recently, CRE (carbapenem resistant enterobacteriaceae) has been isolated in pig farms. This superbug doesn’t respond to ANY medication and has a 50% mortality rate. In addition, this bacterium has the unique and scary ability to transfer its resistant characteristics to other bacteria. Another significant cause of all the drug resistance are viruses. These viruses transmit antibiotic resistant genes to bacteria, making them antibiotic resistant. These viruses are often resistant to being killed by cleaning agents, even bleach. The scariest part of the virus story is that these viruses are intentionally given to egg-laying chickens to increase egg production and to broiler chickens to make them grow faster so they can get to slaughter weight faster!
If you think organic chicken is better, think again. Although they are less contaminated with antibiotic resistant bugs, it’s not by much. 1/3rd of organic chicken, vs 1/2 of conventional chicken, had resistant E. Coli isolated. Kosher chicken was even worse than conventional. Although organic chickens are supposed to be raised “drug free”, there is a loophole. The ruled don’t apply until after 1 day of birth so chicks still in their eggs and newborns are inoculated with antibiotics and can still be called “organic”.
At least these some, but not all, chicken producers have stopped spraying chickens with benzene which kills parasites which commonly infect chickens because of their horrible living conditions. Benzene, a known carcinogen, is used as a starting material in making plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides, commonly. Chicken producers have decreased this practice because people complained that it made the chicken meat taste bad!
A John’s Hopkins study identified the breakdown products of many drugs in chicken flesh. These included antibiotics, Benadryl, Prozac and aspirin. Another John’s Hopkins study showed that even one meat-based meal induces 4 hours of decreased arterial blood flow by 50% because of diminished arterial muscle wall relaxation. What’s more significant is that the artery that was studied was the brachial artery, one of the largest arteries in the arm. If such a large artery can have such diminished function, imagine what is happening at a micro-arterial level!
Although saturated fat is a major contributor to elevated cholesterol levels, dietary cholesterol itself is also a major player as well. Some argue that dietary cholesterol has no or very impact on serum cholesterol levels, however that is not completely true. If you consume a significant amount of cholesterol already, the relative change in cholesterol levels may not be as great as the rise in someone who consumes very little cholesterol, however it still rises. It’s like saying that adding 2-3 cigarettes to a daily habit of 2-3 packs a day doesn’t matter that much. If you don;t smoke, 2-3 cigarettes a day will make you feel like crap and impact greatly on your physiology. Those same 2-3 cigarettes will have very little impact on the 2-3 pack a day smoker. Neither is good. Dietary cholesterol comes exclusively from animal products. Although usually associated with red meat, beef is only third on the list of where Americans consume their cholesterol. #1 is eggs and actually #2 is chicken. 100 mg of dietary cholesterol results in about a 10 point rise in total serum cholesterol. NOnly 1 egg had 180 mg of cholesterol. 1 cup of chicken breast has 120 mg.
In 2009, a review of 500 freshwater lakes in the US revealed 100% contamination of the fish which live in those bodies of water. A 2016 global analysis of seafood showed that 100% of samples were contaminated with POPs, persistent organic pollutants. In addition, raw fish are often contaminated with tapeworms and parasites.
If you must eat meat, keep it wild-caught, grass-fed and clean but LIMIT IT. Wild-caught and far/pasture raised meat is a little more nutritious than their conventionally-raised counterparts. Grass fed meat and wild-caught fish is higher in antioxidants, lower in calories, has about 50% more Omega 3, and has added immunity and anti-inflammatory benefits. The nutritional difference between wild-caught and farm raised fish is significant. Wild-caught salmon has almost half the calories, half the fat, and about 1/6th the Omega 6 (that’s the bad one). Farmed fish on the other hand have lower Omega 3 which throws off the Omega 3- Omega 6 balance resulting in inflammation. Farmed fish also contain antibiotics, intentionally fed to them to prevent infection and stimulate rapid growth. Farm-raised fish are also treated with pesticides, which are killing up to 95% of migrating juvenile wild salmon!
One other issue to keep in mind has to do with food labeling. Is what you are told you are eating really what you are eating? A 2015 analysis reported that DNA analysis of 82 “wild” salmon samples from NY restaurants revealed that 66% were mislabeled. Food mislabeling is a real issue, and not just with fish, but with other forms of both animal and processed food products. It’s hard to misllabel and misidentify a carrot!
However, we just don’t need to eat meat. If you must, strive for 100% whole, unprocessed food: 90 % Plant Based and less than 10% clean and humane animal sources.
Although grass-fed and organic meat may be healthier for you in some ways (better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio for example) it’s worse in others and it is actually worse for the environment than factory farmed meat is since it uses much more land and resources to raise. All meat is contaminated and concentrates environmental toxins like PCBs, dioxin and heavy metals. The chemicals concentrate in the fat and bio-accumulate (increase the higher you are on the food chain). For example, fish may live in water that is “acceptably safe” according to the EPA, but the algae concentrate the pollutants which the fish them eat, concentrating it further in their flesh (up to 1 million times!). Essentially, 100% of sea life is contaminated with various chemicals which we have polluted the waters with. These include heavy metals like mercury and cadmium, PCBs, dioxins, DDT as well as plastics. For more on farm-raised fish, look at my environmental page and click this link.
Organic, pasture raised meat is no exception and can actually contain more of these harmful chemicals than conventionally, industrially raised meat. Again, just limit it. Only 2% of the meat sold in the US is grass/pasture fed. It still contains fat, heme iron (the bad kind) as well as choline which gets converted into TMAO which is toxic in the body. There is more on these topics in other parts of this website. Unless specifically indicated as organic, all restaurant meat and dairy are guaranteed to be conventionally grown using toxic herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones… Three great online sources of quality, non-factory farmed animal products are:
eatwellguide.com – Provides an online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs.
eatwild.com – Lists local suppliers of grass-fed meat and dairy products.
heritagefoodsusa.com – Sells mail-order traceable products from small farms.
The impact of eating animal products (red and white meat, poultry, fish, eggs & dairy) on the body.
- Diabetes risk goes up at least by 2x and the risk of premature death from diabetes goes up by 400%.
- Risk of premature death from the most common forms of cancer (prostate, breast and colon) increases by 500% .
- CRP level (an indicator of inflammation in the body) elevated in the blood.
- Insulin secretion goes up significantly, irrespective of carbohydrate consumption.
- IGF-1 (Insulin Like Growth Factor 1) elevation which is associated with increased cancer of risk.
- More METHIONINE. This amino acid, found in higher concentrations in meat than in plants, is associated with more oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage.
- More sulfur containing amino acids METHIONINE and CYSTEINE which are associated with more bone loss since calcium is leached more from the bones to balance the pH effects of these acidifying amino acids.
- More TMAO (Tri Methyl Amine Oxide) production. TMAO is associated with inflammation and arterial plaque formation.
- PERSISTENT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS (POPS). All animal products have much greater contamination with POPS such as DDT, dioxins, PCBs and flame-retardant chemicals.
- ADVANCED GLYCATION END PRODUCTS (AGES). Although these naturally occurring compounds are found in all foods, they are much higher in meats especially when they are heated. They are associated with brain inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
From an environmental standpoint, the factory farming/agricultural system, which is responsible for 99% of the animals consumed worldwide, causes a devastating amount of environmental harm. This industry alone causes more greenhouse gases than all the modes of transportation worldwide. Just cutting back on meat occasionally will make a difference. One person switching to eating just one plant-based meal a day for a year will save over 200,000 gallons of water and the equivalent of carbon equal to driving a car from LA to NYC. Simply substituting beans for red meat would result in a reduction of half the greenhouse gas emission called for by the Paris Accord. There is much more on this topic on my “Environment” page.
A few statistics about what the average American eats in a year:
- MEAT: 274 lbs. per year (up from 120 lbs. in 1900)
- Chicken – 107 lbs. a year on average (2017).
- Beef – 56 lbs. a year (2017)
- Pork – 50 lbs. a year (2017)
- BACON (it gets its own separate category!): 18 lbs./year.
- Bacon is a $4.5 billion market.
- 42% of Americans would rather eat bacon than have sex.
- 25% say that bacon scent is their favorite.
- 25% of people love bacon more than their relationship partner.
First of all, we do need fat in our diet for good health, however we get plenty of healthy fats from plants, our bodies make all the cholesterol we need, and when consumed along with processed foods and sugars, fat can be toxic. Especially the wrong kinds. Limit it as much as possible. Dr. John McDougall says “The fat you eat is the fat you wear”. The average American consumes 65 lbs. of fat a year. That’s 2 tons by the age of 60! From a caloric perspective, the math is simple and clear. Fat has 9 calories per gram (125 cal./tbsp.) while protein (found in ALL foods) and carbohydrates (only found in fruits, vegetables, legumes…) have only 4 calories per gram. Regardless what you read in the press, fat consumption does increase cholesterol levels in the blood, clogging arteries and causing insulin resistance, resulting in higher and higher insulin levels and blood glucose. High insulin levels cause excess fat storage in your organs, increase risks for cancer (especially breast, prostate and colon), heart disease, strokes and dementia and disrupt hormone function.
Fat comes in a variety of forms. Saturated, Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated. The degree of saaturation refers to how much of the tail of the fat molecule is filled with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats have 100% of the carbon atoms attached with hydrogen, it is solid at room air, and is the most dangerous, causing all kinds of chronic diseases. Although all foods and even some plants especially tropical oils like palm and coconut contain saturated fat, the vast majority comes form meat, fish, eggs and espetially dairy. Mono and Polyunstuerated fats are much better for you than saturated fats are, however as they say, the dose makes the poison. Monounsaturated fats have 1 double bond between carbon atoms. Examples of foods which have mono fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocados, nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest and have multiple carbon atoms free of hydrogen. Examples include sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, walnuts, flax seeds and cold water fish. As far as the fish are concerned, they actually don’t make it but get it from the algae they consume. The advantage of getting it from algae, is that there is no chemical contamination!
Substituting saturated fat foods with those containing mono or poly unsaturated foods is great. However, there also appears to be an added benefit of having some of the healthier fats in the diet. They appear to increase the sensetivity and function of the receptors on cells which take up and clear LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.
We do need essential fats (Omega 3, DHA, EPA) but we get plenty from whole foods like vegetables, algae, nuts & seeds. Cold water fish, the SMASH list (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring) are also good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids but they don’t make it but get it from the algae they consume. Farmed fish has virtually no Omega 3s. Also, remember that most of the oil is in the skin of the fish and not the flesh. Also, all fish is contaminated with chemicals. Better to get your O3s from the source, algae.
Keep in mind that your adipose (fat) cells can only store so much dietary fat, which we use as emergency energy sources. Once saturated, all the extra gets deposited in your organs like the liver and muscle cells. The biggest source of fat in the American diet is cheese which is 70% saturated fat. Regular saturated fat consumption double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. The risk of Alzheimer’s Disease follows the same curve as the risk of cardiovascular disease with respect to consumption of fat, especially saturated fat. The more you consume, the greater the risk. The same goes for insulin resistance and diabetes. Saturated fat is toxic and kills off pancreatic islet cells, the ones which make Insulin, as well as many other hormones. And animal sources saturated fat is significantly more toxic than plant sources.
A 2% rise in your LDL for every 1% rise in dietary saturated fat and for every 4gm (small piece of cheese or half a macaroon) of saturated fat/day, there is a 15% increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Fats increase blood viscosity (think sludge in water) leading to increasing clotting potential and hypertension. Blood flow, and subsequent delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues, is impaired the more fat is circulating in your blood.
Fatty acids, like omega 3 and omega 6, also called the ‘essential” fatty acids, are converted into phospholipids which are an important component of the walls of all cells. In blood vessels, cells containing more omega 6 fatty acids are stiffer and more constricted resulting in higher blood pressure. Those containing higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids are more pliable and relaxed. More dietary fat, especially saturated fat, impacts on blood vessel stiffness and function and increases blood pressure. Many vegetable oils like sunflower and canola also have a disproportionate higher amount of omega 6 fatty acids. Both are important but only in the right ratio. We used to healthier, more natural eat foods which provided a ratio of Omega 3 to omega 6 approximating 1:1 or 1:2. Todays food supply results in a ratio closer to 1:20, favoring the more inflammation-promoting omega 6 fatty acids.
All oils are PURE FAT with a whopping 14 gm/tablespoon. Use them sparingly. Even one fatty meal stiffens arterial walls for up to 6 hours! It’s why people often have heart attacks after eating. There are different kinds of oils. Some are worse than others (olive, avocado, soybean and canola being among the “better” ones) but it’s all relative. They are all problematic.
Coconut oil has been getting a lot of press and is touted as a healthy oil. One of its side effects is that it breaks down the blood-brain barrier which protects the brain from unwanted intruders. As a result, the brain is more vulnerable to inflammation. There was only one study ever done showing that coconut had health benefits and it was not even the oil but whole coconut. Another study showed that coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol (the bad one) to a greater degree than pure lard. It’s 95% saturated fat! Each tablespoon contains more than 12 grams of saturated fat. Even the USDA says that one should not consume more than 11 grams of saturated fat a day.
Olive oil is a big part of the “Mediterranean Diet” and is thus touted as health-promoting. Although it does have some healthy nutrients, most of them have been stripped away from the healthier olives they come from. About 18% of the fat in olive oil is saturated fat. The Mediterranean Diet is healthy despite all the olive oil, not because of it. In fact, adding olive oil to a salad impairs the ability of nutrients from the salad to relax arterial walls. It’s all the fruits and vegetable which are the real benefit of the Mediterranean diet. There are some benefits to olive oil, but only in the raw, uncooked state. Top-grade healthiest oil is called ‘extra virgin’ and has the lowest acidity levels, with less than 0.4% in the finest oils, less than 0.8% in EVOOs and 2% in the normal virgins. Studies have shown that, in addition to reducing neuroinflammation, it also increases the activity of the protein AMPK (AMP-Activated protein kinase) which has numerous positive effects in the brain including improving autophagy, the process of the body ridding itself of older and malfunctioning cells. EVOO also contains the compound oleocanthal, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It helps to clear away the amyloid which builds up during the day. The buildup of amyloid is one of the major mechanisms leading to Alzheimer’s disease. EVOO also helps to prevent age-related deterioration of mitochondrial DNA in the brain. The mitochondria are the energy-generators inside cells. Although too much oil is not good for fat loss, a small amount (1 tablespoon a day) stimulates significant increases in 3 hormones involved in fat metabolism in different ways, GLP-1, CCK and PYY. Olive oil also has been shown to downregulate one of the genes associated with obesity, Fat Mass and Obesity Associated gene (FTO).
As mentioned above, vegetable and seed oils like canola, sesame, grape seed, sunflower and safflower are extremely pro inflammatory containing trans fats, omega 6 fatty acids and aldehyde compounds, all things you do not want to consume. Avoid these fats as much as possible. People talk a lot about olive oil and the Mediterranean diet. The real benefit of this dietary approach is the low-level of meat and dairy consumption and the generous amounts of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables. The populations on whom the “Mediterranean Diet” were based consumed a mostly plant-based diet with little meat and fish and with less than 23% of their calories coming from fat.
All oils have approximately the same amount of fat: 14 grams (or 125 calories) per tablespoon. 1 tablespoon of oil a day (the typical amount of salad dressing used is at least 2 tbsp) leads to a 1-pound weight gain a month. That may not sound like a lot but that’s 12 pounds a year. Year after year, that adds up. If you do use oil, don’t pour it on but measure it out. It’s easy to overdo it. Try not to raise the temperature too much either. High temperatures create carcinogenic compounds. Different oils have different “smoke points” which is the temperature at which these dangerous compounds are formed. Also make sure to use organic and non-GMO oils. The “best/least damaging” oils are:
- OLIVE OIL. Olives are actually a fruit that nourishes itself by producing fat rather than sugar, and classified officially as a berry as the stone is in fact a seed. So olive oil could be considered a fruit juice, but not one we would normally have by the glass with breakfast. Without marinating, the ripe fruit is virtually inedible due to the very bitter tannin polyphenols that protect it, which are also beneficial to us. They are one of the earliest cultivated fruits that ancient civilisations depended on as a multipurpose ingredient used for cooking, preserving, lighting, massage, medicine and washing. The olive tree is extra hardy, surviving droughts and living for over a thousand years.Nearly all basic olive oil is virgin, i.e. from olives crushed without solvents, but the top-grade oil called ‘extra’ has the lowest acidity levels, with less than 0.4 per cent in the finest oils, less than 0.8 per cent in EVOOs and 2 per cent in the normal virgins. The time between picking and crushing as well as the extraction temperature (cold is best) is key in making sure the level of peroxides stays low. As the number of peroxides increases, the oil becomes less fruity, more rancid and less ‘extra’.Consider buying from a single producer from countries like Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain that have a non-intensive olive farming approach and traditional extraction methods using pressing and water with no need for additional solvents. Another good tip is to find the EVOOs that have their vintage on the label. The more recently the olives were pressed, the better the polyphenol content and the lower the peroxides. This date is a better indicator than the sell-by date which tells us when the oil was bottled but not necessarily pressed so if you can, look out for the actual date the oil was harvested and pressed, not just bottled. Italy produces more bottles of oil than is actually possible, counting the number of olive trees. Much of it is rebottled from Spain which produces the most oil, or from Greece which produces the most high-quality EVOO. Substituting low-quality tasteless products lacking any polyphenols is a growing crime at all levels. Recent estimates from a 2016 CBS survey suggested 40% of Italian EVOO is adulterated with other substances, and over 75% of US imports were not what they seemed, with many tested failing to meet minimum standards.Containing many polypohenols, olive oil is the healthiest of all oils. Make sure it is extra virgin, which means it was mechanically pressed (you may see the term cold pressed) rather than being produced by chemical means. Many oils are extracted using various chemicals including hexane which is neurotoxic. Also, check the source and make sure you are not getting a blend.Some olives are also better than others. The best are:
- Koroneiki olives from Greece.
- Picual olives from Spain.
- Moraiolo olives from Italy.
- CANOLA OIL. Its name comes from the fact that it is grown mostly in Canada and has low acidity. CANada Oil Low Acid. Like olive oil, make sure it is not chemically extracted. Use cold expeller pressed only. Also make sure it is high in omega 3.
- SOYBEAN and AVOCADO OIL. Make sure it’s organic since most soy is conventionally grown with lots of chemicals and is high-oleic.
- FLAX OIL. Although also high in fat, the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is significantly better.
Avoid tropical oils (coconut and palm, both very high in saturated fat) as well as the other plant oils like sunflower and safflower. There is a lot of buzz about coconut oil. It’s 95% saturated fat and studies have shown that it rises LDL cholesterol (the bad one) to a greater degree than lard or butter!
- FRIED FOODS are an extremely high source of fat as well. ANYTHING that is fried, whether in a pan or a deep fryer. Here are some scary statistics:
- Regularly eating fried foods only 3x a week increases your risk of heart disease by 18%
- By eating fried foods 4-5x a week, the heart disease rate goes up by 25%
- Daily consumption increases the risks to 68%
- BUT consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet decreases your heart disease risks by 40%!
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LEAN MEAT! People eat chicken, fish and pork believing they are healthier, low-fat alternatives to red meat. This is simply not true. Chicken has the same amount of cholesterol as red meat does and shrimp has almost double! Cholesterol is what makes up our cell walls, including muscle, and that is what “meat” is: muscle. Although chicken has less fat by percent, it’s not by much. The leanest piece of red meat is 29% fat and chicken is 23% fat! Salmon, the “healthiest” of the fish to eat, does have more omega 3 fatty acids (which are good), but 70% of the fat in salmon is still saturated fat, the bad kind. If you are going to eat fish, salmon and smaller fish like sardines and anchovies are the best option but don’t be fooled. However, just like the cows who don’t make calcium but get it from the grass they eat, salmon and other fish don’t make omega 3s but get it from the algae they consume.
- Some examples of the saturated fats in the leanest versions of foods are:
- Red meat – 50%
- Chicken – 30%
- Fish – 20% (salmon is significantly higher)
- Eggs – 20%Animal products are not the only sources of saturated fat. Some plants also contain them.
- Coconut: 100% fat, 90% of which is SF.
- Olive Oil: 14% SF.
- Avocados: 15% SF.
- Nuts: 4-16% SF.
- Brazil nuts, cashews and macadamia are the highest.
- Brazil nuts, cashews and macadamia are the highest.
- With respect to overall amounts, the sources of saturated fat in the American diet are as follows:
- #1 – Cheese
- #2 – Chicken
- #3 – Pork
- #4 – Beef
A note about visceral fat. This is the fat that is not visible on the outside. It’s the fat that is inside your body, both in and around your internal organs. You may look relatively slim, but you could still have significant amount of visceral fat which secretes hormones, causes insulin resistance and contributes to other problems like heart attacks, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, raised blood pressure, stroke, breast and colorectal cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. John McDougal has a saying: “The fat you eat is the fat you wear”. One quarter (25%) of the world’s population has non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, primarily caused by obesity and a fatty diet. Be careful of the fat in the foods you eat. Again, we do need fat in our diet but it’s easy to get enough from healthy sources but it’s much easier to get too much.
In addition to the visceral fat (around our organs) and subcutaneous fat (the “outside” fat under the skin, which by the way humans are the only mammals who have this kind of fat!), there is also intracellular fat. This is the fat inside the cells which impair the function of insulin, responsible for, among other things, sugar transport into cells for energy use and storage. Even after just a few days of eating a high fat diet, thin participants in a study started to rapidly accumulate fat inside their cells.
SATURATED FAT AND DIABETES. The pancreas continues to produce the majority of our beta cells, the ones which make insulin, until about the age of 20. These cells can replicate and other cells can be turned into beta cells, but the rate drops off dramatically after teenage years. However, by the time someone is actually diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there has been so much pressure on the pancreas due to such a poor diet, that 50% of the beta cells have already been destroyed.
These cells are destroyed by a variety of insults including consuming too much sugar and hyper processed food and viral infections, including the virus which causes COvid-19. However the most significant destructive factor is saturated fat. The beta cells soak up the fat we consume, particularly when there is an excessive amount. Particularly toxic to those cells is saturated fat which upregulates a gene producing a protein aptly called Death Protein 5 (DP5).
Even within 1-2 hours of a single high fatty meal, pancreatic beta cells become dysfunctional and produce less insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels. So, not only does fat produce obvious short term effects on the pancreas and glucose metabolism, but it causes long term effects by eventually causing these cells to die off.
ARTERIAL DYSFUNCTION. Fat consumption also causes endothelial dysfunction. The endothelium is the thin layer of cells that line all your arteries. These cells protect arterial walls and also produce nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels and contributes to blood vessel tone. Foods high in nitric oxide include greens (arugula, kale, Swiss chard, spinach…), beets, watermelon (especially the white part of the rind), nuts and grains like oats. The earliest sign of arterial dysfunction and heart disease in men is erectile dysfunction (ED). Just one fatty meal, even in young professional athletes, is enough to cause up to 6 hours of endothelial dysfunction contributing to erectile dysfunction! Only 1 fatty meal also causes your liver to look like someone who has chronic non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. One meal also increases the risks of triggering an asthma attack in asthmatics by causing inflammation in the blood vessels that supply the small airways. Finally, only 1 fatty meal causes red blood cells to change their shape from nice, smooth flexible cells to stiff spiky ones which are implicated in causing damage to blood vessel walls. This all contributes the increase cardiac and pulmonary events and death which occur at greater rates after fatty meals.
MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION. Fat also impairs mitochondrial production and function. The mitochondria are small “organelles” in cells, responsible for energy production and function. Think of them like the generator and motor of the cell. When they don’t work, metabolism slows down, leading to weight gain. Fat also down-regulates the genes which make mitochondria, further worsening the mitochondrial issue. The more fat you have, the harder it becomes to lose fat!
Prostate cancer risks increase 3x with a first order relative with prostate cancer but risks go up 300x from a fatty diet.
One last detrimental effect of fat is to break down the intestinal barrier/wall. This creates gaps, allowing various toxins and substances not meant to cross the barrier to do so and wreak havoc in the body.
FAT AND TOXINS. Fat cells are where our bodies store toxins, and they do so for a very long time. Some chemicals in our food and environment, even those banned more than 30 years ago, can be measured not only in people walking around, but even in newborns, since they can pass along through the maternal fetal circulation to the developing baby. The only way we get rid of these toxins is through sweat and by getting rid of fat. These compounds are also passed along through breast milk, which is very high in fat.
As far as fat you consume, it’s half-life, the amount of time it takes for that specific fat to be cleared, is 600 days! That means that it takes almost 2 years to clear only half the fat you store, even after one meal.
FATS and the MICROBIOME. Unhealthy saturated fats encourage the growth of inflammatory microbes like Bilophia wadsworthia, alter intestinal permeability and cause release of bacterial endotoxin. Mono and polyunsaturated fats derived from plant foods promote growth of beneficial microorganisms, correct dysbiosis and reduce endotoxin release.
In the 1980’s, the “low-fat” craze started however people did not become healthier or slimmer. Some people argue that this proves that low-fat diets don’t work. What was thought of as low-fat however was nothing of the sort. The food industry would substitute vegetable fats for animal fats and would also substitute sugars for fats, keeping the calorie content of the products exactly the same. The best example is the Snackwell phenomenon. Snackwell cookies were advertised as no-fat cookies, but they had almost the same number of calories. And in fact, if you go to the store today and look at Oreo cookies, they have a reduced-fat Oreo cookie that has 6 calories less than the regular Oreo cookie. It’s lower in fat but it’s higher in carbohydrates. Watch the fat but don’t substitute with sugar and processed carbs. It’s just as bad.
SALAD DRESSINGS and CONDIMENTS. Although eating salads is awesome, you can derail your efforts by adding unhealthy dressings and condiments. Most dressings are loaded with salt, fat (from the oil) and sugar. It is not unusual for only 1 tablespoon to have 7-10 grams of fat and who only uses 1 tablespoon? In addition, many dressings contain vegetable and tropical oils which are high in omega 6 and saturated fats, the pro-inflammatory kinds. In addition, things like Bacon Bits and other condiments just add calories. By the time you add all the add-ons, you can easily add 150-200 calories. Try either eating the salad without any dressing and enjoy the natural tastes of the food or just add vinegar. Apple cider or balsamic vinegar are great for you also. Both contain acetic acid which restores and enzyme nitric oxide synthase, which is responsible for making nitric oxide, a compound which is a potent arterial relaxant lowering blood pressure. The precursor of nitric oxide, nitrate, is very high in all leafy greens and beets. Acetic acid also stimulates the bone marrow to make endothelial progenitor cells which replace the old and worn out arterial endothelial cells which also make nitric oxide.
This is a list of 16 great, non-dairy salad dressing that are easy to make: 16 VEGAN SALAD DRESSINGS
Salt increases over-consumption of fat by 11%. It sounds odd, but simply adding salt to a dish increases a person’s craving for that food and makes it more likely that they will over eat it, especially if it is fatty. Salt increases “passive eating” as described below.
The more fat you eat, the more fat you absorb. On the surface this sounds pretty logical however, when you eat a high fat diet, especially if you consume a lot of animal products, you develop a microbiome makeup which favors fat-metabolizing bacteria. As a result, you can absorb as much as 200 additional calories a day from the foods you eat. That’s 1400 calories a week, almost an entire day’s worth of calories from a healthy diet. It quickly adds up.
LIMIT IT. We need salt to survive but as with fat and protein, we get plenty of it from a diet of whole, unprocessed foods and it is very easy to overdo it. Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl). Salt is present in vast quantities in seawater, where it is the main mineral constituent. The open ocean has about 1.2 oz. of salt liter of sea water, a salinity of 3.5%. Salt is essential for life in general, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes perceived by the taste buds in the mouth, primarily on the tongue. It is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation. The earliest evidence of salt processing dates to around 6,000 BC, when people living in present-day Romania boiled spring water to extract salts. A salt-works in China dates to approximately the same period. Salt was also prized by many cultures over the millennia and it became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara on camel caravans. The scarcity and universal need for salt have led nations to go to war over it and use it to raise tax revenues. Salt is used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural and traditional significance.
The RDA is about 1500 mg a day but the average American consumes more than 3400 mg a day. 80% of that salt comes from processed food. Not only does salt contribute significantly to elevated blood pressure, it also is tied to stomach and kidney cancer as well as contributing to kidney stones, bone loss and obesity. It also causes direct damage to our kidneys, starving them of oxygen leading to production of inflammatory monocytes (a type of immune cell). Higher salt intake is associated with higher pro-inflammatory and lower anti-inflammatory markers. It also directly damages arteries and the heart.
As we age, our ability to process and get rid of salt deteriorates. This is partly from just ageing and decreased kidney function, but conditions like hypertension contribute to this significantly. In addition, higher salt consumption actually contributes to impaired sugar metabolism and weight gain by impacting on fructose production and breakdown.
The highest sources of salt in foods are:
- Cheese. #1 source. Cheese is the highest source of sodium in the American diet. Salt is added to cheese first of all to add the salty flavor, which we crave, and to halt the fermentation process. High salt intake leads to fluid retention leading to increased water weight. Here is a comparison of 2 oz. of the following:
a) Potato Chips – 330 mg of sodium
b) Cheddar – 350 mg of sodium
c) Feta – 520 mg of sodium
d) Velveeta – more than 800 mg!
- Bread. 1 slice of white bread contains 185 mg of sodium.
- Chicken (it gets pumped up with saline for added weight.
- Canned foods, especially ones with tomatoes and beans. Rinsing beans only removes 2/3rds of the salt.
Salt, Blood Pressure and Fermented Foods. Fermented products like kimchi and sauerkraut, do contain a decent amount of salt however, they also contain a lot of potassium (K) from the vegetables used as well as a result of the fermentation process itself. Whereas Na has been linked to elevation of blood pressure, K is associated with lowering it. The higher K levels in fermented foods offset any impact that the Na has on blood pressure. Traditional diets, where fermented foods were a regular part of the diet, have significantly lower rates of blood pressure. These diets tend to have a K to Na ratio of 15:1. Most Americans who eat the Standard American Diet, aka SAD, have a ratio closer to 1:4, not only worse, but actually reversed.
Salt stimulates “passive eating”. Studies have shown that adding just a little bit of salt to foods results in test subjects eating more than they would have if the foods were not salted. The more you salt, the more you eat. The combination of salt and fat is particularly addictive. As mentioned above, salt also increases salt over-consumption by 11%.
Higher salt intake is associated with increased production of a specific type of immune cell called a T Helper (TH) cell, specifically TH17, by stimulating salt sensing enzymes which lead to their production. Although Th17 cells play a role in host defense against extracellular pathogens, particularly at the mucosal and epithelial barriers, aberrant activation has been linked to the pathogenesis of various autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis. In fact, higher salt intake leads to a 3x increased rate of brain lesion formation leading to worsening MS flare-ups. Psoriasis is another autoimmune disease well documented to be worsened by higher salt intake. Salt also has been shown to trigger passive over-consumption of food by as much as 11%.
Salt is a major factor in controlling the amount of calcium which gets excreted in the urine and is lost from the bones. Because calcium is important for bone strength, too much salt can lead to bone weakening and therefore osteoporosis. High blood pressure caused by a high salt diet can also increase the risk of osteoporosis by increasing the rate at which calcium is lost from the bones.
You MUST read labels as salt is hidden in many unlikely foods like chicken (it is often injected with salt water to plump it up!), bread, breakfast cereals and tomato sauce. One of the biggest sources of salt in the American diet is actually cheese (another reason to avoid dairy). Salt is helpful in enhancing the taste of cooked foods but we use too much of it. Learn to use other types of flavor enhancers like herbs and spices (turmeric, pepper, garlic, thyme, rosemary, basil, cumin…). Your taste buds won’t take long to get used to less salt and your arteries and blood pressure will thank you for it. If you must cook with salt, add it near the end. It won’t build up and you’ll still get the taste enhancement. When you add salt during the cooking process, the tasted dilutes but the sodium content is maintained.
When eating out, assume that what you order is loaded with salt, fat and sugar. Fast food and processed foods can have 100x more sodium (salt) in them than what is recommended for daily consumption even by the bloated FDA standards.
NOT ALL BAD. Table salt does contain a good amount if iodine, assuming it is added. All the newer “fancy” salts like sea and Himalayan salt usually do not have iodine. A small amount daily may be helpful if you are iron deficient, or you can get it from dulse and wakame, forms of seaweed, or supplements.
You can also lower the amount of sodium, the problematic compound in salt, by using “Low Salt” or “Light Salt”, which replaces some of the NaCl with KCl (potassium chloride) which is healthier. Those types of salt can lower the Na amounts by as much as 60%.
WHAT TO EAT
FRUITS and VEGETABLES
If you did nothing else but add a few servings of fruits and vegetables a day to your diet, you would already be in a much healthier state. A whole food, plant-based and low-fat diet is hands down the most scientifically backed, healthiest long-term nutritional strategy. Plants provide all the nutrients we need (with the exception of Vitamin D which comes from the sun and B12 which comes from microbes in the soil) in a cleaner, more absorbable and usable form than what you get from meat and dairy. As an example, if all you ate was broccoli or asparagus, you would obtain all the macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients you need to be healthy. If all you ate was chicken, you would be deficient in many micro-nutrients and you would get way too much fat and protein. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can, especially greens (salads, kale, spinach…) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts…). Eat the Nutritional Rainbow. Only fruits and vegetables have antioxidants in them. Animal products do not. Within 2 hours of a stressful event, even something as innocent as being stuck in traffic, our antioxidant stores plummet to combat oxidative stress. It takes 3 days to build those stores back up. The average American gets less than half the minimal recommendation for antioxidants. When you are sick or stressed, pack yourself with extra fruits and vegetable to make sure you have the antioxidants to deal with your stress. Make sure you eat the skins also. Often, there are different and much more antioxidants in the skins of fruits and vegetables. For example, apple skins have 5x more antioxidant than the pulp.
The #1 predictor of a healthy gut and microbiome (click here for more details about the microbiome) is the amount and variety of plants you eat. There are over 300,000 edible plants and our gut microbiome is capable of adapting to breaking down all of them, although not simultaneously. Our gut biome is quite malleable, both to healthful foods and unhealthful foods.
Raw is best for most fruits and vegetables but some vegetables are better cooked. Some include:
- CARROTS. If you want to get more nutrients of out carrots, you need to steam them. Carrots release more beta carotene after cooking because cell walls are broken down releasing more of it. Our bodies convert beta carotene into vitamin A, which is essential for healthy eyesight, healthy skin and a strong immune system.
- DARK LEAFY GREENS. Despite raw spinach and kale being loaded with phytonutrients and fiber, the leaves contain oxalic acid, a toxin that can cause stomach and kidney problems when taken in high doses. This is inactivated during cooking. It’s great to consume large amounts of dark leafy greens and raw is great, but it’s best to cook them from time to time to limit the oxalic acid buildup. You’ll absorb higher amounts of fiber, zinc, calcium, iron, protein, and vitamins A and E when you heat up greens.
- ASPARAGUS. While it’s safe to eat asparagus raw, it’s more nutritious when cooked. Cooking increases the bioavailability of its nutrients and antioxidants. Cooked asparagus tastes much better than raw asparagus.
- TOMATOES. Even though tomatoes are a fruit, we think of them as veggies. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress and improves heart health. They release more lycopene when they’re cooked. By simmering them for only 2 minutes, you release 50% more lycopene. After 30’, the amount increases by 250x. Tomatoes vary in lycopene amounts. The highest are St. Marzano, cherry, dark and tangerine tomatoes.
- EGGPLANT. Raw eggplant contains a toxin called solanine, which can cause gastrointestinal problems. The consoling thing is you’d have to eat a whole raw eggplant to experience the side effects. But to be on the safe side, cook your eggplant.
- SPROUTS. Bean sprouts are a good source of folate, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, manganese, and protein. However, raw sprouts of any kind may contain harmful bacteria. Sprouts grow in warm, humid conditions, which are ideal for the growth of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. In fact, over the last 20 years, the FDA has linked 48 food-borne illness outbreaks for raw or lightly cooked sprouts.
- MUSHROOMS. Although if consumed in small quantities, eating raw mushroom is fine but some mushrooms, including regular white button mushrooms, contain a toxin (agaritine) which can be harmful. In addition, cooking them along with herbs and spices, softens the stems making them more palatable. Common button mushrooms (which are actually the healthiest variety) also contain powerful protective molecules which act similarly to some anti-cancer agents.
- WHITE POTATOES should also be cooked as well (as opposed to sweet potatoes which you can eat raw). Potatoes, especially if they have some green in the skin, contain a naturally occurring pesticide solanine which can be toxic to humans so make sure you peel away the green and remove the “eyes” where the toxin concentrates. Some people are afraid of potatoes because they are a “white carb”. Although they do have a higher glycemic index (GI), meaning they do raise your blood sugar quite a bit, it’s really the stuff you add to the potato (butter, sour cream, bacon bits, salt…) which is not healthy. A trick to lower the GI is to refrigerate the potatoes. The starches are converted into less digestible forms. In addition, they maintain their lower GI when reheated.
Eat nuts and seeds, just be careful not to overdo it since they contain large amounts of fat. Healthy fat but fat none the less. Stick to one small hand full a day. All nuts and seeds have different nutrient profiles so mix it up. Eat whole grains (wild rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats…). Organic potatoes are also fine if not fried or loaded up with fat like butter and cheese. Organic is healthier but you are always better off eating the fruit or vegetable, even if it’s not organic. You can’t get enough fruits and vegetables. They should be the centerpiece of your plate. The longest lived and healthiest populations are plant-based with very little if any animal products in their diets (less than 10% of the calories consumed). There are certain foods that I think are really important to try to incorporate into your diet daily.
- GREENS – kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula, broccoli, beat, mustard and dandelion greens… Regular consumption of dark leafy greens is associated with a reduction in aging by 11 years! Broccoli sprouts contain 100x the amount of the super nutrient suforaphane as regular broccoli. This compound seeks out and kills cancer cells. A study showed that people who ate 6 servings a week of cruciferous vegetables had a 41% lower breast cancer rate. A study was done in healthy volunteers looking at the impact on consuming broccoli sprouts on the immune response after getting intranasal flu vaccine. Those consuming 2 cups of sprouts a day for only 4 days before the vaccine has a 22x greater number of immune cells against the flu in their nose. They also had increased natural killer cell activity. This is one of the immune cells in our arsenal. In addition, nasal washes revealed less flu residue in broccoli eaters. Studies show that people who regularly eat 2 servings of greens a day or more have the brain cognitive function of a person 10 years younger who does not eat greens.
- BEANS – beans, peas, lentils… Every long-lived and healthy culture in the world eats lots of beans. For every 20 gm (only 1/8th of a cup or 0.7 oz) in legumes, there is an 8% decrease in premature death. How is that for a superfood!
- ONIONS – and other alums like garlic. These contain a potent nutrient called anacin. It is most potent ~ 10 minutes after you crush garlic so waiting a few minutes before cooking it will increase its health benefits.
- MUSHROOMS – There are many “medicinal” mushrooms but the best are the common, simple button mushrooms and Portobellos. Make sure to include the mushroom stems. These have even higher concentrations of immune boosting and cancer fighting polysaccharide compounds called beta glucans than the caps do. They contain compounds which inhibit the enzyme aromatase, which is important in the production of estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors, like the chemotherapeutic drug tamoxifen, are used to treat breast cancer by inhibiting the production of estrogen in postmenopausal women. One study of 200 women in China showed that only 1/2 of a regular button mushroom a day decreased breast cancer rates by 64%. Mushrooms are the only plant which produces vitmin D, in the D2 (ergocalciferol) form, but only if they are exposed to natural or UV light. Mushrooms should be cooked for better absorption and to destroy some of the toxic compounds like agaratine which most mushrooms contain. All it takes is 1 minute of cooking to destroy this compound though. For more information about mushrooms, click here Mushroom Information.
- BERRIES – all kinds especially blueberries and strawberries. Just make sure they are organic. Berries are very contaminated.
- SEEDS – and nuts. Clearly are beneficial. 1 handful a day can cut your risk of getting cancer by 30% and getting it back after you’ve had it by almost 50%. Nuts and seeds reduce insulin secretion, inflammation as well as oxidative stress (which creates damaging free radicals). Just watch how much you eat since they do have a significant fat content (14 gm/oz for most nuts and seeds). If you have heart or vascular disease, keep the nut consumption to a minimum.
- CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spring greens, radishes, turnip tops, watercress. 1 serving a day which is half a cup chopped.
- GREENS: spring greens, kale, young salad greens, bok choy, sorrel, spinach, Swiss chard. 2 servings a day. A serving is one cup raw or half a cup cooked.
- OTHER VEGETABLES: asparagus, beetroot, peppers, carrots, corn, courgettes, garlic, mushrooms, okra, onions, pumpkin, sugar snap peas, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes. 2 servings a day. A serving is one cup raw leafy vegetables; half a cup raw or cooked non-leafy vegetables; half a cup vegetable juice (not as good as whole vegetables); a quarter of a cup dried mushrooms.
- BEANS: black beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, soybeans, baked beans, chickpeas, edamame, peas, kidney beans, lentils, miso, pinto beans, split peas, tofu, humus. 3 servings a day. A serving is a quarter of a cup of humus or bean dip; half a cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils or tofu or a full cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils. Canned are OK but keep the cans BPA-free.
- BERRIES: any small edible fruit, including grapes, raisins, blackberries, cherries, raspberries and strawberries. 1 serving a day which is half a cup of fresh or frozen, or quarter of a cup of dried.
- OTHER FRUIT: apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe melons, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemons, limes, lychees, mangos, nectarines, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, prunes, tangerines, watermelon. 3 servings a day. A serving is a cup of cut-up fruit or one medium fruit.
- FLAXSEEDS: 1 teaspoon of ground flaxseed a day is recommended. Chia and hemp also great options.
- NUTS: all kinds are good. Unsalted is better. Raw and not roasted is also better. 1/4 of a cup a day, or two tablespoons of peanut, almond or other nut butter. All varieties of nuts have their advantages so mix it up. Particular standouts are walnuts, baruka (from Brazil), and pistachios. Almonds are good but have a large environmental footprint because they need imported bees to pollinate the trees and require an extraordinary amounts of water to grow. About one gallon per nut. Cashews are also good but they are shelled by hand and the shells can be toxic (like poison ivy) and the shellers, often poor workers, often get sick after doing it day in and day out. Keep them organic and hopefully fair trade.
- SPICES: 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric in addition to any other spices you enjoy.
- WHOLE GRAINS: buckwheat, rice, quinoa, cereal, pasta, bread. 3 servings a day. A serving is half a cup of cooked rice or pasta, one cup of cereal, a slice of bread, half a bagel.
- EXERCISE: ideally 90 minutes a day of moderate activity, such as walking.
- WATER: 8 large (12oz./340ml.) glasses a day.
SPICES (Dr. Joel Khan’s top 12)
Although all spices and herbs are great for you in different ways, there are some standouts.
- Almonds. Known as the “heart guard”, almonds are actually a seed and as such, can be ground into a spice. They are rich in plant sterols, beneficial plant compounds similar to animal cholesterol. They also have a lot of folate and fiber. Just don’t eat a bagful. Their fats are healthier, but too much is still too much.
- Basil. Known as the “garden of youth”, it is actually an herb because it has leaves. Holy basil (tulsi) is particularly good. It is known to counteract free radical damage and lowers stress. It also lowers cholesterol.
- Black Cumin (nigella sativa), it is the “cure all ” seed and has been even described in the old testament as a healing spice. It lowers blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Chili flakes. The compound capsaicin, which makes the chili “hot” acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It also has been shown to help with cardiac arrhythmias, not to mention that it clears out the sinuses and even helps with migraine headaches.
- Cinnamon. It is well established to help control blood sugar and lower cholesterol. It also has antimicrobial, antiviral and antiparasitic effects. In some people, it can negatively impact the liver so don’t overdo it.
- Cumin. Containing the compound cuminaldehyde, cumin has been shown to be helpful with blood sugar, cataract prevention as well as repair neuropathy and improve bone health.
- Fenugreek. Through the effect of the compound diosgenin, it is best known as an aphrodisiac. This seed also lowers cholesterol, specifically the bad one LDL. It also improves blood sugar control by stimulating insulin signaling within cells.
- Garlic. You name it, garlic does it.
- Horseradish. More of a root in the cruciferous family, it actually contains more of the amazing cancer fighting compound sulforaphane than broccoli does. The other active compound is allyl isothiocyanate which lowers blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Parsley. Very high in the potent antioxidant flavonoid apigenin, this herb is a great anti-inflammatory, and even improves absorption of other vitamins like vitamin C. It lowers clotting risk also.
- Rosemary. AKA “cancer guard”, it helps with memory.
- Sun-dried tomatoes. A potent prostate protector, it is very high in lycopene. Also great for heart health.
Fiber is the key to good health! It’s the ONLY thing you need to measure in your diet. Don’t worry about protein since it’s virtually impossible to become protein deficient. Limit fat and don’t worry about getting enough. Eat all the healthy carbs you want. But make sure you get at least 40 grams of fiber a day. Fiber is simply a type of carbohydrate found naturally in plant-based foods that is not digestible in humans. If you eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, you will get plenty of fiber. 97% of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of fiber. We used to get more than 100 grams a day from all the fruits and vegetables we used to eat. Now, most Americans get barely 15 grams. Fiber is the non-absorbable part of food which has an extremely important role in overall health. It can be divided into soluble fiber and insoluble fiber although it should really be considered a class of nutrient, with 1000s of different varieties. There are 400,000 species of plants and 300,000 of them are edible. Each has a different type of fiber and they are all good. The soluble kind of fiber is found in foods like oatmeal, blueberries and Brussels sprouts, turns into a gel-like texture as you eat it, slows down digestion and makes you feel fuller, longer. Soluble fiber also binds cholesterol, helping to get rid of excess amounts. Insoluble fiber, found in wheat bran and dark leafy greens, does not dissolve during digestion adding bulk to your stool which helps your digestive tract eliminate waste more quickly. Both slow digestion which in turn slow sugar absorption and subsequent insulin spikes which are so unhealthy.
One of fibers important roles is to absorb compounds from our intestines and remove them through elimination (pooping). These compounds, such as excess amounts of estrogen, pesticides or heavy metals, are usually filtered out of the blood by the liver which then puts them into the bile which then drains into the small intestine. If you don’t consume enough fiber, those compounds just get re-absorbed and cause problems, like increasing the risks for cancer like breast and prostate cancer in the case of excess estrogen.
Fiber deficiency is the main cause of constipation which is a chronic problem for many people, affecting 68 million Americans (20%). The second most common cause is opioid addiction. Constipation is cured with 2 things: water and fiber. NOT drugs. Treating constipation with medications, including over-the-counter fiber powders of various kinds is an $80 billion a year industry! Although fiber supplements can help you poop more, they show no benefit in terms of microbiome health or reduction in colon cancer risk or longevity. Fiber from whole foods do. By eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, you will get plenty of water (70% of their make-up is water) and fiber.
“Countries that produce small stools require large hospitals” – Dr Denis Burkitt, 1911 – 1993
Fiber is only found in whole fruits and vegetables. It is not found in any animal products whatsoever but despite that, 50% of Americans think that steak is a good source of fiber! When fruits or vegetables are blended (like in a smoothie), you break down but keep the fiber. When you juice fruits or vegetables, the fiber is removed leaving just juice with some vitamins and nutrients. Both are good in different ways but nothing beats whole food. Fiber helps lower cholesterol, lowers the risk of heart disease, controls blood sugar levels, normalizes bowel movements and helps to maintain good bowel health. It helps with weight loss and prevents colorectal cancer. In 18-35 year old’s today, the incidence of rectal cancer has quadrupled and colon cancer rates have doubled since the previous generation and lack of fiber from fruits and vegetables is the main cause. Even if you have already been diagnosed with colon cancer, 5 additional grams of fiber (equal to ONE apple) helps decrease the risk of recurrence and dying from it by 25%. One large study showed that women who consumed 6 grams or more of fiber a day had a 62% lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate 4 grams or less. For every 20-gram increase in fiber, there was a 20% decrease in breast cancer risk. Even depression rates are lower the more fiber you consume. This is thought again to be related to fiber’s positive impact on the gut bacteria which make 80% of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin.
Fiber is not food for us. It’s food for our gut bacteria.
Healthy gut bacteria thrive on fiber which is why it’s an important part of our diet. There are many types of fiber digested by different types of bacteria. When fiber is broken down, short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are formed which are the “missing pieces” in the modern Western diet. Some examples of SCFAs are butyrate, acetate and propionate. These bio-active substances bind the cells lining the gut triggering various pathways such as signaling Treg (T regulatory) cells which decrease inflammation and increase production of a compound GLP1 which decreases appetite (decreasing caloric consumption by as much as 14% in some studies) and helps to keep blood sugar under control. Propionate specifically impacts on the reward center of the brain, decreasing craving and food addiction. SCFAs also regulate production of mucin which causes the lining to use up more oxygen creating an environment conducive to allowing beneficial bacteria to thrive. It’s one big circle of life, starting with FIBER. SCFAs prevent leaky gut, type 2 diabetes and cancer. They help the immune system work better and lower cholesterol levels. The more fiber you consume, the better.
In a study comparing microbiome diversity and lowered inflammatory markers in people who added fermented foods vs those who added more fiber to their diet, the fermented foods group had a faster and greater positive impact in both categories than the added fiber group. That’s not to say that fiber is not important. It’s tremendously important. In fact, fiber is the most important food humans need to consume more of. But because most people don’t get anywhere near enough of it, their gut microbiome doesn’t have the microbial diversity or health to handle it. That’s why people who start adding fiber to their diet may have to take it slowly, allowing the beneficial bacteria which feed on that fiber to increase in number to handle the added fiber.
Once you improve your diet by increasing dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables (meat and dairy contain NO fiber), it takes about 28 days for the microbiome to adapt and start producing SCFAs.
Fiber doesn’t just provide nourishment for our healthy bacteria and bulk to our stool. It also binds many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Up to 80% of them. The healthy bacteria breakdown the fiber and release those healthful compounds. When you juice fruits and vegetables, you remove the fiber and in doing so, remove almost 80% of the phytonutrients. Blending is better than juicing since the fiber is not removed but you can consume a lot of calories quickly in a liquid form. EAT YOUR PLANTS WHOLE.
The RDA for fiber is 25 grams for women and 35 for men but I would recommend more. Try to get at least 40-50 grams a day but remember, you can’t get too much fiber. When you look at labels on packaged foods, you want to see at least a 5:1 ratio of carbohydrates to fiber (divide the total carbohydrate amount by the fiber amount and you want at least 5).
It may seem odd, but coffee actually contains fiber. A traditional eight-ounce (237-milliliter) cup of coffee could contain as much as 1.5 grams of fiber and 3.2 cups nearly five grams of fiber. In fact, 1/3rd of the fiber consumed in the US is in the form of coffee. This, just like the fact that coffee is the main source of phytonutrients in the American diet, is more of a criticism rather than something to celebrate. We really should be getting out plant nutrients and fiber from whole plant foods, not because we are consuming massive amounts of a stimulant.
Fiber also helps with weight loss. People on plant-based diets, which are naturally high in fiber, lose more weight from what’s called the “after-meal thermogenic effect”. Metabolism is raised to a greater degree after plant-based meals as compared with meals which contain animal products. There are various reasons for this but a significant one is that it takes more energy to digest fiber. This effect last long past the meal.
When you don’t eat fiber, the bacteria in the colon start to “consume” the mucin, which lines the intestinal wall. It’s protective and helps with digestion and nutrient transport. Without this mucinous layer, the intestinal wall is much more easily damaged leading to a leaky gut. Protein, fat and simple carbs are broken down in the small intestines and without mucin, they do not get digested and absorbed properly. Fiber, by the way, is broken down in the colon (large intestine).
Keeping in mind that it is estimated that people consumed closer to 100g of fiber a day before industrialized agriculture, today’s USDA recommended a minimum fiber intake:
- 2-5 years 15g per day.
- 5-11 years 20g per day.
- 11-16 years 25g per day.
- >17 years 30g per day. Shoot for as much as you can.
Fiber and CANCER. Studies have shown that fiber, which again keeps your gut healthy, is very important when it comes to cancer prevention and treatment. In one study looking at non-metastatic colon cancer, for every additional 5 gm of daily fiber, above their minimal baseline of 20 gm, there was an 18% increased survival rate. In another study looking at melanoma patients, each 5 gram increase resulted in a 30% increased survival advantage. Think about that. Adding only 15 grams of fiber almost doubles your survival. Other studies have shown that a fiber poor diet with a resultant impaired gut microbiome leads to significant reduction in the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments. Adding to the evidence of the importance of the microbiome is the fact that one course of antibiotics significantly lowers the efficacy of chemotherapy as well.
- All fiber is the same. There are over 400,000 known plants and 300,000 of them are edible plants with millions of types of fiber. Fiber can be divided into soluble (dissolvable in water) and insoluble, all fiber have a combination of both. Every planet has its own unique mix of gut healing fibers:
- Barley. Has the prebiotic beta-glucan which promotes growth of healthy microbes, lowers LDL and regulates blood sugar. It has lots of selenium, important for thyroid health.
- Oats also have beta-glucans and they also have phenolic acid, which are anti-inflammatory and are antioxidant compounds.
- Flaxseeds are 40% prebiotic fiber.
- Wheat Bran contains a special fiber made of arabinoxylan Oligosaccharides
- Potatoes contain resistant starch which increases when you reheat potato leftovers.
- Seaweed contains 50% soluble prebiotic fiber.
- Fiber just passes through us. Some of it does, contributing to stool bulk, a big benefit itself, but much of it doesn’t. However, the fiber you buy at the store does pass right through you, except for the added sugars and chemicals which are damaging and counteract any benefit it might provide. Plant fiber on the other hand is fuel for the healthy microbes in your gut which then go on to generate healthy compounds called post-biotics.
- Humans lack the enzymes to break down fiber. This is tru, but our inhabitants, the microbes, can break it down, assuming we have the right balance of microbes. We need the bacteria to break down the fiber and generate all the healthful benefits of fiber. We do have enzymes called glycoside hydrolases which help break down the complex carbohydrates but we only have about 17 types of those enzymes. None of them are designed to break down fiber. The microbes in the gut, on the other hand, generate almost 60,000 different types of enzymes designed to break down complex carbohydrates and fiber.
As mentioned above, there are 400,000 varieties of plants and 300,000 (¾ of them) are edible. Combined globally, we consume only 200 species and 60% of the calories and proteins humans obtain from plants come from only 3: rice, corn and wheat. In the last 100 years alone, we’ve abandoned 75% of our agricultural diversity because of pressures on farmers.
For more information on fiber and how important it is on the health of our gut, please go to my section about the Microbiome.
“Fiber Fueled” Will Bulsiewicz, MD. The Plant-Based Gut Health Program for Losing Weight, Restoring Your Health, and Optimizing Your Microbiome.
Dr. Bulsiewicz has a follow up book, The Fiber Fueled Cookbook, which discuses some more science of the health of fiber as well as many , easy to make recipes.
BEANS, PEAS & LEGUMES
Because of how important they are to overall health, these superfoods deserve a separate description.
Americans consume a woefully small amount of beans. On average, only 6 pounds a year and the majority of that is as unhealthy versions of re-fried beans. In other bean-consuming countries, the average is 88 pounds, more than 13x more. Some African countries top the average at 145 pounds a year. In those countries, cardiovascular disease is nearly non-existent.
The Fabaceae or Leguminosae (commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean) family is the 3rd largest family of flowering plants, consisting of over 20,000 species. Legumes are a nutritious staple of diets around the world. All the “Blue Zone” populations, the ones who live the longest and are the healthiest, eat them in one form or another with most meals. They are an inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.
Although used interchangeably, the terms “legumes,” “pulses,” and “beans” have distinct meanings. A legume refers to any plant from the Fabaceae family that would include its leaves, stems, and pods. A pulse is the edible seed from a legume plant. Pulses include beans, lentils, and peas. For example, a pea pod is a legume, but the pea inside the pod is the pulse. The entire legume plant is often used in agricultural applications (as cover crops or in livestock feed or fertilizers), while the seeds or pulses are what typically end up on our dinner plates. Beans in their various forms (kidney, black, pinto, navy, chickpeas, etc.) are just one type of pulse.
All of the most important dietary advising organizations, including the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the DASH Eating Plan of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations strongly recommend eating them daily. They are touted as one of the most significant contributors to food production and nutritional diversity to help eradicate hunger and malnutrition.
The four most common pulses are beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas. When looking at the Blue Zones, the areas in the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest with the lowest rates of chronic disease, the one common nutritional component (other than being almost completely plant based) is that they ALL consumed a lot of beans every day. Pulses are great sources of all kinds of nutrients including fiber which is crucial to good health. They feed the good bacteria in your gut improving its microbiome (bacterial balance). In addition to being filling and stimulating the stomach stretch receptors which send a signal to the brain leading to the feeling of fullness, beans also trigger the stretch receptors directly. Beans help control blood sugar, not only after you eat them but even the next day after eating them because of the positive gut bacterial effect.
For every 20 gm (only 1/8th of a cup or 0.7 oz) increase in legume consumption, there is an 8% decrease in premature death. How is that for a superfood!
In addition to fiber, they have a lot of protein. Tofu contains 20 grams per 1/2 cup. Chickpeas contain 14.5 grams per cup and lentils a whopping 18 grams per cup.
People often complain that beans lead to cramping and gas. First of all, if your gut microbiome is not healthy or well-balanced, anything new, especially if it contains a lot of fiber, will lead to these same results. As you consume them and your gut health improves, these symptoms go away. That having been said, they can still cause gas if you don’t prepare them well. Here are a few tips:
- Introduce them slowly into your diet. Shoot for at least a cup a day but start off slower to let your gut adjust.
- Soak the dried beans for 12 hours before cooking them. This will remove some of the gas causing insoluble fibers and carbohydrates that gut bacteria can feed on.
- Rinse all cooked beans, including ones made in a pressure cooker. This washes away some of the additional gas causing carbohydrates that beans produce.
- Chew them well. All digestion starts in the mouth and the mechanical chewing in the mouth does help break down the cell walls baking them more digestible and takes some of the load off bacteria in the gut.
In many places in the world, pulses are eaten with many meals, even at breakfast. Baked beans are commonly eaten for breakfast in England and Australia. In Latin America, beans are eaten for breakfast along with salsa and rice. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The more beans you eat, the better.
For more on beans, legumes and pulses, click here: Legumes, Beans and Pulses.
GRAINS and STARCHES
In the 1920s, we learned how to get the germinal center out of the grain, which allowed us to be able to store grains for 3 to 5 years without it going rancid. The germ is rich in polyunsaturated fats (which have a tendency to oxidize and become rancid on storage) and so germ removal improves the storage qualities of flour. What you gain in shelf-life however, you lose out tremendously in terms of diminished nutrition. The germ of a cereal is the reproductive part that germinates to grow into a plant. It is the embryo of the seed. Along with bran, the germ is often a by-product of the milling that produces refined grain products. Cereal grains and their components, such as wheat germ oil, rice bran oil, and maize, may be used as a source from which vegetable oil is extracted, or used directly as a food ingredient. The germ is retained as an integral part of whole-grain foods. Non-whole grain methods of milling are intended to isolate the endosperm, which is ground into flour, with removal of both the husk (bran) and the germ. Removal of bran is aimed at producing a flour with a white rather than a brown color, and eliminating fiber, which again, reduces nutrition.
Whole grains like oats, quinoa and barley are healthy to eat assuming they are not overly processed. The more refined and processed it is, the worse it is for you. Even rice, staples of Oriental and Indian cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years, are good for you. Despite eating significant quantities of rice, those cultures had virtually no diabetes until the Standard American Diet, high in animal products and refined carbohydrates were introduced. Now, their chronic disease rates including diabetes are approaching those of the United States.
Quinoa is known as the “Mother of all grains”, is technically a “pseudograin”. Pseudo-grains, also known as pseudo-cereals, like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are actually seeds and just like regular grains have similar overall nutrient compositions, being a great source of protein, fiber and minerals. This group of ‘grains’ also has the benefit of being gluten free for those who need to avoid gluten. Quinoa the most easily digested of all the grains and the least mucus producing. There is more calcium in 1 cup of quinoa than than a quart of milk and the calcium is more digestible. The only grain which contains more protein is oat groats. It’s gluten free and has an excellent amino acid profile, including the BCAAs (branch chained amino acids) which bodybuilders love.
Quinoa has been consumed in the southern hemisphere for over 7000 years but has become very popular in Western societies in the last few years. it’s actually not a grain since it does not come from a plant that is a grass and is considered a “pseudo-grain”, more like a seed-like fruit. Although all forms are very high in antioxidants, the colored ones, like red or black, have twice as much as the white forms.
If you eat bread, eat whole grain bread which has 100 times more nutrients than white bread (800 vs 8). Even better, is to consume breads that are sprouted or fermented, like sourdough. When grains, nuts and seeds are sprouted, their nutrient concentrations go up significantly. Sprouting is super easy and inexpensive to do at home. a great resource is Sprout People. Another is Sprout House. Sourdough is partially fermented which improves digestability, feeds healthy bacteria and lowers gluten amounts.
Some people argue that we did not evolve eating grains but this is just not true. Unlike dairy which modern humans only started consuming about 7000 years ago, there is evidence that we cultivated and consumed grains for well over 100,000 years. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that Paleolithic man consumed grains, as long ago as 3.5 million years ago. Fire to cook with, on the other hand was not discovered until ~ 3 million years ago.
The grains we grow today however are much less healthy than traditional, “ancient” grains, but they are still part of our evolutionary past.
A 2023 review of millions of people from all over the world looked at what has been contributing to the massive rise in diabetes worldwide. #1 contributing factor was a poor diet. #1 aspect of the poor diet was inadequate consumption of whole grains! #2 was the excessive consumption of processed, refined grains. #3 and #4 were overconsumption of processed meats like bacon, deli meats and cured meats (which are also considered a class 1 carcinogen) and over consumption of unprocessed red meat. Underconsumption of fruits and vegatables was also high on the list of dietary causes for diabetes in this massive, wrldwide study.
However, if you have an autoimmune condition or if you have symptoms that no one can figure out, consider eliminating grains for a few weeks, specifically gluten-containing foods, and see how you feel. It can take a few weeks so be patient. Gluten in particular is linked to a leaky gut and can contribute to inflammation. You’ll need to do research since gluten (like dairy and soy) is added to everything. Although gluten allergy and sensitivity are rare (about 1% and 3% of the population respectively), gluten related issues are on the rise. There is more information about gluten on this page. Pasta and bread are fine if not made with refined flour. With such “mystery symptoms” make sure you also consider dairy as a possibility. Many conditions like migraines and rheumatoid arthritis are caused id not triggered by reactions to dairy proteins.
If you do eat rice, white or brown (including rice additives to foods – read labels), make sure that it is not from Texas or the southern states, even if it says it’s USDA Organic. Those places have arsenic contamination from decades of heavy pesticide use and rice absorbs significant amounts of it. In fact, rice was originally planted there to try to get rid of the arsenic. There was so much contamination that it didn’t work. So, what did they do? Might as well sell the rice to unsuspecting consumers and it is still going on. There are some rice brands that are so contaminated that only one serving has more arsenic than what the FDA recommends in 1 year of exposure! Californian and East Indian rice sources are healthier options. Brown rice has 80x more arsenic than white rice however, most of it is in the husk which is not well absorbed so you poop it out anyway. Make sure to rinse them at least once and preferably twice which helps to wash away a lot of the arsenic. Also, use a water to rice ratio of 6:1. The arsenic tends to stay in the water so after it is cooked, just discard the extra water and most of the arsenic is removed. If you use exactly as much water as it needs to cook, you retain all the water and hence, all the arsenic. The other types of rice, like wild or red rice, have much lower levels of arsenic. As far as other contaminants are concerned, rice from India are found to have high levels of cadmium, a heavy metal contaminant mostly from the textile industry.
Don’t be afraid of either white or brown rice. Both been consumed in Asia and the Indian subcontinent for 1000’s of years and their diabetes rates were non-existent until the Western diet was introduced. See more about rice and arsenic on my Environment page.
A special shout out to oats, one of my favorite foods. There are many benefits to oats, assuming they are not mixed up with sugars and chemicals. Keep them as unprocessed as possible. Although it takes longer to cook oat grouts or steel cut oats, they are much better for you than “quick-cook” oats which are usually pressed and steamed. Oats are loaded with nutrients. One serving contains:
- Manganese 191% of the RDI
- Phosphorus 41%
- Magnesium 34%
- Copper 24%
- Iron 20%
- Zinc 20%
- Folate 11%
- Vitamin B1 39%
- Vitamin B5 10%
Oats also contain beta glucan, an important soluble fiber which has been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, the bad one. It has also been shown to lower both blood sugar and insulin levels. This is partly due to the fact that beta glucan forms a thick gel which slows down gastric and colon transit time, slowing absorption of sugar into the blood which leads to a slower, and lower level of insulin, which is a good thing.
Oats contain high levels of many antioxidants and polyphenols, protective plant compounds. In particular, oats uniquely contain a class of polyphenols known as avenanthramides. They have an array of effects including decreasing inflammation, inhibiting cancer cell proliferation, decreasing oxidation and increasing blood vessel dilation. They modulate signaling pathways involved in cancer, diabetes, inflammation and cardiovascular diseases. They increase nitrous oxide (NO) production leading to arterial relaxation and lowered blood pressure. Avenanthramides have been shown to hinder colon cancer cells division.
Oatmeal acts as a prebiotic, feeding the healthy bacteria in the colon. This leads to production of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate and propionate.
19 Whole Grains and How to Cook With Them
Whole grains contain all 3 important components of the plant.
- BRAN (outermost layer), which contains fiber and B vitamins.
- GERM (interior), which contains oils, vitamins, proteins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- ENDOSPERM (interior), which contains carbohydrates and protein.
Oats and corn are popular but there are many other grains to consider adding to your diet.
- BUCKWHEAT (Fagopyrum esculentum). A pseudograin (not part of the Poaceae family), buckwheat is actually a fruit related to rhubarb and harvested for its tiny triangular seeds. It has the highest concentration of antioxidants of all the grins. Ground into flour (processing), buckwheat is made into crêpes, soba noodles, and pierogis, while whole groats (called kasha in Russia) are eaten as a side dish. The nutty, bitter flavor of whole grain buckwheat flour is delicious in chocolate chip cookies and gluten-free pastries. Buckwheat is unique for being the only grain with high levels of the antioxidant rutin. It has been shown to lower lipid (cholesterol) levels improving cardiovascular function as well as strengtheninbg arterial walls. Other potent antioxidants in buckwheat include quercetin, D-chiro-inositol and vitexin, known to inhibit platelet aggregation which lowers stroke risk. An interesting fact about rare buckwheat allergy is that it cross reacts with rice and latex, so all those allergies are sometimes seen together.
- AMARANTH (Amaranthus cruentus) was a staple crop for the Aztecs, now popular in gluten-free baking. Not a “true” grain because it doesn’t belong to the Poaceae family, amaranth is safe for those with celiac disease. It’s also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids, including lysine, which is missing from most grains. Tiny amaranth kernels look kind of like couscous, and have a peppery taste. They’re about 14% protein.
- BARLEY (Hordeum vulgare) was first domesticated around 8,000 BCE. While high in carbohydrates, barley is low in gluten, so it’s used to make flatbreads and porridge. Commonly available pearled barley is missing its bran and not technically a whole grain. Look for “whole barley” or “hulled barley” for the most nutrition. Whole barley’s nutty flavor makes a great addition to soups and stews.
- BULGAR (Triticum) consists of the precooked, dried, and ground kernels (groats) of durum or other types of wheat. Quick-cooking, fiber-rich (18 grams of fiber per cup) bulgur is the main ingredient in tabbouleh salad and kibbeh meat patties.
- CORN (Zea mays) has an especially high content of oily germ, which makes whole-grain corn prone to rancidity, so why most cornmeal on the market is degermed. Make sure your cornmeal is labeled “whole corn” or “whole grain” (stone ground cornmeal is often whole grain, but not always) to get the most nutrients, and store that highly perishable cornmeal in the fridge or freezer. You can use antioxidant-packed whole grain cornmeal for grits, polenta, cornmeal pancakes, or cornbread.
- EINKORN (Triticum monococcum) is German for “one kernel.” In Italy, it’s known as farro piccolo (small farro). Likely the first type of wheat to be cultivated by humans, einkorn is higher in nutrients than modern wheat. “Pearled” means it’s not whole grain. Use whole einkorn in farro recipes, or try whole grain einkorn flour in bread.
- FARRO (Triticum turgidum dicoccum) is also known as EMMER, the nutty, hearty grain that’s packed with protein and fiber. It first became popular in the United States via Italy, where it’s the star of Tuscan classics like farrotto and zuppa di farro. Farro is prized for the fact that it retains its al dente texture long after cooking, making it the perfect base for all kinds of grain bowls. Whole-grain farr0 pops a little when chewed, like wild rice or wheat berries. This high-protein farro requires overnight soaking before cooking. Semi-pearled farro splits the difference: it cooks faster than whole-grain farro but contains more nutrients than pearled farro. It’s packed with more protein and dietary fiber than brown rice, pasta, and couscous. It’s a good source of magnesium (which supports bone health and the immune system), zinc (also good for the immune system) and vitamin B3 (which helps convert food into energy). When combined with legumes, farro forms a complete protein, making it a great option for vegans and vegetarians. Farro contains less gluten than other types of wheat so may be suitable for gluten sensitivity, but is not safe for those with celiac disease. Because it won’t ever get mushy, you can make a farro salad ahead of time and allow it to absorb the flavors of your vinaigrette.
- FREEKEH (Triticum turgidum var. durum) is simply hard durum wheat harvested when immature and green, then roasted for flavor and often sold cracked for a quicker cooking time. Freekeh is popular in the Middle East for grain salads, porridge, and pilaf.
- KHORASAN (triticum turgidum turanicum), commonly known by the trademarked name KAMUT, is an ancient variety of wheat with a nutty, rich flavor and more protein and vitamin E than common wheat. Its high protein content makes kamut flour useful in bread- and pasta-making. Larger than wheat berries, khorasan can be puffed to make breakfast cereal.
- MILLET is a name used for several related grains cultivated by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans that’s currently a staple grain in India, where it’s ground into flour to make roti. Millet can be yellow, white, red, or gray and is especially delicious if toasted before cooking. Try tiny millet grains in porridge or fritters.
- OATS (Avena sativa) are one of the few common grains almost always sold whole. Old-fashioned, or rolled oats are steamed and flattened, whereas steel-cut oats consist of the entire grain kernel, cracked for faster cooking. They’re the best whole grain for lowering blood cholesterol levels, and a good source of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B1, and niacin. As with any grain, the less processed, the better so oat groats are the healthiest.
- QUINOA (Chenopodium quinoa) is an ancient grain in the amaranth family (not a true cereal). Pronounced keen-wah, it has roots in the Peruvian Andes going back over 5,000 years, and hundreds of different cultivated varieties to its name. Quinoa is a complete protein, high in fiber (12 grams of fiber per cup) and minerals like iron and magnesium. Try nutty-flavored quinoa in stuffed bell peppers, quinoa grain bowls, quinoa breakfast porridge.
- BROWN RICE (Oryza sativa) gets its color from the bran coating surrounding the kernels. After rice is harvested, the bran and germ layers are either left intact or removed, yielding brown or white rice, respectively. Pretty much every variety of rice can be available as brown rice, including basmati, jasmine, short-, medium-, and long-grain. The bran coating gives brown rice a nuttier taste and chewy texture. Brown rice has three times the fiber of white rice, and is rich in protein, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, and manganese, which are all important for bone growth and energy. Try brown rice with a vegetable stir-fry, in kimchi fried rice, and in grain bowls. Rice is known to absorb arsenic and in fact, brown rice contains more arsenic than white rice. Even organic rice can be quite contaminated so choose rice brands from California or even overseas. The southern states have soils which are particularly contaminated with arsenic.
- RYE (Secale cereale) is peculiar in that both the endosperm and bran are high in fiber, giving it a lower glycemic index than wheat. Cultivated for 2,000 years, rye is popular in bread-making because of its high gluten content. Look for “whole rye” or “rye berries” to make sure you’re getting protein, potassium, and B vitamins, in addition to the carbohydrates and fiber. Try whole rye flour in bread or chocolate rye cookies.
- SORGHUM (Sorghum bicolor), aka milo, is smaller than corn but similar in looks, and even can be popped like corn, to make Indian jowar dhani. Although it’s a true grain in the Poaceae family, sorghum, which probably originated in Africa, is gluten free. It’s often ground into meal for porridge or baked goods. Half a cup (96 grams) of sorghum provides approximately 20% of the recommended daily fiber intake.
- SPELT (Triticum aestivum spelta), aka farro grande, has been grown in what is now southern Germany since 4,000 BCE. Copper-color spelt was the most popular type of wheat until industrialization. Look for “whole spelt” to make sure you’re getting the whole grain, and use anywhere you would farro, such as in grain salads or stirred into a soup. High-protein spelt flour can also be made into pizza dough or bread.
- TEFF (Eragrostis tef) is a type of millet that’s a staple grain in its native Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it was probably domesticated 6,000 years ago. Today, teff is fermented and cooked into injera, a spongy, crêpe-like bread. Gluten-free teff grains are very small, molasses-like in flavor, and high in iron and calcium. They’re almost always whole grain, since teff is too small to be easily milled.
- WHEAT (Triticum) comes in thousands of varieties, the most common of which are durum wheat (Triticum durum), usually ground into semolina for pasta and couscous; common wheat (Triticum aestivum), which accounts for 80% of worldwide production and is used to make bread; and club wheat (Triticum compactum), which is used in pastry. Different types of wheat can be classified as “hard” (more protein) or soft, red (more tannins) or white, winter (sown in fall) or spring (sown in spring), but to get the most nutrition, look for “whole wheat.” Whole kernels of wheat have a crunchy brown outer husk that pops when chewed, giving way to a chewy center, and are also sold as cracked wheat or wheat flakes. High in gluten, wheat flour is considered the very best flour for baking bread. Most commercial whole-wheat flours are made by adding the germ and bran back into the refined white flour. Wheat germ is high in folic acid, an important prenatal vitamin. Use whole wheat flour to make sourdough bread, or try the whole kernels in a wheat berry salad.
- WILD RICE (Zizania) is the seed of a marsh grass native to North America, long cultivated by Native Americans. Wild rice contains more protein and fiber, but less iron and calcium, than brown rice, to which it is not related. The genus Zizania includes four different species, three of which are native to North America. The third (Zizania latifolia) is native to Asia and cultivated as a vegetable, not a grain.
WHEATGERM is part of a wheat kernel and is responsible for helping the plant reproduce and spawn new wheat. Although it’s removed from most processed wheat products, as are most nutrients, it is a major nutritional component of whole grain wheat. It is very high in spermidine, a naturally occurring compound important in promoting autophagy, the “self cleaning” mechanism our body triggers to clean old and defective cells. It got its name from the fact that male semen (sperm) has a high concentration of this compound in it. It has been shown to have a significant positive impact on brain and cardiovascular health. Other sources of spermidine include: peas, soy products, red beans, mushroom, corn, celery and chickpeas.
Wheat germ also has the highest concentration of choline, an organic, water-soluble compound, naturally produced in small amounts by our liver, but most of it is obtained from food sources. It is neither a vitamin nor a mineral, however, it is often grouped with the vitamin B complex due to its similarities. This nutrient affects a number of vital bodily functions including liver function, healthy brain development, muscle movement, nervous system function and metabolism. The highest amounts are found in egg yolks and meat, however, diets high in animal products lead to overproduction of the bacteria in the gut which start the process converting choline into Tri Methyl Amine Oxide, TMAO, a toxic and inflammatory compound linked with heart and arterial disease. Other healthier plant sources of choline include: soybeans, shiitake mushrooms, red potatoes, kidney beans and quinoa. Although the choline from plants can also be converted into TMAO, plant-based diets do not lead to overproduction of the toxic bacteria which start that conversion, so TMAO does not form. Vegans get all the benefits without the unhealthy side effects.
THE PROBLEM WITH WHEAT. Wheat has been demonized in recent decades because of gluten, a protein in many grains which makes the grain sticky. As with other grains, the more closely you stick to whole grains the better. In addition, steer clear of whet grown in the US or Mexico. for the most part, it is Dwarf Wheat. This hybridized and genetically manipulated version of the most common wheat grown in the United States was developed in Mexico in the mid-1940s-50s by Dr. Norman Borlaug. He is a geneticist and plant pathologist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on dwarf wheat. It was developed as a way to increase wheat yields and make Mexico, and other countries, more self-sufficient in food production. It does in fact grow “like a weed” with yields 8x per acre more than more heirloom forms of wheat. It is much shorter, measuring only 18 inches tall as compared with regular wheat which can grow to 4 feet. It has a much thicker stock and has much larger grain kernels. There are however many disadvantages from a health perspective.
- The altered form of gliadin, one of the main proteins in wheat more commonly known as one of the forms of gluten, is a potent appetite stimulant. This is why wheat flour products trigger more hunger and food addiction.
- The increased exposure to more gluten has sparked an increase in Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
- The increase in wheat germ agglutinin, a lectin (an antinutrient) that protects wheat from insects, yeast and bacteria (a natural pesticide) increases generalized pest resistance creating evolutionary pressure resulting in more resistant pests. It is also toxic to our bowels.
- More phytates lead to more mineral malabsorption, as do lectins.
- Selection for high yield has caused a decrease in protein and mineral content and a loss of nutrition and flavor. The nutritional value plummeted 30% in mineral content of zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, sulfur, and calcium in dwarf wheat.
- It increases blood sugar, LDL.
STARCHES. Do not fear the starches. Potatoes are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Just don’t add sour cream, butter and bacon bits. If all you ate was potatoes every day, you’d be fine. 80% of the diet of the Okinawans, the longest lived people in the world, are sweet potatoes. All the healthiest and long-lived societies in the world have starches as a significant part of their diet, in addition to beans. We think of starches as white potatoes, sweet potatoes and white and brown rice but there are many varieties of those foods. In South America, there are over 2000 varieties of potatoes!
As mentioned in a section above, some people are afraid of potatoes because they are a “white carb”. Although they do have a higher glycemic index (GI), meaning they do raise your blood sugar quite a bit, it’s really the stuff you add to the potato (butter, sour cream, bacon bits, salt…) which is not healthy. A trick to lower the GI is to refrigerate the potatoes. The starches are converted into less digestible forms. In addition, they maintain their lower GI when reheated.
The ancient Roman gladiators were nicknamed the “barley men” because all they ate were starches. They give you slowly absorbed, sustained carbohydrates (sugars) which translate into sustained levels of energy.
Dr. John McDougall, a pioneer in healthcare and nutrition, is a proponent of starches composing the majority of your diet. Here is his website and links to his numerous books and successful programs: www.drmcdougall.com.
EAT YOUR STARCHES!
DRINK ALL YOU WANT:
Arguably, the most important “nutrient” overall, the most important fluid to consume is WATER. Our bodies are approximately 70% water as babies dropping to about 50-60% water as adults. 99% of the molecules in our bodies are water molecules. Organ by organ, here is a breakdown of the percentage makeup by water:
- Lung: 83% water
- Muscle and Kidney: 79%
- Heart and Brain: 75%
- Skin: 64%
- Bones: 31%
Water is the universal solvent. Water is also a very powerful conductor. And the majority of people don’t consume enough. Approximately 75% of Americans are significantly dehydrated on a chronic basis.The average American only drinks 2.4 glasses of water a day (just over 16 oz.). 43% report drinking less than 4 glasses of water a day and 7% drink none.
There are three main categories of commercial water: spring water, natural mineral water and purified water.
Spring water is derived from defined natural sources but has a variable composition.
Mineral water, on the other hand, is defined as coming from ‘a source’. In addition, mineral water has to have a minimum mineral or electrolyte content (total dissolvable solids greater than 250 parts per million). Some mineral waters, such as Italian San Pellegrino and French Badoit, contain enough calcium (over 180mg) to help avoid calcium deficiency, whereas many others have virtually none.
Purified water has the least minerals and is usually made cheaply from reprocessing and inefficiently repackaging our tap water. Manufacturers are not required to list the source of the water or any additives on the label. Both Coca Cola and Pepsi had to admit that their bestselling Dasani and Aquafina brands were in fact just re-filtered tap water. Often so little taste remains after purifying that key minerals have to be replaced. Ironically, most still lack the extensive range found in tap water whilst still containing many of the disinfectants and chemicals.
For 99% of human existence, the only beverage we consumed was fresh, uncontaminated spring water. Even milk from animals was not introduced until very recently in our existence. Our brains evolved drinking pure water, without flavorings, sugars, additives… An our brain continues to expect simply water when we consume beverages. Our bodies don’t respond to the calories from non-pure-water beverages. And how we react is not good.
How much water do we need? Approximately 1/2 oz. per pound of weight. So for the average 150 lb. person, that’s 75 oz (0.6 gallons) or 9 glasses of water a day. A general rule of thumb is that you should be urinating at least 4 times a day, assuming you do not have any urinary or kidney issues, and the pee should be clear to very light yellow. The darker yellow, the more concentrated your urine and the dryer you are. Unless you are taking b vitamins, in which case, the vitamins give your urine a florescent yellow look.
That having been said, it is much better for you to take frequent sips rather than guzzling large volumes at a time. The dilation of the intestines from too much water at one time actually causes a diuretic (water losing) effect.
Peeing more is fine since this is also one of the important ways we rid our bodies of toxins.
If your diet has a significant amount of fruits and vegetables (which have lots of water in them) and is limited in excess salt and caffeine, you don’t have to go overboard. Overall, our bodies are 75% water at birth and 60% water in adulthood with the brain and lungs consisting of 80% water. 75% of the water in our bodies is in the 70+ trillion cells which make us up. Our blood is 90% water. Our lymph fluid, the body interstitial tissues cleaning system, is also 90% water. We have 4x more lymph fluid than blood in our bodies.
Even a 1-2% drop in body weight in fluid results in a 25% reduction in mental and physical performance. This easily occurs overnight while we are sleeping just from breathing and evaporation. You lose ~ 1 pound of water weight overnight so drinking water first thing in the morning is very important. Even 1 additional glass of water improves kids’ school performance by 20%. The recommended 8-10 glasses a day boosts brain performance by 30%. In addition to keeping your body well hydrated, it helps to flush toxins (which we are continuously bombarded with) out of the body. Filter your drinking water if possible (whether municipal or well). 70% of even treated municipal water samples revealed contamination with glyphosate, the weed killer in Roundup. It is estimated that more than 500 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge make their way into the global water supply every year. Chlorine water helps prevent bacteria from growing in municipal water, that same chlorine kills the healthy bacteria in your gut and this is not good. In addition, fluoride, commonly put into the water supply, is also not as healthy as we think. There are many good brands of filters. I use one by a company called Aquasana.
Other types of filtration systems are also helpful. Two of the most common approaches are pour-through pitchers, like ZeroWater, Pur and Brita, and refrigerator filters like those made by GE and Whirlpool. Tests show that they are similarly effective. In-line fridge systems remove more than 96% of trace organic contaminants, edging out the three pitcher filters. ZeroWater brand caught 93%, PUR pitchers got 84% and Brita was last catching only 50%. All of them peeter out as the life of the filter approached its end. Reverse osmosis systems can work even better, but the cost, water waste, and loss of trace minerals doesn’t seem worth it.
Although “use-by” and “best-before” dates are often exaggerations, meant for consumers to waste and buy more product, the “change by” dates on the filters are actually pretty accurate and should be adhered to. Not only do the filters eventually lose some of their removal capacity, bacterial growth can build up inside them, resulting in your so-called “filtered” water having higher bacterial counts than the water straight out of the tap. You’d be actually making your water dirtier rather than cleaner so, it is important to replace them regularly.
People who don’t drink enough water have increased risks of various cancers, but specifically bladder cancer. Avoid plastic bottled water since chemicals leach out which disrupt hormone function and cause cancer. An interesting factoid is that chronic dehydration, which describes most people state of hydration, actually leads to weight gain. It’s a survival response. As fat is burned, it produces CO2, which we exhale, and metabolic water. This helps maintain proper hydration level.
Stick to stainless steel or glass refillable bottles when possible. Don’t get too preoccupied with “alkaline” or “vitamin” water. Plastic water bottles have been recently shown to not only leach out chemicals, but they actually have tiny particles of plastic floating around which you them consume and break down. One study found as many as 2,400 pieces of micro-plastic in eight fluid ounces of bottled water. The specific impact of this is not clear but consuming plastic can’t possibly be good for you. In addition, more than 100 different pharmaceutical drugs, including narcotics and contraceptives, have been detected in our water supply. Another study identified 38 different pollutants in water bottle samples from 10 different manufacturers. These included nitrates, radioactive isotopes, ammonia, fertilizers, solvents, de-greasing agents and propellants. If you must drink bottled water, the best rated ones are Smartwater (produced by vapor distillation with some added electrolytes) and FIJI (collected from a natural artesian source in the Fiji Islands).
Just be careful not to drink too much “purified” water. The healthiest water is natural, spring water which contains many nutrients like minerals. If all you drink is filtered water, you actually leach minerals from tissues. If you have filtered water, add a pinch of unprocessed crystal salt for every 12 oz. glass.
Dehydration results in elevated histamine levels, resulting in more pronounced allergic reactions. Both asthma and allergy symptoms are improved with simple hydration. Chronic dehydration also leads to diminished respiratory water loss with constricted lung capillaries and diminished lung function.
FLUORIDE AND CHLORINE IN MUNICIPAL WATER. Fluoride is a medication. It was put into the water supply with the idea that it would help the population have stronger teeth and bones. Although there is some evidence that it may help a bit, proper nutrition and exercise are more effective. From a general population health perspective, they help but only because the vast majority of people do not seek, or can’t afford proper dental care and have a poor lifestyle. Most industrialized countries have actually banned the use of fluoride, but not in the US. In Germany, fluoride is used as a medication to treat hyperthyroidism. It shuts the thyroid gland off. Fluoride has been found to contribute to thyroid dysfunction. In the parts of the UK where fluoride was added to the water supplies, they saw higher levels of thyroid disease in that population and lower levels of thyroid disease in the population that didn’t have fluoride in their water supply. Is there any surprise that we have an epidemic of thyroid disease in our population? As far as chlorine is concerned, not only does it kill the bacteria in water, it also kills the bacteria in your gut. FILTER YOUR WATER!
41 million Americans’ water supply comes through the faucets in their homes. 56 different pharmaceutical chemicals have been identified in water supplies all over the US. These include:
- Chlorine and Fluoride
- Muscle relaxers
- Antibiotics, including penicillin and tetracycline
- Pain relievers including Tylenol, Aspirin and Ibuprofen
- Mental health prescriptions from Prozac to Valium
- Hormone replacement medications
- Lead and arsenic
A great site to find local spring water is FindASpring.com.
Do we get drier with age? Absolutely. When we’re born, we’re 75% water. From there, the drying out process starts. By the time you hit the age of 1, you drop down by about 10%, hovering somewhere around 65% water making up your tissues. As an adult, males are approximately 60% water whereas females are about 55% water. The difference has to do with the fact that men tend to carry more lean muscle mass and muscle contains more water than fat does. Muscle is about 80% water whereas fat is about 50% water. And for both senior men and women are about 50% water.
Keep in mind that the skin is the last organ to become hydrated. Drinking enough water is the best way to have nice, glowing and healthy skin. Most skin conditions are directly related to proper hydration.
Drinking 500 milliliters of water, about 17 ounces, at one go within a minute or two can temporarily boost your metabolic rate by 30%. This increase occurs within 10 minutes and reaches a maximum after about 30 to 40 minutes. The total thermogenic calorie burn is about 24-30 calories additionally that you burn just from drinking water.
“BUT I PEE A LOT”! That’s good. Urinating is one of the ways our body clears toxins. More peeing leads to more toxin removal.
Mind the Minerals. Reverse osmosis does remove all the contaminants, but it also removes all the minerals. Natural spring water, which is what we consumed during our evolution, is full of varous minerals like calcium, sodium and potassium. Make sure to add a pinch of salt to your water.
WATER AND WEIGHT LOSS.
The importance of clean water and proper hydration cannot be understated. A very short list of some of it’s responsibilities include:
- DNA maintenance.
- Mitochondrial (energy organelles in your cells) function.
- Blood, lymph and CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) integrity.
- Digestive fluids and digestion itself.
- Regulating body temperature.
- Brain activity (contrary to popular belief, the brain is mostly water, not fat.)
From a weight loss perspective, water not only fills you up and can impact on satiety, it is crucial to all metabolic processes in the body, including fat metabolism. Proper hydration impacts on the function of such hormones as glucagon and human growth hormone (HGH) but it also increases your metabolic rate through a process known as water-induced thermogenesis. Within 10 minutes of drinking just 17 ounces of water, metabolic rate is increased by as much as 30% reaching a maximum after 30-40 minutes. The caloric burn is not huge, about 25 calories, but do this a few times a day and it builds up.
DRINK IN MODERATION:
COFFEE & TEA.
COFFEE Coffee contains many antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and other phytonutrients but 2 compounds in particular, cafestrol and cafeic acid are the most studied. In fact, gram for gram, coffee has 5x more antioxidants than fruit. Both regular and decaffeinated coffee have been shown to be extremely beneficial for liver health, regardless of the type of liver disease you have. It also has been shown to help with heart disease and even diabetes. Coffee also has been shown in animal models to help with Parkinson’s Disease and even has anti-cancer effects. Although cafestrol has many beneficial effects, it also can raise LDL cholesterol levels. The more filtered the coffee, the better (unbleached paper filters actually decrease the LDL effect but mesh ones do not). The effect is not huge but may be significant if you are borderline in your levels to begin with. Some interesting studies show that long-term regular coffee consumption can reduce the risks of both Parkinson’s disease (as much as 50%) and Alzheimer’s disease (by as much as 40%). It also has been linked with decreased cancer rates for 9 different kinds of cancer as well as helping with all forms of liver disease. The benefits appear to be partly from the phytonutrients in the coffee called polyphenols which bind and clear inflammatory mediators and partly from the caffeine itself. The more coffee you drink, the better (up to a point). The biggest benefit is seen as you approach 6 cups a day. Coffee is also one of the most chemically treated crops so buying organic, at least for daily home use, is advisable. Buying “shade-grown” varieties is also safer since these types require fewer chemicals. Avoid instant and flavored coffees since the “flavors” are just chemical additives.
Decaffeinated coffee offers as much benefit from a nutrient standpoint, without the caffeine. Keep in mind that although the caffeine content is much lower, it is not zero and can add up. A cup of decaf coffee can have as much as 15mg of caffeine. Make sure it is steam or water-processed varieties which do not use hexane or methyl chloride in the decaffeination process. The Swiss Water Process is the cleanest and also most efficient at removing caffeine by as much as 99.9%.
Roasting Coffee. This will decrease the LDL lowering effects of cafestrol but it will also destroy some of the important phytonutrients, by as much as 90% in the darkest roasts. Ultimately, whatever tastes best to you is probably the most important thing but if you have a choice, choose lighter to medium roasts. Be careful of sugar content. 90% of coffee beverages sold in the US contain significant amounts of sugar. Starbucks basic Cafe Vanilla Frappuccino contains 52 grams of sugar (10 tsp) per 12 oz. cup.
It may seem odd, but coffee actually contains fiber. A traditional eight-ounce (237-milliliter) cup of coffee could contain as much as 1.5 grams of fiber and 3.2 cups nearly 5 grams of fiber. In fact, 1/3rd of the fiber consumed in the US is in the form of coffee. 1 cup provides more fiber than a cup of orange juice. 2 cups of Americano provides more fiber than a banana.
So coffee has a relatively decent ampountof fiber as well as phytonutrients. In fact, coffee is the leading source of these nutrients in the American diet. But this is more of a criticism rather than something to celebrate. We really should be getting out plant nutrients and fiber from whole plant foods, not because we are consuming massive amounts of a stimulant.
ACRYLAMIDES in Coffee.
There is no question of the benefits of coffee. Whether caffeinated or not, coffee drinkers have less dementia, heart disease, many types of cancer including liver, prostate and colon, less diabetes, better insulin sensitivity and better brain function. How coffee improves health is unclear but here are a few thoughts:
- They are very high in antioxidants. In fact, in the Standard American Diet (SAD), coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants. That not a good thing since it means that their consumption of healthy food is pretty bad.
- By increasing insulin sensitivity, coffee lowers the amount of circulating sugar, cancer cells’ favorite energy source. Lower sugar levels also lead to less inflammation and tissue damage.
- It increases levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). This molecule binds excess amounts of estrogen and testosterone which helps lower the risks of hormonal cancers like prostate and breast cancer.
They do however contain acrylamides. These are compounds are cancer-causing and their exposure is controlled in the workspace. Their presence in foods however is not controlled. That having been said, the amounts of acrylamides we consume from foods is quite small. Acrylamides are formed in coffee during the roasting process. Although you would think that the more roasted the coffee, the greater the amounts of acrylamides formed but that is not the case. They are formed in greatest amount in the early stages of roasting and they actually get broken down as roasting continues. All that having been said, the amounts of acrylamides in coffee is nothing to worry about and if you do, here is a list of the acrylamide content (in parts per billion PPB) in various foods (all of which are also relatively small):
- Coffee 5-10 ppb
- Bread 40 ppb
- Toasted bread 200 ppb
- French Fries 400 ppb
- Potato Chips 4000 ppb
Light vs Dark Roast Coffee (a summary of comparisons)
95% of the cholesterol-raising activity of coffee is eliminated if brewed with a paper filter, regardless of the roast. In boiled, French Press, Turkish, and other coffees prepared without a paper filter, the amount of cholesterol-raising compounds in the lightest roast coffee beans may be double that of very dark roast beans, as some of those compounds are destroyed by roasting, so the darker the roast, the better.
On the other hand, dark roasting beans may destroy up to nearly 90% of chlorogenic acids, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients thought to account for many of coffee’s benefits, so light roast would be better in this respect.
Dark roasting can also eliminate up to 99.8% of pesticides in conventional coffee and more than 90% of ochratoxin, a fungal contaminant that is a potent kidney toxin.
Although darker roasts may have 4x the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) products suspected to be carcinogenic and DNA damaging, even the darkest roast coffee may only have a fraction of a nanogram of benzopyrene, “the most toxic and the most carcinogenic” of these compounds. In comparison, only one portion of grilled chicken could have more than 1,000x more of these cancer-causing compounds.
A study found that overweight participants lost more than a pound a week drinking darker roast coffee.
Just one cup of coffee can affect blood sugar response, but coffee consumption doesn’t appear to increase diabetes risk. Degree of roasting is not relevant.
Coffee should NOT be the first thing you consume in the morning. Water should be the first thing since we always wake up in a relatively dehydrated state. In addition, Coffee needs protein to enhance detoxification pathways so avoid it on an empty stomach.
TEA is the second most frequently consumed beverage worldwide. Teas, especially green tea have other types of phytonutrients. There are many herbal teas with all kinds of different medicinal qualities which are too numerous for me to list here. Two herbal teas in particular, hibiscus and Indian Gooseberry (also known as Amla) are particularly helpful in controlling blood sugar.
Both green and black teas have been shown to improve the endothelial function of arteries within 30 minutes of consumption. This beneficial effect last for 2 hours but is negated by dairy.
All true teas come from the plant Camellia Sinensis, which is native to China and other parts of south-east Asia. Various factors dictate what happens to the leaves, leading to black, white and green teas. Location, time of harvesting, growing conditions as well as other factors dictate what kind of tea results. All other “teas” are really just herbal infusions, meaning that the herbs are soaked in water and their taste and other compounds are imparted to the water. All true teas contain caffeine while herbal ones do not.
Tea has less caffeine than coffee and also contains L-Theanine, which is a relaxant and mitigates some of the caffeine effects. Theanine, also known as L-γ-glutamylethylamide and N⁵-ethyl-L-glutamine, is an amino acid analogue of the proteinogenic amino acids L-glutamate and L-glutamine and is found primarily in particular plant and fungal species.
Although all forms of tea, white, black, oolong… have benefits, green tea in particular is great. Some of its health promoting benefits include:
- Increasing Stem cell stimulation and production
- Inhibiting angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation) in cancers
- Promotion of a healthy microbiome
- DNA protection
Both tea and coffee contain tannins which are polyphenols (plant compounds) also found in wine, beer, fruit juices, berries, nuts legumes and some herbs and spices. For some people, tannins can negatively affect iron absorption from both plants and animal sources. For some people, there can be as much as a 50-60% reduction with regular coffee or tea consumption. If you have an issue with iron deficiency anemia, you should consider reducing consumption of coffee and/or tea and get you levels re-checked.
Coffee, Tea and Weight Loss
Coffee has been shown to convert “beige” fat into the more thermoregulatory and fat burning “brown” fat. This fat burns energy by generating heat. In addition, coffee increases the activity of the already existing brown fat, assisting in weight loss. In addition, the caffeine itself increases metabolism.
Black tea and green tea actually come from the same plant, the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. The difference has to do with fermentation. To make black tea, the leaves are rolled and exposed to air causing oxidation. The process turns the leaves dark, intensifying the flavors and changing the nutrient profile as well. Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins which increases the rate at which body fat gets burned as fuel. Black tea contains polyphenols called theoflavins which also impact positively on metabolism. They actually change gene expression to favor lipolysis (fat breakdown).
Adding some lemon to green tea increases the beneficial effects of catechins in the body. Lemon zest contains compounds called salvestrol Q40 and limonene, which are known to have antioxidant properties, and lemon peels may have five to 10 times more vitamins than the juice itself.
CAFFEINE. First of all, caffeine is a toxin/drug. It is actually a naturally occurring pesticide/insecticide the coffee or tea plant secretes to protect itself. There is some benefit imparted to us when we consume caffeinated beverages, in addition to the stimulatory effects. Caffeine is NOT an energy source. It forces your cells to expend more energy, giving you the feeling of being more energetic. But then there is the inevitable crash. People do react differently to caffeine however and although some of these side effects are related to volume consumed, some are purely genetic. Caffeine is a stimulant and too much of it (above 400 mg) acts as a diuretic which can have the effect of dehydrating you. In addition, caffeine can both prevent you from falling asleep and can disrupt sleep/wake cycles which can be just as harmful to your sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours so if you are sensitive to it, try to keep your caffeine consumption to before noon. About 85% of people are “fast caffeine metabolizers”. Although there is a specific genetic test to determine if you metabolize caffeine quickly or not, there is a simple cause and effect test. if you get jumpy, anxious, get headaches or palpitations within an hour of drinking coffee, you are probably a “slow metabolizer. There is also a gene which controls how tightly caffeine binds to the adenosine receptor in brain cells. The stronger the bond, the longer lasting the effect of caffeine on sleep latency and quality. As far as anxiety and jitteriness are concerned, some of this is volume based but there is also a genetic component. Caffeine also relaxes the valve (or sphincter) that connects your esophagus to your stomach. By doing so, it can contribute to reflux. Another reason to cut off your caffeine consumption to before noon if you are sensitive. Keep in mind that decaffeinated beverages still have caffeine in them. In order to be able to claim that a beverage is “caffeine-free”, 95% of the caffeine needs to be removed. That means that in an 8 oz. cup of decaffeinated coffee, you can still have 5 mg of caffeine. That is still a lot less than the 80-120 mg that a regular cup can have. Most decaffeination methods these days are safe, using either the Swiss water method or liquid CO2 to extract the caffeine. Some commercial brands however still use chemical solvents. Although only small amounts get into the coffee, there is still some and if you consume it daily, consider researching your favorite brands and choose the ones using the safer techniques. For more information, check out this page: Is Decaffeination Safe?
One advantage of caffeine is that it may decrease the risks, or slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. As with anything, there is a “sweet spot” when it comes to benefit vs detriment. Studies are ongoing about this relationship, but the point is that caffeine is not all bad and may have some surprising benefits.
As much as possible, try to buy fresh, organic and non-GMO coffee and teas. Both are known to be heavily contaminated with pesticides. Even though the amounts of chemicals may be small, consumed every day, they add up.
White tea gets its name from the white fuzz on the young leaves that helps protect the tea plant’s new growth from insects. Early teas does not contain much caffeine, the plants natural insecticide, because insects don’t start eating the leaves, interpreted by the plant as an attack, until the summer. The later leaves are picked, the higher the caffeine content. As far as their polyphenols, plant-derived nutrients, they are present right off the bat so white tea is just as nutritious. Black tea is simply picked later in the season and is also fermented.
Caffeine, be it from coffee, tea or all the sodas and energy drinks out there, is all the same. It is a stimulant and works in various ways. The 3 most important ones include:
- IT BLOCKS ADENOSINE. Caffeine acts as a selective antagonist (meaning it blocks the activity) against the molecule adenosine, one of the body’s more powerful molecules and is linked to the digestion process. During digestion, the glucose in the foods we eat breaks down eventually into Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP). This is responsible for energy transfer between cells. After ATP is “used up”, it breaks down further into adenosine. As adenosine builds up in the bloodstream, it interacts with specific cell receptors, inhibiting neural activity and causing drowsiness. When the body runs out of fuel in the form of easily digestible sugars from the food we eat, adenosine signals the body to become drowsy. This essentially tells us to sleep and rebuild our energy reserves. It’s a critical chain reaction that initiates the early stages of non-REM sleep and is essential to the natural sleep cycle. Caffeine is an adenosine blocker by attaching itself to the same receptors that adenosine would normally latch onto. In turn, it prevents the drowsiness that occurs and the levels of adenosine in the body increase. Caffeine, found in drinks like coffee and even some foods, offers a feeling of wakefulness and alertness. Once caffeine levels wear off, the adenosine which should have been broken down but instead builds up, kicks back in to cause a decrease in neural activity in the brain and corresponding drowsiness. The urge to grab that cup of Joe each morning is typical since many people experience post-sleep grogginess. This grogginess may be attributed to an excessive buildup of adenosine levels during waking hours that does not fully dissipate during the standard sleep cycle. The accumulation of adenosine in the body is related to the quantity of caffeine consumed during the day. By drinking beverages with high levels of caffeine, the body builds up an excessive amount of adenosine. Often this excess is not fully flushed from the body during sleep. This surplus of adenosine, therefore, contributes to the grogginess many suffer each morning. This feeling encourages people to load up on more caffeine. It’s a vicious cycle that results in poorer sleep and feeling tired all day.
- IT IMPACTS EPINEPHRINE. Epinephrine is produced both by the adrenal gland and the locus coeruleus in the brain and it increases alertness. Caffeine increases production and release of epi.
- IT IMPACTS DOPAMINE. The “reward” compound in the brain, caffeine increases the number as well as the sensitivity of dopamine receptors in the brain. This results in a more robust reward response to various other stimuli.
DAIRY AND CREAMER. Adding dairy (milk, cream, creamers…), regardless of fat content, diminish the nutritional benefits of coffee and tea by 95%! This does NOT occur with soy or other non-dairy additives. This is because the fat in dairy forms small clumps called micells which bind to the pnenficial compounds in both coffee and tea. Dairy in genenral is unhelathy and that timy amount may not be significant, but it has a big impact on the benefits of tea and coffee.
Sugar also diminishes the nutritional benefit of coffee and tea, especially the drinks from coffee shops loaded with sugar, flavorings and even whipped cream!
Fruit juice is essentially processed fruit. It is considered a sugar sweetened beverage and is almost as bad as soda. It’s a bit better than sugar sweetened beverages but keep them 100% whole, organic juice and don’t consider them a substitute for whole fruit. All the fiber is removed along with some of the nutrients. All the sugar however is left over. Whole fruit is the best. Blended fruit (example a smoothie) still has some of the fiber and is OK but juiced fruit is the least desirable, especially if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Fruit juice is certainly better for you than artificially sweetened beverages water is still the best. Keep in mind that this also includes “juicing” which has become very popular.
Blending vs Juicing. Both provide lots of vitamins and minerals but juicing strips away the fiber and a fair number of other phytonutrients which are in the skins and pulp. Again, it is always better to eat the whole food but blending would be the next best thing and then juicing. All can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a rotation in a healthy diet.
LIMIT OR ELIMINATE:
SUGAR SWEETENED BEVERAGES (SSB).
The soda market is a $350 billion a year market! For something that has absolutely no nutritional value (it’s actually an anti-nutrient), it’s amazing how addicted we are to it. The Average American consumes ~55 gallons of soda a year. I’t also amazing that most modern sodas like Coke, Pepsi and &Up were developed in the 1800’s by pharmacists as medicinal beverages. Click here to read the fascinating HISTORY of SODA. Sugary drinks are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic along with all the other obesity-related diseases like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. The term “soft drink” refers to any beverage with added sugar or other sweetener, including zero-calorie sweeteners. These include:
- Soda: Coke (40 grams of sugar in 12 oz can), Mountain Dew (46 grams of sugar/12 oz. can), Sprite, 7-Up, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Crush, Fanta, Sunkist, Ginger Ale, etc.
- Energy drinks: Monster, Red Bull, Rock Star, etc. although energy drink companies argue that their products are actually “natural dietary supplements” and as such, should be exempt from the caffeine content regulations (see below).
- Fruit Juice and Juice Drinks: Orange juice, apple juice, cranberry juice, fruit punch, lemonade, aguas frescas, Sunny D, Snapple, Arizona, Fuze, Hi-C, Capri Sun, Kool-Aid, Tang, etc.
- Sports Drinks: Gatorade and Propel (made by PepsiCo), Powerade and Vitamin Water (made by Coke)
- Sweetened coffees and teas: Arizona, Nestea, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Doughnuts etc.
- Flavored milk: Chocolate milk, YooHoo, Nesquik, milk shakes, etc.
- Health/Supplement drinks: Ensure, Muscle Milk, Kombucha, smoothies
Drinking sugary beverages doesn’t make you feel as full as eating the same calories from solid food and most people don’t compensate for their high caloric content by eating less food. Fruit juice is better but not by much.
Rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic which at last count stood at 40% of adults and 19% of kids and teens with 70% of all Americans being overweight or obese. Half of Americans consume sugary drinks daily. 25% consume at least 200 calories from such drinks (about 2 sodas) and 5% drink at least 550 calories (about four cans of soda). Soft drink makers produce 10.4 billion gallons of sugary soda each year, enough to serve every American a 12-ounce can every day, 365 days a year.
- Sugary drinks (soda, energy, sports drinks) are the top calorie source in teens’ diets (226 calories per day), beating out pizza (213 calories per day).63% of kids drink at least 1 soda a day and 30% drink at least 2!
- From 1989 to 2008, calories consumed in the form of sugary beverages increased by 60% in children ages 6 to 11, and the percentage of children consuming them rose from 79% to 91%. Beverage companies in the US spend billions of dollars marketing carbonated beverages, with a significant portion of marketing aimed directly at youth ages 2–17. Each year, youth see hundreds of television ads for sugar-containing drinks.
- Studies funded by the beverage industry are 4-8 times more likely to show a finding favorable to industry than independently-funded studies.
The ironic thing about “sports” drinks is that they are no better than plain water at keeping athletes hydrated. In fact they can make thigs worse. Click this link to learn more about how sports beverages impact on athletic performance: Sports Drinks Don’t Work.
Health risks of sugar drinks include:
- FATTY LIVER DISEASE. This is the leading cause of liver transplants in this country and the biggest contributors are SSBs. A close second is added sugar of all kinds.
- OBESITY: Caloric beverages contribute to weight gain more than solid foods because the body doesn’t compensate fully for beverage calories by reducing calorie intake from other foods. Adults who drink one sugary drink or more per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than non-drinkers, regardless of income or ethnicity. The University of Southern California banned sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) on campus and found that weight and waist size decreased in students that were followed.
- DIABETES: Consuming 1-2 cans of sugary drinks a day, increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%.
- HEART DISEASE: Consuming 1 can of a sugary drink per day have a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack.
- CANCER. A recent French study of over 100,000 people followed on average for 42 years revealed that as little as 3 oz. or a sugary drink (1/4 of a regular soda) a day increased breast cancer risk by 22% and overall cancer risk by 18%.
- OSTEOPOROSIS: Cola drinkers have lower bone density. This is because the high amount of phosphorus in the soda which inhibits calcium absorption. However, the phosphoric acid in cola also causes a release of calcium out of your bones. The alkaline calcium helps to buffer the acidic phosphoric acid in the blood. The caffeine in soda is not a direct problem but in the environment of high acidity, there is an amplified effect of losing calcium resulting in bone loss. In addition, it is a nervous system stimulant.
- TOOTH DECAY: Soda consumption is associated with nearly twice the risk of cavities in children and increases their likelihood in adults. Untreated cavities can lead to pain, infection, and tooth loss.
- AGING: Sugar damages the skin leading to wrinkles. In addition based on impact on telomere length, SSBs increase biological age by 5 years above actual chronological age.
Although we think of Jolt, Red Bull and Monster as fairly recent innovations, the first “energy” drink was developed in 1949. “Dr. Enuf” is actually still being produced. The energy drink industry is a $50 billion a year market and it is heavily invested in our youth. Entire sporting tours and events are sponsored by these companies. The companies producing these beverages market them as “natural dietary supplements” so their caffeine content isn’t regulated the same way that sodas are however, it’s often not the caffeine which causes the problems with these drinks. Independent of caffeine content, energy drinks can raise blood pressure significantly and prolong the QT interval. This interval is the space between the start of the Q wave and the end of the T wave on an EKG and corresponds to the time it takes for your heart to contract and then refill with blood before beginning the next contraction. This may not be a big deal under normal circumstance but when stressed, there may not be enough blood pumped out of the heart and can lead to passing out or at worst, heart attack or sudden death. As far as blood pressure is concerned, they have been shown to raise it enough to increase the risk of dying from a stroke by 20% and from a heart attack by 12%. In addition, these drinks adversely impact on endothelial function (the lining of arteries). The ingredient or combination of ingredients which lead to these problems is not clear although it does not appear to be the caffeine content. Their “proprietary blends” of “natural” ingredients are as yet not fully tested.
Many energy drinks also contain choline which bacteria in the gut of meat-eaters is converted into TMA (trimethyamine oxide) which is then converted into TMAO (trimethylamine oxide) in the liver which is linked to many chronic diseases. For more information on TMAO, click here.
Check out this link about sugar and theHistory of Soda. It is quite fascinating.
Although there are some possible benefits to alcohol consumption, those benefits are limited and over exaggerated. The benefits are more related to the phytochemical compounds in the plants used in the brewing process, rather than the alcohol itself. The additional benefits are the fact that it is usually a social activity and brings people together. Although the general recommendations are that women should only have 1 alcoholic beverage a day and men can have 2, more recent information suggests that there is no safe level.
To be clear, alcohol is a toxin. It is pro-inflammatory, contributes to dementia and causes cancer, especially breast, liver, throat and gastrointestinal cancers. It is addictive and damages the brain directly. See the next section for more on this. It also causes heart disease by contributing to inflammation and endothelial damage and is a risk factor for arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation. A measure of heart health and vagal nerve tone (a measure of our ability to respond to stress) is heart rate variability (HRV). It is affected for up to 5 days when you consume even a small amount of alcohol. It is toxic to the brain, particularly the cerebellum. The cerebellum is a part of the brain originally thought to only be responsible for movement and coordination but it also has now been recognized as the site of 80% of our emotional and cognitive control. Only representing 10% of the brain by volume, it houses 50% of the neurons.
For more information on alcohol’s effects on the brain and addiction, click here.
Alcohol gets converted into acetaldehyde, which is 10x more toxic than alcohol, by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. The acetaldehyde then then gets converted into acetate by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. This second enzyme is the one missing in many Asians, which is why many Asian can’t tolerate much, if any alcohol. Acetate then gets converted into fat, water and CO2. In the liver, the cells which make alcohol dehydrogenase have DNA changes 9 epigenetic changes) which lead to more of this enzyme being produced when you consume alcohol. That is partly why people develop tolerance. The more you drink, the more you can drink. The less you drink, the less your liver produces this enzyme and the less you can tolerate alcohol. That’s why after a period of abstinence, your alcohol tolerance goes down.
Alcohol is the most prevalent controllable risk factor for breast cancer across all cultures and populations.
- 1 drink a day increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 10%.
- 2 drinks a day increases the risk by 30%.
- 3 a day, the risk goes up by 40%.
- For each drink above that, the risk goes up an additional 10%.
Why is alcohol so carcinogenic, especially with breast cancer?
- It increases estrogen levels.
- It impairs immune function.
- It can cause bone marrow suppression leading to low red blood cells (anemia) and low white blood cell counts, impairing immune function.
- It creates toxic metabolites, especially acetaldehyde, which is produced even if you gargle with alcohol-based mouth rinses.
- It inactivates an enzyme, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), which converts folic acid into its active form, methyl folate.
- It depletes thiamine (vitamin B1) leading to Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, characterized by confusion, as well as visual, balance and coordination problems. If left untreated, this evolves to Korsakoff Dementia which is a permanent form of dementia.
- It directly causes DNA damage.
- It causes oxidative stress.
In addition, it contributes to insulin resistance, leading to diabetes and other chronic diseases and converts testosterone into estrogen. If you have any hormonal issues, especially low testosterone, you should definitely limit your alcohol consumption. It causes reflux and its breakdown product acetaldehyde disrupts sleeping patterns. Alcohol prevents us from going into the most important stages of sleep, those where we dream (REM). This can have a devastating effect on daytime mental and physical function. Even one night of excessive consumption results in days of impaired testosterone and growth hormone production and function. Alcoholic drinks are also a big source of empty calories leading to weight gain. Alcohol impairs judgment leading to poor food, and sometimes, behavioral choices. Limit consumption to 1 drink a day for women and 2 for men. The reason for this difference is partly because of weight differences but it’s primarily because men produce more of the liver enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase which metabolizes alcohol than women do.
Alcohol also causes your body to burn calories more slowly. Because the liver prioritizes detoxifying alcohol above all else, alcohol consumption slows down the burning of fat which lead to weight gain. It can also low blood sugar because nutrients are not converted into energy.
Alcohol also has a significant impact on triglyceride (TG), even after one drink. And the effect can persist for days. So if you are a regular drinker, even the 1glass a day for women and 2 for men, this can have a significant impact on TG levels.
Exercise lowers TG levels by the way.
ALCOHOL and WEIGHT LOSS. Alcohol consumption is associated with weight gain for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, not too far off from fat which contains 9 calories per gram. In the United States, one “standard” drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in: 12 oz. of regular beer (1 can), which is usually about 5% alcohol, 5 oz of wine (1 glass), which is typically about 12% alcohol or 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits (1 standard simple drink), which is about 40% alcohol. This is approximately 100 calories. And that is before you add anything to it. Beer and wine have a lot of carbohydrates built into them and mixed drinks can really pack on the sugar.
Alcohol is preferentially metabolized first by the liver before other forms of macronutrients consumed during a meal. This leads to less fat metabolism, also known as “fat sparing”.
Alcohol also impairs the “hunger” hormone leptin, leading to distorted hunger drives. This is partly why you get the munchies when you drink. Moderate to heavy drinkers have more difficulty losing weight than those who were in a :healthier” weight range.
Lastly, alcohol impact on sleep quality and poor sleep is linked to weight gain for a variety of reasons. One main one is it’s negative impact on fat breakdown and also on the balance between leptin and ghrelin, the satiety (“I’m full”) hormone.
ALCOHOL AND THE GUT MICROBIOME. Chronic alcohol consumption also alters the gut microbiome. This alone contributes to inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) which contributes the the cirrhosis (scarring) which occurs in the liver. This chronic liver inflammation is a significant contributor to liver cancer as well.
Alcohol and the SUN
Alcohol is a toxin which causes inflammation. Not just in your liver and brain, but throughout the body, including the skin. The skin of those who consume too much alcohol suffers more damage and ages faster. In addition, it increases the risks of developing skin cancers. Just having more than 1 drink while outside increases the risk of melanoma by 20%. If you consume 5 or more beers, your melanoma rates go up by 55%. The rates of other common skin cancers like squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas also increased, but not as much as is seen with melanoma.
Drinking alcohol definitely changes behavior, making you less disciplined. As a result, you stay out longer, lose track of time and don’t reapply sunscreen or just blow it off altogether, all which increase the incidence and risks of sunburns. But in addition to those factors, there are some actual physiologic changes which result in alcohol causing more sunburns.
- Alcohol increases the rate at which your skin burns.
- It causes an immune dysregulation, preventing the body from protecting you from the harmful UV rays. The damaged cells from UV rays are not cleared by the immune system. They live longer and have a greater chance of becoming cancerous.
- Normally, we get a release of protective carotenoids which is inhibited by alcohol.
- There are other, less understood molecular processes which are disrupted as well.
There is more information on alcohol, hangovers, cures, myths… at the end of this section.
Is a little OK? There are some studies showing a protective effect against dementia in those consuming 1-2 alcoholic beverages daily, even over those who consume no alcohol, but the negative impact goes up sharply after 3 drinks a day. The best, “healthiest” alcohols are good quality tequila and vodka (assuming they are not mixed with sugary mixers) and red wine. With respect to cancer, those following a Mediterranean diet, a component if which is red wine, as compared with a standard Western diet, had lower rates for all cancers except for breast cancer. This one particular cancer is particularly sensitive to alcohol consumption. If you choose to drink, stick to no more than 1-2 glasses of wine a day.
- WINE. Red is by far the “healthiest” because of the 600 polyphenols which come from the skins and seeds, followed by rosé (a blend of red and white) and then white wine, which is basically red wine which was fermented without the red skins. The best-known polyphenol is resveratrol and plenty of opportunistic supplement makers have jumped on that bandwagon. It’s not from white grapes. The highest resveratrol levels come from Sardinia, one of the blue zones where they make Cannonau wine. European reds, especially from Italy, are the healthiest as they have the lowest sulfite content since they use almost exclusively bio-dynamic (essentially organic) growing practices and do not add genetically modified brewer’s yeast or additional sulfites (which do occur naturally during fermentation but are added as a preservative by most other vineyards). These are common unhealthy practices in many other parts of the world including California. They also allow use irrigation practices to fatten the grapes which leads to later harvests and more sugar resulting in higher alcohol content. In addition, in the US, the FDA has approved 76 wine additives which they are not required to reveal. These additives include flavoring agents, stabilizers, ammonia, egg whites and even fish bladders for texture. The wine industry is not required to include food content labels on their products. US wine companies use genetically modified yeast during fermentation whereas in other places, naturally occurring yeast on the vine is used. Lastly, Roundup is so commonly used in the US that even organic wines are contaminated with this carcinogenic herbicide. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is banned in Europe which is partly why their wines are so much healthier than American wines. A recent test of a number of California wines, including ones grown both conventionally and organically, showed that 100% of them had glyphosate contamination. American wines on average, contain 64 different detectable herbicides or pesticides. The rain has it. The irrigation water has it. There is NO clean wine in the US. Even organic. The organic wines had much smaller amounts but it was still there. A great source for cleaner, natural, healthier, organic and lower sugar wine is Dry Farm Wines. They are a wine re-seller but only sell wines which are very closely tested and scrutinized. Their wines are grown naturally, without irrigation (which did not start to occur in California until 1973), have almost no sugar (<1 gm per liter), have low alcohol content (<12.5%) and do not use any additives at any stage of growing or bottling. There are studies which sow that red wine consumption during a meal increases flavonoid and nutrient absorption from food/plants we eat more than water does. This does not mean that you should swap out water for wine, but that some wine is not all bad.The benefits of red wine may have to do with the trimethylamine (TMA) reducing effects of resveratrol. By reducing TMA production, less trimethylamine oxide (TMAO), a very cardiotoxic compound, is formed. If you are on a plant based diet, you don’t make TMAO in the first place because you don’t have the bacteria which make this conversion, so there is little additional benefit to drinking wine or taking resveratrol.
- BEER. Beer is the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage (almost 40%) followed by red wine, then spirits like vodka and rum. Beer also contains many phytonutrients. Hops, the plant which is used to make most beer, contain the plant polyphenol xanthohumerol, a natural flavonoid. It’s anti-angiogenic and mobilizes stem cells. Beer is also very high in carbohydrates, which is why it is referred to as “liquid bread”. There is a measure called IBU or International Bitterness Units. This is a measure of the beer’s bitterness level which correlates well with phytonutrient content. The higher the IBU, the “healthier” the beer. As an example, beers like Budweiser and Miller have an IBU around 10 whereas more hoppier/bitter beers like Stone India Pale Ale has an IBU of 80. Beer is also very estrogenic (increases estrogen effects in the body), from both the alcohol effect which converts testosterone into estrogen but also from the hops, which have high concentrations of phytoestrogens (plant compounds similar to human estrogens). Hops, used to make beer, contains 8-prenylnaringenin, a phytoestrogen (plant compound similar to estrogen) which is 50x more potent than the ones found in soy (genistein). Although plant phytoestrogens don’t have the same effects of mammalian estrogens, if you consume enough, they can contribute to “man boob” formation in addition to significant weight gain.
- Although there are almost countless beer micro-brews and vineyard brands, the vast majority of beer and wine consumed in the US is owned sold by only a few companies. 52% of wine is owned by only 3 companies, all sold under varying company names to make it look like they are all independent. In the case of beer, Anheuser-Bush alone controls 46% of all beer sales in the US. The most commonly consumed beer in both the US and Canada is Bud Light and worldwide, it ranks 3rd after 2 Chinese brands.
Humans have been consuming alcohol for thousands of years. There are wine vessels dating back more than 5000 years in Mesopotamia. Alcohol was first distilled by the Chinese in the first century, not in Ireland as is commonly thought. It has and is still used for medicinal purposes since it does kill bacteria (both bad and good bacteria). It has been used to clean surfaces since it is a sterilizing agent, again because it kills bacteria. However, the vast majority of alcohol has been consumed and used to change our internal state. To change how we feel. I can make us feel good, but will inevitably make us feel more stressed, depressed and anxious even long after the alcohol wears off.
To be short and clear, alcohol is a toxic substance which kills cells and changes brain pathways. Some people claim that it makes them feel good and helps them relax, but it ultimately has negative effects. In some, those effects are subtle but in some, it is obviously quite destructive.
And it may be irrelevant whether you have 1-2 a day, a few on Fridays or more on weekends, binge drink once a month… It all still can have a deleterious and long lasting effect.
Basic biology and chemistry of alcohol.
There are 3 main types of alcohol:
- Ethyl Alcohol (ethanol). It is the only one “fit” for human consumption, however it is still toxic to all cells. It is the compound in all alcoholic beverages from wine to beer to vodka to the liquor in chocolates.
- Isopropyl Alcohol is mixed with water to make rubbing-alcohol, used as an antiseptic. It is also used in aftershave lotions, hand lotions, and other cosmetics. In industry it is used as an inexpensive solvent for cosmetics, drugs, shellacs, and gums, as well as for denaturing ethanol (ethyl alcohol). It is used primarily as a cleaning/sterilizing substance.
- Methyl Alcohol (methanol). Also known as wood alcohol, methanol is primarily used as an industrial solvent to help create inks, resins, adhesives, and dyes. It is also used as a solvent in the manufacture of important pharmaceutical ingredients and products such as cholesterol, streptomycin, vitamins and hormones. It’s also used to make antifreeze, pesticides, windshield wiper fluid, paint thinner, certain types of fuel, and other substances. Wood alcohol catches fire easily and is very poisonous. It is one of many harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke. This was used in counterfeit spirits since it is cheap and easy to make and obtain and led to many deaths over the years since it is extremely toxic to humans.
Because of its structure, it is both water and fat soluble, meaning that it can pass into every cell and tissue in your body. Unlike other drugs and molecules which bind to the surface of cells, creating a cascade of reactions, alcohol can pass directly into the cell and cause its own direct reactions and effects. The fact that it can get into any cell is the reason behind the laundry list of damaging effects it has.
Ethanol has to be converted into something else, since it is toxic. NAD, Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is a cofactor involved in many metabolic processes and is found in all cells. Its levels diminish with age and there is a lot of interest in NAD in the longevity literature. NAD, along with some other metabolic pathways, are involved in breaking ethanol down into acetaldehyde which is significantly more toxic to all cells indiscriminately. At this stage, another component of the NAD pathway is used to convert acetaldehyde into acetate, which the body can use as fuel. This ethanol to acetaldehyde to acetate conversion pathway occurs primarily in the liver and it’s important for it to occur quickly which is why the body prioritizes breaking down alcohol during a meal rather than other components of that meal. As NAD depletes, there is less of it available to assist in this conversion and more acetaldehyde builds up in the body. The reason that alcohol is considered “empty calories” is because the conversion process consumes more energy than it uses or stores.
It’s the poison, the acetaldehyde itself, which leads to the feeling of being inebriated or drunk. Being drunk is actually a poison-induced disruption in how our neural circuitry works.
Chronic drinkers, or those who are predisposed to alcoholism, tend to feel energized or very good for longer periods of time than those who are not. And “chronic” does not mean drinking a ton. It can mean having 1-2 a night (and remember that most advice set a limit of 1 drink per night for women and 2 for men as being acceptable), or none during the week but a few more on weekends, and doing so regularly. Those who are not regular drinkers experience the effects of alcohol much more quickly. They feel good for a shorter period of time but more quickly develop fatigue, slurred speech or impaired motor skills. This is different from tolerance which will be discussed below.
The “life of the party” type people, those who seem to be able to keep going into the late hours, need to be very careful because there is an inherent increased risk for going on to develop full blown alcoholism.
When alcohol is consumed, it first hits the stomach and eventually makes its way into the intestines. As it is a sterilizing agent, it starts to cause damage by killing the various microbes in the mouth and gut. Consuming it once in a while has little impact, but day after day, even a small amount can significantly affect the gut microbiome. The same goes for alcohol based mouthwashes which are quite bad for the oral microbiome and are linked to the development of such diseases as diabetes and heart disease. Once alcohol is absorbed through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, which occurs very rapidly, especially on an empty stomach, it makes its way throughout the body, but is broken down by the liver where it is converted into acetaldehyde and then acetate. As mentioned above, the liver preferentially breaks down alcohol first before other nutrients like carbs, fat and protein. Some of the toxic breakdown products of alcohol do make it through the blood brain barrier into the brain. Alcohol is indiscriminate as to where it goes in the brain and it doesn’t bind to any specific receptors. However it does seem to have an affinity for and impact on specific parts of the brain which have to do with certain types of thinking and behavior.
Initially, when consuming alcohol, there is a slight suppression of the activity of the neurons in the prefrontal cortex, the area involved in thinking, planning and most importantly suppression of certain types of behavior like impulsivity. For example, at a party, as it progresses, the volume of conversations seems to increase. This has to do with peoples loss of their ability to modulate their voices. People start gesticulating and moving around more. Maybe they start to dance spontaneously. This occurs because this part of the brain is involved in top-down inhibition by releasing a neurotransmitter called γ-Aminobutyric acid or GABA which is involved in behavior suppression as the prefrontal cortex is shut down. People start to speak spontaneously without forethought. Alcohol also has a significant impact on the hippocampus, where memory formation and storage occurs.
Areas of the brain involved in flexible behavior are also suppressed. Options become less obvious. Spontaneous, even inappropriate behavior, becomes more obvious.
But these changes do not only occur while drinking. With regular drinking (and remember it doesn’t take much or very often), there are changes in neural circuitry which become very long lasting, even permanent, even occurring when not drinking or having any alcohol in our systems. You become more impulsive, have poorer judgment and become more habitual. Alcohol increases the number of synapses (point of neuronal connection) in the neural circuits which control habitual behavior.
The good news is that these changes are reversible, but it can take 2-6 months of abstinence. But the longer and the more you habitually drink, the longer it takes with some changes becoming permanent.
In addition to the negative impact of alcohol on top-down inhibition and habitual behavior circuitry, there are also dramatic changes in the activity of serotonin-producing neurons. Serotonin is the neurochemical involved in mood and wellbeing (as opposed to reward and addiction which is controlled by dopamine). Acetaldehyde acts as a toxin at the synapse between serotonergic neurons and other neurons. Initially, those neurons become hyperactive (hence the early “good mood” from a few drinks), but then they become hypoactive, leading to the depression which people note. The timeline is variable but in many people, depression occurs quickly, leading to the consumption of more alcohol in pursuit of that good mood, which 100% of the time does not happen. The more alcohol consumed, the more behavior like speech, arousal and movement/coordination become affected. Although some people do not experience this and seem to be the “life of the party” since they can go on and on, those are also the people who are at risk of dependance.
“Black-out” episodes are a result of a combination of the hippocampus (memory center) becoming severely impaired while the rest of the behavioral parts of the brain remain active. This accounts for things like not remembering how they got home, or whom they were with or what went on in the latter parts of the evening. There can even be some retrograde amnesia (not remembering things from before the person even started drinking).
When anyone drinks, no matter who you are, there is initial shutting down of the prefrontal cortical circuits, followed by a gradual shutting down of the circuits which control memory. But then people divide into 2 groups; those who start to feel sedated and those who don’t. There is certainly variability like how much and how fast someone drinks as well as things like mixing different types of alcohol.
Alcohol also changes the relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland, what is called the HPA Axis. The hypothalamus is a small gumball sized collection of neurons which sits above the roof of the mouth. It houses neurons responsible for aspects of our behavior and mindset like rage, mindset, sex drive, apatite, hunger, thirst and temperature regulation. All very primitive emotions and functions. The pituitary gland is a gland which sits above the deepest of our nasal sinuses and produces various hormones like sex hormones and thyroid stimulating hormone. The adrenal is a small gland which sits on top of each kidney and, amongst other things, makes stress like cortisol, a steroid, and adrenaline, a stimulant. Normally the hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary gland, which produces hormones, some of which go to and provide signals for the adrenals. As a result, the HPA axis activity is altered. More cortisol is released at baseline, even when they are not drinking. As a consequence, they feel more stressed all the time. One alcoholic beverage may relax you a bit, but the overall effect of alcohol is to increase stress. It has to do with imbalance between cortisol and the other hormones involved in the stress response. That increased baseline of cortisol production adds to other health effects like gaining more weight and worsening insulin function (insulin resistance).
There are genes which increase the risk of developing alcoholism, but even when those genetic factors are not present, chronic alcohol use by itself increases those risks because of changes in brain circuitry, chemistry as well as the brain to body stress system. The impact is threefold:
- Increased stress, even when not drinking,
- Diminished mood and feeling of well being, even when not drinking and
- Changes in the neural circuitry leading to the drive to drink more just to get to baseline as far as the mood and stress modulation which existed before they started drinking.
The genes which chronic alcohol usage modifies fall primarily in the pathways involved in controlling serotonin receptors, GABA receptors and the HPA axis. That, along with other environmental modifying factors like social situation, trauma… give rise to alcohol use disorders. These same pathways are also involved in any kind of addictive behavior, be it smoking, drugs, gambling, sex, eating or even excess exercise.
There are also genetic variants which result in our inability to break down alcohol. In the same way that most humans eventually lose the ability to break down the dairy sugar lactose when they can no longer make the enzyme lactase, some people are born with, or develop the inability to produce Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2), which breaks down alcohol. As a result, acetaldehyde can’t be converted into acetate, which ALDH2 is responsible for, so levels of acetaldehyde increase, causing even more toxic symptoms. This genetic defect is common in many Asian populations. Certain medications can impact on this enzyme as well, impairing alcohol breakdown. One in particular, disulfiram, was developed specifically to discourage alcohol use in alcoholics. Many chronic diseases also lead to impairment of this enzyme, particularly in how the kidney responds to it leading to concentration of toxic metabolites. These include diabetes and even taking antibiotics like tetracyclines.
Other enzymes are also involved in alcohol metabolism but to a much lesser degree. The enzymes cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1) and catalase also break down alcohol to acetaldehyde. However, CYP2E1 only is active after a person has consumed large amounts of alcohol, and catalase metabolizes only a small fraction of alcohol in the body. Small amounts of alcohol also are removed by interacting with fatty acids to form compounds called fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs). These compounds have been shown to contribute to damage to the liver and pancreas.
There are many genes and defects which are involved in potential for developing alcoholism. Those, along with social situations and cues are all important.
The younger you start drinking regularly, the greater the risk of developing alcoholism, independent of genetics. The older you are when you start drinking, the less likely you are to develop dependence.
The Gut – Liver – Brain Axis
The gut, which extends from your lips to your anus, communicates with the brain, through nerve cells, primarily the vagus nerve, as well as through chemical signaling. Communication goes both ways, but it is primarily from the gut to the brain. The gut also communicates with the liver through the nervous system and through chemical signals. Completing the loop, the liver also communicates with the brain also through both neurological and chemical mechanisms. Any alcohol consumption impacts on the microbiome by killing bacteria and causing imbalance. It kills microbes indiscriminately. In addition, the direct inflammatory impact of alcohol contributes to microbiome disruption as well as physical disruption of the intestinal barrier. The net effect of this disruption leads to more alcohol consumption.
The best way to improve gut health, other than avoiding alcohol, is to remove sugar and processed food from the diet, adding fermented foods like sauerkraut and also increasing our consumption of whole fruits and vegetables. Removing as much animal sourced products like meat, eggs and dairy is also very impactful on the gut in a positive way.
The single most important predictor of gut health, which also represents 70% of our immune function not just locally, but throughout the body, is how much and how many varieties of plants you eat.
Food and alcohol
Remember that alcohol is preferentially metabolized by the liver over all other nutrients. Food only helps mitigate the effects of alcohol if consumed before you drink since it will slow the absorption of alcohol. Especially if what you consume contains all 3 major macronutrients, i.e. fat, protein and carbohydrates. Once it’s in your system, eating more will do nothing with respect to “sobering you up”. Alcohol moves into the bloodstream very quickly, as fast as within 5 minutes, espetially if your stomach is empty.
This is a constitution of effects which includes headache, malaise, nausea and “hang-xiety”. Tha anxiety one feels the next day can easily be explained by the increase in cortisol which occurs after alcohol consumption. Depression may similarly be associated with serotonin disruption from alcohol consumption.
Sleep quality is impacted, even after just one glass of wine or pint of beer. The more you drink, the poorer the sleep quality. All the GI symptoms have to do with the direct impact of alcohol on the gut microbiome. It kills microbes!! Headache is caused by the constriction of blood vessels (vasoconstriction) which occurs after drinking alcohol, which in the acute phases of consumption, dilates blood vessels.
Most people reach for medications to alleviate symptoms. NSAIDS like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) or non-NSAIDs like acetaminophen (Tylenol). All impact on the liver, which after a night of drinking when our liver has been working in overdrive, is a bad idea, but the NSAIDS also disrupt the gut microbiome even further, not to mention that they negatively affect the immune system.
“Hair of the Dog”, consuming more alcohol, in an attempt to mitigate the symptoms, is a terrible idea. Although more alcohol will once again dilate blood vessels relieving some of the brain effects like headache, they cause an even worse rebound. By the way, the saying is a shortened version of “Hair of the Dog that Bit You” and comes from the lore that by consuming the hair of a dog who bit you may prevent the development of diseases like rabies.
Cold exposure, like a cold shower, may help by increasing internal body temperature which dilates blood vessels. Although it sounds counterintuitive, a cold shower leads to increased core body temperature since peripheral blood vessels are contracted by the cold. The reverse happens when you take a warm bath. It actually decreases core temperature, which is actually beneficial for sleep. The shock of cold exposure also increases levels of epinephrine which helps in the clearance of alcohol from the body. Cold also increases dopamine levels in the brain which also helps improve mood. However, if there is still significant alcohol or alcohol residues circulating in the body, temperature regulation mechanisms are disrupted so hypothermia can occur more easily if you are exposed to too much cold.
Hydration and electrolyte balances are also disrupted by alcohol. Water in between drinks is helpful in mitigating the diuretic (aka “peeing”) effect of alcohol, and adding some electrolytes also helps. Consuming water also slows the consumption of alcohol.
Which alcohol leads to the worst hangovers?
There is a lot of legend and lore when it comes to this issue. It is erroneously believed that sugar content, from both the alcohol as well as the mixers, lead to hangovers but this turns out not to be true.
It’s a combination of a number of things but mostly, hangovers are a result of overindulging in combination of what are called congeners (Latin for “born together”). Hangovers range in severity depending on the type of alcohol, thanks to congeners, which are byproducts of fermentation and distillation. These substances include small amounts of chemicals such as methanol and other alcohols, acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, tannins, and aldehydes. They contribute to a drink’s flavor and color, but are very difficult for the liver to break down, and cause hangover symptoms like headaches, malaise as well as brain fog. They also disrupt the gut microbiome, along with all of its side effects.
Yeast produces these congeners during fermentation, and a brewer or winemaker doesn’t have a lot of control over the amounts of them, which is why beer has very little amounts. Distillers, on the other hand, do have a lot of control and can either exclude congeners totally or include them to affect the flavor, color and aroma of the spirit.
Distillers achieve this by managing the heat in the still, causing some congeners to evaporate and others to remain, depending on the temperature level. Another technique is distilling the liquor multiple times, filtering out congeners. This is why, for instance, Irish whiskey distilled three times may taste lighter than double distilled Scotch whisky. Some congeners are pleasant tasting and others taste foul, so the distiller has to control what gets removed and what stays in the bottle. Vodka and gin are distilled to remove all of the congeners entirely to yield a neutral flavor, whereas congeners are purposely left in darker spirits to add depth of flavor and dark color.
Brandy has the highest amount of congeners, followed by dark alcohols like whiskey and red wine.
Overall, the following is a partial list of which beverages contribute more to hangovers, from least likely to more, but keep in mind that volume of consumption is also a significant factor:
- Ethanol (grain alcohol) with or without juice
- Wine (red)
- Brandy (#1)
The infamous “Champagne hangover” has more to do with the bubbles. The carbon dioxide in Champagne helps the alcohol get absorbed into the bloodstream faster. While the same can be said for all carbonated beverages with alcohol, champagne and other sparkling wines (champagne not produced in the Champagne region of France) have a much stronger carbonation compared to soda. This, in combination with the fact that Champagne is often consumed upon entry to a party before food is served, can lead to a pretty nasty hangover. Even if you pace yourself later in the evening, if you drank half a bottle of Champagne on an empty stomach at the start of the night, the damage is already done.
Sugary drinks and cheap booze aren’t at fault. A common myth is that the sugar in mixed drinks leads to harsher hangovers, but in reality, sugar simply makes cocktails tastier, masking the alcohol more palatable, leading to more consumption. The body is very good at processing sugar, compared to alcohol, so sugar doesn’t affect a hangover.
The same goes for cheap liquor. A bottle of cheap liquor isn’t going to make your hangover any worse than the expensive stuff. Cheap vodka will still have no congeners, so the myth of cheap drinks causing worse hangovers is probably just because people are drinking more at one time since it’s cheaper.
“Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before liquor, you’ve never been sicker.” This is actually valid to some degree. You can’t blame your hangover on the fact that you mixed too many different types of alcohol in a single night. But you can blame it on the order in which you picked your poisons. When you start drinking, you’re going slower and your body is able to process it pretty easily. But the more you drink, the harder it is for your body to keep up. If you start with beer and end with shots, your body can’t process the hard alcohol as easily. But if you go in the other direction and drink harder alcohol in the beginning of the night when your body can process it the fastest, you’ll metabolize more of it when you switch to beer later on. The volume of beer also adds to how quickly you consume it. As you get more intoxicated, there’s a point when your judgment becomes impaired and you want to keep going, but it’s harder to do that as quickly with beer because it fills you up so much.
There are more than 10 different types of tolerance. In a nutshell, tolerance means the reduced effects of alcohol with repeated exposure. This is caused by changes in the neurotransmitter systems in the brain which are a direct consequence of the toxicity of the aldehyde from alcohol. There are many many chemicals whose levels change with repeated exposure to acetaldehyde including GABA, serotonin, and acetylcholine. But dopamine is probably the most important one. Dopamine is the “pleasure” chemical. It reinforces behaviors which give us pleasure, any pleasure. But the rise in dopamine and serotonin, which occurs quickly after consuming alcohol, is followed by a long slow arc of feeling worse. With each subsequent drink, in a given night or even in subsequent nights, days or even weeks later, there is less and less dopamine which is released. There is less and less of the pleasant reinforcing aspects of drinking and more and more unpleasant rebound which occurs. Rather than getting an extended period of feeling good, one gets a longer period of punishment, malaise and feeling bad from the alcohol. With tolerance, you get less of the good-mood chemicals and more of the bad-mood effects as well as increased levels of ALDH2 which breaks down the alcohol faster.
These neurotransmitter levels can improve or even return to normal, but it depends on the duration and frequency of alcohol consumption, as well as the duration of complete abstinence.
The Incredible Shrinking Brain
Your cerebral cortex, also called gray matter, is your brain’s outermost layer of nerve cell tissue. It has a wrinkled appearance from its many folds and grooves. Your cerebral cortex plays a key role in memory, thinking, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, emotions, consciousness and functions related to your senses. Your cerebral cortex consists of six layers of nerve cells that contain between 14 billion and 16 billion nerve cells. It’s two millimeters (mm) to four mm (0.08 inches to 0.16 inches) thick. Even mild, but regular alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce the thickness of the cortex of the brain. The degree of shrinkage is proportional to the amount of alcohol you consume.
Alcohol and Cancer Risk
Alcohol can also alter DNA methylation and gene expression which can result in a dramatic array of changes in many tissues. In particular, it increases cancer risk, especially breast cancer. There is as much as a 10% increase in cancer risk for every drink consumed. And having one drink a day is the same as having 7 drinks on a weekend.
Although it is hard to compare, estimates are that having one drink a day is equivalent to smoking 10 cigarettes a day when it comes to cancer risk..
Consumption of folate is important in mitigating the effects of alcohol on methylation and DNA damage. Folate is one of the B vitamins. Foods high in folate include:
- Dark green leafy vegetables (turnip greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli)
- Sunflower seeds.
- Fresh fruits, fruit juices.
- Whole grains.
Alcohol and Pregnancy
Alcohol is extremely toxic to the developing fetus, especially the fetal brain. With chronic alcohol use, there is a well established syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, resulting in cognitive as well as physical developmental issues in kids. But even low low levels of alcohol can impact on the developing brain of the fetus.
Alcohol and Hormones
Alcohol increases the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, and this occurs in various tissues. This conversion is called aromatization since the enzyme involved is called aromatase. This is what leads to “man boobs” as well as increased fat storage and diminished sex drive. There is a dose-dependent effect and in fact, small doses of alcohol (½ a drink) can increase testosterone but that is an insignificant amount.
Does alcohol have any beneficial aspects?
Resveratrol, the phytonutrient which comes from green grapes, has many benefits. It is a potent antioxidant and there has been a lot of research on its benefits when it comes to longevity. However, in order to get the amount of resveratrol from wine needed to be of any physiologic benefit, one would have to consume many, many bottles of it. Some of the other micronutrients from grapes may be a minimal benefit. Some of the stress reduction and relaxation one experiences from drinking may help a bit, but it is all about the amount. And there are many other ways to obtain those benefits without consuming this toxic substance. There are some studies suggesting that those who consume a small amount of alcohol have better long-term health than those who consume no alcohol, there are too many confounding factors to really tease that out.
If you don’t drink, don’t start because you think it may improve your health. It likely won’t.
Links to more information about nutrition and health:
Additional helpful links and documents:
Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout – Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout