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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Diet to Prevent Colon Cancer

New research into diet and colon cancer has exonerated some foods that were once thought to increase the risk of the disease. At the same time, research has confirmed that some food favorites — such as processed meats — do indeed increase the risk.

Diet and Colon Cancer: Processed Meat Alert

In the United States, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men and women combined. As with many cancers, the most serious risk posed by food is simply eating too much of it. Obesity is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, particularly among men.

Avoiding red and processed meat in your diet continues to be the mantra for colon cancer prevention. Over 10 years, high consumption of red meat increases the risk of cancer in the lower colon and rectum by 30 to 40 percent. For men, high consumption is three ounces of red meat daily; for women, it’s just two ounces.

The connection between colorectal cancer and processed meats is even stronger. Over 10 years, high consumption — one ounce five to six times per week for men and one ounce two to three times per week for women — increased the risk of cancer in the lower colon and rectum by 50 percent.

“It’s pretty scary. It’s a pretty strong connection and it’s not huge amounts,” says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity for the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society.

Foods such as bacon, salami, and hot dogs are widely recognized as processed meat, but Doyle points out that many seemingly innocent meats such as sliced turkey fall into that category.

“It’s all that deli meat. If it says ‘cured,’ it’s likely to be processed,” she says.

Diet and Colon Cancer: A Plant-Based Approach

Reduce colorectal cancer risk by focusing on a plant-based diet with limited amounts of meat — that’s the general recommendation of the American Cancer Society, Doyle says.

“It’s not a bad idea to eat vegetarian for dinner once in a while. It’s nice to mix it up and try some different things and save your colon,” she says.

A diet of at least five daily servings of vegetables, particularly the colorful ones, is still recommended, but cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli are no longer considered to impart any particular protective effect, as they once were, Doyle says.

Dietary fat is no longer a bogeyman in colon cancer. Healthy fats, such as those found in plant sources or fatty fish like salmon can be part of a healthy, cancer-smart diet, according to Doyle. “But there are still a lot of good reasons to eat a lower-fat diet,” she says. “If you’re on a higher-fat diet, whether it’s healthy fat or less healthy fat, that’s still a lot of calories. You still want to watch your calories.”

The general recommendations regarding alcohol consumption apply for reducing colorectal cancer risk: no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

Calcium seems to protect against colorectal cancer, but very high levels are associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer in men. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends that men limit calcium to 1,500 milligrams a day. An easy way to strike a balance on calcium consumption, Doyle says, is to consume only the recommended daily allowance of calcium for one’s age and gender and get it through food sources.

The good news is, we can control what we eat. With a little bit of common sense and awareness of what foods may be bad for you, you may actually make a difference in your chances of developing colorectal cancer.

Good vs. Bad Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet, but there’s much discussion about the good and bad carbohydrates.

So how do you know which is which? The answer is both simple — and complex.

Good vs. Bad Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, often referred to as “carbs,” are your body’s primary energy source, and they’re a crucial part of any healthy diet. Carbs should never be avoided, but it is important to understand that not all carbs are alike.

Carbohydrates can be either simple (nicknamed “bad”) or complex (nicknamed “good”) based on their chemical makeup and what your body does with them.

Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and legumes, contain longer chains of sugar molecules; these usually take more time for the body to break down and use. This, in turn, provides you with a more even amount of energy, according to Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky.

The Detail on Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are composed of simple-to-digest, basic sugars with little real value for your body. The higher in sugar and lower in fiber, the worse the carbohydrate is for you — remember those leading indicators when trying to figure out if a carbohydrate is good or bad.

Fruits and vegetables are actually simple carbohydrates — still composed of basic sugars, although they are drastically different from other foods in the category, like cookies and cakes. The fiber in fruits and vegetables changes the way that the body processes their sugars and slows down their digestion, making them a bit more like complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates to limit in your diet include:

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Artificial syrups
  • Sugar
  • White rice, white bread, and white pasta
  • Potatoes (which are technically a complex carb, but act more like simple carbs in the body)
  • Pastries and desserts

Meyerowitz says that you can enjoy simple carbohydrates on occasion, you just don’t want them to be your primary sources of carbs. And within the simple carb category, there are better choices — a baked potato, white rice, and regular pasta — than others — chips, cakes, pies, and cookies.

The Detail on Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are considered “good” because of the longer series of sugars that make them up and take the body more time to break down. They generally have a lower glycemic load, which means that you will get lower amounts of sugars released at a more consistent rate — instead of peaks and valleys —to keep you going throughout the day.

Picking complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates is a matter of making some simple substitutions when it comes to your meals. “Have brown rice instead of white rice, have whole-wheat pasta instead of plain white pasta,” says Meyerowitz.

To know if a packaged food is made of simple or complex carbohydrates, look at the label. “Read the box so you know what exactly you’re getting. If the first ingredient is whole-wheat flour or whole-oat flower, it’s likely going to be a complex carbohydrate,” says Meyerowitz. “And if there’s fiber there, it’s probably more complex in nature.”

The Glycemic Load Factor

Describing carbs as being either simple or complex is one way to classify them, but nutritionists and dietitians now use another concept to guide people in making decisions about the carbs they choose to eat.

The glycemic index of a food basically tells you how quickly and how high your blood sugar will rise after eating the carbohydrate contained in that food, as compared to eating pure sugar. Lower glycemic index foods are healthier for your body, and you will tend to feel full longer after eating them. Most, but not all, complex carbs fall into the low glycemic index category.

It is easy to find lists of food classified by their glycemic index. You can see the difference between the glycemic index of some simple and complex carbohydrates in these examples:

  • White rice, 64
  • Brown rice, 55
  • White spaghetti, 44
  • Whole wheat spaghetti, 37
  • Corn flakes, 81
  • 100 percent bran (whole grain) cereal, 38

To take this approach one step farther, you want to look at the glycemic load of a food. The glycemic load takes into account not only its glycemic index, but also the amount of carbohydrate in the food. A food can contain carbs that have a high glycemic index, but if there is only a tiny amount of that carb in the food, it won’t really have much of an impact. An example of a food with a high glycemic index but a low glycemic load is watermelon, which of course tastes sweet, but is mostly water.

The bottom line: Just be sensible about the carbs you choose. Skip low-nutrient dessert, consider the levels of sugar and fiber in carbs, and focus on healthy whole grains, fruits, and veggies to get the energy your body needs every day.

The Hidden Fat Content in Your Diet

It’s probably no surprise that greasy cheeseburgers, French fries, and pizza are loaded with fat.

But did you know that even certain vegetables and healthy fish can have a high fat content?

Keep in mind that fat is an important part of a healthy diet and while not all fat is bad, the fat content of a given meal should be evaluated just as closely as its calories.

Fat Content in Your Diet: How Much Fat Is Okay?

It’s important to pay attention to how many fat grams you eat each day to make sure you’re getting just the right amount of fat in your diet and no more.

The recommendation is that no more than 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat, says Anne Wolf, RD, a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Based on the average daily total intake of 2,000 calories, this means we should eat less than 65 grams of fat each day. “Typically we’re eating well over what we need,” notes Wolf.

There are two kinds of fats, commonly considered “good” and “bad” fats. Saturated and trans fats are bad, as they are linked to a number of health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unsaturated fats — the good ones — can actually protect your body from some of these conditions. Still, that doesn’t mean you can eat them without limit because too much of any fat, or of any food for that matter, can lead to weight gain.

When tracking the fat content of your meals, make sure that most of your fat intake is in the form of unsaturated fats, that less than 20 grams are coming from saturated fats, and that hardly any are from trans fat.

Fat Content in Your Diet: Fat in Everyday Foods

Think of the foods that frequently make up your daily meals. Have you ever considered their fat content? Here are some commonly eaten foods and where they weigh in on fat (typically the bad kinds):

  • Average fast-food hamburger: 36 grams
  • Average fast-food fish sandwich: 24 grams
  • 10 French fries: 8 grams
  • One ounce of potato chips: 10 grams
  • One slice of cheese pizza: 8 grams
  • Two ounces of bologna: 16 grams
  • One hot dog: 14 grams
  • Three slices of cooked bacon: 10 grams
  • One ounce cheddar cheese: 8 grams
  • One cup whole milk: 7 grams
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter: 14 grams
  • One teaspoon of butter or margarine: 4 grams
  • One serving of most breads, bagels, and cereals: about 1 gram

If some of those numbers don’t look that bad to you, pay attention to the amounts and serving sizes of each of them. When was the last time you ate only one ounce of potato chips, just 10 fries, or a single slice of pizza? So think about fat content before you indulge in a burger and fries for lunch followed by pizza for dinner.

Fat Content in Your Diet: Surprisingly High-Fat Foods

While the high fat content of certain foods is no surprise, you may not realize that many other foods are loaded with hidden fat:

  • Movie theater popcorn (because of the way it’s processed)
  • Packaged meals with added sauces, butter, or oil
  • Highly marbled red meats, including some cuts of beef and lamb — that white marbling is fat
  • Chicken and other poultry if the skin is eaten
  • Salad dressings

Perhaps the biggest hidden sources of fats to watch out for are prepackaged snack foods and meals. They often contain dangerous trans fats — frequently listed as partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening in the ingredients — because they give these foods a longer shelf life. Trans fats are particularly unhealthy for your heart and cholesterol levels and should be avoided as much as possible.

While you might know that olive and vegetable oils are high in fat, so are nuts, olives, avocados, and certain fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines. These foods contain the good, unsaturated fats — just monitor how much you eat to control your weight.

Given the high fat content of so many foods, if you’re not careful, you could exceed your entire daily fat allowance by lunchtime! Keep an eye on your fat intake, and opt for unsaturated fats in place of saturated and trans fats. Your health, your heart, and your waistline will thank you.

Can Diet Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

Little in life is as scary as the idea of forgetting our loved ones, our histories, and ourselves. Yet that is exactly what is happening to the more than 5 million people in North America suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Mild forgetfulness in the early years of the disease slowly expands to include serious problems with memory, language, and abstract reasoning until eventually this brain disorder robs its victims of the ability to function.

Despite extensive research, both cause and cure for Alzheimer’s disease remain elusive. Experts theorize that a complicated combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors result in cognitive decline, though they are still working on exactly how it happens and what can be done to prevent it.

One logical area of exploration is diet. While there have been no definitive breakthroughs yet, there are certain foods that are being carefully studied for their specific relationship to Alzheimer’s.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and B Vitamins

“A few studies found a correlation between high dietary fish with omega-3 fatty acid intake and a decrease in developing Alzheimer’s,” says Tara Harwood, registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “However, more studies must be conducted before any conclusions can be drawn.”

High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, have been associated with the risk of dementia. One avenue being examined is whether increasing intake of folate and vitamins B6 and B12, which break down homocysteine, can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. “Neither vitamin B6 or B12 supplementation has been proven effective,” says Harwood, “but data from one study found a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s for individuals with the highest folate intake.”

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Antioxidants

Another possible theory in the development of Alzheimer’s disease involves free radicals destroying the integrity of the body’s cells. These unstable molecules have the potential to cause cell aging and damage, which could be one piece of the Alzheimer’s puzzle.

“You can reduce your exposure to free radicals by limiting contact with the sun, environmental pollutants, and cigarette smoke,” says Harwood. “However, free radicals are a byproduct of metabolism, which occurs every minute of the day. Because it’s impossible to completely eliminate free radicals, [eating foods with] antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, and flavonoids, can help.”

Foods high in antioxidants include berries, dark green and orange vegetables, nuts, and beans. Specifically, studies have shown rats and mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease had improved mental function after being fed blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries. Green tea is also high in antioxidants, and although it hasn’t been proven specifically to prevent Alzheimer’s, it has been shown that drinking five cups a day can reduce one’s risk of heart disease.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Mediterranean Diet

A few recent studies conducted by researchers from the neurology department at Columbia University Medical Center in New York have looked at the possible preventive effects of the typical diet eaten by people in countries around the Mediterranean sea, such as Greece. The “Mediterranean diet” is primarily made up offruits, vegetables, and beans, fish, olive oil, a moderate amount of wine, some dairy foods, and small amounts of meat and chicken. Though more study is needed, results point to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and lower mortality rate among those who contracted the disease.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Next Steps

While there is no definitive answer to the Alzheimer’s mystery, there are certainly clues to follow. “No changes in diet, dietary supplements, food additives, vitamins, nor alternative herbal medicines have ever been demonstrated to affect the risk for Alzheimer’s disease or the course of the disease in a well-designed clinical trial experiment,” says Randolph Schiffer, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Cleveland. “With that said, most of us in the Alzheimer’s research field believe that people should adopt and continue healthy lifestyles, including diets low in saturated fats and high in antioxidants and B vitamins.”

Until more research is available, it makes sense to combine a good diet with physical and mental activity and social interaction. This approach just might help keep Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other illnesses, at bay.