NutritionFacts.org http://nutritionfacts.org The Latest in Nutrition Research Sun, 23 Nov 2014 02:02:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1The latest in nutrition related research delivered in easy to understand video segments brought to you by Michael Greger M.D. Michael Greger, M.D. clean Michael Greger, M.D. mhg1@cornell.edu mhg1@cornell.edu (Michael Greger, M.D.) Copyright 2013 - NutritionFacts.org - All Rights Reserved The Latest in Nutrition Research nutrition, nutrition facts, diet, vegan, plant-based diet, healthy eating, nutritional data, cancer, cancer prevention NutritionFacts.org http://nutritionfacts.org/wp-content/themes/nutritionfacts/images/nutritionfacts_podcast.pnghttp://nutritionfacts.org TV-G Tri-Weekly How Beans Help Our Boneshttp://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/20/how-beans-help-our-bones/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-beans-help-our-bones&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-beans-help-our-bones http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/20/how-beans-help-our-bones/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:00:09 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=24635 Health authorities from all over the world universally recommend increasing the consumption of whole grains and legumes—beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils—for health promotion. But what about the phytates? Phytate is a naturally occurring compound found in all plant seeds (like beans, grains, and nuts) that over the decades has been maligned as mineral absorption […]]]>

Health authorities from all over the world universally recommend increasing the consumption of whole grains and legumes—beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils—for health promotion. But what about the phytates?

Phytate is a naturally occurring compound found in all plant seeds (like beans, grains, and nuts) that over the decades has been maligned as mineral absorption inhibitors. That’s why, for example, one hears advice to roast, sprout, or soak your nuts to get rid of the phytates so we can absorb more minerals, like calcium.

The concern about phytates and bone health arose from a series of laboratory experiments performed on puppies published in 1949, which suggested that high phytate diets have a bone softening and anti-calcifying effect. Subsequent studies on rats, in which they fed them the equivalent of ten loaves of bread a day, “confirmed” phytate’s status as a so-called anti-nutrient. But more recently, in the light of actual human data, phytate’s image has undergone a makeover.

A recent study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food asked a simple question: Do people who avoid high phytate foods—legumes, nuts, and whole grains—have better bone mineral density? No. Those that consumed more high-phytate foods actually had stronger bones, as measured in the heel, spine and hip. The researchers conclude that dietary phytate consumption had protective effects against osteoporosis and that low phytate consumption should actually be what’s considered an osteoporosis risk factor.

A follow-up study, measuring phytate levels flowing through women’s bodies and following bone mass over time, found the same thing: women with the highest phytate levels had the lowest levels of bone loss in the spine and hip. Those who ate the most phytates were also estimated to have a significantly lower risk of major fracture, and a lower risk of hip fracture specifically.

This is consistent with reports that phytate can inhibit the dissolution of bone similar to anti-osteoporosis drugs like Fosamax. Phytates don’t have the side effects, though, such as osteonecrosis (bone death) associated with that class of drugs. People take these drugs to protect their bones, but by doing so may also risk rotting them away (See Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis).

Eating healthy can help us avoid other drugs as well. See, for example:

Beans might not just help our skeleton last longer, but the rest of us as well. See Increased Lifespan From Beans.

How might one boost mineral absorption? See New Mineral Absorption Enhancers Found.

Alkaline Diets, Animal Protein, & Calcium Loss is another surprising video on bone health.

And more on the benefits of phytates can be found in my videos:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Asja Boros / Flickr

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What is Actually in Chicken Nuggets?http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/18/what-is-actually-in-chicken-nuggets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-is-actually-in-chicken-nuggets&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-is-actually-in-chicken-nuggets http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/18/what-is-actually-in-chicken-nuggets/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 13:00:14 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=24631 In a scathing expose of the USDA’s new meat inspection program, the Washington Post quoted a representative from the meat inspectors union, who said: “pig processing lines may be moving too quickly to catch tainted meat… Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses. Not small bits, but chunks.” What about the other white […]]]>

In a scathing expose of the USDA’s new meat inspection program, the Washington Post quoted a representative from the meat inspectors union, who said:

“pig processing lines may be moving too quickly to catch tainted meat… Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses. Not small bits, but chunks.”

What about the other white meat?

In the video, Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets, you can see an infographic the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine created to highlight what they consider to be the five worst contaminants in chicken products. In their investigation of retail chicken products in ten U.S. cities, they found fecal contamination in about half the chicken they bought at the store. But with all the focus on what’s in chicken products, we may have lost sight on what may be missing—such as actual chicken.

Researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Baptist Medical Center recently published an “autopsy” of chicken nuggets in the American Journal of Medicine. The purpose was to determine the contents of chicken nuggets from two national food chains. Because chicken nuggets are popular among children, the researchers thought that parents should know more about what they may be feeding to their kids.

The nugget from the first restaurant was composed of approximately 50% skeletal muscle, with the remainder composed primarily of fat, blood vessels and nerves, and generous quantities of skin or gut lining and associated supportive tissue. The nugget from the second restaurant was composed of approximately 40% skeletal muscle with lots of other tissues, including bone.

“I was floored,” said the lead investigator. “I had read what other reports have said is in them and I didn’t believe it. I was astonished actually seeing it under the microscope.” I profile some of those other pathology reports in my videos Whats in a Burger? and What Is Really in Hot Dogs?

The researchers concluded that since actual chicken meat was not the predominant component of either nugget, the term “chicken” nugget was really a misnomer.

If we’re going to eat something chicken-ish that isn’t chicken meat, why not truly boneless chicken: Chicken vs. Veggie Chicken.

More on fecal contamination of chicken in Fecal Bacteria Survey, of fish in Fecal Contamination of Sushi, and of pork in Yersinia in Pork. How can that be legal? See Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly But Not Illegal.

More on the preservatives in chicken in Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola and antibiotic contamination in Drug Residues in Meat.

Estrogenic Cooked Meat Carcinogens also build up in poultry in particular, something the Physicians Committee also tested for previously: Fast Food Tested for Carcinogens.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death,  More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Jacob Enos / Flickr

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Does Caramel Color Cause Cancer?http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/13/does-caramel-color-cause-cancer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-caramel-color-cause-cancer&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-caramel-color-cause-cancer http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/13/does-caramel-color-cause-cancer/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 13:00:14 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=24627 Used as a coloring agent in products ranging from colas and beer to gravies and soy sauce, caramel coloring may be the world’s most widely consumed food coloring. It helps grocery stores sell more than a billion servings of food and beverages a day. Unfortunately, the manufacturing of certain artificial caramel colorings can lead to […]]]>

Used as a coloring agent in products ranging from colas and beer to gravies and soy sauce, caramel coloring may be the world’s most widely consumed food coloring. It helps grocery stores sell more than a billion servings of food and beverages a day. Unfortunately, the manufacturing of certain artificial caramel colorings can lead to the formation of carcinogens such as 4-methylimidazole, which causes cancer in mice but not rats (or at least, not male rats). However, it is unclear whether humans are more like mice or rats in terms of their response to the carcinogen.

To be safe, California officially listed it as a carcinogen and started requiring warning labels on soft drinks containing more than 29 micrograms per serving. The soft drink industry was unsuccessful in opposing the action, so they were forced to reduce carcinogen levels in their products—but only in California. Buy Coke anywhere else, and it may have up to five times the limit (See Is Caramel Color Carcinogenic?).

There’s another class of additives that the soda industry uses to make its soda brown (see Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola). There are other harmful additives in soda as well (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

Similarly the junk food industry uses titanium dioxide to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

The meat industry has also used potentially toxic additives for cosmetic purposes such as arsenic-containing drugs (Arsenic in Chicken) and phosphate additives in chicken to make poultry pink. Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, and acanthoxanthins keep salmon pink (Artificial Coloring in Fish).

It’s amazing the risks the food industry will take to alter appearances (Artificial Food Colors and ADHD).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Volker2342 / Flickr

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We Can End the Heart Disease Epidemichttp://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/11/we-can-end-the-heart-disease-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-can-end-the-heart-disease-epidemic&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-can-end-the-heart-disease-epidemic http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/11/we-can-end-the-heart-disease-epidemic/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 13:00:00 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=24624 Many of the diseases that are common in United States are rare or even nonexistent in populations eating mainly whole plant foods. These so-called Western Diseases are some of our most common conditions: Obesity, the most important nutritional disease Hiatal hernia, one of the most common stomach problems Hemorrhoids and varicose veins, the most common […]]]>

Many of the diseases that are common in United States are rare or even nonexistent in populations eating mainly whole plant foods.

These so-called Western Diseases are some of our most common conditions:

  • Obesity, the most important nutritional disease
  • Hiatal hernia, one of the most common stomach problems
  • Hemorrhoids and varicose veins, the most common venous disorders
  • Colorectal cancer, the number two cause of cancer death
  • Diverticulosis, the #1 disease of the intestine
  • Appendicitis, the #1 cause for emergency abdominal surgery
  • Gallbladder disease, the #1 cause for nonemergency abdominal surgery
  • Ischemic heart disease, the #1 cause of death

These diseases are common in the West, but are rarities among plant-based populations.

A landmark study in 1959 I profiled in my video Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice, for example, suggested that coronary heart disease was practically non-existent among those eating traditional plant-based diets in Uganda.

“Doctors in sub-Saharan Africa during the ‘30s and ‘40s recognized that certain diseases commonly seen in Western communities were rare in rural African peasants. This hearsay talk greeted any new doctor on arrival in Africa. Even the teaching manuals stated that diabetes, coronary heart disease, appendicitis, peptic ulcer, gallstones, hemorrhoids, and constipation were rare in African blacks who eat foods that contain many skins and fibers, such as beans and corn, and pass a bulky stool two or three times a day. Surgeons noticed that the common acute abdominal emergencies in Western communities were virtually absent in rural African peasants.”

But did they have hard data to back it up? Yes.

Major autopsy series were performed. In one thousand Kenyan autopsies, there were “no cases of appendicitis, not a single heart attack, only three cases of diabetes, one peptic ulcer, no gallstones, and no evidence of high blood pressure” (which alone affects one out of three Americans).

Maybe the Africans were just dying early of other diseases and so never lived long enough to get heart disease? No. In the video One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic, you can see the age-matched heart attack rates in Uganda versus St. Louis. Out of 632 autopsies in Uganda, only one myocardial infarction. Out of 632 Missourians—with the same age and gender distribution—there were 136 myocardial infarctions. More than 100 times the rate of our number one killer. In fact, researchers were so blown away that they decided to do another 800 autopsies in Uganda. Still, just that one small healed infarct (meaning it wasn’t even the cause of death) out of 1,427 patients. Less than one in a thousand, whereas in the U.S., it’s an epidemic.

If heart disease is so rare in rural Africa, how do the local doctors even know what to look for? Though practically unheard of among the native population, the physicians are quite familiar with heart disease because of all the Westerners that immigrate to the country.

The famous surgeon Dr. Denis Burkitt insisted that modern medicine is treating disease all wrong:

“A highly unacceptable fact—that is rarely considered yet indisputable—is that, with rare exceptions, there is no evidence that the incidence of any disease was ever reduced by treatment. Improved therapies may reduce mortality but may not reduce the incidence of the disease.”

Take cancer, for example, where the vast majority of effort is devoted to advances in treatment, and second priority is given to screening programs attempting early diagnosis. Is there any evidence that the incidence of any form of cancer has been reduced by improved treatment or by early detection? Early diagnosis may reduce mortality rates, and medical services can have a profoundly beneficial effect on sick people, but neither have little (if any) effect on the number of people becoming ill. No matter how fancy heart disease surgery gets, it’s never going to reduce the number of people falling victim to the disease.

Dr. Burkitt compared the situation to an engine left out in the rain:

“If an engine repeatedly stops as a consequence of being exposed to the elements, it is of limited value to rely on the aid of mechanics to detect and remedy the fault. Examination of all engines would reveal that those out in the rain were stopping, but those under cover were running well. The correct approach would then be to provide protection from the offending environment. However, considering the failing engine as the ailing patient, this is seldom the priority of modern medicine.”

Dr. Burkitt sums it up with the analogy of The Cliff or the Ambulance:

“If people are falling over the edge of a cliff and sustaining injuries, the problem could be dealt with by stationing ambulances at the bottom or erecting a fence at the top. Unfortunately, we put far too much effort into the provision of ambulances and far too little into the simple approach of erecting fences.”

And of course there are all the industries enticing people to the edge, and profiting from pushing people off.

If all plant-based diets could do is reverse our number one killer, then shouldn’t that be the default diet until proven otherwise? The fact that it also appears to reverse other leading killers like diabetes and hypertension appears to make the case for plant-based eating overwhelming. So why doesn’t the medical profession embrace it? It may be because of The Tomato Effect. Why don’t many individual doctors do it? It may be because lifestyle medicine hurts the bottom line (see Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease). Why doesn’t the federal government recommend it? It may be because of the self-interest of powerful industries (see The McGovern Report). But you can take your destiny into your own hands (mouth?) and work with your doctor to clean up your diet and maximize your chances of living happily ever after.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Sinn Fien / Flickr

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How to Prevent Heart Diseasehttp://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/06/how-to-prevent-heart-disease/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-prevent-heart-disease&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-prevent-heart-disease http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/06/how-to-prevent-heart-disease/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 13:00:31 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=24619 Many of today’s lifestyle medicine doctors, myself included, were greatly influenced by Nathan Pritikin, the nutrition pioneer who started reversing heart disease with a plant-based diet and exercise back in the 70s. (More on Nathan Pritikin in Engineering a Cure,  Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped, and The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle.) But […]]]>

Many of today’s lifestyle medicine doctors, myself included, were greatly influenced by Nathan Pritikin, the nutrition pioneer who started reversing heart disease with a plant-based diet and exercise back in the 70s. (More on Nathan Pritikin in Engineering a Cure,  Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped, and The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle.) But how did he come up with the idea of opening up arteries without drugs or surgery? We tend to think of rural China as a place with a fraction of our disease rates, but we may forget about Africa.

Pritikin was 43 when he was told by his cardiologist that he was going to die from a heart attack, so he began to live on a diet patterned after the black population in Uganda, a population living off plants that was essentially free from death from heart attacks. After curing his own heart disease with a plant-based diet, he went on to save the lives of thousands of others. What was the data that so convinced him?

Last year, the International Journal of Epidemiology reprinted a landmark article from the ‘50s that started out with a shocking statement: “In the African population of Uganda, coronary heart disease is almost non-existent.” Our number one cause of death almost nonexistent? What were they eating? Plantains and sweet potatoes, other vegetables, corn, millet, pumpkins, tomatoes, and “green leafy vegetables are taken by all.” Their protein was almost entirely from plant sources, and they had the cholesterol levels to prove it, similar to modern-day plant-eaters. “Apart from the effects of diet and of the blood cholesterol levels,” the researchers couldn’t figure out any other reasons for their freedom from heart disease.

These fifty-year-old findings are still relevant today. They showed “dietary intake to be a key, modifiable, established and well-recognized risk factor for heart attacks. This contrasts with the rather desperate search in recent decades for even newer cardiovascular risk factors.” We have the only risk factor we need—cholesterol. We’ve known it for 50 years, and we can do something about it. See One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic.

As you can see in the video Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice, according to the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, the only risk factor required for atherosclerotic plaques to form is elevated LDL, or “bad” cholesterol in our blood. Dr. William Clifford Roberts is the distinguished cardiac pathologist who doubles as the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology. More from him in Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death and Heart Attacks and Cholesterol: Purely a Question of Diet.

To drop our LDL cholesterol, we need to drop our intake of three things: trans fat (found in junk food and animal foods – See Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy); saturated fat (found in mostly animal foods); and dietary cholesterol (found exclusively in animal foods). More on lowering LDL in Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

What Dr. Shaper discovered is that heart disease may be a choice.

Like cavities.

People who lived over 10,000 years before the invention of the toothbrush pretty much had no cavities. Didn’t brush a day in their lives, never flossed, no Listerine, no Waterpik—and yet, no cavities. Why? Because candy bars hadn’t been invented yet! So why do people continue to get cavities when we know they’re preventable though diet? Simple: because the pleasure people derive from dessert may outweigh the cost and discomfort of the dentist.

As long as people understand the consequences of their actions, as a physician what more can I do? If you’re an adult and decide that the benefits outweigh the risks for you and your family, then go for it—I certainly enjoy the occasional indulgence (I’ve got a good dental plan!). But what if instead of the plaque on our teeth, we’re talking about the plaque building up in our arteries? Then we’re no longer just talking about scraping tarter. We’re talking life and death.

The most likely reason our loved ones will die is heart disease. It’s still up to each of us to make our own decisions as to what to eat and how to live, but we should make our choices consciously, educating ourselves about the predictable consequences of our actions.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Knar Bedian / Flickr

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How Seafood Can Impact Brain Developmenthttp://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/04/how-seafood-can-impact-brain-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-seafood-can-impact-brain-development&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-seafood-can-impact-brain-development http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/11/04/how-seafood-can-impact-brain-development/#comments Tue, 04 Nov 2014 13:00:24 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=23609 In my video Fish Intake Associated With Brain Shrinkage, I discussed evidence suggesting that mercury exposure through fish intake during pregnancy may decrease the size of the newborn’s brain. However, just because fish-eating mothers may give birth to children with smaller brains doesn’t necessarily mean their children will grow up with neurological defects. In the […]]]>

In my video Fish Intake Associated With Brain Shrinkage, I discussed evidence suggesting that mercury exposure through fish intake during pregnancy may decrease the size of the newborn’s brain. However, just because fish-eating mothers may give birth to children with smaller brains doesn’t necessarily mean their children will grow up with neurological defects. In the video, Mercury vs. Omega-3s for Brain Development, you can see real-time functional MRI scans of teens whose moms ate a lot of seafood when pregnant. Because these kinds of scans can measure brain activity, as opposed to just brain size, we can more accurately determine if exposure to mercury and PCBs affected these kids. You can see an MRI of what a normal brain looks like when you flash a light in someone’s eyes, but the MRI is significantly different for the mercury and PCB exposed brains, suggesting toxicant related damage to the visual centers in brain. (For more on the effect of mercury on teens, see Nerves of Mercury). Fish consumption may also increase the risk of our children being born with epilepsy.

So does maternal fish consumption have an effect on how smart our kids turn out? The DHA in fish—a long chain omega 3 fatty acid—is good for brain development, but mercury is bad for brain development. So a group of researchers looked at 33 different fish species to see what the net effect of these compounds would have on children’s IQ. For most fish species, they found that “the adverse effect of mercury on the IQ scores of children exceeded the beneficial effects of DHA.” In fact, so much brainpower may be lost from fish consumption that the United States may actually lose $5 billion in economic productivity every year.

For example, if pregnant women ate tuna every day, the DHA would add a few IQ points. But the mercury in that very same tuna would cause so much brain damage that the overall effect of eating tuna while pregnant would be negative, wiping out an average of eight IQ points. The only two fish that were more brain-damaging than tuna were pike and swordfish.

At the other end of the spectrum, the brain boosting effect of DHA may trump the brain damaging effects of mercury in salmon by a little less than one IQ point. Unfortunately, IQ only takes into consideration the cognitive damage caused by mercury, not the adverse effects on motor function and attention and behavior deficits. We think that attention span may be particularly vulnerable to developmental mercury exposure, probably due to damage to the frontal lobes of the brain.

And the IQ study didn’t take into account the relatively high levels of PCBs in salmon and the accompanying concerns about cancer risk. Sustainability concerns are another wrinkle, as farm-raised salmon are considered a “fish to avoid.” While king mackerel is considered a best choice for sustainability, the mercury levels are so high as to warrant avoiding consumption—exceeding both the FDA and EPA action levels for mercury contamination. But why risk any loss in intelligence at all when pregnant women can get all the DHA they want from microalgae supplements without any of the contaminants? We can then get the brain boost without the brain damage.

More on PCBs in:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Images thanks to Dion van Huyssteen / Flickr

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Why Pregnant Women Should Avoid Tunahttp://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/30/why-pregnant-women-should-avoid-tuna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-pregnant-women-should-avoid-tuna&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-pregnant-women-should-avoid-tuna http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/30/why-pregnant-women-should-avoid-tuna/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:00:31 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=23606 All fish contain small amounts of methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury, and “fish consumption represents the main source of methylmercury exposure.” In my videos Nerves of Mercury and Fish Fog, I discuss how mercury exposure through fish consumption, even within the government’s safety limits, can have adverse neurological and behavioral effects on child […]]]>

All fish contain small amounts of methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury, and “fish consumption represents the main source of methylmercury exposure.” In my videos Nerves of Mercury and Fish Fog, I discuss how mercury exposure through fish consumption, even within the government’s safety limits, can have adverse neurological and behavioral effects on child development. Severe exposure can cause overt structural brain abnormalities like microcephaly, a shrunken brain disorder. But we didn’t know whether low exposure could also affect brain size until recently.

Autopsy studies suggest mercury preferentially affects the developing cerebellum, so researchers used ultrasound to measure cerebellum size in newborns of mothers who had high body levels of mercury.

Let’s put those levels into practical terms. In the video, Fish Intake Associated with Brain Shrinkage, you can see the results of a study measuring mercury concentration in human hair. Just one can of tuna a week raises human hair mercury concentration to levels nearly three times as high as the “high” group in the ultrasound study. So the bodies of the women suffering high mercury contamination were considered heavily contaminated, but even just a little canned tuna once in a while could bump our levels even higher. So the high really wasn’t that high. But what did they find?

The researchers demonstrated that babies born to mothers with higher hair mercury levels had cerebellums up to 14% shorter than those born to mothers with lower hair mercury levels. They conclude that prenatal exposure to what may be considered low-levels of methylmercury does indeed influence fetal brain development as evidenced “by decreased size of a newborn’s brain.”

But what about the long chain omega-3 DHA in fish—isn’t that necessary for healthy brain development? That’s the topic of my video Mercury vs. Omega-3s for Brain Development.

For more on canned tuna in particular, check out:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Images thanks to Thomas Hawk / Flickr

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How Fatty Foods May Affect Our Love Lifehttp://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/28/how-fatty-foods-may-affect-our-love-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-fatty-foods-may-affect-our-love-life&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-fatty-foods-may-affect-our-love-life http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/28/how-fatty-foods-may-affect-our-love-life/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 12:00:12 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=23603 The food industry, like the tobacco companies and other drug lords, has been able to come up with products that tap into the same dopamine reward system that keeps people smoking cigarettes, using marijuana, and eating candy bars (See Are Sugary Foods Addictive?). New research, highlighted in my video Are Fatty Foods Addictive? suggests that […]]]>

The food industry, like the tobacco companies and other drug lords, has been able to come up with products that tap into the same dopamine reward system that keeps people smoking cigarettes, using marijuana, and eating candy bars (See Are Sugary Foods Addictive?). New research, highlighted in my video Are Fatty Foods Addictive? suggests that fat may have similar effects on the brain. If people are fed yogurt packed with butter fat, within 30 minutes they exhibit the same brain activity as those who just drank sugar water.

People who regularly eat ice cream (sugar and fat) have a deadened dopamine response in their brains in response to drinking a milkshake. It’s similar to when drug abusers have to use more and more to get the same high. Frequent ice cream consumption “is related to a reduction in reward-region (pleasure center) responsivity in humans, paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction.” Once we’ve so dulled our dopamine response, we may subsequently overeat in an effort to achieve the degree of satisfaction experienced previously, contributing to unhealthy weight gain.

What do fatty and sugary foods have in common? They are energy-dense. It may be less about the number of calories than their concentration. Consumption of a calorie-dilute diet doesn’t lead to deadened dopamine responsivity, but a calorie-dense diet with the same number of calories does. It’s like the difference between cocaine and crack: same stuff chemically, but by smoking crack cocaine we can deliver a higher dose quicker to our brain.

As an aside, I found it interesting that the control drink in these milkshake studies wasn’t just water. They can’t use water because our brain actually tastes water on the tongue (who knew!). So instead the researchers had people drink a solution “designed to mimic the natural taste of saliva.” Ew!

Anyway, with this new understanding of the neural correlates of food addiction, there have been calls to include obesity as an official mental disorder. After all, both obesity and addiction share the inability to restrain behavior in spite of an awareness of detrimental health consequences, one of the defining criteria of substance abuse. We keep putting crap in our bodies despite the knowledge that we have a problem that is likely caused by the crap, yet we can’t stop (a phenomena called the “pleasure trap”).

Redefining obesity as an addiction, a psychiatric disease, would be a boon to the drug companies that are already working on a whole bunch of drugs to muck with our brain chemistry. For example, subjects given an opiate blocker (like what’s done for people with heroin overdoses to block the effects of the drug) eat significantly less cheese — it just doesn’t do as much for them anymore when their opiate receptors are blocked.

Rather than taking drugs, though, we can prevent the deadening of our pleasure center in the first place by sticking to foods that are naturally calorically dilute, like whole plant foods. This can help bring back our dopamine sensitivity such that we can again derive the same pleasure from the simplest of foods (see Changing Our Taste Buds). And this is not just for people who are obese. When we regularly eat calorie dense animal and junk foods like ice cream, we can blunt our pleasure so that we may overeat to compensate. When our brain down-regulates dopamine receptors to deal with all these jolts of fat and sugar, we may experience less enjoyment from other activities as well.

That’s why cocaine addicts may have an impaired neurological capacity to enjoy sex, and why smokers have an impaired ability to respond to positive stimuli. Since these all involve the same dopamine pathways, what we put into our body—what we eat—can affect how we experience all of life’s pleasures.

So to live life to the fullest, what should we do? The food industry, according to some addiction specialists, “should be given incentives to develop low calorie foods that are more attractive, palatable and affordable so that people can adhere to diet programs for a long time.” No need! Mother Nature beat them to it–that’s what the produce aisle is for.

By starting to eat healthfully, we can actually change how things taste. Healthiest means whole plant foods, which tend to be naturally dilute given their water and fiber content. Not only is fiber also calorie-free, but one might think of it as having “negative” calories, given the fermentation of fiber in our bowel into anti-obesity compounds (as well as anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer compounds). For this reason, those eating plant-based diets eat hundreds of fewer calories without even trying. (See my video Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Images thanks to Burger Austin / Flickr

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Can One Become a Sugar Addict?http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/23/can-one-become-a-sugar-addict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-one-become-a-sugar-addict&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-one-become-a-sugar-addict http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/23/can-one-become-a-sugar-addict/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:00:41 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=23300 People have chewed coca leaves for at least 8,000 years as a mild stimulant without any evidence of addiction, but when certain components are isolated and concentrated into cocaine, we’ve got a problem. The same may be true of sugar—people don’t tend to binge on bananas. The isolation of sugar from the whole food may […]]]>

People have chewed coca leaves for at least 8,000 years as a mild stimulant without any evidence of addiction, but when certain components are isolated and concentrated into cocaine, we’ve got a problem. The same may be true of sugar—people don’t tend to binge on bananas. The isolation of sugar from the whole food may be the reason we’re more likely to supersize soda than sweet potatoes, or why we’re less likely to eat too much corn on the cob, but can’t seem to get enough high fructose corn syrup.

The overconsumption of sugar-sweetened diets has often been compared to drug addiction. However, until very recently this parallel was based more on anecdotal evidence than on solid scientific grounds. But now we have PET scans, imaging technology that can measure brain activity. It all started with a publication from the Institute of Clinical Physiology that showed decreased dopamine sensitivity in obese individuals. The heavier they were, the less responsive to dopamine they appeared to be. We see the same reduction in sensitivity in cocaine addicts and alcoholics, which “would suggest that a reduction in dopamine receptors is associated with addictive behavior irrespective of whether it is due to food or to addictive drugs, as seen in substance abusers.”

Dopamine is considered the neurotransmitter primarily involved in the pleasure and reward center of our brain, helping to motivate our drive for things like food, water and sex—all necessary for the perpetuation of our species. It was healthy and adaptive for our primate brains to drive us to eat that banana when there wasn’t much food around. But now that fruit is in fruit loop form, this adaptation has “become a dangerous liability.” The original Coca-Cola formulation actually included coca leaf, but now, perhaps, its sugar content may be the addictive stand-in.

What about artificial sweeteners? Though some are less harmful than others (Erythritol May Be a Sweet Antioxidant as opposed to Aspartame-Induced Fibromyalgia), they could still have adverse effects regardless of their individual chemistry. See my 3-part series:

  1. How Diet Soda Could Make Us Gain Weight
  2. Neurobiology of Artificial Sweeteners
  3. Unsweetening the Diet

What about fatty foods like meat? Does fat have addictive qualities as well? Good question! Check out my video Are Fatty Foods Addictive?

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Images thanks to MattysFlicks / Flickr

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Where are Phosphate Additives Found?http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/21/where-are-phosphate-additives-found/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-are-phosphate-additives-found&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-are-phosphate-additives-found http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/21/where-are-phosphate-additives-found/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:00:50 +0000 http://nutritionfacts.org/?p=23296 In my videos Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola and Phosphate Additives in Chicken, I talked about the danger of phosphate and phosphate additives, and how phosphates are often added to chicken and turkey to help preserve the meat. But how often is poultry injected with phosphates? The vast majority of chicken products (more […]]]>

In my videos Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola and Phosphate Additives in Chicken, I talked about the danger of phosphate and phosphate additives, and how phosphates are often added to chicken and turkey to help preserve the meat. But how often is poultry injected with phosphates? The vast majority of chicken products (more than 90%) were found to contain these additives. However, most packages did not list the additives on their label.

Sometimes they call the phosphate additives “flavorings” or “broth,” and sometimes the labels don’t say anything at all. In the video, How to Avoid Phosphate Additives, you can see the different ways phosphate additives have been listed (if they are listed at all) on ingredient labels. I’d recommend minimizing one’s intake of anything with the four letters: “phos”. These additives are also used in junk foods and fast food. Some products have phosphorus and aluminum additives. We see this a lot in processed cheeses. One grilled cheese sandwich may exceed the World Health Organization’s provisional tolerable daily intake of aluminum by 428%. (I’ve previously touched on the aluminum in cheese in Aluminum in Vaccines vs. Food). More concerning, though, are the levels of lead in some venison (Filled Full of Lead) and mercury in tuna (The Effect of Canned Tuna on Future Wages).

The food industry no longer has to list phosphorus content on the nutrition facts label. There have been calls from the public health community to mandate that phosphorus content of foods be included back on the nutrition facts label, but I’m not holding my breath.

All these studies bring home the same strong message, “phosphorus-containing additives are present in most meat products and significantly increase the phosphorus content. Moreover, the lack of this information in the Nutrition Facts labels and even in nutrition databases prevents patients and dietitians from accurately estimating the phosphorus content of their food and their daily intake.”

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Images thanks to Sylvar / Flickr

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