My Wellness Drawer

Archive for March 2012

Mark Hyman, MD

The mistake is to think that if you eat an abundance of calories, your diet automatically delivers all the nutrients your body needs. But the opposite is true. The more processed food you eat, the more vitamins you need. That’s because vitamins and minerals lubricate the wheels of our metabolism, helping the chemical reactions in our bodies run properly. Among those biochemical processes greased by nutrients is the regulation of sugar and burning of fat. The problem is that the standard American diet (SAD) is energy dense (too many calories) but nutrient poor (not enough vitamins and minerals). Too many “empty calories” confuse the metabolism and pack on the pounds.

A Nutritionally Deficient Culture

After reviewing the major nutritional research over the last 40 years and doing nutritional testing on over 10,000 patients — I can tell you that Americans are suffering from massive nutritional deficiencies. What I see in my office is reflected in the scientific literature. Upwards of 30 percent of American diets fall short of such common plant-derived nutrients as magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A (2). More than 80 percent of Americans are running low on Vitamin D (3). And nine out of 10 people are deficient in omega-3 fats, which are critical for staving off inflammation and controlling blood sugar levels.

So, what happened? Why are we so undernourished?

Food is less nutritious. Processed foods, stuffed with high fructose corn syrup, refined flours and trans fats-are a modern phenomenon. These foods crowd out more nutrient-dense foods because they are inexpensive and convenient. Your grandmother wouldn’t recognize most of the foods filling the center aisles of our grocery stores today. Imagine what early humans would think of Lunchables! Our species evolved eating foods that contained dramatically higher levels of all vitamins, minerals, and essential fats (4). Wild game is leaner and healthier than animals raised in factory farms. Plus, the meats and fish eaten by hunter-gatherers were almost always fresh. Most store bought meat today are laced with chemicals, such as nitrates, used to process and preserve.

Soil is being squeezed. There is a reason our food is less nutritious, industrial farming is depleting the nutrients in the country’s farmland. As a result, most vegetables harvested today have fewer nutrients than those plucked from the ground just two generations ago. One of the largest and most compelling studies on this topic was published in 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Using data from the USDA’s archives, a team of scientists looked at the nutrient content of 43 fruits and vegetables — everything from rutabaga to honeydew — grown in 1950 and compared them to the identical fruits and veggies grown in 1999. Their findings were disturbing. Levels of calcium were down 16 percent, iron 15 percent, and Vitamin C 20 percent (5). Not a single nutrient had increased in the past 50 years.

Because those foods contain fewer nutrients, the servings we do eat don’t deliver as much nutrition as they once did. Fewer nutrients means lowered immunity and increased vulnerability to chronic disease and obesity. When your body doesn’t get the right nutrition, it just keeps asking for more food. The endless cycle of craving a Catch-22; people are eating more, getting fatter, but still not feeling satisfied — it’s a nightmare from which they can’t escape.

*Refining kills nutrients. In general, foods are stripped of their nutrients during the refining process. One of the most telling examples of this mistake is wheat. The process of refining whole wheat flour into white reduces the fiber by 80 percent and slashes levels of essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients (6). Eventually, food manufacturers started adding synthetic versions of the most important vitamins and minerals back into food and call the food “enriched.” But the idea that you can process out nutrients, such as B vitamins in the making of white flour, and then add them back is reductionistic and neglects the synergistic qualities of food. Food makers call these “enriched foods” but that’s only because they are so impoverished in the first place!

Three Ways to Grab More Nutrient-rich Calories

  • Eat more plant-based foods: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains are the foundation of a lifelong ultraprevention diet. They are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, fiber, and essential fatty acids. These foundation foods also eliminate the many triggers of chronic illness, such as saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and toxic food additives.
  • Prioritize healthy plant-based fats: The best way to eat most of your fat is in the form of extra-virgin olive oil, flax, nuts, and seeds with minimal amounts of properly processed (expeller-pressed) vegetable oils. Avoid oils that do not state the method of extraction or have a bitter aftertaste or rancid flavor.
  • Dine on modest amounts of lean animal protein: The best sources are small cold-water fish that don’t contain high levels of metals and other contaminants. Healthy fish choices include sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, and arctic char. Wild game, such as wild elk and deer, are also rich sources of omega-3 fats because of the wild plants they eat.

Remember, food is your best medicine! Whole foods are naturally packaged with a vast array of nutrients that work synergistically to optimize your health. They ripple throughout our entire physiology, reducing inflammation, boosting detoxification, balancing hormones, and providing powerful antioxidant protection — all things that repair the underlying causes of disease.

Eat a fiber-rich breakfast

Such as oatmeal, whole grain muffins and/or fruit. Read cereal box nutrition  labels to choose one with five grams or more of fibre per serving. Oat bran and rice bran are the most effective. Some excellent fiber-rich choices besides oatmeal and oat bran include beans, barley, apples and prunes.

Switch to whole grains

Choose whole grain breads, crackers, bagels, muffins, waffles and pancakes.

Eat legumes (beans) at least three times a week

Try bean soup, cold bean salad, humus sandwiches and black bean dip as snacks. Soy protein is especially effective, so be sure to include plenty. Even soya milk, tofu and textured soy protein are good.  One USDA study concluded that eating as little as one-half cup of cooked dry beans per day helped lower total cholesterol levels of the study participants.

Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They also take a while for the body to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That’s one reason beans are a useful food for folks trying to lose weight. With so many choices — from navy and kidney beans to lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and beyond — and so many ways to prepare them, beans are a very versatile food.

Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day

One at breakfast, one veggie (e.g. carrot sticks, tomato slices) and one fruit (e.g. orange sections, apple) at lunch, and one salad and one cooked vegetable at dinner…that makes an easy five.

Eggplant and okra – these two low-calorie vegetables are good sources of soluble fibre.

Choose whole fruit, skin included, instead of juice

Juice is the fruit with all the fibre removed.

Eat garlic

Most of the modern research on garlic has concentrated on its ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as offering protection against strokes and heart disease. When the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians reviewed data on cholesterol in 1993, it found that after just four weeks there was a 12 per cent reduction in cholesterol levels in the research groups that had taken garlic.

Cooked or raw garlic both contain compounds that help lower your liver’s production of cholesterol.

Other good foods include raw onion, salmon, olive oil, almonds, walnuts and avocados

The  latter five are all high in fat, but most of it is monounsaturated fat which helps to improve cholesterol.

A bushel of studies shows that eating almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts is good for the heart. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%. Nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways.

Eat plenty of foods that contain the natural antioxidants: vitamins C and E: Rich in Vitamin C Rich in Vitamin E

Red and green peppers, cantaloupe, sunflower seeds, walnuts, strawberries, papaya, almonds, peanuts, oranges, grapefruit juice, wheat germ, soybeans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, wheat germ oil, soybean oil.

Studies show that a little bit of wine or beer helps cholesterol levels

Binge drinking is not effective, but light to moderate drinking through the week is.



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  • wartica: I can attest to this; eating garbage food , always lead me to eat more - all because I was lacking real nutrients . Great post and I look forward to s