Jul
06
2013

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

When your grandmother grew up there was very little convenience food, maybe ketchup and yes, there was processed cheese and coke. There were also bread and butter.

Now we go through a large grocery store and the center of the whole store is occupied by convenience food, row after row.

What is convenience food? It is pre-cooked or processed food that sits on a shelf waiting to be bought and consumed. You may be able to just eat it the way it is (power bars, fruit yoghurt snacks, ice cream, breakfast cereals etc.) or you just have to microwave it for a minute or two (ready made meals, pizzas). Even, if you make a fresh salad, you top it with a salad dressing that has been processed and may contain chemicals that are not necessarily healthy for you.

This blog is meant to make you think and get educated as a consumer. As a physician I am guided by what is healthy for you, but at the same time food needs to be interesting and taste good and be affordable.

As fat, carbohydrates and protein are the main food groups that we eat, I will deal with each of these categories first followed by vitamins and minerals, which we also need.

Fats and oils

Many convenience foods are full of saturated fatty acids, which contribute to the overall calorie count of the package and are one of the main reasons why we gain weight and deposit fat into our arteries in preparation for a heart attack or stroke down the road. As you may know the worst form of fat is hydrogenated fat, also known as “trans fat”.

It contains free radicals from the hydrogenation process, which damage your cells and interfere with normal body metabolism. Read labels and avoid any foods that have a long shelf life as this is due to hydrogenated fats and chemicals known as food preservatives.

This food group also contains sausages and other processed meat; I wrote a separate blog about this recently.

If you eat cheese, reduce your saturated fat intake by buying cheese with only 18% fat (such as Cantenaar cheese, Jarlsberg light, skim milk mozzarella and goat cheese). Avoid the rich 45% type cheeses. The best oil in your kitchen would be an organic cold pressed olive oil. It figures prominently in Mediterranean cooking.

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

Sugar, starch and other carbohydrates

A large portion of snacks from the mid section of the grocery store contains all forms of sugar: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup etc.  You may think that a harmless fruit juice would be healthy until you see from the ingredient list on the label that it contains 5 to 6 teaspoons of sugar per cup (250 ml) of juice.

Unfortunately our body is not equipped to process all the sugar that the food industry wants us to consume and we develop insulin resistance; the liver converts the excess sugars into fat and deposits it into our arteries and as fat deposits between our guts (visceral fat) and as subcutaneous fat in the thighs, around the hips and the waist. It is no secret that a lot of obesity is related to overconsumption of sugar containing convenience foods (snacks and sugar-laden drinks).

Often low calorie alternatives contain aspartame or sucralose (Splenda). Aspartame is an excitotoxin damaging your brain cells and sucralose was developed in the 1950’s as an insecticide. We do not want to replace disease-promoting sugar with toxins as sweeteners. Safe alternatives for sugar are xylitol, mannitol, and stevia.

What is sometimes overlooked is the fact that your body digests bread, starchy foods such as potatoes, and pasta, rice and flour products like pizza or cookies within 30 minutes into sugar that is as harmful to your pancreas as plain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The body reacts with the same overproduction of insulin converting the excess sugar into fat and depositing it in your body as described above. Much of the obesity wave we see in the past 3 decades is due to baked goods like bagels, bread, pasta and pizza. It is much better to enjoy your stevia-sweetened coffee without any bakery pieces to go along with it.

Protein in meats, dairy products and sausages

You would think that a healthy cut of meat from the grocery store would be a good source of protein for you. You probably did not think that it could be contaminated with a superbug when you bought it. This is especially true for ground meats like hamburger meat. If you bought a portion of organic meat you can be more certain that you are buying a qualitatively superior product. I discussed this whole issue of superbugs in meat and meat products in this blog recently.

We need to be aware of the agroindustry, the feedlots and what they fed the animals. I only buy organic meat and organic dairy products as my source of protein. I avoid sausages altogether because of the food additives that they contain, which are cancer causing.

The problem with prepared meats like chicken nuggets and others is that they contain breading and food preservatives and they have been deep fried, which makes these items an unhealthy choice.

What are some of the problems with dairy products? Despite the allegations that bovine growth hormone would be harmless to your health, your body thinks otherwise. Your body has hormone receptors that are very specific and bovine growth hormone can block them so your own human growth hormone from the pituitary gland cannot function properly. This is why I would recommend only organic milk products. You may have heard that in many European countries bovine growth hormone is banned for that reason.

Next the fat content of dairy products needs to be monitored: go for low-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. While we are talking about yoghurt, stay away from fruit yoghurts that have all kinds of sugar and food additives mixed in. Add fruit of your choice and stevia, if you need a sweet taste.

Vitamins and minerals

The more foods are processed, the less natural vitamins and minerals stay behind. Particularly vitamin C and the B complex group are affected, but also magnesium, which is an important co-factor to enzymatic reactions within our cells. Often processed foods contain too much salt with sodium displacing potassium from the cells resulting in a lack of energy and high blood pressure.

Your best prevention is to stick to as little processed food as possible and to eat organic. If you eat enough organic greens and vegetables, there is an ample supply of vitamins and minerals. Prepare your own soups as canned products are high in sodium; another unwanted additive is often sodium glutamate (MSG), which comes under many disguised names. It belongs to the group of excitotoxins like aspartame and is not welcomed by your brain cells.

Public Awareness

Lately there has been more of public interest and awareness to the detrimental effects of convenience foods. Alarming reports about the increase in the obesity rates, the rise in diabetes type 2 even in children have been in the media for some time. The publications are not only North American, but also European, as can bee seen in this link.

New legislation is being introduced in many states of the US regarding school snacks and vending machines in schools.

Not all food news is bad. Recently it was reported that fish oil could protect against the effects of junk food. Omega-3-fatty acids contained in fish oil are helping to rebalance the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6-fatty acids in food, which often is disbalanced towards an overabundance of omega-6 fatty aids in processed foods. Rebalancing the omega3/omega6 ratio in food helps to normalize the metabolism of the brain and prevents hardening of arteries.

What you can do to get healthy food

It starts when you buy food. Read labels and look for calories, sugar, fat and sodium content. You may be surprised how many stores carry organic foods now. The price may not be that much more. There is a useful app for your cell phone, Buycott, that you may want to download. This way you can scan items in the store and find out what ingredients are contained in a particular food item and which company produces it.

With meats it is particularly important to buy organic (because of superbugs and also because of the aspect that feed lot animals often receive antibiotics and hormones). Stick to organics also with vegetables and greens (xenoestrogens in non-organic greens that block hormone receptors). Milk products also need to be organic because of the bovine growth hormone facts mentioned above.

When you eat out, things become more difficult unless you find an organic food restaurant. You can always prepare your own salad for lunch with organic greens and a lean protein food, which you keep refrigerated until you are ready to consume it. On weekends a portable picnic in a park can be a great way to relax and socialize, especially in summer.

More information about nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

Sep
01
2005

Dark Chocolate For Lower Blood Pressure

Chocolate, as long as it is consumed in moderation, can be good for you. The beneficial ingredients are the bioflavonoids, the same substances that are also found in fruit and vegetables.
Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, at Tufts University in Boston reported about a study, where 20 adults with hypertension (high blood pressure) were asked to eat white chocolate or dark chocolate for 15 days. Blood pressure was reduced by an average of 12/9 mmHg with the dark chocolate. White chocolate had no effect, as blood pressures stayed the same. Dark chocolate also caused a dip in the LDL cholesterol and lowered insulin resistance.
The reason for the benefits lies in the bioflavonoids content: dark chocolate is rich in bioflavonoids, whereas milk chocolate contains little, and white chocolate the least of the three.
For all chocoholics this is not a ticket for a box of Belgian dark chocolates or an assortment of candy bars in one sitting.

Dark Chocolate For Lower Blood Pressure

Dark Chocolate For Lower Blood Pressure

Moderation is still the key, and you may consider consuming cocoa, perhaps as a Mexican chocolate drink without the fat and without the sugar.

References: The Medical Post, August 9, 2005, page 19

Last edited December 7, 2012

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Jul
01
2005

Diet Can Influence Acne

The old dermatological dogma that diet can play a role in the development of acne has been tossed back and forth. Some parties agree, others disagree. An old study by Fulton et al., which goes back to 1969, claims that patients who ate chocolate bars were compared to those who ate”pseudo-chocolate”, and no difference was found between the two groups. Both had the same amount of acne lesions. Critics of this poorly designed study however point out, that the” fake chocolate” contained just as much sugar and just as much trans fat as real chocolate. Trans fats are also known to contribute to inflammation, a condition that is present in acne.
In the meantime a 2002 study that was published in the Archives of Dermatology has taken a closer look at acne. Researchers took a look at islanders from Papua, New Guinea, and the Ache people of Paraguay. Both groups eat a non-Western low-glycemic diet. 1315 subjects were checked, and not a single case of acne was found. Even though this is merely an observational study, the results are impressive. Similar results have been reported in Okinawans, the South African Bantus, the Zulu and the Inuit. Even though these groups are continents apart, the common denominator is the same. Each group eats a non-Western diet. Another publication in 2005 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology evaluated data from the Nurses Health Study II for a link between teenage acne and milk intake, and there was indeed a positive association. It may be that a milk allergy could be the explanation. Further evaluation is needed to pinpoint, which active compounds in milk are the culprits.

Diet Can Influence Acne

Diet Can Influence Acne

For now research points out that hyperinsulinemia, a metabolic condition stemming from an overload of highly refined and high glycemic carbohydrate foods, and its related hormonal cascade is the crucial link between the Western diet and acne. Other factors may emerge from investigating how milk consumption worsens acne.

More info on acne: http://nethealthbook.com/dermatology-skin-disease/acne-vulgaris/

Reference: The Medical Post, May 31, 2005, page 29

Last edited October 28, 2014

Mar
01
2005

Asian Diet To Manage Menopause

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has not only benefits. The potential side effects have become evident, and as a result, doctors have cautioned their patients, that HRT may not be the answer for every menopausal woman. However, lately natural hormone replacement therapy has become popular as an alternative. According to statistics only 20% of Asian women are plagued by hot flashes during menopause as compared to 80% of Westerners. A lifestyle intervention trial from Australia taught 120 women to adapt Japanese diet and lifestyle habits. The participants of the trial also started an exercise program for women, drank lots of water, increased calcium intake and increased the intake of plant-estrogens. Researchers had chosen this model, as Japanese women average five more years of healthy living than their sisters in the West. The spotlight of the research continues to focus on plant-based estrogens. Isoflavone precursors are found in soy (which is widely consumed in Asia), but it is also present in fruits, vegetables, legumes and seeds such as flax. We do not know too much about the long-term effect of manufactured or isolated soy products, and so it is best to stay with the natural soy foods such as edamame (soy beans), tofu, tempeh and miso. Beside soy foods, lots of vegetables, beans and fruit are beneficial, and ground flax seed has also shown to decrease menopausal symptoms. Research in Chinese women has shown a modest association between post-menopausal soy intake and increased bone density.

Asian Diet To Manage Menopause

Asian Diet To Manage Menopause

Compared to this, the “typical” North American diet isn’t an accessory to good health; being high in white flour, sugar, trans fat and providing saturated fat of meat and dairy products this is also bad news for menopause. In addition there is a correlation between an increased body mass index and one to five alcoholic drinks per week with increased hot flashes in peri-menopausal women. Research from Simmons College at the Harvard School of Public Health has shown that Western food habits of red meat and processed meats (hot dogs, bacon) put especially women’s health at risk.

Diabetes Risk Increased With Western Diet Over 14 Years (modified from Archives of Internal Medicine)

Diabetes Risk of Western Diet Over 14 years

Diabetes Risk of Western Diet Over 14 years

Some experts say that the health of Asian women is more robust due to their life-long soy intake, in which case it would make sense to not even wait for all the dreaded symptoms of menopause to appear, but make way for healthy diet choices early. Soy products have become immensely popular and are readily available in today’s market, and so it will be interesting to see if the next generation of women has an easier time going through menopause.

More info on menopause: http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/hypogonadism/secondary-hypogonadism/menopause/

References: 1.The Medical Post January 25, 2005, page 17     2. The Medical Post, February 1, 2005, page 17

Last edited October 27, 2014

Sep
01
2004

Calcium Prevents Kidney Stones

Forget what your grandmother may have taught you about kidney stones. In the past there may have been a bias towards thinking that calcium may be one of the causes of kidney stones. But Dr. Curhan and collegues from the Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Womens’ Hospital, Boston, MA put this question to the test. Other food factors were also examined in this Nurses Health Study II, which was published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine (in April of 2004) and reviewed by The Medical Post (Aug. 24, 2004 edition).

I have summarized the results in the bar graph below. What is shown is the cumulative risk for developing kidney stones in a population of 96,245 nurses aged 27 to 44 over eight years without a history of kidney stones in this prospective study. At the same time detailed records were kept regarding food and health habits. The risks between the highest and the lowest quintile regarding various food groups were computed, which is an accepted way to tease out the effects of the food group studied.

Calcium Prevents Kidney Stones

Calcium Prevents Kidney Stones

Dr. Curhan and his collegues found that calcium protects from getting kidney stones as does meat. Sugar is a risk for stone development. Fluid intake has a protective effect as uric acid and other stone forming substances are kept in solution preventing kidney stone formation. Phytates that are found in soybeans, beans and peas have a protective effect. The control value of the study was the average risk for the population, which was set at 1.0 meaning that there is no added risk to develop kidney stones.

Relative risk of developing kidney stones from exposure to different foods in younger nurses

Calcium Prevents Kidney Stones1

Study shows Calcium To Prevent Kidney Stones

Conclusion: Contrary to popular belief calcium and meat as well as phytones have a protective effect against the development of kidney stones. Fluid intake is protective as well. On the other hand sugar is a risk factor for kidney stones, a fact that seems to not be generally known.

More info on kidney stones: http://nethealthbook.com/abdominal-pain/left-upper-abdomen/kidney-stone-renal-calculus/

Ref.: 1. Dr. G.C.Curhan et al., Arch Intern Med 2004 Apr 26; 164 (8), pp. 885-91  2. The Medical Post, Aug. 24, 2004, p.17

Last edited October 26, 2014

May
01
2004

Sugar And Starchy Foods Cause Colorectal Cancer

A study from the Harvard University involving 38,000 women and having been started in 1993 has surprised the researchers. They wanted to find out whether there were certain foods that may cause colon and rectal cancer. So they administered a “food-frequency” questionnaire with 131 questions to women 45 years or older who entered into the study. Such factors as low-dose aspirin, vitamin E and beta-carotene were included in the questionnaire as was the exact food composition for the year prior to enrolment into the study.

A sugar load (glycemic load) was calculated. This way the impact of various sugar and starch containing foods could be assessed and compared among different subgroups regarding the later development of cancer in the colon and rectum.
When Dr. Susan Higginbotham and Dr. Simin Liu analyzed the diets of the 174 patients who did develop cancer (26 rectal cancers, 148 colon cancers) they found that the women with the highest sugar and starch load were 3 times more likely to develop cancer than the controls with a low glycemic load. High glycemic load foods are candy, cakes, cookies; any other refined flour products including white bread, pasta, French fries and baked potatoes. Together with other literature in this field the authors of this study concluded that the high glycemic food load leads to increased insulin levels in the blood as well as insulin-like growth factors. This in turn leads to cell division in normal and cancerous cells including the lining of the colon and rectum. In addition it is known that the C-reactive protein promotes an inflammatory response that will lead to heart attacks and to cancer.

Sugar And Starchy Foods Cause Colorectal Cancer

Sugar And Starchy Foods Cause Colorectal Cancer

Dr. Bob Bruce from the University of Toronto has shown in his research on colon cancer that insulin and related factors are important in the promotion of this cancer. He commented regarding the Harvard study reviewed here that more research is required before the exact cause of cancer of the colon and rectum would be understood. This knowledge is required before more effective preventative measures can be found other than a simple reduction of sugar and starch in the foods we eat.

Based on the Feb.4 edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (U.S.) and the National Review of Medicine (Canada) March 15, 2004.

More info about Colorectal cancer can be found through this link.

Last edited October 26, 2014

Mar
01
2003

Do Diet Drinks Make You More Hungry?

There were some articles recently that stated that diet drinks would make you hungry. However, they lacked proper controls. For this reason the gastroenterologist, Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy, from the University of Toronto/Ontario designed a well controlled 10 week trial where several parameters were measured while patients were either snacking on diet drinks or on sugar containing soft drinks on top of their regular food intake, which was also closely monitored. The only requirement in the beginning of the study was that the subjects had to be overweight (body mass index of 27 to 28). Participants of the study were then divided randomly into subjects drinking soft drinks with either sugar or sugar substitutes. The drinks were blindly given, but meticulous records were kept of what was consumed. In addition the subjects were allowed to eat as many snacks as they liked with either sugar in it or sugar substitutes. Below  is a tabular summary of the findings.

The surprising findings were that the sugar group had an increased appetite and wanted to eat more and more. Sugar also raised the blood pressure significantly.

Do Diet Drinks Make You More Hungry...

Diet Drinks Make You More Hungry

The result was a significant weight gain during the 10 weeks of the trial while the other group (AS) had lost a significant amount of weight without any hunger pangs. The researchers also measured body fat versus muscle mass and found that the sugar group (SG) had gained fat mass without changing the muscle mass. On the other hand the atrtificail sweetener group (AG) had lost only fat mass, not muscle mass.

Dr. Jeejeebhoy concluded according to the article in The Medical Post (Jan.14, 2003 edition, page 27) that sugar in snacks and drinks should be kept to a minimum to prevent obesity from developing or getting worse. Patients with high blood pressure should avoid sugar as much as possible and stick to a low glycemic-index diet. Drinks should be diet drinks or fluids without sugar content. Do diet drinks make you more hungry? The answer is: “NO!”

Artificial Sweeteners And Weight Loss(10-Week Study)
Findings: Comments:
Additional Calories
from drinks per day:
AS: 250 Cal.       SG: 870 Cal.
total caloric intake over the 10 weeks: AS:decreasing steadily
SG:increasing
steadily
appetite sensation: AS:no appetite
complaints
SG:sugar stimulated
appetite
weight gain or loss: AS:significant weight loss SG:significant weight gain
activity level(exercise) no change in either groups (AS or SG)
blood pressure
AS:no change
SG:sugar increased
blood pressure significantly
AS=Artificial sweetener group SG=Sugar group

Comment: Not every diet drink is medically safe. Aspartame and Sodium cyclamate are brain excitotoxins. One of the safest alternatives to sugar is Stevia. Read this review about  sugar alternatives.

Last edited December 10, 2012

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