Archive for February, 2012

Variety and Commonality in Traditional Diets

February 23, 2012

When Dr. Weston Price ( a dentist from Cleveland who was renowned for his dental research in his lifetime) traveled the globe in the 1920’s and 30’s, he was researching what makes for a healthy diet. Sixteen very different traditional diets (from a wide variety of environments) met his criteria (and those included dental health; ie, well-formed teeth without cavities). What is so interesting from our current day perspective, where so many “named” diets claim to be “the right one” is this very diversity and variety:

Some traditional diets had no plant foods.

Some contained few animal foods.

Some were mostly cooked foods.

Some had large amounts of raw foods.

Some contained milk products and others lacked them.

Some ate grains while others did not.

Some had fruits and some didn’t.

The underlying characteristics that these healthy traditional diets shared:

No refined or denatured foods

Every diet had some animal products

All diets were high in enzymes (and most contained fermented foods)

Seeds, grains, legumes, and nuts were soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened

Total fat content varied from 30% to 80% of calories, but only 4% of calories came from polyunsaturated oils

High amounts of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

All diets contained some salt

All traditional cultures made use of bones, usually as broth

When we examine the advent of canned, frozen, pasteurized, boxed, and increased “shelf-life,” what we see is a huge transition from “home-made” to “machine and factory-made,” as well as an emphasis on convenience and speed. The seasonal, local, hand-made and complex have been largely supplanted by supermarket brands that have homogenized our diets. Yes we gained ease and variety, but at a huge “unintended consequence” of a multitude of health problems.

Meat Or Vegetarian Protein?

February 17, 2012

Is there a more contentious question in nutrition?

If you had asked me back when I was a vegetarian (or vegan) I would have answered very differently that I do now. I was so sure I knew the answer. Now I am only sure that some folks are very healthy as vegetarians or vegans, and others are not. Especially at our high altitude and the intense cold during winter, many women I know who were once vegetarians are now eating some meat, and feeling better. Also, many of us ate WAY too much soy (especially if, like me, you ate it as “burgers and dogs,” i.e., processed and tricked out to look and feel and sorta taste like meat). Our low thyroid function is partly a legacy from all the soy consumption.

Dealing with this question could easily be a book! Next week I’ll talk about Weston Price and his research into traditional diets, which I think is a less biased way to deal with this question. As we look at what healthy groups of a variety of people in a diversity of environments actually ate (and usually over a very long period of time), we can base our conclusions on historical facts and observations of a scientifically trained dentist. We will find commonalities that are intriguing.

 There was and is no one way for a group of people to eat healthily. And there is quite a bit of evidence that some proteins are not very healthy at all (canned meats, deep-fried fish and other meat, animals fed in feedlots with food that is not their natural diet, and anything GMO).

One caveat for those who are strict vegetarians or vegans: B12 is very hard to get in those diets. A recent Mercola article puts it well:

Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal tissues, which vegans and vegetarians do not typically eat. The few plant foods that are sources of B12 are actually B12 analogs, which blocks the uptake of true B12 and actually increases your need for it.

  • B12 is stored in your liver, kidneys and other body tissues. As a result, a deficiency may not be apparent for about seven years.
  • Initial symptoms of deficiency include: lack of motivation, apathy, mental fogginess, muscle weakness and fatigue. Chronic long-term B12 deficiency can lead to serious conditions such as depression, dementia, and fertility problems.

If you’d like to read the entire article, please go HERE.

Some Thoughts About Protein

February 12, 2012

One of the most interesting “perhaps facts” about protein is the belief among some researchers that the human brain evolved into its present larger and intricately developed size due to the tendency of “proto-humans” to eat protein-rich foods, especially fish. Presently, my research in diverse fields including weight management, thyroid health, and adrenal fatigue are also pointing to the importance of adequate healthy (meaning uncontaminated, not over-cooked, and from sources that are as organic as possible) protein in our diets, especially for breakfast. This has a large bearing upon gene expression as well, since what we eat is one of the 3 major ways (the other 2 are toxin avoidance/release and stress reduction) we can either adversely or beneficially affect how the  DNA cards we were dealt at birth play out.

The more I do research, the more I realize that in ANY field, including alternative health/herbs/nutrition, the “experts” (whether defined by letters after their names and/or experience in the field) DO NOT AGREE with each other on a regular basis. Unfortunately there is much internecine fighting around just about any topic you can name in this vast area of human understanding….and that goes double for how much and what kind of protein. And many of the so-called gold standard studies are not as comprehensive, well designed, or factual as we’ve been led to believe….sigh.

Given all the disagreement and conflicting theories, how does one navigate this nutritional minefield? I am finding that where several “authorities” from a diverse cross-section agree, there might be some valuable info. Add to this the actual clinical experience of folks with degrees, and we start to see some patterns, like the one I mentioned above about adequate protein for breakfast. The trick here is to define “adequate.” Women probably need from 46 to 90 grams a day, and men need from 56 to over a 100 grams per day. The amount varies due to age, size, type of work done, energy expenditure, metabolic type, constitution, and probably a few more arcane indicators, not to mention the belief system of the person or group advocating a number along this spectrum! What I find really telling in this is the tendency of folks to “err” at the extremes: either they eat fast food burgers with enough protein for an entire day in one meal, or they barely eat enough to prevent deficiency disease. There have been some studies done that show that as we age, we often neglect our protein intake. When this is due to poverty, that is a tragedy. When not eating enough protein is due to the influence of  experts who were wrong, or because we, over time, got comfortable with the overconsumption of carbohydrates….well, that too is a tragedy.




Epigenetics: Why You Want to Know About It

February 1, 2012

The January issue of National Geographic features an article on twins, and how studies about twins, especially those separated at birth, are shedding light on a relatively new field of science called epigenetics, or how our genes are “expressed.” Let me quote here from the article:

SAME GENES, DIFFERENT PEOPLE: Identical twins are born with the same DNA but can become surprisingly different as they grow older. A booming field called epigenetics is revealing how factors like stress and nutrition can cause this divergence by changing  how individual genes behave. “Things written in pen you can’t change: That’s DNA,” says geneticist Danielle Reed. “Things written in pencil you can change. That’s epigenetics.”

So it turns out that alternative health care advocates are correct when they say that how we eat and manage stress really matters. In the next few blogs I’ll explore this a bit, as well as start referring to some of the best nutritional research that is coming across my desk, so to speak.