OK everyone, I'm going to share some insider info with you. The good news is, my new book Free to Eat is now available on Amazon.com. The bad news is that Amazon.com is selling it for less than the book actually costs, so I don't make nearly the same amount of money - but hey, that's big business, eh? (Although the Amazon orders do not have my personal signature, which as you know, will be worth millions in the near future ;-) As always you may purchase my book with signature at my website: www.fiber-girl.com.
I tell you this because I would so appreciate if those of you who have read Free to Eat would write a review on Amazon. Thank you. I'm looking forward to reading the reviews already (although a little nervous).
Now for the nutrition part of this blog. I - and many other nutrition and health-minded people - seem to be hung up on whether fish and fish oils play a role in a healthy diet. To date, I have been skeptical of the benefits of fish-based Omega-3 fatty acids, but aware there are many studies concluding otherwise. So I decided to have a look at the American Heart Association (AHA) scientific statement regarding fish/fish oil (read it here).
I found the AHA statement very informative and interesting. Here's why:
Alpha-linolenic acids are plant-based pre-cursors to the "long chain" Omega-3 fatty acids that we find in fish, such as EPA and DHA. Alpha-linolenic acids come from plant foods such as nuts, olive oil, seeds like flaxseed, avocados, vegetables and legumes. The rate of conversion of alpha-linolenic to EPA is believed to be very low (15% or so), and thus people are often told they cannot possibly receive enough Omega-3 fatty acids without consuming fish or fish oil. Yet the AHA statement cites multiple studies that found alpha-linolenic acids to have the same benefits as EPA and DHA, even when consumed in small amounts. This has also been found in more recent studies (read here).
Apparently, though alpha-linolenic acid doesn't convert to longer chain Omega-3 fatty acids as efficiently as fish-based EPA and DHA, it has the same outcome as far as preventing heart disease!
Some other benefits of consuming Omega-3 from plant foods vs. fish and fish oil:
1) Alpha-linolenic acids do not increase risk of hemorrhaging as do high doses (3g or more/day) of Omega-3's from fish/fish oil.
2) Consuming Omega-3's from plants does not increase our exposure to dangerous toxins such as methylmercury, PCB's and high amounts of pesticides as found in fish and fish oils.
3) Plant foods do not form Heterocyclic Amines (HCA's) that are known carcinogens found in cooked animal protein. Nor do plant foods contribute to homocysteine levels, which creates plaque.
4) On the flip side, plant foods such fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (including nuts and seeds) are loaded with antioxidants and fiber. Not so with fish.
But I digress.
The AHA statement also makes it clear that studies on the benefits of fish and fish oil are controversial. There are many studies in which they appear beneficial, yet there is an equal body of evidence showing no effect. This continues to be the case today. Just this month, the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that revealed fish oil supplementation had no effect on preventing inflammation in a middle aged population (read here).
Thus, I remain a skeptic that most people would benefit from consuming fish or fish oil. What I am certain of is this: everyone's health would benefit immeasurably from consuming more of a plant-based diet - and there are no shortcuts to attain this.
As I mentioned in my last post, my family has recently moved. We now live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is a pretty large place compared to our home town of Sacramento. Choosing exactly where to live in the Bay Area was difficult, but guess what it ultimately came down to? I'll be honest: lasagna and falafel.
We found a neighborhood with a wonderful downtown, and happened upon an Italian restaurant that served the best vegetable lasagna I'd ever had. (As you know, I'm not a proponent of cheese, but every once in a blue moon I'll indulge myself, especially when eating Italian food). We also noticed a Greek restaurant across the street that serves homemade falafel - and in my opinion, that was reason enough to choose the neighborhood.
So before you think about relocating to a neighborhood with better restaurants, know this post is really about why Americans need to eat more "ethnic foods", both when dining out and cooking at home. Here's why:
1) True ethnic food contains more vegetables and grains. For example, most people love lasagna and would enjoy meatless lasagna since it's so flavorful. The high amount of marinara sauce makes lasagna a healthy food in my book, and it's easy to ask for it served "light on the cheese, heavy on the marinara". Another example is falafel, since its comprised of garbanzo beans (and therefore is high in fiber, protein and myriad other nutrients). Same for other mid-Eastern foods like hummus, Indian and Asian foods like Thai.
2) Ethnic foods have spices, and spices are LOADED with antioxidants. Actually, the strong flavors and aromas that come from spices really come from the antioxidant compounds (also known as phytochemicals) they contain. From hot chili peppers found in traditional Mexican food and salsas, to cumin, coriander, fennel, rosemary and oregano, the list of herbs and spices found in ethic foods is phenomenal for building our immune system and warding off chronic disease.
3) It's easier to eat less or no meat when consuming ethic foods. From a bean burrito to falafel to Tom Yum soup, other cultures know how to make choosing meatless options easy. And what American couldn't benefit from less meat (and more fiber?).
And tonight we made a delicious curry from my weekly Nourishing Nutrition meal plan (www.nourishingnutrition.com). Thank you Jennifer Brewer!
Maybe it's the shorter daylight hours and the fact I've just moved to a new city... I don't know about you, but I want to hear good news these days. So forgive me for sharing with you some evidence that avoiding meat (yes, including fish) improves mood. Now, who couldn't benefit from that? And if you do avoid meat and think your mood isn't so hot, just think how bad it could be!
On a personal note, I distinctly remember experiencing a significantly improved memory after removing all animal origin foods (all meat, dairy and eggs) from my diet. I also lost 20 pounds - talk about putting me in a good mood.
Just in (via PCRM.org):
Omnivores who cut all meat out of their diets experience mood improvements, according to a poster session presented this week at the annual American Public Health Association conference. Researchers at Arizona State University divided 39 omnivorous participants into three dietary groups: control (made no changes to diet), fish (consumed three to four servings of fish per week and no other meat), and vegetarian (consumed no meat and no eggs). The vegetarian group experienced mood improvements in both tension and confusion categories, while the meat-eating participants and fish eaters showed no significant changes in mood.
Beezhold BL, Johnston CS, Daigle DR. Restriction of flesh foods in omnivores improves mood: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Poster presented at: American Public Health Association's 137th Annual Meeting and Exposition; November 9, 2009: Philadelphia, PA.
I want to apologize to all my dear blog readers for my absence these past several weeks. My family has been in the midst of moving to another city, and today is my first day of "normalacy".
The good news is, there's some good nutrition news.
For example, British Journal of Cancer (2009: 101, 192–197) recently published a study of over 60,000 men and women who were followed for 12 years and observed for cancer diagnoses. They found that on average, vegetarians were 12% less likely to develop cancer verses non-vegetarians. Even though I am not presently a proponent of fish consumption, I need to state that this study found vegetarians who consumed fish were 18% less likely to develop cancer (on average, depending on the type of cancer) than non-vegetarians.
Imagine a diet that significantly lowers your risk of cancer. What good news that is... and why aren't more people consuming this diet?
And now, for good news for preventing diabetes:
A new review (of 12 prior studies) published in the journal Diabetologia (2009;52:2277-2287) found that people who consumed the most red meat had a 21% higher risk of developing diabetes verses those who consumed the least. Those who consumed the most processed meat (bacon, lunch meat, sausage, pepperoni, pastrami, salami, bologna and hot dogs) had a 41% higher risk of developing diabetes verses those who consumed the least.
This is so significant - let's pass this on to our loved ones who are consuming meat and processed meat regularly.
And finally, good news for preventing bone loss:
In a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2009;170:901-909), intake of soy products reduced the risk of hip factures as much as 36 percent among women who consumed more than the least amount of soy. All intakes above the least amount consumed (for example any amount greater than one-fourth cup tofu per day) averaged a 30 percent protective effect. The study was part of the Singapore Chinese Health Study and looked at more than 63,000 male and female adults.
Other healthy sources of soy products include tempeh (my personal favorite when grilled and in a sandwich), edamame (cooked soybeans from the pod, frequently served in Japanese restaurants but easy to cook at home since they cook in 5 minutes), and miso (found in many Japanese soups - YUM).
I hope this news encourages those of you who are trying to eat healthfully, and inspires those of us who need it.