As I enter yet another decade of Thanksgiving, I’m most thankful for my health. Once a person enters “senior status,” good health means “managed diseases.” My young friends often whine about the difficulty of taking a single prescription per day. I just laugh, for they don’t know what truck will hit them after age 50! Most people my age have pill minders or get theirs in daily prepared packaging ready made.
One health condition that can’t be standardized is the blood glucose reading, unless you qualify for a new 24 hour wearable monitor. Otherwise you do the stick and read at different times of the day. If you’re like me, keeping track of the blood sugar readings gives you a window into your body’s response to your food choices and your commitment to an exercise plan.
I have prediabetes, so I measure my glucose in the morning and before I go exercise. My doctor says the morning should be under 100 and the preexercise reading needs to be over 100 if I’m going for anything more vigorous than a gentle walk. I don’t yet have the high readings because for 14 years I’ve eaten a Mediterranean diet and exercised daily. I still eat around 2000 calories per day, so I’m not starving myself, since my BMR is 2060.
Would they like me to lose weight? Yes, and so would I, but my blood pressure is finally normal without medication, my arteries are clear, and my depression is in remission due to medication and lifestyle commitments. We have to pick the battles we want to fight. If our weight is fat, our bodies will metabolize food differently than if our weight is muscle. Weight bearing exercises such as walking, lifting weights, or climbing stairs, will build muscle over the long haul.
When I first started walking, I couldn’t make the whole way around a city block without stopping for breath, I was so out of shape. I set a smaller goal, mastered it, and made a bigger one. I can walk a 5K now, and even if I’m the last to finish, I still am faster than everyone who didn’t enter the race. Keep a positive attitude!
Health isn’t a number on the scale or a size of clothes into which you fit. Health is more about reclaiming your positive attitude towards food as nourishment for your body, rather than as a sedative for your emotional distress. I’ve been in this place myself. I never met a chocolate donut that wouldn’t soothe my inner angst, only to give me eater’s remorse afterwards. It was a downward, addictive spiral, for I’d eat again to feel better, only to feel icky once more.
Health is also about leaving behind the bad habits that bought on high blood pressure, high blood sugar of type 2 diabetes, and prediabetes: stress, excessive caffeine, and processed foods. These foods are the heart killer trifecta of the Standard American Diet—fat, salt, and sugars. These show up in our processed meats, dairy products, and bakery goods, not to mention our condiments and desserts.
Just as we learned negative habits, we can learn positive behaviors. We don’t have to change everything all at once, but we do need to begin somewhere, sometime. Perhaps the holidays seem to be the worst time, with all the extra cooking and treating surrounding us. If we pick one behavior each week, such as measuring our food portions this week and not eating second helpings the week of Thanksgiving, we’ll be on the way to a healthier lifestyle!
Remember the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18–
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
SEE SLIDES ON WHAT AFFECTS YOUR BLOOD SUGAR READINGS
“Fabulous Fermented Foods” have been part of my family’s history for generations back. In the rural antebellum South, folks made cornbread with buttermilk and bacon grease. They didn’t waste soured milk in those unrefrigerated days, just as they used every bit of the pig but its squeal. “Waste not, want not,” was an adage my forebears took to heart, even to my embarrassment of their saving balls of string or aluminum foil for reuse. The latter I thought unsanitary, in my modern worldview, but I’d never experienced great want of any kind as they had.
I enjoyed helping my nanny can food by pickling peaches and cucumbers, but that was a different process than fermentation. My mother did ferment a fruit compote with alcohol, which we all devoured with gusto over ice cream during the holidays. “Is it ready yet?” was as frequent a question as “When can we open a present?”
Of course we ate pimento cheese sandwiches, especially during those long lazy days of summer, but none of us ever connected the cheese making process to fermentation by good bacteria or yeasts. We ate, enjoyed, and never gave it a second thought as we sought the shade or a cool dip in refreshing water. Like many people of our day, we were incurious of the many ordinary miracles which surrounded all of us.
Now I’m well into my seventh decade and understand these trendy (but ancient) foods have potential health benefits. Fermenting foods changes their taste and texture, along with their chemical and biological properties.
Fermented foods may be the oldest “new” food trend around. The process is as old as civilization itself, and fermented foods are consumed in nearly every culture in the world. While researchers attempt to tease out how the changes caused by fermentation actually impact health, many not-fully-substantiated health claims are being made. Let’s take a look at what we know, and don’t know, about these promising (and tasty) foods.
What is Fermentation? Fermentation occurs when microorganisms (certain species of bacteria, yeast, or mold) feed on starch, sugar, and other food components. This ancient process was originally used for preserving foods, but it fell out of favor in the age of refrigeration and pasteurization.
Many foods and beverages that are commonplace in the U.S. are a result of fermentation. Grains are fermented to make beer and bread; wine is made by fermenting grape juice; and yogurt and cheese are popular forms of fermented milk. Any foods can be fermented, and there are many examples of fermented foods around the world, such as Korean kimchi and the Swedish fermented fish Surströmming.
HEALTH BENEFIT CLAIMS
Behind the Health Benefit Claims. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the fermentation process changes the health-promoting characteristics of foods,” says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, professor emeritus at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
For example, large studies have suggested an association between consumption of fermented dairy foods and weight maintenance that is not seen with unfermented dairy products, and frequent yogurt consumption is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality.
Some data show kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish ubiquitous in Korean cooking, is associated with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity benefits not seen with unfermented cabbage. Some of these suspected health benefits may result from the presence of the microorganisms themselves, but emerging research indicates that changes those organisms make to the food constituents, and new constituents they create, might have health benefits in their own.
HEALTH BENEFITS INCLUDE
Some of the potentially health-promoting effects of fermentation include:
1. Adding to our gut microbiota. Probiotics are live bacteria that some evidence indicates can confer health benefits when consumed in adequate numbers.
Some bacteria used in fermentation are known probiotics (or are similar to probiotic species). If fermented foods and beverages contain live microorganisms when consumed, a relatively large number of these organisms apparently make it through the human digestive system alive. “During the last decade, the number of studies has exploded regarding gut microbiota and their impact on the health of not only the gut but also the brain, heart, and immune system,” says Blumberg.
2. Changing existing compounds. In fermentation, the microorganisms break down food constituents. This process may have health benefits. For example, in fermented vegetables certain bacteria help convert health-promoting flavonoids into a more readily-absorbed form.
In dairy products, the bacteria break down lactose, making yogurt and cheese easier for lactose-intolerant people to digest.
3. Creating new compounds. Fermentation may create new compounds that have health-promoting actions in the body.
For example, one common result of bacterial fermentation is lactic acid (lactate), which recent research indicates is involved in anti-inflammatory and possibly antioxidant processes.
Other strains of microorganisms actually synthesize B vitamins or vitamin K; discourage “bad” bacteria from taking hold in the gut; or produce molecules not found in the original form of the food that play a variety of potentially health-promoting roles in the body.
4. Deactivating undesirable compounds. In addition to creating (mostly) desirable compounds in foods, fermentation can also remove undesirable compounds. In some plant foods, so-called anti-nutrients like phytic acid bind to nutrients like iron and calcium, decreasing the amount of these nutrients available to be absorbed by the body.
Fermentation can reduce phytic acid levels, which frees up more nutrients for absorption. Additionally, some food components are typically fermented in the gut by gut bacteria. This can create gas and trigger digestive problems. Fermenting foods before consumption leaves less work for gut microbes, and may help ease digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.
5. So far, there is not a lot of clinical data backing up the potential health benefits discussed above, or the health claims often attributed to fermented foods.
But tasty foods like yogurt, hard cheese, the fermented yogurt drink kefir, cabbage-based sauerkraut and kimchi, or the increasingly popular fermented tea kombucha are delicious ways to add nutritional variety to your overall dietary pattern.
Of course when we say “yogurt,” we mean the plain, unsweetened product, to which you control the additional fruits and sugar content. The presugared/fruit purée style is not a healthy choice. Look for a yogurt with more grams of protein than in carbohydrates (Greek usually fits the healthier choice).
The same goes for other milk products, or any prepared food or drink. If it has added sugars, leaving it on the shelf is the best way to keep it from showing up on your own body. If you have a body like mine, these sugar bombs explode in one perturbing place, every single time, as if there were a hidden sugar magnet inside my body! Every. Single. Time.
Yet we can do this! I keep weighing my food, keep a food diary, and exercise. I realize 30 minutes a day doesn’t seem to be enough to lose weight, but it is enough to keep my blood sugar and blood pressure in check. I either have to work less and workout more, or accept 2/3 of my efforts are good enough for someone in the later years of her life.
I’ll probably be working on the last 1/3, just because I can’t rest until I get it ALL. This means I need to cut back on some of my “working.” I’m going to post more monthly on this blog than every two weeks from now on. My Facebook Cornie’s Kitchen page will get more frequent posts.
Joy and peace, Cornie.
Tufts Nutrition Letter, Articles, November 2018 Issue
Have you readied your costume for the annual Trick or Treat event? I saw folks shopping for costumes as early as mid September, for both adults and children. Most of these garbs aren’t scary at all, unlike the one worn by the ghosts and ghouls of ancient lore, by which I mean my neighborhood companions and I.
We protect children today from such horrors, but back in the 1950’s, ritual exposure under adult protection was considered part of growing up. A very small child dressed as a ghost with a pillowcase over her entire body. Only the eyes and mouth holes were cut out, plus a slit in the front for holding the basket of treats. The shifting nature of the pillowcase was part of the plan—the child couldn’t race to the next house in the dark or the eyeholes would slip and then they’d slip too. I never realized how cunning my parents were.
LET THE HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN
Halloween is the official beginning of the harvest festival season in America.
First is the Chocolate Candy season, also known as Trunk or Treat in the church. Then 22 days later is Thanksgiving, a day given over to cooking and eating, with leftovers for a week afterwards. For the next month until Christmas, cookies and homemade treats roll out of our kitchens as if we were our grandparents. Once the New Year arrives, even if we make a resolution to stop this madness, we get an invite to a Super Bowl party on February 3rd, 2019. This is all happening in less than one hundred days (95).
We do this in addition to our regular lives, of course, for we don’t let anything go. No, we merely pile stuff higher and the wonder why it collapses. It’s called the Western Life Style.
LIFESTYLE POSTER CHILD
The main negative features of this lifestyle include stress (long-term and continuous, psychological), positive energy balance (excessive energy intake and low physical activity), low-quality food (both high fat and energy dense, and at the same time poor in micronutrients), and disruption of chronobiology(insufficient sleep). What toe have I not stepped on yet? As my old congregations used to say, “At first you were preaching, but now you’ve done gone to meddling!”
WESTERN LIFESTYLE DEADLY
As countries around the world adopt the Western Lifestyle, rates of metabolic syndrome and diabetes are also increasing. For 2017, the International Diabetes Foundation estimated there were 451 million (age 18-99 years) people with diabetes worldwide. These figures were expected to increase to 693 million by 2045. Almost half of all people (49.7%) living with diabetes are undiagnosed. Moreover, an estimated 374 million people are likely living with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and almost 21.3 million live births to women were affected by some form of hyperglycaemia in pregnancy.
In 2017, approximately 5 million deaths worldwide were attributable to diabetes in the 20-99 years age range. The global healthcare expenditure on people with diabetes was estimated to be USD $850 billion in 2017.
DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE
“An acute disturbance in any of the physiological regulatory systems evokes reactions that tend to reestablish equilibrium. When the stimuli, even of moderate magnitude, tend to be repetitive or chronic, change and allostasis in one system impact on the other, and vicious cycles are created and reinforced.” The plain language translation is our bodies tend to seek equilibrium. If we lose weight, our bodies try to regain it. The vicious cycle many of us are most familiar with is losing the same amount weight over and over again.
THE FOOD WE EAT
Does what we eat make a difference? Every day a new diet fad comes down the pike, or at least a new packaging of an old one trots out for us to ride it for a while. Then we fall off that horse and look for another, with more appeal (cookie diet, anyone?).
Our food choices interact with our genetic, metabolic, and environmental factors. In obesity and metabolic syndrome, often dietary patterns are considered of central importance. In these, attention has been focused over calories, amounts, and proportions of macronutrients, and their effects on the energetic balance by themselves, and through metabolic regulators. You recognize this in the shorthand “calories in/calories out” slogan.
However, obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and diabetes are way more complex operations than mere subtraction. A calorie isn’t just a calorie. That is, not all calories are created equal, although all whole foods have nutrients. Only recently have the acute effects of food ingestion, taking into consideration the type of food, and the specific effects of some nutrients, namely, fatty acids, began to be studied in relation with obesity and inflammation.
INFLAMMATORY ROLE OF FATS
Total dietary fat and saturated fat are associated with insulin resistance and high blood pressure as well as obesity-related inflammation. An immediate postprandial increase in plasma inflammatory markers after a high-fat meal had been shown in abdominally obese men. Consumption of a saturated fatty acid-rich diet resulted in a proinflammatory “obesity-linked” gene expression profile, whereas consumption of a monounsaturated fatty acid-rich diet caused a more anti-inflammatory profile. This means carnivores eating well marbled steaks every day aren’t doing their bodies long term good, but of course they’re too busy being important to have a real doctor test their blood. And they “feel fine.”
MUFA’s are foods and oils with higher amounts of monounsaturated fats, such as Nuts, Avocado, Canola oil, Olive oil, Safflower oil (high oleic), Sunflower oil, Peanut oil and butter, and Sesame oil. Everyone needs some fat in their diet, for it keeps our skin smooth, our hair lustrous, and our appetite satisfied. We don’t need fried foods or animal fats on a daily basis.
LIVER AND FAT STORAGE
The liver has two functions that directly impact the formation of excess fat: metabolism of carbohydrates (sugars) and digestion of lipids (fats). When we consume carbohydrates, our blood sugar rises, triggering a rise in insulin. That rise in insulin signals our liver to begin storing the excess glucose within its own cells. When the liver is full, it begins storing the excess carbohydrates as fat in our body fat. Sometimes that fat begins to accumulate in the liver cells, and the liver becomes fat.
Similarly, when we consume more lipids that the body can use for energy, the liver stores the excess lipids in body fat, and this excess of lipids can begin to accumulate within the liver as well. Whether the excess of food is made up of carbohydrates (sugars) or fat (lipids) —the liver stores the excess energy for future use. Often this results in excess fat accumulating in the liver itself. This is known as Fatty Liver, the first stage of NAFLD and should be viewed as a warning to change unhealthy lifestyle habits and adopt a low carbohydrate and low fat diet that is high in fresh vegetables and lean proteins.
TAKE OUT BOX
We need to eat enough quality nutrients to lose weight. Starving ourselves won’t do it, since this messes up our metabolism. Eating the good food, complex carbohydrates with fiber, for instance, and lots of vegetables full of water (spinach, zucchini, mushrooms) will help us meet our nutritional goals. Foregoing fried foods, highly processed foods, and fast foods will also improve our health. Exercise every day, if just to walk around the block. I sometimes fail on this. But I find a way to move more around the house or do big muscle chores.
Time—we all have the same amount of it. What we do with it is the important thing. If I add an event to my schedule, something else has to go away. I’m not Wonder Woman. I’m not God. I might be Batgirl. I can’t do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me, but I can do all the IMPORTANT things Christ calls me to do in his power.
Below I’ve made some notes on the role of obesity, free fatty acids, and insulin resistance if you want more information. The link below has an excellent paper if you want to dig deeper. Low grade inflammation and free fatty acids are both implicated in NAFLD, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, which occurs when fat is deposited in the liver.
OBESITY AND INSULIN RESISTANCE
The reason why obesity is associated with insulin resistance is not well understood. Obesity is a condition characterized by an increase of body weight beyond the limitation of skeletal and physical requirements, as the result of excessive accumulation of body fat.
NOT A ROCK BAND
Free fatty acids (FFA) cause both insulin resistance and inflammation in the major insulin target tissues (skeletal muscle, liver and endothelial cells) and thus are an important link between obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation and the development of T2DM, hypertension, dyslipidemia, disorders of coagulation and ASVD.
FAT TISSUE: FACTORY AND WAREHOUSE
Adipose tissue not only stores and releases fatty acids but also synthesizes and releases a large number of other active compounds. According to this concept, an expanding fat mass releases increasing amounts of compounds such as FFA, angiotensin 2, resistin, TNF-α, interleukin 6, interleukin 1-β and others. Some of these compounds, when infused in large amounts, can produce insulin resistance.
However, any substance, in order to qualify as a physiological link between obesity and insulin resistance, should meet at least the following 3 criteria:
0. the substance should be elevated in the blood of obese people;
0. raising its blood level (within physiologic limits) should increase insulin resistance and
0. lowering its blood level should decrease insulin resistance.
So far, only FFA can meet these 3 criteria in human subjects.
Plasma FFA levels are usually elevated in obesity because
0. the enlarged adipose tissue mass releases more FFA and
0. FFA clearance may be reduced
Moreover, once plasma FFA levels are elevated, they’ll inhibit insulin’s anti-lipolytic action, which will further increase the rate of FFA release into the circulation.
The liver is more insulin sensitive than skeletal muscle.
FAT PILLS ARE REAL
Nevertheless, there is convincing evidence that physiological elevations of FFA, such as seen after a fat rich meal, inhibit insulin suppression of hepatic glucose production (HGP) resulting in an increase in HGP (1).
Acutely this rise in HGP is due to FFA mediated inhibition of insulin suppression of glycogenolysis or releasing glucose from carbohydrates.
Longer lasting elevations of FFA, however, are likely to also increase gluconeogenesis, or making glucose from non carbohydrate substances.
Chronically elevated plasma FFA levels, as commonly seen in obese diabetic and non-diabetic individuals, also cause insulin resistance.
GENES AREN’T OUR DESTINY
We know there’s a genetic component linked to the UCP3_HUMAN or mitochondrial uncoupling protein 3 and 2. Healthy pancreatic β-cells are poised to respond rapidly and efficiently to acute changes in circulating nutrient availability to maintain metabolic homeostasis.
CHRONIC EXPOSURE TO OVERNUTRITION
However, it is well recognized that chronic exposure to overnutrition, such as what occurs in obesity, results in a blunting of the insulin response to an acute stimulus.
Whatever its origin, be it or not obesity the main initiator, the chronic low-grade inflammatory condition that accompanies the metabolic syndrome has been implicated as a major player in both the installation of the syndrome and its associated pathophysiological consequences.
WEIGHT LOSS HELPS INFLAMMATION
In good agreement with this interpretation of things, weight loss of obese patients is repeatedly verified to be associated with a decrease of inflammation biomarkers accompanied by improvement of metabolic parameters, namely, insulin sensitivity.
Monteiro, Rosário, and Isabel Azevedo. “Chronic Inflammation in Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome.” Mediators of Inflammation 2010 (2010): 289645. PMC. Web. 11 Oct. 2018
Diabetes Impact on World
Some people avoid bananas like the plague. “Too many carbohydrates and my blood sugar gets out of whack!” I even quit them for a while, due to this reason, with bad results. I ended up with headaches and low blood pressure. Bananas help these conditions with the potassium and magnesium they contain. They also have good amounts of fiber.
A study published in 2012 found that competitive cyclists performed better on long rides if they consumed either a banana (plus water) or a sports drink, compared to water alone.
Now a follow-up study, recently published in the journal PLOS One, concluded that bananas are even better than sports drinks at helping these athletes recover from extreme exertion.
Natural chemicals found in bananas help aid recovery from intense, prolonged exercise better than electroyle drinks. For replenishing energy and electrolytes, bananas can be more effective than sports drinks.
In this newest small trial, twenty cyclists rode in 75-kilometer time trials while ingesting a set amount of carbohydrates from either bananas or a six percent sugar beverage every 15 minutes.
However, bananas appeared to have added metabolic benefits above the impact of the sports drink alone, in that the banana’s serotonin and dopamine improved the athletes’ antioxidant capacity and helped with oxidative stress, improving their performance overall.
Ingesting carbohydrates from either source reduced inflammation compared to water alone, and improved the rate of metabolic recovery from this intense and prolonged exercise.
While this study did not test whether other fruits would work as well, it does lend support to the idea that components of whole foods interact to provide the best health benefits in the body.
One way to modify a banana’s impact on our blood sugar is eat only 1/2 serving at a time. Just because it comes in a neat package doesn’t mean we have to eat it all. We don’t inhale an entire pineapple (or at least I don’t!) in one sitting. Then what do we do with the other half? We can slice it up and freeze it. Oh, my! These frozen circles are wonderful for yogurt in the morning, for banana “ice cream” and for baking.
When my bananas go all ripe all at once, I cut them up and freeze them in circles. I weigh 60 +/- grams out into the bowl in the morning and add another 1/2 cup of fruit to the Greek yogurt and protein powder. I add a bit of peanut butter to have some fat to have this stick to my ribs and slow down the glycemic effect.
Another way to reduce the glycemic index of the bananas is to eat them when they are less ripe. A bright yellow banana with brown spots has more sugar content than a pale yellow one with light green streaks. A solid green banana is not ready to eat!
Why do we choose the food on our plates? Some of us eat traditional foods from our childhoods, our cultures, or our homelands to connect us with our history and our stories. Others of us may choose alternative menus, to change our story line or to rewrite a troubled or fraught past. In this way, “what we eat proclaims who we are,” even as it nourishes the person we are becoming in the flesh.
Yet the extreme carnivore fat shamers have no problem what so ever in singing the praises of a huge, fat riddled hunk of ribeye steak, preferably rare, and eagerly devoured as a testimony to their peak powers and dominance traits. They often mention bitcoin’s luster or their own wellness ventures if the conversation goes much past hello. I’ve often wondered if the inanimate aspect of the slab on the plate allows them to connect more deeply with their food than they can with an actual human being, who has feelings and might speak back. Better to devour both of these, and stay unaffected by the outer world’s complexities.
However, the world always intrudes. We find no sanctuary, for we tear down the very walls which we build about ourselves. If we choose the extreme course, we’re on a path to self destruction, unless we change our lives. The ancient Greeks were wise to say, “The middle path is safest and best.”
Our choice of menus, diets, or eating plans is also a form of tribal signaling, as we send out signs for others to recognize and to respond accordingly. Fat shaming is a negative form of signaling by those who overvalue outward appearances. Those whose bodies are overly generous in size need to disregard this crowd’s disgust. Instead, discovering their personal value and worth is more important so they can be proactive about their own health. To enjoy life, to live as well as possible, and to be a blessing to our family and the community, is important for each of us.
WHAT IS TRUTH?
With all the competing claims out in the world today, how can we know what is truly healthy for the long haul? Since anyone can get on the internet and make any claim they want, until someone gets hurt and the legal process shuts their scam down, how do we sort out these “Truth Claims?” The accepted way is a RCT, or randomized controlled trial, which enrolls a large number of persons and follows them over many years. This is the “gold standard” of science, rather than “I use it and it works for me, plus listen to these testimonials!” In between is the single paper, not published in a major journal, with only a small sample of 50 to 100 subjects studied for a brief period. (If someone still believes “all these truths are equal,” I may know a friend with a friend with seashore property in Arizona to sell you, but I’d recommend a lesson in logic first.)
The Lancet Public Health Journal, August 18, 2018, published a major prospective cohort study and meta-analysis of dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality. The study followed nearly 16,000 adults in 4 different US communities for 25 years and they added in published research results from 7 multinational prospective studies. They did some big number crunching, so if you want to read the whole paper, the link is at the bottom of the page. It is a real RCT study, and deserves space for commentary.
MORTALITY AND FAT SOURCE
As the wag says, “men live longer if they don’t mention the extra weight their sweet cake is carrying on her hips.” It must be true–Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s photo is connected to this quote (meme worthy, for sure!).
When my mother made meatloaf, it had breadcrumbs and an egg to bind it together. She laid two strips of bacon on top of the loaf in the pan so it would get extra flavoring. Today people wrap the entire meatloaf in two pounds of bacon before they grill it on the outdoor BBQ pit. That pork fat goes into the food we eat and stays in the arteries to clog those vessels. We might be able to live higher on the hog than our parents, but we won’t live longer, not even with a good medical plan.
LIFE EXPECTANCY AND INCOME
Fifty years has passed: we eat worse, exercise less, and we our life expectancy has quit increasing. Back in 1966, men and women could live on average to age 67 and 73. Now those numbers are 76 and 81 in 2016. Back in 1933, men could expect to live to age 61 and women to 65. At least we aren’t going back to those “really good old days” when life was harsh, medicine lacked modern advances, and sanitation was poor.
Today poverty often impacts life expectancy due to food deserts in neighborhoods, lack of health insurance, and low incomes. The wealthy live longer. The poor in some cities — big ones like New York and Los Angeles, and also quite a few smaller ones like Birmingham, Ala. — live nearly as long as their middle-class neighbors or have seen rising life expectancy in the 21st century. But in some other parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, and their life spans are getting shorter.
CHOOSE YOUR FAT WISELY
This Study of Dietary Carbohydrate Intake and Mortality explored how the source of fat affected deaths in the group. The more meat fat a person ate, the more it impacted their life span for the worse (table 2).
The low-carb group was split into two separate groups:
1. The plant-based low carbohydrate dietary score was associated with higher average intake of vegetables but lower fruit intake (appendix p 11).
2. By contrast, the animal-based low carbohydrate dietary score was associated with lower average intake of both fruit and vegetables (appendix pp 9, 10).
3. Both low carbohydrate diets were associated with higher fat intake in exchange for carbohydrate, although the plant-based low carbohydrate diet had higher average polyunsaturated fat and lower saturated fat intake compared with the animal-based low carbohydrate diet (appendix pp 9–11).
ANIMAL FATS VS. PLANT FATS
People choosing an animal-based diet had an overall, higher, total protein intake. Five foods differed most significantly between the highest and lowest quantiles of animal-based and plant-based low carbohydrate dietary score (appendix p 9):
1. The animal-based low carbohydrate diet had more servings per day than did higher carbohydrate diets of beef, pork, and lamb as the main dish; beef, pork, and lamb as a side dish; chicken with the skin on; chicken with the skin off; and cheese (appendix p 10).
2. The plant-based low carbohydrate diet had more servings per day of nuts, peanut butter, dark or grain breads, chocolate, and white bread than did higher carbohydrate diets (appendix p 11).
3. Both low carbohydrate diets were lower in average regular soft drink intake (appendix pp 10, 11)
DEATH BY GIANT RIBEYE STEAK
Exclusionary diets, unless for medically necessary reasons, are not the best choice. Just because we want to jump off a cliff doesn’t mean we should do this! Someone who wants to eat only white food, as my child did for a time, is going through a phase. An adult who won’t eat anything white is missing out on some food groups, or doesn’t want to spend the time learning about food. If we have time saving machines all around us, why don’t we have the time to care for our embodied selves in this spare time? Do we value our work more than the worker? This devaluation of people is a slippery slope to other ills, not only to self harm but to disparagement of others or outright hatefulness.
1. In the ARIC cohort and in meta-analysis, increased consumption of animal-based protein and fat instead of carbohydrate was associated with a significant increase in all-cause mortality (table 3). Eat more animal fat and die sooner.
2. Alternatively, increased consumption of plant-based protein and fat instead of carbohydrate was associated with a significant decrease in all-cause mortality (table 3). Trade animal fats for healthier plant fats from nuts and seeds, such as olive oil. Use in moderation.
3. The animal and plant-based findings were consistent for cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular mortality (appendix pp 3, 4). Both heart disease and other diseases are made worse by animal fats. Let’s eat leaner, greener, and add more plants into our menus.
4. Similarly, in the meta-analysis, mortality increased when animal-derived fat and protein were substituted for carbohydrate, and decreased when these substitutions were plant-based (table 3). Eating more plants would do us better.
THE SWEET SPOT
The model for carbohydrate caloric intake is about 50% of total calories per day. It seems to be a sweet spot for life expectancy. In the diabetes world, most of us work to control our blood glucose readings by diet, so many of us will reduce our carbohydrates until they’re minimal at best. We may get good readings on our glucose meter, but what about our heart health? We don’t have a home health test for this. Since people with diabetes also have high rates of heart disease, we need to think of our whole body as one interconnected system, and not focus only on one symptom. We are complex and wonderful, so finding a balance for our finely tuned instrument is important.
ALL CARBS ARE NOT EQUAL
What carbohydrates we choose are another factor. If we think a bag of potato chips is equal to a baked potato in calories and nutrition, we have another think coming. Learning to read nutrition labels might cure us of this delusion. In the meantime, avoiding the snack aisle at the grocery store can keep us from bringing this ersatz food product into our home.
In “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association Clinical,” the trials that used polyunsaturated fat to replace saturated fat reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease. In contrast, trials that used mainly carbohydrates to replace saturated fat did not reduce CVD.
CHOOSE CARBS WISELY
However, the types of carbohydrate-containing foods were often unspecified and typically included sugar and other refined carbohydrates to maintain energy balance. When carbohydrates from whole grains replace saturated fat, evidence from prospective observational studies indicates reduced CVD. The two best interventions for menu modification are DASH and the Mediterranean Diet.
The other way we can help keep our blood sugar in range is lifestyle modification. This is the most difficult of changes most of us have to make. Exercise, meditation, journaling, adjusting recipes, cooking meals, making menus, and setting a bedtime or wake up schedule all seems like too much at once. Of course it is! And if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, no one would blog about it, and there’d be no great 25 year long studies to tell us not to wrap two pounds of ground beef in two more pounds of fatback bacon.
Actually, Aristotle, the Ancient Greek philosopher, spoke about the “golden mean.” Moral behavior is the mean between two extremes: at one end is excess, and at the other deficiency. Find a moderate position between those two extremes, and you’ll be acting morally, or rationally. This was his goal in life.
If we were to pick only one of these lifestyle modifications per week to work on, then in the next, do another one the best we can, and do on in the following weeks. Soon we’d all be more comfortable with the routine, and all of us would be doing them all without even realizing it. This is how you sneak in your learning! Before you know it, you have a transformed life. No one waved a magic wand over you, but you grew into your grown up shoes slowly but surely.
Best wishes for a better life, with more exercise and more joy!
The Lancet Public Health Journal, August 18, 2018
Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association | Circulation
Shark Week always grabs my attention. After all, that’s what sharks do! Or maybe because it’s far too hot to be outside in Arkansas or because my inner child loves to learn new things. I always loved the beach as a child, since the sea breezes kept the heat tolerable. Inland, folks just suffered in the sweltering humidity pods. Thankfully we now have modern air conditioning, an invention that didn’t come to my home until I was a teenager.
When the temperature was 99F at 10 PM, even a ceiling fan wouldn’t make sleeping comfortable. Cooking was out of the question. Daddy would barbecue or we’d eat cold cuts and fruit. Chocolate candy bark didn’t take long to heat on the stove, so it was a treat to make in the cooler mornings. It also reminds me of coral reefs, which Shark Week shows us nightly on the Discovery Channel.
Corals come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some resemble deer antlers, trees, giant fans, brains, and honeycomb. Although many corals may look like plants, they’re actually animals; they’re most closely related to jellyfish and anemones. There are three different types of coral reef formations—barrier reefs, coral atolls, and fringing reefs. Barrier reefs help to protect lagoons and other types of shallow water; coral atolls (which are often mistaken for islands) are made from volcanic remains; and fringing reefs are found right along the coastline.
Coral reefs, which only grow at a maximum depth of around 150 feet, also grow very slowly, at an average rate of just two centimeters per year. This is because their biomes must maintain a temperature of 70 to 85º Fahrenheit. (Shallow water is more easily warmed by the sun.) Strangely, most coral reefs seem to grow on the eastern side of land masses, where the temperature is believed to be warmer than the western side. Stony coral groups are primarily responsible for building up reef structures. Coral reefs grow upward from the sea floor as the polyps of new corals cement themselves to the skeletons of those below.
When I make Shark Week Chocolate Bark, I gather the following dry ingredients in a plastic bag or in a bowl:
120 gram(s) Wonderful Pistachios Roasted & Salted Shelled Pistachios
0.5 cup Dried cherries (tart montmorency)
12 pretzels Splits pretzels—break into pieces 1 inch long (I used the broken pieces in the bottom of the bag).
1 tbsp Vanilla extract —divided into 2 tsp and 1 tsp
12 tsp Coconut Sugar—divided into 8 tsp and 4 tsp
Then I weigh out 571 gram(s) GHIRARDELLI chocolate premium baking chips 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate — divided into 400 grams and 171 grams.
Take the larger amounts of chocolate baking chips first. Take chocolate and put into microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and melt them in the microwave. Stir well. The first or larger amount may need a second 30 second cooking. The hot melted pieces will melt the unmelted ones. Stir after each heating. Bowl will be HOT! Don’t over cook the chocolate.
Remove & add vanilla 2 tsp. Stir. Add 8 tsp sugar. Stir.
Turn out onto parchment paper on cookie sheet. Spread chocolate with spatula. Spread nut and pretzel mix out over it evenly. Gently press it into chocolate.
Take remaining chocolate and put into same bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well. The hot melted pieces will melt the unmelted ones. Don’t over cook the chocolate. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 3 tsp sugar. Stir well. Drizzle over the surface and spread out. It will almost cover the whole nut layer.
Put into icebox for for 30 to 45 minutes to harden. Afterward, cut into small pieces about 1” x 1 1/2”. It will keep in an airtight container for about two weeks.
Serving Size: Makes 36 pieces appropriately 1 inch by 1 1/2 inch.
Number of Servings: 36
As you can see, making chocolate bark with broken pretzels, pieces of dried fruit, and nuts comes together much like a coral reef: it gets all the various pieces cemented with a binding agent, which in the kitchen is chocolate. I don’t suggest you go out into the sea and nibble on a coral reef. It wouldn’t be good for the pearly whites.
The Benefits of Coral Reefs
Scientists have discovered that many parts of a coral reef can be harvested to make medications. According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs are emerging as the medicine cabinets of the 21st century: “Coral reef plants and animals are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases.”
Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. There are often more types of fish living in a two-acre area of healthy coral reef than there are species of birds in all of North America!
Coral reefs help to improve the quality of the surrounding water. They do this by filtering out things floating in the ocean, which leads to cleaner water. In addition to protecting shorelines, coral reefs are immensely valuable to the fishing and tourism industries. According to the World Resources Institute, the destruction of one kilometer of coral reef equals a loss of between $137,000 to $1,200,000 over a 25-year period. And yet, they estimate some 60% of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by human activity.
Dark chocolate has its own benefits to humankind. Without it, some of us aren’t fit for civilized company! We don’t need a massive shark bite full of this calming food to bring us into a harmonious state. This is because chocolate has multiple chemicals that produce positive feelings in us. Phenylethylamine is sometimes called “the love drug”, because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love. Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, is a mood-lifter, as well. One chemical that causes the release of serotonin into the brain is tryptophan, found in (wait for it!) chocolate!
If chocolate were a drug, we might need a prescription. Or we might find the law regulating how much chocolate we could have in our candies. As far as I’m concerned, the darker the better, but small children often prefer milk chocolate due to the greater sugar and milk content. Dark chocolate has probiotics and prebiotics, magnesium, iron, copper, and antioxidants. Even commercial dark chocolate bars will have large amounts of sugar, so not all dark chocolate is good for people with diabetes or weight issues. Look for 15 g carbohydrates per serving as a limit. Chocolate is a snack treat, not a meal.
A little afternoon pickmeup or as a side nibble with coffee and a friend, and your mood will be adjusted in no time. Then you can go back to swimming with the sharks and they can’t bite you, since you now have on your impervious dark chocolate shark repellent suit. Enjoy!
Joy and Peace,
Servings Per Recipe: 36
Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving