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Americans are eating so much ultra-processed food that it's now more than 50% of their daily calories. And why shouldn't they eat these foods? They're easy to get (fast foods, prepackaged foods, take out foods), they taste good, and they're great for people pressed for time. That's why they're called "convenience foods" and include fast foods, prepackaged foods, many frozen meals, take out foods, soda, packaged snacks, and many cakes, candies, and cookies.

But... there's a dark side to highly processed food. It is linked to all sorts of harmful health effects (cancer, Alzheimer's disease, etc), to chronic inflammation, and now to worse heart health. Even our beneficial gut microbes don't like highly processed foods. Instead, they like real whole foods, especially plant based foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes.

There are all sorts of ingredients in ultra-processed foods that are laboratory concoctions, from artificial and natural flavors, colors, additives, preservatives, etc. Read the ingredient lists!

The results of a new study by researchers at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that  for every 5% increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person ate, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular (heart) health.

From Science Daily: Too much ultra-processed food linked to lower heart health  ...continue reading "Highly Processed Foods and Heart Health"

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Researchers are starting to raise concerns about routine daily intake of probiotics for "gut health". Much is still unknown, but problems are starting to appear. A healthy gut contains hundreds of species (bacteria, fungi, viruses), and taking megadoses of a few species (a probiotic supplement) can overwhelm the normal gut microbial community. A healthy gut is one with a greater diversity of species, not just some species.

For example, one study found that daily probiotic ingestion can result in overgrowth of some bacterial species in the intestines, resulting in such symptoms as brain fogginess, bloating, and gas. Successful treatment was antibiotics and stopping the use of probiotics.   Another recent study found that after using antibiotics, those who took probiotics (thinking it would help microbial recolonization of the gut microbes) actually had slower recovery of the gut microbiome (microbial community).  The best recovery was in those who took nothing, no supplements at all, or those who received a fecal microbial transplant (where an entire microbial community is transplanted).

The evidence is showing that for gut microbial health, the best thing to do is eat a variety of real whole foods (and not highly processed foods) that have lots of fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and legumes (beans). In other words, feed the beneficial bacteria. A Mediterranean style diet is good.

A recent article in Medscape (the medical site) highlights these same concerns. [See below.] A study that looked at the gut microbiome of people who were about to undergo treatment for melanoma found that those who were taking probiotics actually had worse gut microbial diversity. [Remember, gut microbial diversity is considered an indicator of gut health.] And the cancer treatment (immunotherapy) did not work as well on them.

Bottom line: The evidence is showing that for gut microbial health, the best thing to do is eat a variety of real whole foods (and not highly processed foods) that have lots of fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and legumes (beans). In other words, feed the beneficial bacteria. A Mediterranean style diet is good. Don't take routine daily supplements or probiotics for  "gut health" - they won't help. Instead, if you want - only take probiotics for a short while for a specific symptom or problem.

Dr. Lorenzo Cohen wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal laying out those same points. Some excerpts from: Those Probiotics May Actually Be Hurting Your ‘Gut Health’  ...continue reading "Daily Use of Probiotics Can Hurt Gut Health"

Food is all important for health. A recent study (that analyzed data from 10 large studies in the US, Europe, and Asia) found an association between high fiber intake from foods and also frequent eating of yogurt with a lower incidence of lung cancer. Persons with the highest yogurt and fiber consumption had a 33% reduced risk of lung cancer (when compared to the group who did not consume yogurt and consumed the least amount of fiber).

Think of it this way: The fiber in foods feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut. High fiber foods that feed microbes in the gut are known as prebiotics. It is good to eat a variety of foods, because they provide a variety of fibers. High fiber foods are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seed, nuts, and legumes (beans).

Gut microbes use fiber to generate short-chain fatty acids, and these are anti-inflammatory. Evidence suggests that the beneficial effects are not restricted to the gut, but reach organs throughout the body, including the lungs. The researchers suggest that both fiber and yogurt have anti-inflammatory effects, and the combination of fiber and yogurt is stronger against lung cancer than either alone. They also thought that the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species in yogurt somehow help improve the gut microbial system.

From Medical Xpress:  High fiber, yogurt diet associated with lower lung cancer risk  ...continue reading "High Fiber Foods, Yogurt, and Lung Cancer"

Reading the following study, I thought to myself - OK, once again someone is testing a supplement, but generally studies find that supplements don't do as well as real, actual foods in whatever is being tested. In this case, a supplement containing lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, was tested by researchers in the UK to see if it would help with sperm quality in men. Other studies have found dietary lycopene to have health benefits (e.g. lower incidence of lethal prostate cancer), which is among the reasons the researchers focused on testing it for semen quality.

The study design was nice - with 60 young healthy men randomly assigned to one of 2 groups - the supplement group and the placebo group, and no one knew who was assigned to which group (double blind). They took either the lycopene supplement (14 mg/d of lactolycopene, equivalent to 2 kg of cooked tomatoes)  or a placebo for 12 weeks. They found changes in sperm quality after the 12 weeks, with significant improvement in the proportion of "fast progressive sperm" and normally shaped sperm (morphology). However, "motile sperm concentration" (the number of moving sperm) did not improve - and this is considered the main measure associated with chance of conception. So it is unknown how the 2 things that improved would affect fertility.

Bottom line: Studies find numerous health benefits from diets rich in fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and other red foods, such as watermelon, papaya, and pink grapefruit. And yes - ketchup is a good source. Apparently more lycopene is bioavailable when tomatoes are cooked or processed, especially when cooked in oil (as compared to raw tomatoes). And when eating fruits and vegetables, try to eat as many that are organically grown, because eating fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residues has a negative effect on sperm quality.

From Science Daily: Dietary supplement from tomatoes discovered to boost sperm quality  ...continue reading "Lycopene In Tomatoes and Sperm Quality"

Once again a study finds health problems from supplements. This time, researchers found that several bodies of evidence (the long-running American Nurses' Study and two studies in Norway) found a higher risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women who took high doses of both vitamin B6  and B12. Interestingly, B12 alone seemed to not be associated with problems. And only getting the vitamins from foods was totally fine.

Yes, taking supplements is highly popular, but many studies are finding adverse effects. As the researchers point out in the journal article: "Both insufficient and excess intakes of a nutrient may be harmful. According to randomized clinical trials (RCTs), high-dose vitamin supplementation may lead to unexpected adverse effects."

The researchers also point out that studies find that vitamin B supplementation has not had a preventive effect on cardiovascular diseases (heart disease) and cancer. Also, taking high doses of vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements has not shown a fracture-preventing effect in studies. And now this finding of a combination of high dose vitamin B-6 and B-12  is associated with an almost 50% higher risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. Uh-oh.

So instead of taking supplements, focus on a good diet with a wide variety of foods. Only take (high dose) supplements if there is a known deficiency, and not "just in case".

Excerpts from Medical Xpress:  Too much vitamin B can cause hip fracture  ...continue reading "High Dose Vitamin B Supplements and Hip Fractures"

Two recent studies point out the dangers of air pollution to the developing fetus. The first study found an association with high levels of air pollution during pregnancy and lower IQ years later when the children were between the ages of 4 to 6 (as compared to women exposed to less traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy).

The second study found that soot (tiny carbon particles) from air pollution  (e.g. vehicle exhaust) are breathed in by the pregnant woman, and then make it to her placenta during pregnancy and cross over to the baby's side of the placenta. (The placentas were collected and examined after delivery.) The fact that these tiny particles found in polluted air are breathed in by the pregnant woman and reach the baby's side of the placenta and accumulate, suggests to the researchers how air pollution causes harm to the fetus. They also found that the more particles the pregnant woman was exposed to throughout pregnancy, the more particles were detected on the baby's side of the placenta ("placental load").

The placenta used to be viewed as a barrier to toxins, but NOPE - it's not. (As we already know with alcohol and drugs, etc.)

But now some good news: In the first study, pregnant women who had higher levels of folate in their blood - meaning they had better nutrition and higher intake of folic acid during pregnancy, appeared to have a protective effect on the developing baby. As the researchers said: "Maternal folate levels may modify the impact of prenatal air pollution exposure on child cognition." In those with the lowest folate levels during pregnancy, the negative effects of air pollution during pregnancy on the developing fetus appeared to be the strongest (6.8 points lower IQ). Folate is naturally occurring in many fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and nuts, and is in the form of folic acid in vitamin supplements. Best is a good diet.

From Medical Xpress: Offspring of pregnant women exposed to high level of pollutants may have lower IQs   ...continue reading "Air Pollution Has Harmful Effects During Pregnancy"

Good news for women who really like to eat onions and garlic! A study conducted in Puerto Rico found that women who more frequently consumed garlic and onions, especially  "sofrito", had a lower risk of breast cancer. Both onions and garlic are an important part of the Puerto Rican diet, and sofrito is a raw onion and garlic based condiment or puree that is the base for many Puerto Rican dishes.

This study found that as consumption of garlic and onions increased, there was a decrease in the risk of breast cancer, which was true for women both before menopause or after menopause. There was evidence of a dose-response (the more eaten, the lower the risk). This association was especially strong for women consuming sofrito more than once a day - they had a 67% decrease in breast cancer risk compared to those who never ate sofrito.

The researchers point out that studies show that the more one eats of onions and garlic, the lower the risk of certain cancers, such as the lung, prostate, colon, and stomach. However, the evidence for whether it has a protective effect on breast cancer has been mixed, but with most studies finding a protective effect with frequent consumption of onions and garlic, especially raw onions and garlic. One study in Mexico found a 70% lower risk of breast cancer in those eating one slice of onion per day, compared to those eating less than one slice. The researchers also mentioned that studies find that cooking onions and garlic reduces their anticancer activity.

From Science Daily: Onion and garlic consumption may reduce breast cancer risk   ...continue reading "Onions, Garlic, and Lower Risk of Breast Cancer"

Did you know that many tea bags contain plastic or are made totally from plastic? And that tiny pieces of plastic (microplastics) from these teabags are released into the hot water when brewing tea? Canadian researchers found that a single plastic teabag releases about 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water during normal tea brewing. And no one knows what this is doing to us long term, but it is doubtful that ingesting billions of tiny plastic particles in each cup of tea is beneficial to health. View it as an "unknown risk".

The researchers point out that water is frequently at or above 95 degrees C (203 degrees F) when brewing tea, and that "food grade"plastics degrade or leach toxic substances when heated above 40 degrees C (104 degrees F). They tested 4 different commercial teabags in 95 degree C water for 5 minutes. Note: Boiling water is 100 degrees C or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the researchers noted that few plastic particles were released into room temperature water.

Microplastics are particles ranging from 100 nm to 5mm in size, while nanoparticles are particles ≤ 100 nm in size. The researchers found that many, many more plastic particles were released into the water from the teabags than what has been reported in other foods (e.g. salt or bottled water).

There is another reason to also avoid plastic teabags - if the plastic contains phthalates (endocrine disruptors), it will leach them into the hot water. Which, of course, we are then drinking.

What to do? Just stick with the traditional paper teabags. But you'll have to do research to find one that has zero added plastic. Some bags may appear to be paper, but plastic may be coating the paper, or in the glue sealing sides of the bag. Or drink tea made from loose leaf tea. By the way, any company that advertises its tea bags as "silky", "silken sachets", or "mesh" is using plastic tea bags. There is no silk used. Also, assume that any company that won't tell you if it uses plastic in the tea bags, has plastic in the teabags.

Nowadays many foods come in plastic pouches that are meant to be heated - keep in mind that they probably all leach plastic particles into the food or liquid. If the idea of ingesting multitudes of tiny plastic particles concerns you - avoid heating foods in plastic pouches or containers. Instead, transfer into a glass, stainless steel or iron container for heating.

From Science Daily: Plastic teabags release microscopic particles into tea  ...continue reading "Are You Drinking Tiny Plastic Particles In Your Tea?"

A few weeks ago I posted research about the nutrient choline and discussed its importance for brain health. Now Dr. Emma Derbyshire in the United Kingdom has written a piece in the current issue of the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health about the necessity of choline in the diet and the health dangers of this nutrient being neglected, especially in people following plant based or vegan diets.

Choline is an essential nutrient that cannot be produced by the body in amounts needed for human requirements. Good sources of choline are meat, dairy products, poultry, and eggs, and it appears that eggs (the egg yolks) are especially beneficial.

From Medical Xpress: Suggested move to plant-based diets risks worsening brain health nutrient deficiency

The momentum behind a move to plant-based and vegan diets for the good of the planet is commendable, but risks worsening an already low intake of an essential nutrient involved in brain health, warns a nutritionist in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.  ...continue reading "Don’t Neglect the Nutrient Choline"

A new large study found that eating a flavonoid rich diet is associated with a lower risk of death. Flavonoids are compounds found in abundance in plant derived foods and beverages, such as fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate, tea, legumes, and red wine. The study followed about 56,000 people in Denmark for 23 years and found that eating higher levels of flavonoid rich foods was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause (all-cause mortality), heart disease (cardiovascular disease), and cancer.

The researchers found that there was an inverse relationship (the more one eats, the lower the risk of death), and that this relationship was strongest among cigarette smokers and people who consume high amounts of alcohol (more than 20 grams per day). Bottom line: Make sure your diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dark chocolate (yes!).

By the way, while other studies do find a lower incidence of heart disease and cancer in people eating a diet rich in flavonoids, in this study they were not looking at who got the diseases, but looked at deaths. Therefore the following title is misleading. It should instead say "... protects against cancer and heart disease deaths..." From Science Daily: Flavonoid-rich diet protects against cancer and heart disease, study finds  ...continue reading "Eating Foods Rich In Flavonoids Has Health Benefits"