If food comes in a packet, don’t buy it!

Yea, I know it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that you shouldn’t buy food that comes in a packet, but you get the idea of where I’m going with this…’Toxins‘ in prepared foods – from tins of veg soup to loaves of bread – include substances with both familiar and unrecognisable names, but they can all be roughly classified into three groups:

  • food additives
  • artificial sweeteners, and
  • artificial colours

This brief blog outlines just some of the ever-increasing list of those ingredients we might be wise to avoid. It may well help food manufacturers to make profits by producing cheap junk with unnaturally long shelf lives, but it’s our long-term health that eventually picks up the bill.

You know that I’m going to suggest that you avoid all animal products and added salt, oil and sugar as a starter; but even those who might still consider it okay to chew on a bit of cheese or chicken from time to time might be interested in looking through what follows. And it’s not that they are all equally harmful, nor that they are necessarily harmful when found naturally-occurring in whole plant foods; but when they are synthesised or concentrated and added to ‘improve’ something in the product, you’ve got to ask “improve for whom?” and “who benefits financially?”

Food additives

Aluminium (Aluminum to our American cousins): A preservative in some packaged foods that can cause cancer. 1

Azodicarbonamide: Used in bagels and buns. Can cause asthma. 2

BHA/BHT: A fat preservative, used in foods to extend shelf life. Linked to cancerous tumour growth. 3

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO): Maintains the suspension of flavour oils in soft drinks. Bromate is a poison and can cause organ damage and birth defects. Not required to be listed on food labels. 4

Butane (as BTHQ): Put in chicken nuggets, cheese crackers etc to keep them tasting fresh. A known carcinogen. 5

Carnauba wax: Used in chewing gums and to glaze certain foods. Can cause cancer and tumours. 6

Carrageenan: Stabilizer and thickening agent used in many prepared foods. Can cause ulcers and cancer. 7

Chlorine dioxide: Used in bleaching flour. Can cause tumours and hyperactivity in children. 8

Disodium inosinate & disodium guanylate: In snack foods. Contains MSG. 9

Enriched flour: Used in many snack foods. A refined starch that is made from toxic ingredients. 10

Gums (Stabilisers): These hydrocolloids are used in salad dressings etc and include guar, tragacanth, and xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a common gum used in salad dressings and may trigger individual allergic reactions including headaches and gastrointestinal syndromes such as bloating and diarrhoea 11 . Tragacanth gum has been linked in the past to potential allergic reactions in certain individuals, especially those suffering from coeliac disease, because of its gluten residues. 12

Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Flavour enhancer that can cause headaches. Linked in animal studies to nerve damage, heart problems and seizures. 13

Olestra: Fat-like substance that is unabsorbed by the body. Used in place of natural fats in some snack foods. Can cause digestive problems, and also not healthy for the heart. 14

Paraben: Used to stop mould and yeast forming in foods. Can disrupt hormones in the body, and could be linked to breast cancer. 15

Polysorbate 60: A thickener that is used in baked goods. Can cause cancer in laboratory animals. 16

Potassium bromate: Added to breads to increase volume. Linked to cancer in humans. 17

Potassium/Sodium nitrate (E 249-252): Added to processed meats to stop bacterial growth.18

Propyl gallate: Added to fat-containing products. Found in meats, popcorn, soup mixes and frozen dinners. Linked to cancer in humans. 19

Propylene glycol: Better known as antifreeze. Thickens dairy products and salad dressing. Deemed ‘generally’ safe by FDA. 20

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH): Geneticially-engineered version of natural growth hormone in cows. Boosts milk production in cows. Contains high levels of IGF-1, which is thought to cause various types of cancer. 21

Refined vegetable oil: Includes soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. High in omega-6 fats, which are thought to cause heart disease and cancer. 22

Sulphites: Used to keep prepared foods fresh. Can cause breathing difficulties in those sensitive to the ingredient. 23

Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in salad dressing and carbonated beverages. A known carcinogen and may cause damage to our DNA. 24

Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose: Used as a thickener in salad dressings. In high quantities it could cause cancer. 25

Artificial sweeteners

Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K): Used with other artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and ice cream. Linked to lung and breast tumours in rats. 26

Agave nectar: Sweetener derived from a cactus. Contains high levels of fructose, which causes insulin resistance, liver disease and inflammation of body tissues. 27

Aspartame: An excitotoxin and thought to be a carcinogen. Can cause dizziness, headaches, blurred vision and stomach problems. 28

Bleached starch: Can be used in many dairy products. Thought to be related to asthma and skin irritations. 29

High fructose corn syrup: Sweetener made from corn starch. Made from genetically-modified corn. Causes obesity, diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and insulin resistance. 30

Saccharin: Carcinogen found to cause bladder cancer in rats. (Worst Offender) 31

Sucralose: Splenda. Can cause swelling of liver and kidneys and a shrinkage of the thymus gland. 32

Tert butylhydroquinone: Used to preserve fish products. Could cause stomach tumours at high doses. 33

Artificial colours

Annatto (E160b): Food colouring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma. 34

Bixin: an apocarotenoid found in annatto, (see above). Can cause hyperactivity in children, asthma and potential liver damage. 35 36

Blue No. 1 (brilliant blue, E133): Used in bakery products, candy and soft drinks. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer. 37

Blue No. 2 (indigotine, E132): Used in candy and pet food beverages. Can cause brain tumours 37

Brown HT (E155): Used in many packaged foods. Can cause hyperactivity in children, asthma and cancer. 38

Caramel colouring: In soft drinks, sauces, pastries and breads. When made with ammonia, it can cause cancer in mice. Food companies are not required to disclose if this ingredient is made with ammonia.  39

Citrus red No. 1 (E121): Sprayed on oranges to make them look ripe. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer. 40

Citrus red No. 2 (Solvent red): Used to colour oranges. Can cause cancer if you eat the peel. 40

Green No. 3 (fast green): Used in candy and beverages. May cause bladder tumours. 41

Norbixin: Food colouring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.

Orange B: A food dye that is used in hot dog and sausage casings. High doses are bad for the liver and bile duct. 40

Red No. 2 (Amaranth, E143): A food colouring that may cause both asthma and cancer. 42

Red No. 3  (Erythrozine, E127): A carcinogen. that is added to cherry pie filling, ice cream and baked goods. May cause nerve damage and thyroid cancer. 43

Red No. 40 (Allura red, E129): Found in many foods to alter colour. All modern food dyes are derived from petroleum. A carcinogen that is linked to cancer in some studies. Also can cause hyperactivity in children. Banned in some European countries. But in McDonald’s strawberry sundaes within the USA. (Worst Offender) 44

Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine, E102): Used in desserts, candy and baked goods.Thought to cause kidney tumours, according to some studies. 44 45

Yellow No. 6 (Sunset yellow, FD&C yellow): A carcinogen used in sausage, beverages and baked goods. Thought to cause kidney tumours, according to some studies.44 46

With thanks to MPH 47  for selected data.

Final thoughts

If something comes in a box, packet, bottle, tin or jar that you are about to put inside your body – be suspicious!

If some product looks unnaturally colourful and lasts for ages, then leave it in the shop to look pretty and age on their shelf, not yours…


References

  1. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001 Feb;33(1):66-79. Safety evaluation of dietary aluminum. Soni MG1, White SM, Flamm WG, Burdock GA. []
  2. Br J Ind Med. 1989 Jan; 46(1): 60–62. Occupational asthma after exposure to azodicarbonamide: report of four cases. J C Normand, F Grange, C Hernandez, A Ganay, P Davezies, A Bergeret, and G Prost. []
  3. Scientific America: BHA and BHT: A Case for Fresh? []
  4. Should I be worried that my favorite soda contains brominated vegetable oil? Answer From Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. []
  5. What is BTHQ, BHT & BHA? –Food-Safe (Just Ask the FDA) []
  6. EFSA: Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of carnauba wax (E 903) as a food additive. Carnauba wax, INS No. 903, CAS Registry Number 8015-86-9, EINECS 232-399-0. First published in the EFSA Journal: 4 October 2012. []
  7. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Oct; 109(10): 983–994. Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. J K Tobacman. []
  8. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Mar; 14(3): 329. Efficacy and Safety Evaluation of a Chlorine Dioxide Solution. Jui-Wen Ma, Bin-Syuan Huang, Chu-Wei Hsu, Chun-Wei Peng, Ming-Long Cheng Jung-Yie Kao, Tzong-Der Way, Hao-Chang Yin, Shan-Shue Wang. []
  9. Lysine, disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate as flavor enhancers in low-sodium fermented sausages. Paulo Cezar, Bastianello  Campagnol, Bibiana Alves dos Santos, Nelcindo, Nascimento Terra, Marise Aparecida Rodrigues Pollonio. []
  10. J Nutr. 2011 May; 141(5): 1011S–1022S. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. Satya S. Jonnalagadda, Lisa Harnack, Rui Hai Liu, Nicola McKeown, Chris Seal, Simin Liu, and George C. Fahey. []
  11. Contact Dermatitis. 2015 Feb;72(2):121-3. doi: 10.1111/cod.12324. Epub 2014 Dec 18. Contact allergy caused by Tinosorb® M: let us not forget about xanthan gum. Aerts O1, Clinck B, Schramme M, Lambert J. []
  12. J Allergy. 1947 May;18(3):214. Allergy (asthma) to ingested gum tragacanth; a case report. BROWN EB, CREPEA SB. PMID: 20296003. []
  13. International Journal of Food Properties. Volume 20, 2017. Issue Sup2. Monosodium glutamate: Review on clinical reports. Zehra Kazmi, Iffat Fatima, Shaghufta Perveen & Saima Shakil Malik []
  14. J Nutr. 1997 Aug;127(8 Suppl):1719S-1728S. doi: 10.1093/jn/127.8.1719S. Assessment of the nutritional effects of olestra, a nonabsorbed fat replacement: summary. Peters JC, Lawson KD, Middleton SJ, Triebwasser KC. []
  15. EFSA: EFSA advises on the safety of paraben usage in food []
  16. EFSA: Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate (E 432), polyoxyethylene sorbitan monooleate (E 433), polyoxyethylene sorbitan monopalmitate (E 434), polyoxyethylene sorbitan monostearate (E 435) and polyoxyethylene sorbitan tristearate (E 436) as food additives. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS). European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy. []
  17. Environ Health Perspect. 1990 Jul; 87: 309–335. Toxicity and carcinogenicity of potassium bromate–a new renal carcinogen. Y Kurokawa, A Maekawa, M Takahashi, and Y Hayashi []
  18. EFSA confirms safe levels for nitrites and nitrates added to food []
  19. Drug Chem Toxicol. 2014 Jul;37(3):241-6. doi: 10.3109/01480545.2013.838776. Epub 2013 Oct 25. Geno- and cytotoxicity of propyl gallate food additive. Hamishehkar H, Khani S, Kashanian S, Ezzati Nazhad Dolatabadi J, Eskandani M. []
  20. Science Direct: Propylene glycol []
  21. American Cancer Society: Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone []
  22. Toxicol Rep. 2016; 3: 636–643. Evaluation of the deleterious health effects of consumption of repeatedly heated vegetable oil. Rekhadevi Perumalla Venkata and Rajagopal Subramanyam. []
  23. Gastroenterol Hepatol Bed Bench. 2012 Winter; 5(1): 16–23. Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives. Hassan Vally and Neil LA Misso []
  24. Mol Genet Metab. 2015 Jan; 114(1): 73–79. Effects of sodium benzoate, a widely used food preservative, on glucose homeostasis and metabolic profiles in humans. Belinda Lennerz, Scott B. Vafai, Nigel F. Delaney, Clary B. Clish, Amy A. Deik, Kerry A. Pierce, David S. Ludwig, and Vamsi K. Mootha. []
  25. Int J Biol Macromol. 2016 Nov;92:965-971. doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2016.08.012. Epub 2016 Aug 6. Toxicity study of food-grade carboxymethyl cellulose synthesized from maize husk in Swiss albino mice. Mondal MI, Yeasmin MS. []
  26. PLoS One. 2017; 12(6): e0178426. The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium affects the gut microbiome and body weight gain in CD-1 mice. Xiaoming Bian, Liang Chi, Bei Gao, Pengcheng Tu, Hongyu Ru, and Kun Lu. []
  27. J Med Food. 2014 Sep;17(9):1017-21. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2013.0162. Effects of agave nectar versus sucrose on weight gain, adiposity, blood glucose, insulin, and lipid responses in mice. Hooshmand S, Holloway B, Nemoseck T, Cole S, Petrisko Y, Hong MY, Kern M. []
  28. NHS: The truth about aspartame []
  29. WHO: Residue Monograph prepared by the meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), 82nd meeting 2016. Bleached Starch. []
  30. Journalist’s Resource: High-fructose corn syrup and your health: Research roundup []
  31. Science Direct: Saccharin is an organic petroleum-based compound, chemical name 1,2-benzisothiazolin-3-1 −1,l- dioxide (C7H5NO3S), 200 to 700 times sweeter than sucrose. []
  32. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2013;16(7):399-451. Sucralose, a synthetic organochlorine sweetener: overview of biological issues.
    Schiffman SS1, Rother KI. []
  33. Food Chem. 2014 Jun 15;153:315-20. Cytotoxicity and DNA damage properties of tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) food additive. Eskandani M, Hamishehkar H, Ezzati Nazhad Dolatabadi J. []
  34. Researchgate: An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Annatto ( Bixa orellana L.) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration Article · Literature Review (PDF Available)  in Journal of Dietary Supplements 9(1):57-77 · March 2012. []
  35. Researchgate: Analysis of Bixin in Foods []
  36. Food Chem Toxicol. 2003 Aug;41(8):1157-64. A thirteen-week oral toxicity study of annatto extract (norbixin), a natural food color extracted from the seed coat of annatto (Bixa orellana L.), in Sprague-Dawley rats. Hagiwara A, Imai N, Ichihara T, Sano M, Tamano S, Aoki H, Yasuhara K, Koda T, Nakamura M, Shirai T. []
  37. Scientific American: Where does blue food dye come from? The same colorants that are in your blue jeans may also be in your M&Ms [] []
  38. EFSA: Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of Brown HT (E 155) as a food additive []
  39. Food Chem Toxicol. 1992 Sep;30(9):749-57. Effects of the colour additive caramel colour III on the immune system: a study with human volunteers. Houben GF, Abma PM, van den Berg H, van Dokkum W, van Loveren H, Penninks AH, Seinen W, Spanhaak S, Vos JG, Ockhuizen T. []
  40. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2012 Jul-Sep;18(3):220-46. Toxicology of food dyes. Kobylewski S, Jacobson MF. [] [] []
  41. PubChem Open Chemistry Database: Fast Green. []
  42. Toxnet: Citrus Red 2 []
  43. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, Volume 18, 2012 – Issue 3. Toxicology of food dyes. Sarah Kobylewski & Michael F. Jacobson. Pages 220-246 | Published online: 12 Nov 2013. []
  44. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Oct; 118(10): A428. DIET AND NUTRITION: The Artificial Food Dye Blues. Carol Potera. [] [] []
  45. Braz J Biol. 2007 Feb;67(1):141-5. Prolonged use of the food dye tartrazine (FD&C yellow no 5) and its effects on the gastric mucosa of Wistar rats. Moutinho IL1, Bertges LC, Assis RV. []
  46. Environ Health Perspect. 1982 Nov; 45: 209–210. Condensations of the Carcinogenesis Bioassay Technical Reports FD&C Yellow No. 6. []
  47. MPH Programs List: 50 Jawdroppingly Toxic Food Ingredients & Artificial Additives to Avoid []

Greens: Chewing vs Juicing

study in Okinawa, Japan demonstrated that eating lots of leafy green vegetables is really effective at preventing damage to the endothelial cells which line our blood vessels. But is it better to chew or juice our vegetables?

Oxidative inflammation

The specific process we want to avoid is oxidative inflammation. To do this this, we want to eat loads of anti-oxidants.

Food or supplements?

But can’t we just get these from swallowing a jugful of anti-oxidant potions sold by the local health store? Apparently not. This supplement approach not only does not work, but it’s probably going to be harmful.

The anti-oxidants we want will only come from food that has a high ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) – raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are excellent, but the absolute champions appear to be the green leafy vegetables, at least according to Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn.

Cardiovascular disease and greens

Dr Esselstyn has successfully reversed heart disease in his patients merely by making radical changes in their dietary intake. He says:

“If I’ve got somebody who is significant in cardiovascular disease, whether it’s their legs, their carotid, their heart, we really wanna hasten this along…I want them to have a green leafy vegetable, six times a day. And how do we do that? I want it to be the size of your fist after it has been boiled in boiling water for five and a half to six minutes, until it’s nice and tender. Then anoint it with some delightful balsamic vinegar, so you’ve got something that is tender and delicious. And I want this alongside your breakfast cereal, I want it mid-morning snack. I want it with your lunch and sandwich. Again, mid-afternoon. Obviously at dinnertime.”

The Most Powerful Anti-Oxidant

When we eat vegetables “…[w]hat you are doing is you are bathing that cauldron of oxidation inflammation all day long with nature’s most powerful anti-oxidant” – nitric oxide, produced by the endothelial cells within our blood vessels. And it is the green leafy vegetables that he considers to be our best source of nitric oxide-producing foods.

Which vegetables are best?

Cabbage, kale, brassicas, spring greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, beet greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, coriander, parsley, spinach, rocket, asparagus. That’s just a few, but enough to get you started.

Nitric acid as we age

By the age of 50, nitric oxide production from the endothelial cells of the healthiest person will tend to drop to approximately 50% of what it was at age 25. Does that mean that your anti-oxidant protection will run dry no matter what you do? Apparently not. Another route for making nitric oxide is through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Nitrates to nitrites

When we consume green leafy vegetables, the nitrates contained within them get converted into nitrites when they get inside our GI tract. But not as much nitrate is absorbed as nitrites when the food passes through the body. However, there is an additional method that we can use to get the maximum “bang for our buck” from these nitrates.

Chewing or juicing – the answer

  • If we chew nitrates (i.e. our green leafy vegetables) rather than juicing them, then the nitrates are going to mix in the mouth with the facultative anaerobic bacteria that reside in the grooves and crevices of the tongue.
  • These bacteria will reduce the nitrates in the mouth to nitrites, so that when these additional nitrites are swallowed, they are further reduced by gastric acid into nitric oxide, and this will join with the body’s nitric oxide pool.
  • The nitrites in the stomach that are not converted into nitric acid will be reabsorbed into the circulation further downstream.
  • In turn, they will circulate back to the salivary glands where they will now be concentrated ten to twenty fold.

So chewing rather than juicing allows the saliva to release more nitrites and these, in turn, get further reduced by gastric acid into nitric oxide. This nitric oxide is then available to the endothelial cells to keep your blood vessels healthy and, hopefully, your body free of cardiovascular disease.

[qsm quiz=3]

 


References

Mano R, Ishida A, Ohya Y, Todoriki H, Takishita S. Dietary intervention with Okinawan vegetables increased circulating endothelial progenitor cells in healthy young women. Atherosclerosis. 2009; 204(2):544–548.

Heinonen OP, Huttunen JK, Albanes D, et al. The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. N Engl J Med. 1994;330(15):1029-1035.

Esselstyn CB Jr., Gendy G, Doyle J, Golubic M, Roizen MF. A way to reverse CAD? J Fam Pract. 2014 July; 63(7): 356-364.

Esselstyn C. Resolving the coronary artery disease epidemic through plant-based nutrition. Prevent Card. 2001; 4: 171–177.

Esselstyn C, Ellis S, Medendorp S, Crowe T. A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician’s practice. J Fam Pract. 1995; 41(6):560–568.

 

Olive Oil Injures Endothelial Cells

I know it’s not popular amongst advocates of the so-called Mediterranean diet, but there is a fact about olive oil that has been established in peer-reviewed literature for some time now: Olive oil is NOT as good for you as you might have thought.

So why is it that those eating the Mediterranean diet have had such a reputation for longevity and good health? The answer lies in what other foods are eaten and, equally importantly, which other foods are not eaten (processed junk food).

The traditional Mediterranean diet is fading away as the Western diet – also known as the Standard American Diet (SAD) – spreads its influence across the continent.

But before the golden arches threatened to overshadow the Acropolis, the traditional Mediterranean diet was largely plant-based, consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, whole grains, pasta, olive oil, wine, and very small amounts of fish, eggs, dairy, and meats. And while heart disease mortality was lower when compared to the UK and USA, for instance, the benefits seem to have been conferred primarily by a high percentage of plant content, the regular consumption of nuts and an avoidance of sugary/fatty desserts, with fruit being the common after-dinner treat.

And, while compared to the modern Western diet, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to be better at cutting heart attack risk, it has not demonstrated the health-promoting power of a purely whole food plant-based diet – whether the latter is with or without SOS (added sugar, oil and salt). As you will know by now, the WFPB diet is the only known diet that has been clinically proven to reverse heart disease.

A major problem with the Mediterranean diet is that it includes three elements that are associated with inflammation and its many harmful consequences in the body:

  • refined grains (pasta and breads),
  • animal products, and
  • olive oil,

and it is the olive oil that concerns us here.

A  publication in the Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases journal pretty much sums up its findings in the title of the study:

“Olive, soybean and palm oils intake have a similar acute detrimental effect over the endothelial function in healthy young subjects.”

Objective 

Their objective was to evaluate the acute effect of the ingestion of large amounts of olive, soybean and palm oils, fresh and at two different deep-fry levels, on the glucose and lipid profiles and endothelial function.

Method

Subjects were randomly given a potato soup meal containing one of three different vegetable oils (olive, soybean and palm). Flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD) was performed and blood samples taken to establish the lipid profiles and plasma glucose levels.

Results

All types of oil tested (including olive oil) resulted in a similar acute endothelial impairment.

Conclusions of the Study

“No difference was found in the acute adverse effect of the ingestion of different vegetable oils on the endothelial function. All the vegetable oils, fresh and deep-fried, produced an increase in the triglyceride plasma levels in healthy subjects.”

What are Endothelial Cells and Why are they so Important?

The endothelial cell layer is a one-cell thick layer within the inner surface of our blood vessels. These cells are of vital importance for vascular health and their damage is what leads to the development of CVD (cardiovascular disease).

When you eat the typical Western diet you develop intracellular adhesion molecules – causing blood to flow like Velcro. This results in the LDL particles in the bloodstream burrowing into the subendothelial compartment. The so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol gets oxidised by free radicals in our diet into small hard dense LDL molecules, so our body sends out messengers called chemokines that recruit white blood cells (monocytes) to sort them out.

These monocytes follow the LDL into the subendothelial compartment in order to scavenge for the LDL particles. Once inside the subendothelial compartment, these monocytes are referred to as macrophages as they try to mop up and clear away all the LDL particles.

The macrophages get bigger and bigger as they absorb the LDL particles and they then change their name again and become known as foam cells.

These foam cells are the really dangerous particles because they release some unpleasant enzymes called metalloproteinases which then gradually erode the plaque on the endothelial cell.

The cap over the plaque is very thin and once it ruptures, the plaque content then oozes out and causes a plaque clot.

The plaque clot then grows and spreads out over the inner diameter (lumen) of the blood vessel and this results in something you really don’t want to happen: the downstream heart muscle loses its blood supply.

The result is that the heart muscle dies. This whole nasty process is thought to account for around 90% of all heart attacks.

 

 

Is it Too Late for Sufferers of Heart Disease?

Fortunately, it is not too late, even if plaques have formed. The cap over the plaque can be strengthened and, if it is sufficiently strong, you become “heart attack proof” as Dr Esselstyn says, but only if you change to a whole food plant based diet.

How is Nitric Oxide Involved?

Initially it was called EDRF, but had its name changed because it was then discovered that EDRF was in fact a gas – nitric oxide (chemical symbol NO), discovered by Furchgott et al in 1998, for which they received the Nobel Prize.

The Functions of NO

  • It prevents intracellular contents from getting sticky – makes the blood flow like Teflon instead of Velcro.
  • NO is the strongest vasodilator in the body. When you run for a bus or climb the stairs, it’s the NO produced by your endothelial cells that dilates the blood vessels and allows you to increase activity level without passing out.
  • It prevents the vessel walls from getting stiff, thickened or inflamed – hence preventing hypertension.
  • Sufficient NO will prevent blockages or plaques building up on the surface of the endothelium.
  • NO will prevent the artery wall from “migrating” into the plaque.
  • NO can destroy the foam cells (referred to by Dr Esselstyn as “Darth Vaders”).

What is the Flow-Mediated Dilation Test?

If you take an ultrasound probe, place it over the brachial artery at the elbow, you can get a readout of the diameter of the artery.

You then put a blood pressure cuff on the upper arm, inflate it above systolic blood pressure and leave it there for 5 mins.

During this time, there is zero blood flow to the forearm and hand (a weird sensation to say the least).

You then release the cuff and once again measure the new diameter of the brachial artery.

In a normal artery it should immediately increase by 30%.

Enter Dr Robert Vogel…

Dr Vogel did a brilliant study by taking a number of healthy young people to McDonald’s and splitting them into two groups.

He gave one group cornflakes and measured their dilation response. It was normal.

He gave the other group hash browns and sausages. Their brachial arteries could not dilate normally – even after two hours. The endothelial cells’ ability to make nitric oxide was so damaged that they could not dilate the artery. They were tested on an off into the evening, by which time they started to recover full function as the evening progressed.

A One-Off or Chronic Problem?

It is not a good idea to repeat this test, but people do – millions of them, day in day out, week in week out, for years and decades. The next day it’s egg and bacon or cappuccino and brioche for breakfast, ham and cheese sandwich or chicken salad for lunch, take-away Chinese for dinner. What was an acute reaction becomes a regular, chronic health threat.

This is why, in the 21st century, by the time our children are leaving school, they already have the foundation for cardiovascular disease.

Best Advice

If you really want to protect yourself as much as possible against these cardiovascular events, do all you can to optimise the health of your endothelial cells.

To do this, start by always avoiding the following:

  • Oils – no matter whether it’s olive oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, palm oil, oil in a crisp/chip, oil in a cracker, oil in bread, oil in a salad dressing.
  • Anything with a face or that had a mother – no matter whether it’s fish or fowl, beef or pork, turkey or chicken, cream or milk, cheese or butter, yogurt or ice cream.
  • Anything with added sugar – no matter whether it’s organic muscovado sugar, molasses, honey, juices* (orange, apple etc), maple syrup or agave syrup.

All of these injure endothelial cells to some extent; and you don’t need a history of cardiovascular disease to already have it developed within your body – in one study, 57% of men who experienced sudden cardiac death had zero history of coronary heart disease.

* Eating an apple or an orange is not the same thing as drinking fruit juices. The fructose is bound with the fibre. But when you make orange juice or apple juice, the sugar is free, goes into your gut and is immediately absorbed, injuring your liver, promoting protein glycation, and injuring those precious and delicate endothelial cells.

I know it is difficult to consider such dramatic changes, but remember that we live in a nutritionally toxic environment in the 21st century, where the all-pervasive “normal” diet is something that has never existed on Earth before. Nowadays, a person who insists on eating a truly healthy diet will feel and probably be treated like an alien from a distant galaxy.


[qsm quiz=2]

 


References:

Rueda-Clausen CF, Silva FA, Lindarte MA, Villa-Roel C, Gomez E, Gutierrez R, Cure-Cure C, López-Jaramillo P. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2007 Jan;17(1):50-7. Epub 2006 Mar 20. Olive, soybean and palm oils intake have a similar acute detrimental effect over the endothelial function in healthy young subjects.

Esselstyn C. Prevent Card. 2001; 4: 171–177. Resolving the coronary artery disease epidemic through plant-based nutrition. 

Esselstyn C, Ellis S, Medendorp S, Crowe T. J Fam Pract. 1995; 41(6):560–568. A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician’s practice. 

Go A, Mozaffarian D, Roger V, Benjamin E, et al. Circulation 2013; 127: 6–245. doi: 10.1161. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. 

van Dam RM, Willett WC. Nutr, Metab Cardiov Dis. 2007; 17(1): 50–57.  Unmet potential for cardiovascular disease prevention in the United States. 

Ryan A. Harris, Steven K. Nishiyama, D. Walter Wray, and Russell S. Richardson. Hypertension. 2010 May; 55(5): 1075–1085. Published online 2010 Mar 29. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.110.150821. Ultrasound Assessment of Flow-Mediated Dilation: A Tutorial.

Vogel RA, Corretti MC, Plotnick GD. Am J Cardiol. 1997 Feb 1;79(3):350-4. Effect of a single high-fat meal on endothelial function in healthy subjects.

Kannel WB, Doyle JT, McNamara PM, Quickenton P, Gordon T. Circulation. 1975;51:606–13. Precursors of sudden coronary death: Factors related to the incidence of sudden death. 

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Diet Madness or Genuine Health Concern?

There are so many diets out there – drinking dirty bathwater, swallowing tapeworms and inserting yogurt enemas – each claiming its own miracle cure for weight worries and disease distress. But does this display a genuine concern for one’s health?

Most people try and fail at some kind of New Year’s resolution, and most of these are connected to ways in which we want to improve our health – generally diet or exercise. Wreckage of our best intentions are visible in a garage or spare bedroom full of dumbbells, overpriced running trainers, and cross-training machines.

Quick fix diets abound:

This concern about weight and diet is nothing new:

  • In 1087, William the Conqueror was already morbidly obese and decided to fight his own battle of the bulge with an alcohol-only diet. Big Bill took to his bed and refused everything but liquids until he had shed the pounds. Ironically, this didn’t really do him any health favours as later that year, when he’d lost enough weight to get back on his horse, he was thrown from his trusty steed, ruptured his gut, and died in agony. He was still so large, his body had to be wedged into the stone coffin.
  • In 1760, Dr Flemyng’s soap diet recommended eating soap to shed the pounds. Flemyng reasoned that as soap removed fats and oils from clothes it could also wash away excess fat from inside the body. His patients were told to eat soap made from alkaline salt, oil and fat dissolved in quicklime and water. When soap diet devotees complained that they were just as fat as they were when they started the diet (though hopefully somewhat cleaner), he insisted they must be eating the wrong soap or in the wrong amount.
  • In the 18th century, the Bath water diet attracted thousands to spa towns in order to ‘take the waters’. And this was not just bathing in the mineral-rich baths, it also involved quaffing back gallons of unfiltered water that hundreds of other people have sweated and stewed themselves in each day.
  • In 1810, the Vinegar Diet of British surgeon William Wadd (1776-1829) was published in his ‘Cursory Remarks on Corpulence’. Drinking large quantities of vinegar would supposedly dissolve fat. The poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) was an advocate of this particular diet plan as he was morbidly fixated with his weight and had yoyo dieted all his life. Records show in 1806 he weighed 13st 12lb (88kg), but by 1811 Byron weighed under 9st (57kg). In order to purge his body and melt away fat, not only would Byron drink vinegar each day, but he restricted solid foods to potatoes – soaked in vinegar. And the vinegar diet still does the rounds of the “out there” diets to this day.
  • In 1863, the first low-carbohydrate diet book ‘Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public’ was written by William Banting. Meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The original Banting diet forbade complex carbohydrates, beer, starchy fruit and veg and dairy, but lean protein, eggs, and the odd sherry with a claret chaser were fine.
  • At the start of the the 20th century, John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943), of cornflake fame, manufactured plain cereals to suppress sexual urges. The so-called “masturbation diet” not only promised to improve health, aid digestion and regulate weight, but it would also stop you masturbating. Kellogg (and many other doctors) argued that masturbation caused ‘cancer of the womb, urinary diseases, nocturnal emissions, impotence, epilepsy, insanity, and mental and physical debility’. He reasoned that spicy, ‘exciting’ food, overly stimulated the senses, therefore the plainer your diet the less inclined you would be to give yourself a treat. Yoghurt enemas were also encouraged by Kellogg, who actually invented a machine to administer such enemas to his patients. The latter dietary innovation never really caught on the way cornflakes did.
  • In the late 19th century, Horace Fletcher was a great proponent of the mastication diet where you were required to chew each mouthful of food 100 times. The theory was that the food would become liquefied, which meant the chewer wouldn’t overeat and the mush would be easier to digest. Fletcher claimed his method of eating produced stools “with no stench, no evidence of putrid bacterial decomposition, only with the odour of warm earth or a hot biscuit”. Apparently, Fletcher carried around a sample of his own faeces to back up this claim should anyone challenge him on this point. He became known as ‘the Great Masticator’, although I imagine there were variations of this nickname.
  • In the 1920’s, ‘obesity soaps’ were produced by companies in London. This more recent version of s soap diet ony promised that internal fat would dissolve if people washed with i. Luckily, eating it was not necessary this time round.

And there are many, many more diets throughout history which have tried to help with a seemingly insatiable public appetite for weight-reduction and improved health through dietary interventions – smoking yourself to thinness, taking vast quantities of speed, dosing up on sugar, using radium, eating nothing but cabbage, fish, milk or eggs – even taking arsenic to shed those extra pounds.

We can all laugh at historical diets, but there are few signs in the 21st century of a slowing-down in similar attempts to achieve optimal weight and health (with minimal effort). The internet is awash with dodgy diet pills and pseudo-scientific weight loss advice (tried the zodiac diet lately?).

It appears that if a media-reported “scientific study” told us that by drinking a bottle of grimy, slightly hairy bathwater we would definitely lose weight, some people would actually try it – you know they would! I mean, Beyoncé once advised us to eat nothing other than maple syrup and Reese Witherspoon advocated eating a diet consisting solely of baby food.

This obsession with diet can be viewed as an indication of a fundamental human desire to be healthy.

I can get annoyed at how so many companies and individuals make profits out of peddling diets that will eventually fail; but it makes me sad that the only thing people need to do in order to achieve optimal health and ideal body weight is to eat what all the healthiest human populations have always eaten – a diet largely or completely consisting of whole plant foods.

Sometimes the most obvious solution can be the most difficult to swallow…

Ultra-Processed Food & Cancer

Some new research data has just been published telling us what we knew already – processed foods are thought to be cancer-causing, with a 12% increase in cancer risk for every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods eaten.

However, the BBC and The Guardian indicated in their headlines that we are talking about “ultra-processed” foods, whilst The Telegraph reported that it was “highly-processed” foods. A little confused about why such terms were being used in relation to just bad-old processed food, I went to the actual research at the BMJ (British Medical Journal) and there was the actual title of the research study: “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort.”

There’s that “ultra” word again, this time in the title of the study itself…

..So it made me wonder what the difference was between this so-called “ultra-processed” or “highly-processed” food and the ordinary run-of-the-mill “processed” junk (I really do hesitate to call it “food”, being that it’s designed in laboratories and produced in factories) that’s everywhere these days. As it turned out…not a lot.

Here’s the BBC‘s “super” list:

  • Mass-produced packaged breads and buns
  • Sweet or savoury packaged snacks including crisps
  • Chocolate bars and sweets
  • Sodas and sweetened drinks
  • Meatballs, poultry and fish nuggets
  • Instant noodles and soups
  • Frozen or shelf-life ready meals
  • Foods made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats

The Telegraph‘s rather more abbreviated “ultra” list:

  • Baked goods
  • Snacks
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Sugary cereals
  • Ready meals
  • Reconstituted meat products

And, finally, The Guardian’s even shorter “ultra” list:

  • Pot noodles
  • Shelf-stable ready meals,
  • Cakes
  • Confectionery

Well, looking at the lists and photos above, don’t this lot appear to account for pretty much ALL the types of processed foods that the vast majority of people around us are eating?

It made me wonder whether there had been some behind the doors political pressure put on the researchers to avoid simply stating in the title of the research study that it was just ordinary “processed” food that was being studied.

It appears they reserved that prosaic definition of merely “processed” for such items as cheeses and canned vegetables.

To exclude cheeses is an interesting decision on the researchers’ part since it is associated with quite a few worrying natural and unnatural ingredients that may lurk in your tasty chunk of Cheddar:

Consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods – such as fruit, vegetables, pulses, rice, pasta, eggs, meat, fish and milk – was associated with the lowest risks of overall cancer and breast cancer. If they had then separated out the latter meat foods and just looked at plant foods, any association with cancer risks would have been closer to zero.

Study author Dr Mathilde Touvier, a nutritional epidemiologist at Sorbonne Paris Cité Epidemiology and Statistics Research Centre said:

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate and highlight an increase in the risk of overall – and specifically breast – cancer associated with ultra-processed food intake…[but we should] apply the principle of precaution…In Europe we have over 400 authorised additives. Most of them are probably safe, we need not be too alarmist”…“For the moment, the results suggest it would be better or eat raw or minimally processed food.” (1.)

Oddly inconsistent quotes from the same study author – these processed foods are shown as increasing “overall – and specifically breast, cancer” risk – something to be really worried about and, in keeping with this, she adds “apply the principle of precaution”. But then she throws in that “In Europe we have over 400 authorised additives.  Most of them are probably safe, we need not be too alarmist” (getting confused yet?). And then she drops the bombshell at the end that it would be “better to eat raw or minimally processed food”.

So do we eat them or not? Or just cross our fingers when we eat them and hope we don’t get cancer?

There’s an old saying: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Whilst all this shilly-shally wordplay continues, whole generations of children are growing up addicted (and I used that word intentionally) to fabricated dietary products that are arguably injuring their bodies and shortening their lifespans.

A spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation said “Processed food should not be demonised – by working closely with our partners throughout the food supply chain, we can use processing positively to ensure all sectors of society have access to safe, affordable food.” (2.)

Oh dear!

Hopefully the – by now – rather confused average reader will get some clarification from the spokesman for the National Obesity Forum.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “A lot of research has limitations and the scientists here are honest enough to acknowledge that theirs needs more work to be conclusive. But there is no smoke without fire: we should heed their fears – and read food labels more carefully. Huge quantities of everyday processed food have excessive levels of sugar, fat and salt stuffed in them and it’s all listed on the packaging.” (2.)

This is one of the reasons that I suggest we cut through all the double-speak, hidden agendas and political correctness. Simply eat whole plant foods (ideally organic if you can afford them). Naturally, none of the individuals mentioned above are in a position to advocate this – although, as supposed guardians of the public health, maybe it could be argued that they should be, since:

  • “ultra-processed” items account for 50.7% of the average UK family’s diet (1.), and
  • both the World Cancer Research Fund and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) believe that being overweight is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.

So, to leave you with a nicer taste in your mouth, here’s the reassuringly healthy-looking photo of the non-ultra-processed foods that appeared in The telegraph article:

Nothing tastes better than good health…Yum! Yum!

Research Summary:

OBJECTIVE:
To assess the prospective associations between consumption of ultra-processed food and risk of cancer.
DESIGN:
Population based cohort study.
SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS:
104 980 participants aged at least 18 years (median age 42.8 years) from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort (2009-17). Dietary intakes were collected using repeated 24 hour dietary records, designed to register participants’ usual consumption for 3300 different food items. These were categorised according to their degree of processing by the NOVA classification.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:
Associations between ultra-processed food intake and risk of overall, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer assessed by multivariable Cox proportional hazard models adjusted for known risk factors.
RESULTS:
Ultra-processed food intake was associated with higher overall cancer risk (n=2228 cases; hazard ratio for a 10% increment in the proportion of ultra-processed food in the diet 1.12 (95% confidence interval 1.06 to 1.18); P for trend<0.001) and breast cancer risk (n=739 cases; hazard ratio 1.11 (1.02 to 1.22); P for trend=0.02). These results remained statistically significant after adjustment for several markers of the nutritional quality of the diet (lipid, sodium, and carbohydrate intakes and/or a Western pattern derived by principal component analysis).
CONCLUSIONS:
In this large prospective study, a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of greater than 10% in risks of overall and breast cancer. Further studies are needed to better understand the relative effect of the various dimensions of processing (nutritional composition, food additives, contact materials, and neoformed contaminants) in these associations.

Source

Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem , Kesse-Guyot , Allès B, Méjean C, Deschasaux M, Fassier P, Latino-Martel P, Beslay M, Hercberg S, Lavalette C, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. BMJ. 2018 Feb 14;360:k322. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k322.
Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort.

Surely Coconut Oil’s better than Butter?!

I had a recent email asking me whether there really was any problem with swapping nasty old butter for cholesterol-lowering coconut butter. Well, let’s see, shall we?

Saturated Fat Content

What’s the problem with saturated fat?

Let’s see what various authorities think…

NHS 

“Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase the levels of cholesterol in your blood. Having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, which includes heart attack and narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis).”

Heart UK (The Cholesterol Charity)  

“HEART UK advises people who want to lower their blood cholesterol to avoid using coconut oil in cooking and certainly not use it as a dietary supplement. Creamed and desiccated coconut contain around 60-70% coconut fat should also only be consumed occasionally or in small amounts as part of an overall healthy diet….The Cholesterol Charity wishes to correct the misleading claims being made in the press…claiming coconut oil helps lower blood cholesterol and have even suggested taking coconut oil as a dietary supplement. Coconut oil contains about 85% saturated fatty acids mainly as lauric and myristic acid which potently raise both total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol more than other fatty acids (1,2,3,4).”

Dr Michael Greger

“Saturated fat is considered harmful to health. Studies have shown that high saturated fat intake may raise the risk of:

Dr Greger goes on to ask

“…coconut oil. Harmful? Harmless? Or, helpful? In terms of what it does to our cholesterol, it is as harmful as butter.”

PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)

“According to the American Heart Association, consuming saturated fat raises cholesterol levels in your blood, increasing risk for cardiovascular problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Setting aside saturated fat can also decrease your risk for obesity, diabetes, and cancer.”

Dr Dean Ornish

“…replacing dietary saturated fats with ‘good carbs’ such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

So, in light of the foregoing, does this mean I consider saturated fat and especially coconut oil/butter to be our number one public enemy?

No, not at all.

Focusing on any individual food “fragment”, whether it be a vitamin, mineral or an extracted oil from olives or organic Free Trade coconut butter, is a reductionist approach to nutrition that, in my opinion, is simply misguided. Concentrating on the individual harms or benefits of any individual part of our diet at the expense of stepping back and looking at diet as a whole is the reason that we have drifted into the pandemic of obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases.

Of course, if someone held my arm up my back and forced me to decide whether I would recommend eating coconut butter or an animal butter, I would have to say do NOT eat the animal product; but this would be like forcing me to decide whether I would recommend smoking cigars or smoking pipes! Without any doubt, I would say that it is better to smoke neither.

I believe exactly the same when talking about deciding between animal fats/oils and plant fats/oils – eat neither.

Why would I recommend anything to my clients, family or friends other than the diet that has repeatedly been shown to be the optimal diet for human health and longevity – a whole food plant-based diet.

And the emphasis here in on the word “whole”. The whole plant. Not the oil. The human body understands what a whole food is – it has been surviving and evolving on whole plant foods for millions of years. The body simply does not understand what concentrated and isolated components of plants are, let alone what to do with isolated animal or commercially altered and processed components. The body is used to the whole food (macronutrients, micronutrients and fibre) so that it can digest and absorb what it requires and safely excrete toxins and surplus nutrients as it sees fit.

Shock the system with isolated and concentrated saturated fat, or pretty much any other fragment of food, and the body cannot maintain homeostasis without a cost being paid right down at the cellular level – from the endothelial cells lining blood vessels to adipocytes bulking up that adipose fat around your waist (and your heart!)

Dr. Ostfeld

“People eat food. Studies focusing on the health impact of differing amounts of saturated fat intake often fail to look at what the subjects are actually eating. Many foods that are low in saturated fat are still unhealthy. Therefore, what you eat instead of foods high in saturated fat is also critical…Not surprisingly, when you replace an unhealthy diet with an unhealthy diet, they both look about the same…if you replace saturated fat with plant-based foods, people do better.”

Replacing unhealthy animal foods with unhealthy plant foods might have some benefits, but you just have to look at an overweight and diabetic vegetarian or vegan to know that jumping out of the BBQ into a deep-fried tofu frying pan is no solution if you want optimal health.

 Professor T Colin Campbell

“…animal-based protein is more hazardous than lipids (cholesterol and fatty acids)…Unsaturated fats (PUFAs) are susceptible to tissue damaging oxidation, and saturated fat is not…[which] cause aging and increases cardiovascular disease and cancer…plant oils experimentally promote cancer much more than does saturated fats—that’s right. This is an experimental observation that is at least 30-40 years old…this mainly refers to added oils-isolated from plant sources. It does not refer to the oil within those plant-based foods because plants contain lots of antioxidants to keep the tissue damaging effects of ROS [reactive oxygen species] under control. In my opinion, this is a primary reason for avoiding consumption of added oils. Another reason for avoiding these oils is their contribution to total calorie intake which displaces, in effect, the consumption of calorie-containing whole, plant-based foods.”

So, in summary, my considered opinion is that if a person is really concerned about what food they put in their bodies – if they really want to be healthy and do all they can to weigh the balance in favour of a long and useful life – then forget about debating which food fragment is better than another, just transition to the only diet that has been proven to reverse heart disease and many other chronic diseases – one that is based exclusively on whole food plants.

I will leave the final word on added oil (ANY oils, including coconut oil or coconut butter) to Dr Esselstyn:


References

1. Sundram K, Hayes KC, Siru OH (1994) Dietary Palmitic Acid Results in Lower Serum Cholesterol Than Does a Lauric-Myristic Acid Combination in Normolipemic Humans. Am J Clin Nutr 59, 841-846.
2. Temme EHM, Mensink RP, Hornstra G (1996) Comparison of the effects of diets enriched with lauric, palmitic or oleic acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins in healthy men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 1996; 63: 897-903.
3. Zock P L, de Vries J H, Katan M B (1994) Impact of Myristic versus palmitic acid on serum lipid and lipoproteins levels in health men and women Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 1994;14:567-575.
4. Sanders TA (2013) Reappraisal of SFA and Cardiovascular Risk. Proc Nutr Soc, 72(4), 1-9.

 

Wholism vs Reductionism – Not Just a War of Words

 

You may never have heard of these two terms, “wholism” and “reductionism”, but the war between them is not just a war of words, it’s a war of paradigms. One of these paradigms is unfortunately winning most of the battles, and the result is an escalating public health crisis.

First, let’s look at what I mean by “paradigm”. A good example is the difference between geocentric and heliocentric world views that came to a head around the 15th-16th centuries. Before the so-called Copernican Revolution (involving intellectual giants such as Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the accepted and, for the most part, unchallenged paradigm was that the Sun and other planets revolved around the Earth, and the stars were all fixed in the heavens, just like it said in the Bible. Post-Revoltion, there was a slow but ultimately complete “paradigm shift” which meant that everyone now accepts that the Earth and other planets revolve around the Sun, and the stars are no longer just pin-pricks in some form of heavenly firmament.

Put simply, in terms of nutrition, wholism (a term adopted by Professor T Colin Campbell from the similar and better-known term “holism”) deals with whole diet and its effects on the whole person; whereas reductionism looks at specific elements of diet and their effect on specific parts of the person (like a specific gene for loving or hating Marmite).

The seemingly unstoppable increase in diet-related chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, is simply not being addressed by the ever more precise research being undertaken by scientists, whether they are chemists looking at a specific chemical that can target particular cellular behaviour or a geneticist looking at which gene is responsible for the onset of a particular disease.

Of course it’s necessary to narrow one’s visual field to a specific area of investigation when it is appropriate (for instance, using a microscope to distinguish which virus has infected a given tissue sample); but there is a general tendency nowadays within nutritional science to exclusively apply the microscope (metaphorically speaking) to every public health issue.

Let’s look at an example: A recent report revealed that half of our schoolchildren are now dangerously overweight or obese.

A reductionist response could be to look for and try and isolate the gene that causes obesity in children. £millions or even £billions could be poured into expensive genetic research to find this “needle in the haystack”.  Whereas a wholistic response could be to look at what societal changes have occurred that might account for this unwelcome change in the health of schoolchildren. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that there has been a significant change in the average diets that schoolchildren are now eating when compared to previous generations.

With the reductionist response, one could expect that years and even decades could pass without anything being discovered, and all the while more and more children are likely to become obese.

With the wholistic approach, a solution could theoretically be found very quickly – legislate to improve school meals, increase junk food taxes, ban advertising of unhealthy foods to children, and so forth. The chances are that obesity statistics would start to improve the more practical efforts were made to change laws, educate parents and improve children’s diets. And whilst it might appear that governments do make some moves in this direction, their efforts to implement substantial solutions end up being quasi-wholistic because they are generally hamstrung by the pressure imposed on them by Big Pharma, Big Medicine and Big Agriculture – and the majority of research funding, whether directly or indirectly (e.g. through universities and other institutions), greatly influences which research is most powerfully supported in government circles and reflected in the media to the public.

But even if simple dietary changes could significantly reduce childhood obesity, it would probably not make the reductionists happy. They would still want to delve down into minutiae and find a biological mechanism that could then be controlled somehow, most likely by a drug that could be patented and sold for profit. There is no profit to be made from people simply changing their diets. And there is certainly no profit to be made by pharmaceutical companies or medical organisations from a population full of healthy people.

But let’s say that the geneticists do find a gene that is strongly associated with childhood obesity. It may still take years or decades of research to transfer that information into a fully-tested and certified treatment, probably in the form of a drug.  And even if the obesity pill works in the trials they’ve undertaken, there is no guarantee that it will work within the general population, or that it will be free of serious side-effects only apparent years or decades later (remember Thalidomide?), or if it is too expensive for the majority of people to afford or indeed if the percentage improvement attributable to the drug would bear any comparison with the size of improvement made simply by changing dietary intake.

There is nothing wrong with geneticists exploring the fascinating world of genes, nor is there anything wrong with scientists trying to find what makes one person’s personality different from another’s, or any of the other intriguing questions that beg to be researched and answered by the curious and searching human mind.

What IS a problem, though, is when the ONLY approach to solving scientific problems, particularly those directly linked to public health, is an approach which ignores anything that is “fuzzy” and too…well, human! The funding for most of the scientific research that is undertaken nowadays is only available if there is a tangible and clear hope of achieving a binary, black and white result:

  • 1. A always precedes B.
  • 2. B always follows A.
  • 3. There is no C that could also cause B.

Human behaviour and particularly human nutrition on a population-wide level can never conform to this linear causal pattern. Indeed, even one single cell does not and arguably never can be analysed or understood fully by any amount of analysis – just as can be seen in quantum physics (where electrons can exist in two places at the same time – or cease to exist and reappear elsewhere in ways that can never conform to what we think of as causality), the more we delve into our biochemistry, the more we appreciate how much there is that we can never fully know. Just look at the following diagrammatic representation of just the partial metabolic processes involved in one single cell:

Professor T Colin Campbell explains (1.) the dilemma like this:

“The fact that each nutrient passes through such a maze of reaction pathways suggests that each nutrient also is likely to participate in multiple health and disease outcomes. The one nutrient/one disease relationship implied by reductionism, although widely popular, is simply incorrect. Every nutrient-like chemical that enters this complex system of reactions creates a rippling effect that may extend far into the pool of metabolism. And with every bite of food we eat, there are tens and probably hundreds of thousands of food chemicals entering this metabolism pool more or less simultaneously.”

Whilst it is understandable that the human mind is inquisitive and naturally wants to simplify complexity, is it really essential to map the inter-, intra- and extra-cellular labyrinthine world of the 100 trillion cells comprising the human body before we can identify and apply timely solutions to public health issues?

In any event, our cellular make-up is only one aspect of what constitutes the indefinably complex entity that is a human being. Can we truly ever expect to see a cellular or genetic “cog” that explains what it is to be a friend, a lover, a parent? Why we find beauty in a sunset?

Tackling childhood obesity head-on in the messy “real” world of human populations represents the sort of indeterminate complexity that does not attract large government or institutional funding. More effort goes into producing incomprehensibly complex charts such as the one above than goes into practical measures to help children live full and productive lives. This is not to say that scientists, governments and organisations do not care about the lives of real people – particularly real schoolchildren. Rather, my contention is that they are so wrapped up in doing things the way that things have been done for so long (“stuck inside the paradigm”) that they may, in part, genuinely believe that their way is the ONLY way to solve such public health crises.

This is why I believe it is appropriate to apply the term “paradigm” to the general outlook and approach that science and medicine has been immersed in for at least the past 50 years – probably since the joint effects of two discoveries: the so-called completed list of vitamins and the structure of DNA.  It is also the reason why incredibly convincing population studies, such as The China Study, come under attack from reductionist thinkers. They attack such wide-scale population studies because there is no single causal link demonstrated. This is even the case when the study identifies significant differences in health markers (e.g. cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes) between those Chinese populations eating the traditional plant-based diets and those Chinese populations that have adopted the Standard American Diet (SAD).

There is good reason for this lack of indisputable causality: and the reason is that it is simply impossible to prove a single causal link between health and diet when, as Professor Campbell indicated above, no single nutritional input ever causes just one single biochemical response. But such linear responses are just what scientists have habitually expected to discover when the overriding world-view they have been exposed to all their academic and professional lives aims to reduce all complexity down to minute and simple mechanics.

You will have heard the saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Intuitively obvious, but possibly not so in the majority of research laboratories around the world.

The assumption that it should be possible to find such a causal link is based on a mechanistic reductionist ideal of the Universe. The likes of Ray Kurtzweil et al consider that one day we will be able to understand everything about ourselves – biology, emotions, personality – by drilling down deeper and deeper, smaller and smaller into the world of micro and nano particles until we find all the little “cogs” and see how they are all connected. We will then be able to predict all events in the “macro world” and reproduce them in better ways with far more durable materials than human flesh and blood.

Of course we don’t want to return to an age of religion and mysticism, where all events were caused by unknown and unknowable forces, spirits and demons. Where everything in biology and personality could be accounted for by the four humours – blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm! We all enjoy huge benefits from the application of reductionist approaches to finding causes and cures for TB and smallpox, and without this approach doctors might still be delivering babies with unwashed hands after having chopped up cadavers or been to the toilet, or both.

Also, I can see how a reductionist approach can be very attractive. It’s neat and orderly and avoids that great enemy of the reductionist thinker, namely, uncertainty.

But I propose that the answer to childhood obesity is both complex and simple.

It’s simple because all it requires is that we feed our children the natural diet for our species (ideally consisting completely or in the main part of whole plant foods), while ensuring that they get some regular exercise.

It’s complex because WE – our biochemistry, our personalities, our societies – ARE complex.

But effective and timely solutions to childhood obesity and many other public health crises are much more likely to be found with the help of two eyes rather than the help of a two million pound electron microscope.

Ample evidence already points to dietary change being the major factor needed in order to solve this escalating health problem. So much evidence, indeed, that I have not even bothered to list it in this article. Just scan through the databases of the NCBI or NIHR to see that sufficient research already links obesity to diet. But in spite of this, the main thrust of government and medical policy derives from what is called “Gold Standard” research, where the majority of research funding (and resultant credibility) is assigned to randomised controlled trials (RCT’s) that control all potential extraneous biases. And, clearly, you cannot do with when dealing with the nutritional and behavioural diversity that exists in the wider world of society as a whole.

This situation can be further explained by the analogy of an elephant in a room along with 60,000 blind scientists who are each responsible for describing one individual facet in minute detail. They can talk at length about the life-cycle of one of the thousands of species of bacteria colonising a crack between two toes, or churn out publications on the chemical components of a particular pigment within a hair from its tail. Yes, it’s true that they become incredibly expert in their own field of research, but it takes just one non-visually impaired child running into the room to be able to announce that there’s a bleedin’ great elephant standing there!

And to the surprise of the child, these 60,000 blind researchers with one voice ask “what’s an elephant?”

To those who have their eyes open to the whole picture, they can see that our example of childhood obesity is but one of the many chronic health conditions clearly caused by diet, and it’s always the same diet, the one that contains far too much animal protein, saturated fats, salt, sugar and processed junk, and far too little whole plant foods.

Diet is a “zero-sum” affair. Whenever one unhealthy food item goes into your mouth it means that another more healthy food item didn’t. And it is the cumulative effect of this, meal after meal, day after day, year after year that leads inexorably to the near-epidemic diet-related health issues that are starting to bring our hospitals to a standstill.

A fish is hooked, thrown onto land, flops around for a bit in the air and then escapes back into the water. Eager to tell his fishy buddies about his experience, he starts talking to them about his time out of the water. “What’s water?” they all ask, looking at him as though he’s out of his scaly mind. When water is all that you know, there is no word for it…


You may enjoy another view of this issue by Dr. Michael Greger…


Bibliography

  1. Campbell, T. Colin. Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (p. 97). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

A Fat to Forget

  

Eating cakes and biscuits appears to impair memory.

Research (1.) suggests that there is relationship between consumption of dietary trans-fats and word-memory.

1018 individuals were given word recall tests that were scored and matched against the amount of trans-fats  consumed by each individual.

The results are worth remembering next time you reach for the cookie jar. Every gram of dietary trans-fats consumed per day was associated with an estimated 0.76 fewer words recalled.

Is this causation or just correlation? The researchers consider that the pro-oxidant (2.) and energetic detriments of dietary trans-fats (3.) are evidence of causation. They used triangulation (4.) with other evidence to ensure that other causal factors were not being mistakenly included. (See charts below if you are interested in the statistical data).

Trans-fats are found in many biscuits, cakes and other processed foods. They are made by pumping hydrogen into liquid vegetable oil so that the oil becomes more solid. Food manufacturers do this in order to increase the shelf life of the products and to improve flavour and texture. You will know that they are present in products if you see the words “partially hydrogenated oils” on the ingredients list.

The leader of this study, Dr Beatrice Golomb, said: “Trans fats were most strongly linked to worse memory, in young and middle-aged men, during their working and career building years…From a health standpoint, trans fat consumption has been linked to higher body weight, more aggression and heart disease…As I tell my patients, while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people.” (5.)

What does this mean for our love affair with biscuits and cakes?

Well, it appears that we love them but they don’t love us. Maybe the best thing to do is to forget about eating them before they make us forget that we have eaten them…

 


References, Definitions & Data

 1. Beatrice Alexandra Golomb, Alexis K. Bui. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128129. June 17, 2015. A Fat to Forget: Trans Fat Consumption and Memory.
 2. Pro-oxidants are substances that accelerate the oxidation of another substance. This process can produce free radicals which are associated with many chronic health problems such as cardiovascular and inflammatory disease, cataract, and cancer. Antioxidants prevent free radical induced tissue damage by preventing the formation of radicals, scavenging them, or by promoting their decomposition. Berries are a great source of antioxidants.
3. Ascherio A, Willett WC. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Oct;66(4 Suppl):1006S-1010S. Health effects of trans fatty acids.
4. Triangulation means using more than one method to collect data on the same topic. This is a way of assuring the validity of research through the use of a variety of methods to collect data on the same topic, which involves different types of samples as well as methods of data collection.
5. https://www.medpagetoday.com/primarycare/dietnutrition/52263.

Some Breakfast Ideas

 

I was recently asked for breakfast ideas by a client who is making the transition to a WFPB diet – swapping the brioche and croissant for berries and cashews.

So here goes…

Five suggestions from Dr Greger’a How Not To Die Cookbook:

SUMMERTIME OATMEAL
MAKES: 2 SERVINGS

Some people think of oats as a hot cereal perfect for when leaves start falling or there’s snow on the ground, but I love them all year round. In our house, we call this version Summertime Oatmeal because it’s a cool and refreshing way to enjoy oatmeal even when it’s sweltering outside. Prepare it the night before and spoon the goodness into jars for a quick and easy breakfast.

1 cup/ 100g rolled oats
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds (or linseeds)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ¾ cups /425ml Almond Milk
2 tablespoons Date Syrup
1 2- to 3-inch/ 5 to 8cm piece vanilla pod, split and scraped (or 1 teaspoon extract)
⅔ cup/ 65g fresh or frozen blueberries or ⅔ cup/ 125g strawberries

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to mix. Spoon into two 1-pint/ 470ml jars with tight-fitting lids or two small bowls and cover tightly. Refrigerate overnight and remove the vanilla pod before serving.

SUPERFOOD BREAKFAST BITES
MAKES: 24 (1-INCH/ 2.5CM) BITES (4 TO 6 SERVINGS)

Stash these delicious bites in the fridge for an easy on-the-go breakfast or after-workout snack.

¾ cup /130g pitted dates, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then drained
¾ cup/ 185g raw walnuts, pecans or cashews
¾ cup/ 115g dried cranberries, apricots, apple slices or other dried fruit, chopped if necessary
¼ cup/ 35g sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons goji berries or barberries
2 tablespoons chia seeds or hemp hearts (hulled hemp seeds)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (or linseeds)
1- to 1 ½-inch/ 2.5 to 4cm piece vanilla pod, split and scraped (or ½ teaspoon extract)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a food processor, combine the drained dates and nuts and pulse until the nuts are finely ground and the dates are incorporated. Add the remaining ingredients and process until well combined. The mixture should be very sticky. If it seems too dry to hold together, add a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more ground flaxseeds or some rolled oats. Roll a heaped tablespoonful of the mixture between the palms of your hands to form a 1-inch/ 2.5cm ball. Transfer to a plate. Repeat until all the mixture has been rolled into balls. Cover the plate with foil or baking parchment and refrigerate for 4 hours before enjoying. Store in the refrigerator.

BANANA-CHOCOLATE SMOOTHIE
MAKES: 1 (2-CUP/ 500ML) SERVING

This creamy, chocolatey smoothie tastes so rich and delicious, you’ll forget how healthy it is!
1frozen ripe banana, cut into chunks before freezing
⅓ cup/ 35g frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds (or linseeds)
1-to 1 ½-inch/ 2.5 to 4cm piece vanilla pod, split and scraped (or ½ teaspoon extract)
1 tablespoon almond butter
2 tablespoons Date Syrup (optional, depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
1 cup/ 225g raw spinach leaves
3 to 4 ice cubes (optional)

Combine all the ingredients with 1 cup/ 250ml of water in a high-speed blender. Blend until thick and smooth. For a thinner texture, add less ice (if using) or more water. Serve immediately.

SUPER GREEN SMOOTHIE
MAKES: 1 (2 ½-CUP/ 600ML) SERVING

You can check off six of the Daily Dozen scorecard boxes with this delicious and refreshing drink. Six with just one smoothie! For a thinner texture, add a little more water, if desired.

2 cups/ 450g packed fresh baby spinach
1 large apple, cored
1 cup/ 200g diced pineapple
½ ripe Hass avocado, peeled and pitted
¼ cup/ 15g packed fresh mint leaves
3 soft Medjool dates, pitted
1 ¼-inch/ 5mm piece fresh turmeric, grated (or ¼ teaspoon ground)
2 teaspoons blended peeled lemon or lime
1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds (or linseeds)
Ice cubes (optional)

In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until completely smooth. Add ⅔ cup/ 160ml or more of water and ice (if using) and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

DATE SYRUP
MAKES: ABOUT 1 ½ CUPS/ 370ML

Green Light sweeteners are a little hard to come by. Date sugar, which is simply dried, pulverized dates, can be used as a whole-food, granulated sugar, and blackstrap molasses is a good choice for a healthy liquid sweetener, but it has a strong, sometimes overpowering flavor. We’ve come up with our own DIY date syrup we hope you’ll love as much as we do.

1 cup/ 175g pitted dates
1 cup/ 250ml boiling water
1 teaspoon blended peeled lemon.

Combine the dates and hot water in a heatproof bowl and set aside for 1 hour to soften the dates.

BLENDED WHOLE LEMONS AND LIMES

Instead of cooking with lemon or lime juice, use the blended whole fruit to get more nutritional benefit. When you use just the juice, you lose out on the fibre and all the nutrition that was attached to it. Here’s a great time-saver when cooking with blended lemon or lime.

Peel and blend a whole lemon and then freeze it in 1-teaspoon portions – a small silicone ice cube tray is ideal for this. Then, grab a cube from the freezer whenever you need it!

ALMOND MILK
MAKES: ABOUT 2 CUPS/ 500ML

Here’s a fast and easy way to make a whole-food almond milk. For taste and convenience I personally prefer unsweetened soya milk. (I like the flavor of Whole Foods Market’s store brand the best.) But I wanted to embrace the challenge of creating recipes containing only Green Light ingredients. This doesn’t offer the calcium, vitamin D and B12 fortification of commercial almond milks, but it avoids the added salt and thickeners of questionable safety, such as carrageenan. Choose almond butter made from raw rather than roasted or toasted almonds to decrease exposure to advanced glycation end products.

2 tablespoons smooth raw almond butter
2 cups/ 500ml water

Combine the almond butter and water in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Transfer the milk to a glass bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid and chill until ready to serve. Shake well before using.

Greger, Michael. The How Not To Die Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes to Help Prevent and Reverse Disease. Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Now for some of my own recipes…

OATS WITH FRUIT, SEEDS AND NUTS

There is no particular recipe for this, I just add a mixture of the following ingredients and it makes a HUGE breakfast which is filling and full of goodness,

Jumbo organic oats, sultanas, an apple, pear and banana (all chopped small), frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, blueberries), plant milk (soy, almond, hemp, oat or just water if you prefer), 1 or 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds, 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds, 1 or 2 teaspoons chia/sunflower/poppy/sesame seeds, 1 or 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 6 halves walnut halves, dried unsulphured apricot (finely chopped), two chopped dates.

I usually put the frozen berries in a large bowl with either water or plant milk, then pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes to thaw and warm the milk/berry mix. This releases the lovely flavours. Then I add all the other ingredients and give it a good mix. You decide how wet or dry you want the mixture to be. I tend to like it quite wet so I often add more milk or water once it is mixed. The quantities will vary depending on how much hunger you have, but you can’t go wrong with this lovely recipe. Another tip is to mix all the dry ingredients to your own taste in a huge batch and store in a sealable plastic container. This saves lots of time in the mornings and all you need to do is chop up the fresh fruit and add the berries and milk/water.

NUT BUTTER & BANANA ON TOAST

Use unsalted, organic and 100% nut butters. Almond, cashew or peanut butters are all fine. Ideally use homemade wholegrain bread which is made without added oil or salt and with minimal sugar.

Toast the bread, cover with the butter and slice banana on top. Simple and quick.

 

BANANA & DATE COOKIES

The dates in these cookies add extra fibre, and dried fruit is known to be rich in iron, making these cookies a great recovery nibble after your morning run or cycle.

2 Large Ripe Bananas, mashed
1 Cup (250ml) Organic raw oats
1 teaspoon (5ml) ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons (30ml) natural nut butter of your choice
¼ Cup (60ml) Chopped dates

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (200 degrees Celsius).
In a mixing bowl combine the bananas, oats and cinnamon. Once you have the mixture at a wet cookie dough consistency, add the chopped dates and mix thoroughly. Scoop the dough onto a silicon baking sheet, the size of each cookie is completely up to you, but since they will be very filling, they might be hard to finish if they are too big. Bake for 15 minutes and allow to cool on the baking tray for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. It’s best to store these in the refrigerator, once they have cooled completely.

HEALTHY NUT BUTTER BOMBS
MAKES: 13-14 cookies

Dry ingredients:
1 cup pecans, toasted
1 cup + 1 tbsp oat flour (I made my own flour in the blender using 1 cup rolled oats)*
60 grams + 2 tbsp rolled oats*
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp ground flax seed
Wet ingredients:
60 grams pure maple syrup
Peanut butter
3 tbsp brown rice syrup
1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
Mix-ins:
80 grams dried sweetened cranberries
3 tbsp seeds  of your choice

1. Preheat oven to 325F and toast pecans for 8-10 minutes, watching closely. Remove and set aside to cool. Turn oven temp to 350F.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.
3. In a mini processor (or by hand) process/chop the pecans into small crumbs, just smaller than the size of peas. Stir into the dry ingredients.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir well until combined. The dough will be very sticky, but not to worry. Fold in the mix-ins.
5. With lightly wet hands, grab about 2 tbsp dough and shape into a ball, packing firmly. Place on a large silicone baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Repeat for the rest, wetting hands every 4 cookies or so.
6. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes (I baked for 11.5 mins). Cool on baking sheet for at least 10 minutes. When completely cooled, store in a glass jar or freeze for maximum freshness.

(Sorry, I didn’t take a photo of this one. If you make it, please send me a photo and let me know how you got on.)

BANANA, FRUIT & NUT OAT BARS
MAKES: Loads

750 grams oats
3-4 mashed bananas
125-250 grams mixed walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, any other you like
75 grams ground flaxseed
75 grams mixed seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, chia, any other you like)
75 grams dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, chopped dates, cranberries, any other you like)
1/2 cup 100% non-concentrate fruit juice (ideally home-made – orange, tropical fruits, any other you like or a mixture of all – use more than 1/2 cup if the mixture is too thick)
2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
Pre-heat the oven at 180 degree Celsius.

Combine flaxseed, seeds and dried fruit in a large bowl. Add the fruit juice and mashed banana and mix well. Add the oats and mix everything together. Fold it onto a large baking tray, spread and press well with you fingers. I placed a silicone baking sheet on top so that they would not stick. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes. Cut it into squares (I sliced along with a blunt spatula), then turn each square upside down. Put the tray back into the oven and bake it for another 15 minutes. Then turn the pieces over again and bake for another 5 minutes for both the sides to be nice and brown. Let it cool completely and store it in an air tight container for up to a week. The result will be a bar that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Yummy!

FLAXSEED CRACKERS
MAKES: 32 Crackers

Mix 200 grams of ground flaxseeds with 250 ml of water, add whatever herbs and spices you want, and then spread the dough thinly on a silicone baking sheet. Score the dough into thirty-two crackers and bake at 200 ° C for about twenty minutes. To flavor mine, I use half a teaspoon each of smoked paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder, but you should play around until you find a (salt-free) spice profile you prefer.
Get as thin as possible. Mine were still slightly soft and moist so I put them in the dehydrator for a few hours until crispy.

COCOA, PEANUT BUTTER & DATE TRUFFLES
MAKES: 10-15 depending on how big you make them,

15 dates (choose the softest/moistest possible variety – medjool are ideal and thus don’t need soaking)
2 tbsp unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder
Seeds from 1 or 2 (depending on taste preference) freshly scraped vanilla pod/s or 2 tbsp best quality vanilla extract (brandy instead if desired for special occasions)
2 tbsp homemade unsalted peanut butter
50-100 ml 100% freshly ‘squeezed’ orange juice with all the fibre (introduce carefully so as not to make too liquid)
2 tbsp same cacao/cocoa powder kept for once mix is blended
additional unsweetened cacao/cocoa more to roll the truffles (you may need loads, but use as much as necessary to get them firmish and in balls)

Soak dates in orange “juice” for an hour or so if you have time. (Otherwise, if dates are already really soft don’t bother.) Whizz up the dates, orange “juice”, vanilla extract, peanut butter and cocoa/cacao (I prefer cacao if you get get it) in blender or grinder.  When you have a smooth semi-wet mixture (add more orange “juice” if still too thick), spoon it into a small bowl. Add the extra 2 tbsp of cocoa/cacao and stir until you have a thick mix.  Get a small plate and layer it with cocoa/cacao. Fill heaped teaspoons of mix and use your finger to drop one onto the plate. Roll it with your fingers in the cocoa/cacao until covered, then roll into a ball between your palms.  Give them another quick roll on the plate to cover well with cocoa/cacao and place them in a sealed container.

These are REALLY delicious. Enjoy!

FRESH NUT & SEED VEGETABLE MEDLEY
MAKES: As much as you want!

This is really up to what you have in your kitchen. The photo shows some of the possible ingredients. The following are some suggestions:

Cucumber, chopped red/green cabbage, grated/chopped carrot, onion/spring onions, green peas & sweetcorn (from frozen), green beans, red/green/yellow bell pepper, tomato, celery, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, radish, courgette, French beans, mange tout, gherkins, fresh herbs (basil, parsley). The list goes on and on. Limited only by your imagination.

Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flaxseeds (ground), chia seeds.

Walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds (whole or flaked).

You could also add beans (kidney, butter, cannellini, chickpeas, haricot (navy) beans, adzuki beans, black-eyed beans).
Here are some ideas* for salad dressings (quantities can be varied to your own personal taste – experiment!)

MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE

Combine 2-3 tablespoons wholegrain mustard with around 50 ml raw apple cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of agave, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup), 1 teaspoon black pepper and 2 tablespoons water. Blend in a small blender and drizzle onto your salad.

MISO VINAIGRETTE

Combine 1 teaspoon miso with around 80 ml water, 2 whole olives, 2 tablespoon brown rice vinegar, a pinch of black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon agave, maple syrup or brown rice syrup, and a tablespoon of wakame flakes (optional).

CREAMY RANCH-STYLE DRESSING

Combine 3 tablespoons raw organic tahini (you can also use regular roasted if you can’t find raw), 80 ml water, 2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk, a pinch of black pepper if desired, 1-2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning, a tiny pinch of fresh ginger.

CREAMY LEMON AND GARLIC MUSTARD DRESSING

Combine the juice from 2 lemons with 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic or 1/4 teaspoon fresh garlic, 1 teaspoon diced onions, 2 tablespoons raw cashew butter (or tahini, almond butter or almond or soy milk), a pinch of black pepper, 2 teaspoons mustard, 1 teaspoon of dried parsley, and 80 ml water.

SWEET LEMON CURRY DRESSING

Combine 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, the juice from 2 lemons, 1/2 teaspoon curry, a tiny pinch of cayenne and black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon pure maple syrup, maple syrup or brown rice syrup (or you may used 1 pureed date or a pureed dried fig that has been soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes to soften, or keep soaked dried fruit in the fridge overnight). For a creamier flavor, add 2 tablespoons either tahini, almond butter or cashew butter in addition to the other ingredients.

JOE’S STANDARD SALAD DRESSING

I use this one a lot, usually varied one way or another depending on what I have in stock. Just blend it all together.

50ml water or liquid from a jar of gherkins
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons of vegan balsamic vinegar (i/e/ without gelatin – this is a good one)
1 tablespoon homemade soy sauce **
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh parsley and/or coriander, finely chopped

* Thanks to onegreenplant.org for some inspirational ideas.

** HOMEMADE SOY SAUCE

Garlic Vinegar (make this the night before)

150 ml vinegar
2 garlic cloves, sliced

Heat vinegar slightly. Pour over peeled and sliced garlic cloves to taste. Let stand overnight, strain and discard garlic.

Next day

3 tablespoons dark molasses
3 teaspoons onion powder

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar. Refrigerate and use as needed. Warm and shake well before using. Lasts about 1 month refrigerated.

The choice of breakfasts is pretty much only limited by your imagination. If you try any of the above, let me know how you got on. And I would love to know any of your breakfast recipes and ideas (especially if you send them with photos).

The Problem with Protein

 

How do you plant-eaters get enough protein?”

You might think that this is a question only asked by people who don’t know much about nutrition; but it is surprising just how many nutritionists, GP’s and writers of nutrition courses ask the same question. In this article, I would like to look at two aspects of protein: firstly, a comparison of protein content in animal and plant foods and, secondly, a look at the dangers of too much (animal) protein in the diet. But first, a quick definition of what protein actually is.

What is protein?

Protein is a nitrogen-containing chemical used to create body tissue as well as other chemicals (for instance, enzymes and hormones) that are very important in terms of participating in metabolism and maintaining the body in working order. Protein molecules are large and composed of long chains (polymers) of carefully sequenced amino acids. There are a huge number of different kinds of proteins, all of which are distinguished by the order that exists for the amino acids in that chain or polymer. The primary function of protein is as the basis for the almost unlimited number of enzymes, and enzymes are the molecules within the body that control metabolism. It is one of the three so-called macronutrients, the other two being fats (lipids) and carbohydrates which are composed of hydrogen and carbon.

It’s useful to understand that these macronutrients – and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), for that matter – do not exist or function in isolation within the body. They work together as combinations, not as distinctly different entities, also working together within individual molecules. For example, glycoproteins are molecules where proteins and carbohydrates are joined together, while glycolipids are molecules where carbohydrates and lipid-containing substances are joined together. And, of course, you will be familiar with molecules that have a combination of lipids and proteins (lipoproteins) – namely, cholesterol in the form of LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein) known as “bad” and “good” cholesterol respectively.

How much protein do I need?

Probably less than you would imagine. Opinions differ from authority to authority, but Professor T Colin Campbell, an expert in the field co-author of The China Study, suggests that calories derived from protein should ideally represent around 8-10% of total daily calorie (kcal) intake. So, for instance, if your daily calorie intake is 2000 calories, this would mean between 160 and 200 calories from protein. And since a gram of protein has 4 kcal of energy, this would be 40-50 grams of protein. Again, as a general rule, most authorities recommend we consume around 0.75 grams of protein for each kilogram of lean body weight. So, if you weigh 60 kilograms, this would imply that you need 45 grams (or 180 kcal) of protein a day. I will cover this subject in more detail in future articles – particularly whether protein intake has to be increased when you increase your levels of physical exercise.

What about protein-deficiency?

As far as my research goes, I have never found a single medical recording of protein deficiency within average western populations. The biggest problem is quite the opposite – excessive protein intake. Regarding the traditional and misinformed idea that people eating an exclusively plant-based diet should be very careful about combining proteins in order to get the right balance of essential amino acids, this is covered in my video The Protein Combining Myth – A Rat’s Tale.

COMPARISON OF PROTEIN CONTENT IN ANIMAL AND PLANT FOODS

For those of you who are making the transition from animal foods to plant foods, the following may well encourage you to ignore the ill-informed warnings about protein deficiency – especially in light of the fact that the greatest danger related to protein is over- not under-consumption.

To show how easy it is to get more than enough protein from plants, the following is a list of the foods and drinks taken from my diary three days ago. You will see that I consumed only 1420 kcal on this particular day, whilst on normal days my calorie intake would be between 2000 and 2500 kcal:

The above foods contained a total of 51.2 grams of protein, which represented 12% of total calories (fats made up 21% and carbohydrates 66%). I chose this day as an example because of the relatively low intake of calories. Normally, even with my usual macronutrient ratios (protein 10%/fat 20%/carbohydrate 70%), my protein intake from plant foods is more than necessary for optimal health and energy levels.

THE DANGERS OF TOO MUCH (ANIMAL) PROTEIN IN THE DIET

Kidney Disease

Most people don’t realise that high animal protein intake and kidney disease have been clearly linked for over 100 years (1., 2.). It’s one of the oldest known nutrition links and it has been proven repeatedly that if you take animals with reduced kidney function and give them extra amounts of protein, there is a significant acceleration in the decline of their kidney function. Research has also shown a relationship between increased protein consumption and increased development of kidney cancer. And the relationship between kidney cancer and animal protein consumption is about as strong as any other nutrition cancer linkage. This is why, for a long time, a recommendation for kidney health has been to reduce protein intake.

Cardiovascular Disease

Dr Thomas Campbell mentions a 2016 study (3.) which shows that “among two very large American study populations (female nurses and male health professionals), those that consumed the most animal protein compared to plant protein had a higher risk of death, particularly cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that when 3% of energy from plant protein was substituted for an equivalent amount of processed red meat protein, there was a 34% lower risk of death.

These findings are even more impressive when you consider the fact that researchers controlled for age, intake of different types of fat, total energy intake, glycemic index, and intake of whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables, smoking, body mass index, vitamin use, physical activity, alcohol intake, history of high blood pressure. In other words, they statistically eliminated many of the beneficial components of plant-based diets to try to isolate the sole effect of dietary protein and still found an effect. When data was adjusted only for age, total energy and fat intake, those consuming the most plant protein were found to have 33% reduced risk of death, 40% reduced risk of cardiovascular death, and 28% reduced risk of cancer death.

This is even more remarkable given the meat-centered diets that study subjects were consuming. Researchers divided the population into groups based on the amount of protein consumed. Even those consuming the most plant-protein consumed almost 60% more animal protein than they did plant protein. None of these groups were consuming anything remotely similar to the whole-food plant-based diet that has been shown to halt or reverse advanced heart disease, diabetes, and early stage prostate cancer.”

Osteoporosis

Can protein have a detrimental effect on bone? Optimal amounts of protein are not only beneficial but essential for bone health since they improve bone mass – as long as sufficient calcium is also in the diet – and thus reduce potential fractures. However, too much dietary protein can have a detrimental effect on bone – that is if protein (in meat, fish and dairy products) is consumed well in excess of bodily needs. This is because excess protein will increase the acidity of bodily fluids and compartments. The knock-on effect of this is that, over an extended period of time, the alkaline minerals (including calcium and phosphorus) will leach from the bones in an attempt to recreate the ideal state of pH homeostasis. During this process some of this calcium released into the bloodstream will be lost in the urine. This situation is further complicated by factors such as the acid/base status of other foods in the diet, the source of the proteins consumed, and the amount of overall calcium intake.

SAD (Stand American Diets) or modern western diets increase the risk of osteoporosis and associated fractures (4.) because they are so high in animal proteins – affecting the pH balance as indicated above. Not all proteins are equal in relation to the effect they have on bone. Meat, fish and eggs are thought to be particularly linked to increased urinary excretion of calcium because they are particularly acid-forming in their effects on the body. However, consuming alkaline plant-based foods (which will still contain protein) has a decreasing effect on the amount of calcium excreted as urine. Another factor is the calcium-potassium balance: being found mainly in fruits and vegetables, potassium has an additional alkalising effect, thereby reducing calcium excretion and maintaining bone health. Thus, it is not just a matter of reducing the amount of protein consumed, but ensuring that the appropriate sources and amounts of proteins are balanced with increased fruit and vegetable consumption.


References

1. Robertson, W. G. Miner Electrolyte Metab., 13: 228-234, 1987.

2. Robertson, W. G. et al. Chron. Dis., 32: 469-476, 1979.

3. Song M, Fung T, Hu FB, et al.Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med 2016.

4. Sellmeyer DE , Stone KL , Sebastian A , Cummings SR. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [01 Jan 2001, 73(1):118-122]. A high ratio of dietary animal to vegetable protein increases the rate of bone loss and the risk of fracture in postmenopausal women. Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group.