Food/Healthy Cooking

Woman eating a saladPhoto: ArtKolo/Shutterstock
 
There are several medical studies linking vegetarian diets to lower incidences of certain types of cancers, heart disease, Type II diabetes and other chronic diseases. Many news headlines say vegetarians live longer than meat eaters.

Eating a vegetarian diet offers numerous health benefits, but some medical studies cite a few potential problems.

 
Thinking about going veggie? Before permanently clearing out the steak knives from your kitchen, consider some of the following possible side effects of becoming vegetarian:
 
1. Low cholesterol levels: Virtually every medical study on vegetarian populations, including the prominent Oxford Vegetarian Study of 5,000 vegetarian subjects, have concluded that vegetarians have lower cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians. Most in the mainstream medical community, including the American Heart Association, recommend keeping total cholesterol levels under 200.
 
However, another study by the Honolulu Heart Program — which focused on the cholesterol levels more than 3,500 Japanese-American men aged 71-93 years, not necessary what eating trends produced those cholesterol levels — concluded that “Only the group with low cholesterol concentration … had a significant association with mortality.” The Heart Program study, according to at least one medical doctor, demonstrates that having continuously, extremely low levels of cholesterol may lead to an early death.
 
2. Increased risk of colorectal cancer: One would assume that heavy meat eaters would have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer but a review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of the aforementioned Oxford study reveals, “Within the study, the incidence of all cancers combined was lower among vegetarians than among meat eaters, but the incidence of colorectal cancer was higher in vegetarians than in meat eaters.”
 
Vegetarians demonstrated a 39 percent higher incidence of colorectal cancer, which is confounding, given that eating red meat leads to higher colorectal cancer rates. The study’s researchers, although not unequivocal in being able to explain the findings, theorize that the vegetarian participants were perhaps not eating sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables.
 
3. Lower bone mineral density: While it’s possible for vegetarians to consume adequate amounts of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin D (if supplementing properly or getting enough sunlight) to ensure proper muscle and bone development, onestudy concluded that vegetarians had approximately 5 percent lower bone-mineral density (BMD) than non-vegetarians. The results of the study, the authors conclude, suggest that vegetarian diets — especially vegan diets — are associated with lower BMD. But don’t despair if you’re a vegetarian or thinking about becoming one. The authors claim that the “magnitude of the association is clinically insignificant.”
 
4. Lower levels of vitamin B12: study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry says that omnivores have a significantly higher cluster of cardiovascular risk factors than vegetarians. But one potential risk of becoming a vegetarian seems to be the preponderance of lower vitamin B12 in the blood. B12 helps with metabolism, converting food into stable energy, utilizing iron, producing healthy red blood cells, and a host of other benefits.
 
The risk of low B12 levels, according to the study’s authors, can result in arteriosclerosis. Several vegetarian-friendly foods such as cereals are fortified with vitamin B12. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian and eat dairy and eggs, you are likely consuming adequate amounts of B12. Yeast extracts are a good choice for vegetarians abstaining from dairy and eggs.
 
5. Insufficient levels of omega-3 fatty acids: paper published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition claims that vegetarians have lower levels long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA [See related: Omega-3’s for vegetarians]. Sufficient levels of long-chain omega-3s are beneficial for cardiovascular health, say the study’s authors, who also concluded that DHA supplementation at a dose of about 2 grams per day eventually decreased plasma cholesterol.
 
Katie Minor, a senior instructor of nutrition at the University of Idaho, tells MNN.com, “Nuts and flaxseed can supply enough sources of essential fatty acids. I haven’t seen evidence that vegetarians are lacking in essential fatty acids. They seem to be adequate.”
 
Based on the conclusions of numerous medical studies, eating a vegetarian diet offers numerous health benefits. However, the same advice can be offered for vegetarians as for omnivores: exercise regularly, eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit every day and avoid processed foods.
 
One last morsel for thought: if you’re concerned at all about side effects of becoming vegetarian, Minor says to consider being a “flexitarian.”
 
“Flexitarians are people who are vegetarian most of the time, but once in a while will consume an animal protein,” she says. “The more restrictive you are with your diet, the more you’ll have to closely monitor what you’re consuming and the more likely your need will be to supplement. Work with a registered dietician to make sure you’re not at risk for dietary deficiencies.”
 
Do you think there are side effects of being vegetarian? Let us know below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif., and can be reached atmailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Two plates of food at a diner. Is one healthier than the other?

Plenty of experts say yes, yet some traditional societies seem to have none of the chronic health issues that Americans do. Why is that? Our health writer explores the studies and tackles this controversial issue.

 
Photo: Shutterstock
Are saturated fats bad for you? Many doctors, nutritionists, weight-loss coaches, pharmaceutical companies, TV commercials and government sources say that saturated fats lead to chronic disease and early death.
 
But Eskimos eat whale blubber along with a diet comprised of 75 percent saturated fat. The Maasai in Kenya eat beef, drink cattle blood and lots of milk; in fact, two-thirds of this tribe’s traditional diet comes from saturated fat. Neither Inuit Eskimos nor the Maasai have developed heart disease or any other chronic health problems — as long as they don’t start eating Western-style junk food.
 
Yet, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average U.S. adult consume no more than 10 percent of total calories in the form of saturated fat.
 
That amounts to, on average, 20 grams per day.
 
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends even less saturated fat: a total of 7 percent of total calories. (Don’t think the AHA is serious about cutting out saturated fat? Check out its animated feature on their website.)
 
Why do some experts say ‘saturated fat is bad’ if other societies thrive on it?
In the late 1950s, the University of Minnesota’s Ancel Keys and other researchers conducted the so-called ‘Seven Countries’ study, which concluded that high levels of saturated fatty acids predicted higher rates of coronary heart disease.
 
A half-century later, Keys’ study has left an indelible impression on modern medicine.
 
Critics of the study, including Dr. Neil W. Hirschenbein of the La Jolla Institute of Comprehensive Medicine, allege that Keys’ study ignored data from 20 other countries that showed no correlation between saturated fat intake and heart disease.
 
“There is politics in everything, including medicine. When you’ve been teaching something for over 50 years, it’s hard to go back and say you’ve made a mistake,” Hirschenbein tells Mother Nature Network.
 
Hirschenbein adds, “A lot of the studies that came out linking saturated fat to heart disease don’t control for the quality of saturated fat or important lifestyle factors. There is no distinction in the studies, for example, between very healthy, 100-percent grass-fed beef versus meat that is raised in ways we shouldn't be eating that make the cows as fat as possible as quickly as possible, force-feeding them grains, and pumping the U.S. population with way too many inflammatory-inducing omega-6 fatty acids (which is an unsaturated fat).”
 
Are there any medical studies that prove saturated fat doesn’t lead to heart disease?
An editorial, titled, “Saturated fat prevents coronary artery disease? An American paradox,” published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concludes: “… a high-fat, high–saturated fat diet is associated with diminished coronary artery disease progression in women with the metabolic syndrome.”
 
One study of 347,747 subjects, also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded, “Intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD (coronary heart disease), stroke, or cardiovascular disease (CVD).”
 
“The science that saturated fat alone causes heart disease is non-existent,” says Hirschenbein.
 
What about LDLs, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol. Doesn’t saturated fat raise LDL levels?
Yes, but Demetra Vagias, M.D., and a practicing naturopathic doctor, believes this is a good thing.
 
“HDL brings cholesterol back to the liver for recycling; LDL brings cholesterol back to the circulation for repairing tissues, so if LDL is up temporary in one of my patients, I tell them that they are in a healing mode,” says Vagias, who counsels her patients to eat a diet rich in saturated fat, especially raw dairy sources.
 
What are the benefits of saturated fats?
Among other benefits, saturated fats play a vital role in:
  • forming cell membrane walls
  • initiating the building blocks of hormones
  • carrying fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)
  • converting carotene to vitamin A
  • absorbing trace minerals
 
Should I go on an all-bacon-cheeseburger diet if saturated fats are not bad?
Not quite. But meat, dairy product and fat-lovers in general can take solace in astudy of about 100,000 female nurses that observed no association between meat, dairy products, cholesterol, or fat intakes and the risk of pancreatic cancer, though the study does note that cooking methods and processed meats may be a contributor to pancreatic cancer. 
 
Even Harvard’s School of Public Health now acknowledges that saturated fat isn’t as evil as other sources claim it is. But the school does recommend “…cut[ting] back on red meat and dairy products, [and] replac[ing] them with foods that contain healthy fats — fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds, plant oils, avocadoes — not with foods that are high in refined carbohydrates.”
 
What do you think about saturated fats? Are they healthy or harmful? Let us know below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer based in Encinitas, Calif.

 

raw coconut splashed with water

It's got nutritional benefits you won't find elsewhere, but be careful of the sugar content.

 
A raw coconut. (Photo: Shutterstock)
You’ve just finished a butt-blasting boot-camp workout. Drenched with sweat, you ponder your rehydration options.
 
Should you opt for a sports drink, plain water — or a beverage that’s been around for thousands of years but has only gained market traction in the U.S. in the last few years, coconut water?
 
Nearly every convenience store in the U.S. sells at least one brand of coconut water, with soft-drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi each investing in a different label of coconut water, which is essentially the liquid extracted from a hacked, young coconut (and different from coconut milk, which is the pressed white "meat" inside the shell).
 
But is coconut water healthy? And is there any difference between shimmying up a tree, plucking a coconut and hacking it open with a machete and drinking its sweet juice versus doing so from a packaged box?
 
Coconut nutrition facts
One cup of natural coconut water (unpackaged) contains 45 calories, a very small amount of fat, no cholesterol, and most importantly, for rehydration purposes:
  • 9 grams of carbohydrate
  • 6 grams of sugar
  • 15 percent of the daily value (DV) for magnesium
  • 17 percent DV potassium (more than a banana in a single serving)
  • 10 percent DV sodium
  • 6 percent DV calcium (also an electrolyte like magnesium, potassium and sodium)
Natural coconut water also contains other important minerals and vitamins, such as 10 percent DV of vitamin C. A big health bonus for natural coconut water: it contains 3 grams of dietary fiber (over 10 percent DV).
 
Packaged coconut water: The next best thing?
Have time to stop at the grocery store after work before you hit the gym to pick up some coconuts and hack them open with a machete after your workout? Didn’t think so.
 
Most Americans who drink coconut water will do so out of a box or bottle. Is this as healthy as all-natural coconut water? According to one popular brand’s website, the most glaring difference between natural and branded coconut water is the lack of fiber in the packaged bottles.
 
There’s also more sugar — twice as many grams — in packaged coconut water; not necessarily a bad thing if you’re working out and sweating profusely most days of the week, but for your average American, the relatively high sugar content (water, of course, has none) may outweigh any of the other rehydration benefits that packaged coconut water offers.
 
Rehydration effectiveness
Medical studies on the efficacy of coconut water are hard to find, but there are a couple, albeit very small ones.
study in the Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health compared and assessed the rehydration effectiveness of plain water, sports drinks, fresh young coconut water and sodium-enriched fresh young coconut water (SCW). The results: ingesting SCW was as good as ingesting a commercial sports drink for whole body rehydration after exercise-induced dehydration.
 
Can coconut water reduce stress?
According to one study in the West Indian Medical Journal, the data suggests yes. Twenty-eight subjects with hypertension were given bottled water, or coconut water, or another tropical drink called mauby, or a mixture of coconut water and mauby. The group drinking only coconut water had the biggest drop in blood pressure.
Although no medical professional would praise the medicinal merits of coconut water with such little clinical cache, traditional communities have been using coconut water (and of course, the whole coconut) for dozens of conditions from dandruff to diabetes.
 
Is rehydrating with coconut water necessary?
With most sport-drink bottles containing dozens of grams of sugar, it would seem that coconut water would be a better option for a carb-conscious, high-intensity athlete.
 
And for your average American, save yourself the $2-3 a pop on packaged coconut water; plain water and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables should keep you adequately hydrated and healthy.
 
But  what do the medical folks say?
"Coconut water has high levels of potassium, so it helps balance electrolytes in the body," says Dr. Jennifer Landa, BodyLogicMD's chief medical officer. "Most of us have a higher intake of sodium than potassium, so coconut water aids in hydration. This is especially important after heavy exertion and moderate endurance training. One caveat is the sweeteners that are often times added to coconut water to make it more palatable. Try to find coconut water that is unsweetened. It tastes delicious just as it is anyway!"
 
"Coconut water, as long as it has no added sugar, is an excellent way to rehydrate," says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, medical director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. "It is low in sugar, and very high in potassium, with an 8-ounce serving having about 500 milligrams. Low potassium is a major cause of low blood pressure, tight muscles and abnormal heart rhythms — and you can't get adequate amounts in a multivitamin." 
 
What do you think about coconut water? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer based in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Celebrities known for their diets

A fitness trainer gives his take on celebs who've lost weight recently. Will they be able keep it off?

 
WEIGHTY ISSUES: From left to right: Bill Clinton, Caroline Manzo, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Drew Carey are among those celebs who have had success dropping weight recently. (Photos: ZUMA Press)
Some celebrity diets work. The question is: for how long?
 
As a personal fitness trainer and certified nutritionist, I’ve come across people trying countless dieting methods, from Atkins to South Beach to eating nothing but chocolate for a week (the latter of which, didn’t work).
 
 
On the other hand, some celebrities have had dieting success recently. Drew Carey, Bill Clinton and Anthony Hopkins are among those who've embraced a healthier lifestyle and managed to shed a few pounds.
 
Let's take a closer look at these celebrity diets and try to determine if they will be short-lived successes or sustainable victories.
 
Bill Clinton: No longer Bubba?
MNN's pop culture blogger Michael d’Estries reported that Bill Clinton dropped five pounds more than the 15 mandated by daughter Chelsea for her wedding this past summer.
 
Adopting an all-vegetarian diet and dropping his notorious junk-food binges, the former president lost 20 pounds.
 
I’m anteing up and predicting that Clinton won’t last long on an all-veggie diet.
 
Practically born suckling on a stack of smoked, baby-back-barbecue ribs, Clinton’s craving for meat will get the better of him.
 
He has undergone multiple heart operations, including one as recently as earlier this year when he had two stents placed in his coronary artery.Bill Clinton
 
So it’s no surprise that Clinton’s motivation for going veggie was to reduce his cholesterol.
 
But cholesterol-containing meat itself is not to blame for Clinton’s compromised heart.
 
As Dr. Ron Rosedale, co-founder of the Colorado Center for Metabolic Medicine, puts it, “Cholesterol has only been shown to be correlated, meaning associated, with heart disease. That would be like saying firemen cause every fire just by association.”
 
Enlightened nutritionists like Rosedale realize that oxidized cholesterol is the main culprit of heart disease; a diet containing cholesterol itself will not necessarily lead to heart problems.
 
If Clinton eats occasional lean animal protein sources like fish — and avoids fried and junk food, which leads to oxidized cholesterol — he will have a better chance at keeping his weight down. Until then, he’ll be dreaming nightly about those ribs.
 
The weight is right for Drew Carey
Also reported by MNN blogger d’Estries was Drew Carey’s amazing transformation, dropping 80 pounds by the time he returned as host for the 39th season premiere of "The Price is Right", shocking the audience and millions of viewers.
 
Drew CareyCarey claimed he had gone nearly carbohydrate-free and exercised daily for 45 minutes.
 
As the BBC reported, even Carey’s former type II diabetescondition is now completely gone.
 
Taking a spin on the showcase showdown wheel, do I think Carey will keep the 80 pounds off? Is this a celebrity diet that actually can work permanently?
 
Yes, as long as Carey allows himself to cheat once in a while and maintains his daily regimen of cardiovascular exercise. Getting married should help him stay motivated.
 
Hannibal Lecter actor eats less flesh, drops 75 pounds
In portraying the fictitious serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins’ perhaps most infamous line was: “A census taker once tried to test me … I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” (Insert gluttonous “fefefefe” sound effect here.)
 
Nowadays Hopkins would have to revise the quote to a blander, “I ate fava beans.” 
 
Hopkins told the Daily Mail that his current wife, his third, served as inspiration to lose nearly 80 pounds and go on a meat-free diet.Anthony Hopkins
 
Hopkins also hits the gym six days a week and sticks to a diet that’s roughly 1,800 calories — not the 800 calories that was reported by sources such as the New York Post’s Cindy Adams.
 
It seems the British press didn’t have a hard time understanding Hopkins’ Welsh-English accent.
 
If Hopkins was indeed eating only 800 calories a day, he wouldn’t be able to maintain this insane celebrity diet; he’d most likely wither away.
 
Hopkins need not avoid eating liver — save human ones — to remain healthy and keep the weight off.
 
He’ll most likely be able to keep the weight off, but only if he can moderate his predilection for English junk food (read: biscuits).
 
New Jersey’s most famous 'Housewife' drops more than 20 pounds
Caroline Manzo of reality TV’s "Real Housewives of New Jersey" told Us Magazinethat she has recently lost more than 20 pounds.
 
Caroline ManzoWhat did Manzo’s celebrity diet consist of? Portion control, she said.
 
But how long will this famous housewife with an Italian surname be able to shun pasta and other carbs? To Manzo’s credit, she isn’t avoiding pasta, she’s just eating less of it and earlier in the day, when there’s ample time for those carbs to be burned.
 
Carbohydrates feed the brain, and eating a limited supply is good for eliminating cravings. A celebrity diet doctorreported that Manzo is also exercising three times a week for one hour.
 
Manzo is likely to keep her 5-foot-1 figure svelte as long as she allows herself to indulge once in a while and continues to reduce her portion sizes.
 
Hollywood mega couple’s detox celebrity diet
If you’d rather stick a hot poker in your eye than go on a diet for 10 days consisting of nothing but water with lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper, you’re not alone.
 
Ashton Kutcher and Demi MooreBut that’s how Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore chose to purge their systems clean of toxins earlier this summer by going on the Master Cleanse diet.
 
Kutcher didn’t fare very long. Five days into it — the critical halfway point, when many on the master cleanse become very irritable — he fell off the wagon, as was reported on a celebrity blog.
 
I have known several people who have done the master cleanse, and the ones who stick it out lose weight but they always put it back on.
 
If you’re a normal, functioning, healthy person, the master cleanse is one celebrity diet you don’t need. Your liver is an ingenious organ that detoxifies your system every day, all day.
 
Got thoughts on other celebrity diets? Leave us a note in the comments below.

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