Aug
17
2019

How Healthy Is Food From The Supermarket?

I am asking the question here: “how healthy is food from the supermarket?” We tend to assume that food we buy at the supermarket would be safe to eat. Think again, because below I will explain why it is NOT safe.

The “dirty dozen”

You may or may not have heard about the “dirty dozen”. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that monitors fruit and vegetables for insecticide residues. For 2019 they have determined these unhealthy dozen of fruit and vegetables: strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and peppers (hot and bell peppers). Yes, you counted right, this “dozen” actually consists of 13 items.

When I want to buy any of these fruit, I strictly get fruit and vegetables, which are organic. If this is not available in the regular supermarket, I go to the health food store and buy organic fruit and vegetables there. Local farmers’ markets also offer organically grown produce. Every year the EWG brings out an up-to-date list of the dirty dozen. If an item is not on this list, you can assume that it is safe to eat.

Sugar and too many starches are the next problem

How healthy is food from the supermarket? We said we wanted healthy food. Unfortunately ample consumption of sugar and starchy foods end up as belly fat and also as atheromatous deposits in the arteries. I do not eat bread unless it is 100% rye, but then only 1 or 2 slices occasionally. I do not eat potatoes, rice or pasta. Those who love pasta can eat the pasta-look-alike, called shirataki, which is made from the glucomannan root (also known as konjac root). The carbs here are bound to fiber, which digest a lot slower than regular pasta. So, this means that you are bypassing the section in the supermarket where they sell muffins, donuts etc.

Processed foods

In the center of the supermarket you find all kinds of processed foods. They are usually full of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats (hydrogenated fats). People who eat a lot of processed foods are more prone to get heart attacks, strokes and may even come down with cancer. It is not the kind of food that I want. Instead I like whole foods like organic apples, berries and raw or cooked vegetables.

Fish section

I like salmon, sole, cod, halibut, trout, mussels, shrimp and squid. But I am careful not to load up on the big predator fish like tuna. One has to be careful about methylmercury content in fish. I reviewed fish, mercury contamination and the benefits in this link.

As this link shows, there are low, medium and high methylmercury contaminated fish. The higher the fish is in the predator chain, the higher the methylmercury content. This is of particular concern for pregnant women as mercury is toxic for the fetal brain tissue. But they can consume low mercury fish and shellfish, like mackerel, herring, wild salmon, shrimps or clams. I figure, what’s good for women who are pregnant is good for other people. As a result, I limit my fish meals to the low methylmercury contaminated fish category.

How healthy is food from the supermarket – Meat section

Now your shopping trip becomes problematical. There has been news from the Word Health Organization at the end of 2015 that red meat and red meat products are class 1 carcinogens.

This would mean that you may come down with colorectal cancer, if you consume red meat and red meat products regularly. This is when I stopped eating red meat and red meat products like prosciutto. Unfortunately this warning includes pork, lamb and all sausages as well. In the meantime further research has shown that antibiotics that are fed to beef before they are slaughtered get into the meat and change the human bowel flora when red meat or red meat products are consumed.

Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO)

There is a change in bowel flora that causes chemical reactions in the gut with the consumption of beef and eggs. Beef contains carnitine, which can lead to the production of TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide).

Egg yolk contains choline, which also raises TMAO levels in the blood.

In the following study 113 healthy men and women consumed either a meat diet (beef), white meat diet or protein from non-meat sources. After one month the beef group had triple the amount of TMAO in their blood compared to the other two diets.

Interestingly, when the diets were switched the TMAO levels normalized again in the former beefeaters, when consuming white meat or protein from non-meat sources.

What meat am I shopping for?

I recommend not to eat beef more often than once per week and to eat only grass-fed beef. I eat organic chicken and ground turkey breast meat from health food stores (the turkeys are NOT fed antibiotics). Otherwise I eat seafood, cheese from non-recombinant growth hormone milk. This means that I only buy European import cheese or Canadian cheese. In the US you have to ask for organic milk and organic milk products.

The deep frozen section

I look for deep frozen vegetables, fruit, and fish as well as meats. As vegetables are quickly readied for the freezer, their vitamin content can be higher than that of a vegetable that has spent 8 days in transit from the field to the produce department. The deep frozen section also gives you access to a lot of variety. You’ll be able to enjoy some organic strawberries, even when they are not in season. Read the labels, as some fruit have been packaged with sugar syrup. Look for the varieties, where no sugar has been added. The frozen section also contains some highly processed items: deep-fried foods and dessert selections, which have nothing to do with health, so I avoid them.

Canned foods

Canned foods can be useful, as long as you are dealing with fruit that are canned in their juices and not in sugar syrup. The vegetables are less valuable in vitamins than their deep frozen counterparts. Watch out for varieties, where less salt is added. The label will tell you ”low sodium”. Also pay attention to the cans. Those that are not lined with BPH have a label that emphasizes this. You can avoid this by buying canned food in glass jars, such as tomato sauce.

Cosmetics

You will not have to navigate all the aisles, except for your cleaning products and your cosmetics. These have their own problems: lots of cosmetics contain Parabens. Leave them on the shelf, and be aware that some cleaning products can be hazardous too. Pick environmentally friendly, non-toxic products!

Staples you need

There are some staples, which you will also require: olive oil, some olives, almonds or macadamia nuts (preferably raw). The one cereal product, which is valuable will be coarse rolled oats and some pot barley. Both varieties carry a lot of fibre, which makes them very useful food staples. Avoid the “quick cooking” or “instant” oats. Due to the processing, the carbohydrates are absorbed a lot faster and consequently trigger a higher insulin response.

Drinks

You will wonder about drinks next. Having passed the colas, ginger ales and other sugar pops you may eye the diet drinks. Beware of drinks sweetened with aspartame. There is increasing evidence that phenylalanine (brand names: Aspartame, NutraSweet and Sweet’N Low) is not a “harmless” sweetener. Newer research has shown that it can cause gastroesophageal reflux (=GERD) and migraine headaches. Stevia, a sweetener from a South American plant, does not have harmful effects. Stevia is safe to use, as it does not cause an insulin response. You are best served with mineral water, purified drinking water, herb teas, tea or coffee. Fruit juices do have vitamins and minerals, but they are high in sugar causing an insulin release.

What is in fruit juices?

You would not really eat 3 large apples in one sitting? Probably not! So why insist on drinking 8 oz. of apple juice? You’ll ingest all the sugar and forgo the fibre! You also notice that a lot of fruit juices have been mixed with sugar, water, artificial flavor, some color, and as an apology some vitamin C has been added. They are appearing on the shelves as “a good source of vitamin C”. In reality we are dealing with flavoured, colorful sugar water. Use your own judgement, whether you want to spend your dollars on this selection!

Power bars, snacks

In the aisle adjacent to the pop you will very likely encounter a huge selection of convenience and snack foods. They have several things in common: you have met them on TV, some will be high in starches and fat (chips), others will be high in starches, sugar, and fat (cookies, donuts, cream pastries), and we are dealing with trans fats. Do take time to read the listed ingredients, and then decide, whether you and those who eat in your household deserve nutritional garbage. 

How Healthy Is Food From The Supermarket?

How Healthy Is Food From The Supermarket?

Conclusion

We have now completed our round trip in the supermarket. You may still be in mild shock, noticing that “healthy” foods are not the general rule on the shelves. When we buy vegetables and fruit we have to be aware of the “dirty dozen”, which is contaminated with insecticides. We will not buy anything on that list, but buy instead the organic version. You may have to go to the health food store to get these items. Red meat and red meat products produce carcinogens in the human gut. It seems to stem from antibiotics that are used in beef farms and chicken farms. With chicken I buy organic chicken. With beef you need to be more careful and reduce the consumption to once per week and eat only grass-fed beef.

It is tricky to buy healthy food from the supermarket

Much of the bakery section is useless. It consists of empty starch that is digested into sugar and leads to an insulin response. I avoid the processed food section, which contains unhealthy ingredients. Fish is great as long as it does not have too much methylmercury in it. Deep frozen foods may be useful.

Shopping for healthy foods from the supermarket has become more complicated than it was in the past. I only select healthy items and supplement the rest from the health food store. This way I get what I need and avoid the pitfalls of merchandise, which is not beneficial.

Jul
13
2019

Replace Red Meat And Processed Red Meat

new study has shown that you can save lives when you replace red meat and processed red meat. The replacement was with fish, poultry or protein from vegetables. The study appeared in the British Medical Journal on June 12, 2019. It involved 53,553 women nurses and 27,916 male doctors in the United States and ran from 1986 to 2010. Every 4 years comprehensive diet sheets were compiled on each of the participants. Death rates of all of the clinical trial participants were also recorded. The amount of red meat or processed red meat servings, which the participants consumed per day was recorded. One serving of red meat is 3.5 ounces or 100 grams.

Results of the BMJ study

People consuming ½ a serving (50 grams) of red meat more per day over 8 years, had an increased mortality. It was increased by 9% over the following 8 years. Similarly, people consuming ½ a serving (50 grams) of processed red meat over 8 years, were in trouble. They had an increased mortality of 13% over the next 8 years. The researchers also found that when people ate less red meat and processed red meat, things normalized. Their mortality returned to a normal rate. Also, when people replaced red meat with fish, poultry and vegetables, the mortality figures went down as well.

Red meat consumption in the literature

The researchers reviewed the literature regarding disease risk and mortality with meat consumption. In particular, the researcher had an interest in increased red meat consumption and consumption of processed red meat. Other investigators mentioned that there was an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and other cancers.  In addition, cardiovascular disease and increased overall mortality were up with meat consumption. The worst variety of processed foods are bacon, hot dogs, and sausages. Certain lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart heart failure are directly related to consumption of red meat or processed red meat products. Hypertension also has a link to red meat consumption. Components of red processed meats such as saturated fats, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, preservatives and sodium can cause colorectal cancer and at the same time cause cardiovascular disease.

More details about the study

There were 8426 deaths among the nurses branch of the study. 3138 nurses died from cancer, 1774 from cardiovascular disease, 939 from neurodegenerative diseases, 751 from respiratory diseases, and 1824 from other causes. In the same time period (24 years) there were 5593 deaths among the males of the Health Professionals follow-up study. 1754 died from cardiovascular disease, 1754 from cancer. There were 434 deaths from respiratory diseases, 375 from neurodegenerative diseases, and 1276 from other causes.

Red meat consumption in women has decreased by 31% in the past 24 years. Men have cut back their red meat consumption by 11% in the same time period.

One subgroup of patients decreased their red meat consumption and replaced it with a higher intake of nuts, poultry (without skin), fish, dairy, eggs, whole grains and vegetables over 8 years. They had a lower death rate than the controls over the next 10 years.

Discussion of the BMJ study

The authors mentioned that a Japanese study found no increased mortality among 51,683 Japanese men and women eating red meat, poultry, processed meat and liver. There were 20,466 men and 31,217 women, aged 40-79 years. The study lasted for almost 16 years. There were 2685 deaths due 537 ischemic heart diseases and 1209 strokes. The investigators had traced how much meat the participants ate. They did not find any change in mortality up to 100 grams per day of beef or other meat consumption. I will discuss this further below.

Hormones and antibiotics may be partially responsible for higher mortality in the US

Dr. Valter Longo, professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California and director of the USC Longevity Institute was not part of the study. He commented: “The lower or lack of association between red meat intake and mortality in other countries or areas of the world indicates that red meat may contribute to mortality in the United States by providing a high protein content but also because it may contain other factors that contribute to damage.“ He also questioned certain agricultural practices where hormones and antibiotics are in use in the raising of beef cattle in the US. This is not the case in Japan or Europe. He went on to say: “The reduced mortality, when red meat is replaced with fish, is consistent with this possibility since they contain generally similar levels of proteins”.

Use of antibiotics in cattle farming

The accepted practice of using antibiotics not only for treating infections, but also for accelerating growth in beef cattle has far-reaching ramifications.  The problem is that use of antibiotics in milk cows produces milk with antibiotic residues. In beef cattle antibiotic residue are also in the meat of these cows.

The question arose whether or not the use of antibiotics in cattle would possibly cause resistance to antibiotics in humans. This publication examines this question. It comes to the conclusion that the probability of resistant strains of bacteria in humans as a result of the feeding of antibiotics to cows in the US would be small. However, there is another aspect that only recently has gained attention. It is the change of the gut biome in humans as a result of antibiotic residues from the standard agricultural practices of raising cattle.

Change of the human gut biome

Meat eaters have raised TMAO blood levels

The human gut flora can change for various reasons. But once it has changed, it often stays in an altered state. It is a permanent change in bowel flora that can cause chemical reactions in the gut with the consumption of beef and eggs. Beef contains carnitine, which can lead to the production of TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide). Egg yolk contains choline, which also raises TMAO levels in the blood.

In the following study 113 healthy men and women consumed either a meat diet (beef), white meat diet or protein from non-meat sources. After one month the beef group had triple the amount of TMAO in their blood compared to the other two diets. Interestingly, when the diets were switched the TMAO levels normalized again in the former beefeaters when consuming white meat or protein from non-meat sources.

Changed gut flora causes raised TMAO levels

The use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the US beef industry is the standard practice for raising beef. But this has led to antibiotic residues that are detectable in the laboratory. When a person eats beef that is contaminated with antibiotic residues, the bowel flora loses its diversity of bacteria in the gut. This leads to an accumulation of other bacteria that produce TMAO in the presence of beef or egg yolk and can cause cardiovascular disease on the one hand and cancer on the other. This happens over time.

Discussion

The answer as to why US beef is causing colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease is directly related to the practice of using antibiotics as growth promoters. The use of antibiotics in the beef industry leads to a change in the gut flora in humans consuming this meat. Bacteria that can produce TMAO are now having the upper hand. In the US people produce more TMAO in response to beef consumption as the study mentioned has shown. The Japanese study cited above showed no sign of cardiovascular mortality when people consumed up to 100 gram (one serving) of meat per day over 16 years.

Antibiotics as growth promoters outlawed in Japan and Europe

The reason is that in Japan, as well as in Europe the use of antibiotics as growth promoters are illegal. When humans consume meat in Japan or Europe the original gut flora stays intact with no production of TMAO. Incidentally, the same is true for organic grass-fed meat in the US, which has no antibiotic residues in it. Recently there was a publication from Denmark that suggested to replace some of the beef consumption by low mercury fish.The authors of that study said that this will reduce mortality from cardiovascular disease.

Replace Red Meat And Processed Red Meat

Replace Red Meat And Processed Red Meat

Conclusion

A new study in the British Medical Journal showed that an increase in red meat consumption of only ½ serving per day for 8 years caused an increased mortality of 9% over the following 8 years. With regard to processed red meat the mortality was even bigger, namely 13%. The researchers replaced some of the meat with white chicken meat or vegetables and the mortality normalized.

In contrast, a Japanese study showed that there was no increase in cardiovascular disease with the consumption of up to 100 grams of beef or other meat products over 16 years.

Using antibiotics as growth promoters illegal in Japan and Europe

I pointed out before that there is literature explaining why there is a discrepancy: the beef industry in the US feeds the animals antibiotics as growth promoters. This changes the bowel flora in humans who eat the beef. The changed bacterial strains in the gut use carnitine from beef and make trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). This is a toxin that causes both cardiovascular disease and cancer. This explains why in the US beef is one of the culprits that causes heart attacks and colorectal cancer. In Japan this is not the case. Both Japan and Europe do not use antibiotics as growth promoters in the cattle industry as it is prohibited.

In the US it is likely safe to eat organic meats (beef, chicken) as these meats will not contain antibiotics. Due to the numerous additives in processed red meat, it is still a sensible idea to skip these products!

May
11
2013

Changes Of Gut Bacteria Can Cause Heart Attacks

The recent news of gut bacteria possibly being involved in causing heart attacks (see details below) sounds pretty outrageous. In order to make this more understandable, we need to start backtracking how bacteria end up in our gut and what they are doing there.

Gut bacteria in our bowels at various stages in life

Even among infants there is a huge difference in the composition of the gut flora depending on whether the baby was vaginally delivered, born by Cesarean section or prematurely born and nursed in an intensive care unit for a prolonged period of time.

When we are grown up, it depends on where we live on our planet as to what type of gut flora we have. A 2011 study of the bacterial composition of stool samples in Europe versus Africa showed that the European microbiome in the colon was typical of the Bacteroides enterotype, whereas the African microbiome was dominated by the Prevotella enterotype. Other studies have shown that the type of diet we eat causes us to harbor different types of gut flora. A person eating a more vegetarian diet will have a Prevotella enterotype gut flora, while another person eating a Western style fat and protein dominated diet will have a Bacteroides enterotype gut flora. What is the gut flora doing? It lives within our gut for our mutual benefit. We provide the gut bacteria a comfortable home at body temperature where they grow best. They in turn ferment undigested foods, protect us from the growth of harmful bacteria, produce vitamins like vitamin K and biotin, and produce hormones that direct the body to store excess food as fat.

Changes Of Gut Bacteria Can Cause Heart Attacks

Changes Of Gut Bacteria Can Cause Heart Attacks

Cleveland Clinic’s gut flora research linked to heart attacks

In April 2013 reports that heart attacks may be related to the composition of your gut flora hit the popular press, articles like this. Two years earlier, in April of 2011, the same Cleveland research group under Dr. Stanley Hazen found that the gut flora composition has an impact on heart disease. They stated that a “byproduct called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is produced when intestinal bacteria digest the nutrient phosphatidylcholine, commonly known as lecithin”. It was determined that the liver was responsible for producing TMAO out of absorbed materials from gut bacteria and that this was responsible for accelerating hardening of the arteries, which in turn caused deadly heart attacks and strokes.

As can be seen from this link the Cleveland research group is suggesting that TMAO could become a valuable screening tool when measured in patients’ blood to screen for their risk to develop a heart attack or stroke in the future. Furthermore, once these patients are identified, they can be sent to a dietitian and be put on a different diet that prevents heart attacks and strokes; also, the progress could again be monitored through repeat TMAO blood tests down the road.

Criticism of research from the Cleveland Clinic

Not every one has welcomed the study as clear-cut proof for a link between the gut flora and heart attacks, strokes and deaths. This link shows that it is questioned whether perhaps low antibiotic residues in red meat would explain the findings of the study. It rightly points out that there was no control for whether the more than 4000 patients were eating organic foods or a regular American diet. The comment goes on to say that the regular American diet contains residual antibiotics from milk, milk products, beef, chicken and turkey. These traces of antibiotics are powerful enough to have an effect on the gut flora, which likely is the reason for the differences between the vegetarian diet versus a Western style fat and protein dominated diet. It is entirely possible that grass fed beef would not lead to TMAO levels in the blood whereas regular beef or hamburger meat will raise the TMAO levels. The same could be true for egg consumption, which was also accused of raising TMAO levels. However, we do not know whether organic eggs that do not contain antibiotics would have done the same as regular eggs that contain traces of antibiotics.

Cancer caused by gut flora

This 2008 review article explains how lactobacillus and bifidobacteria (probiotics) prevent colon cancer, while bacteria of the Bacteroides and Clostridium variety increase the incidence of colon cancer and the growth rate of colonic tumors. So, the composition of your gut flora does not only matter with regard to prevention of heart attacks and strokes, but is also important in preventing colon cancer.

Change your gut flora to boost your health

Here is where the “rubber hits the road”. What I mean is that you can benefit from all of this research with regard to your health by paying attention to a few facts and possibly making a few changes as follows.

  1. I think that the argument of the bulletproofexec.com website holds true and we should all eat organic meats whenever possible. The Cleveland study has already shown that the gut flora in vegetarians stayed healthy even when they occasionally slipped and ate a regular steak.
  2. Take supplemental probiotics from the health food store. It will improve your gut flora within a day or two.
  3. Higher intake of fruit and vegetables make a measurable difference in the body decreasing the risk for heart attacks and strokes as this British research group has shown. Another research group from Italy has confirmed that an increased intake of fruit and vegetables mobilizes genetic switches that will stabilize the metabolism of the gut wall and prevent cancer of the colon.

So, the verdict for boosting your health is out: eat organic foods, use probiotics as supplements and eat more fruit and vegetables!

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

References

  1. http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v19/n5/full/nm.3145.html
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23614584

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014