Letter from Dr. Janson
Weight Loss Does Not Equal Health
Vegetarian Diet Wins for Health
The Danger Zone
The Atkins Diet
The Blood-Type Craze
The Best Diet Choice
Dietary Fats and Health
In the Health News
Recipe of the Month: A Quick and Easy Meal
In this issue, I want to discuss some current dietary fads,
and tell you which diet really helps you to stay young and
healthy, and live a long life. Also, Ill mention some
more misreporting in the media that threatens peoples
health and your ability to choose just what is best for you
(see: In The Health News).
The medical literature is full of articles on which
approaches to diet lead to the healthiest results. What I
mean by health is not simply weight control, but protection
from everyday health problems, such as arthritis, digestive
disorders, and skin conditions, and prevention and treatment
of chronic, debilitating and lethal diseases. By this I am
referring to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, hypertension,
gout, and osteoporosis, among others.
Unlike the medical literature, the popular press is
full of a variety of books and articles on diet that sound
scientific, but for the most part ignore the science. These
authors propose to help people with weight loss, and their
plans might do this, but that is one of their dangers: they
lull people into thinking that because they lose weight they
are healthier. These diet plans are almost always based on
some metabolic gimmick that is supposedly hidden in the medical
They may provide temporary weight loss (no such system has
been shown to help people maintain lower weight), but at the
expense of long term health, and the risk of increasing the
illnesses mentioned above.
The science is clear that a mostly vegetarian diet,
with the inclusion of some fish is the healthiest diet for
most people. This diet is based on vegetables, fruits, beans,
whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Adding fish (salmon and sardines
are the best for omega-3 oils) and olive oil, further reduces
heart disease, cancer, strokes, and other causes of death.
This diet is also lowest in environmental toxins, including
pesticides, although it is always best to choose organic products
to further reduce these poisons.
If people choose to consume a small amount of low-fat dairy
product or eggs, it is even more important to choose organic
sources. Animal products accumulate more toxins than plants,
and animals are treated with antibiotics and hormones to increase
growth and reproduction. Residues stay in the flesh, leading
to increasing problems with antibiotic-resistant bacteria
and hormone irregularities.
Many of the diet fads are based on low carbohydrate plans,
and are high in protein and fat. They often ignore the difference
between simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour,
and complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, beans, potatoes,
and squashes. The programs I am referring to include the Atkins
diet, the zone diet, the blood type
diet, and others.
The zone diet proponent, Barry Sears, suggests that
the American experiment with low fat diets has failed
but he is wrong. Americans have not been on a low fat diet.
When he started saying this, Americans had dropped from an
extremely high fat diet (over 40 percent of calories), down
to a still very high intake of 33 percent.
The drop in percent was not from reduced fat, but the result
of increased calories as sugar and white flour. The total
fat in the diet had not decreased. I agree with Sears that
processed and hydrogenated oils have replaced important essential
fatty acids from the diet (see the next article), and that
extra refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients have
increased illness, but the solution is not to eat a diet that
is unhealthy for other reasons.
In addition, he talks about insulin resistance
as the cause of obesity. This is a serious metabolic problem
that is the result, not cause, of obesity. The best treatment
for insulin resistance is exercise, reduced caloric intake,
and a high fiber diet. Fiber is virtually absent in all animal
High protein diets increase the loss of calcium in the urine,
leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis. Calcium loss
is also increased by phosphorus, which is abundant in animal
products. The nitrogen in high protein diets is a burden on
the kidneys and liver. Animal products also increase the risk
of gall stones and gout.
This is a high-protein, high-fat diet, with carbohydrates
of any sort being considered villainous. No credible scientific
evidence shows that people who stay on this diet are healthier,
or even that they maintain consistent weight loss, although
any of these diets can help people lose weight in the short
term, mainly from calorie restriction.
It is hard to imagine a diet being promoted as healthy in
which the recommended breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, sausages,
cheese and similar foods. If nothing else, such a diet is
high in pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. The proponents
of the Atkins diet say well, of course, you should choose
organic foods whenever possible. However, I have observed
many proponents of these diets, and if what they choose when
they are at conferences is any reflection, they eat high animal
protein no matter what the source.
Another problem with such diets is the lack of the important
phytochemicals found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
These are important antioxidants, isoflavones, bioflavonoids,
and other protective substances. They are simply not present
in animal foods. For example, blueberries were recently shown
to be the food with the highest antioxidant levels.
In the blood type diet, DAdamo suggests that
most people are not adapted genetically to be vegetarian,
and that what you need is based on whether you are type A,
B, AB, or O. Again, no credible scientific data supports this,
as no studies have been done on people who choose diets based
on their blood type. In fact, people who choose vegetarian
diets do so for other reasons, and if they were ill-adapted
to this choice, you would expect more illness among those
who were vegetarian for the wrong reasons.
But the science shows that people who choose vegetarian diets
are healthier. This information comes from a variety of population
groups, epidemiological studies, and intervention studies,
and it is consistent, independent of the country in which
the research is done.
Recent reports from Dean Ornish have shown that circulation
to the heart and brain is much improved on mostly vegetarian
diets, while high protein-fat diets restrict their blood flow.
My advice: choose a wide variety of fresh, whole, organic
foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, seeds,
and nuts, and add to that a small amount of sardines (water
packed) or salmon, and if you choose, a small amount of organic
eggs and organic, plain, low-fat yogurt. Flavor these foods
with many different herbs, spices, onions, and garlic. This
diet is healthy and delicious, will help you lose weight if
you combine it with exercise, and will protect you from chronic
It provides adequate protein, the widest variety of vitamins,
minerals, essential fatty acids, flavonoids, phytochemicals,
and antioxidants, as well as the most energy and the most
You probably have heard about the bad things that dietary
fat can do to you, and it is true that, for the most part,
Americans (and now much of the world, influenced by the American
food industry) eat far too much fat, and too many calories
However, certain fats are essential in the diet, although
we only need small amounts of them. Unfortunately, commercial
oil processing, hydrogenation, refining of grains that strips
away the essential oils, overcooking of oil with deep frying,
and too much saturated fat in the diet have all led to dietary
deficiencies or imbalances.
Proponents of the dietary fads mentioned above suggest that
low-fat diets make this deficiency worse, but low fat intake
is not harmful if you take in the right fats in the right
Fats have several functions in the body, such as insulation
and mechanical protection (padding), a source of energy, and
as components of cell membranes, where they allow passage
of molecules in and out of cells and maintain receptors for
hormones. Two unsaturated fats are necessary in the diet:
linoleic acid and linolenic acid, and they are called essential
fatty acids or EFA. They are building blocks for some
hormones, and are converted to prostaglandins,
important regulatory substances. Good health depends on a
proper balance of the different types of essential fats.
Linoleic acid, an omega-6 unsaturated fat
found in vegetables (e.g. corn), seeds (e.g. safflower and
sunflower), and beans (such as soy), is a precursor to gamma-linolenic
acid (GLA), which is then converted to prostaglandin
E1 (PGE1). This regulates blood pressure, inflammatory
responses, blood clotting, allergies, hormone activity, and
immune function, and lowers cholesterol levels.
It also decreases the tendency of platelets to clump together,
stabilizes blood sugar, and decreases arterial and intestinal
Some people do not make PGE1 efficiently from linoleic acid,
and they need to take GLA. This is especially true as people
age, or if they have diabetes, consume alcohol, have immune
disorders, or are exposed to environmental toxins.
GLA is found in borage oil and evening primrose oil, and
supplements of 240 to 480 mg are valuable for the heart, autoimmune
diseases, arthritis, diabetes, hyperactivity, PMS, and eczema.
Alpha-linolenic acid is an omega-3 oil found in
flaxseeds, walnuts, and other nuts and seeds, while EPA and
DHA are found in oily fish or fish oil supplements. Omega-3
oils are also precursors to prostaglandins, but different
ones than GLA.
Supplements of omega-3s are valuable in heart disease,
high cholesterol, digestive disorders, depression, fibrocystic
breast disease, neurological development in children, arthritis,
and psoriasis. The usual dose is from 1 to 3 Tablespoons of
flax oil, or 1200 to 3000 mg of EPA/DHA combined.
When taking oil supplements you need extra vitamin E, carotenoids,
flavonoids, and other antioxidants to protect them. Olive
oil is mostly monounsaturated, does not oxidize easily, and
can be part of a healthy diet. However, you need to be cautious
with any oils, as they are all high in calories, and can easily
add to your weight.
The media is often biased against health alternatives,
but John Stossel of ABC is particularly prejudiced. He reported
in February that organic foods were more dangerous than conventional
foods. It was a lie; the bacterial studies were misleading,
and he quoted studies on pesticide levels that were simply
never done! When this was pointed out, he and executives at
ABC ignored the criticisms, and even rebroadcast the show
in July. Only in August, when his lies were exposed by the
New York Times, did he finally have to apologize. He made
a superficial effort. Organic foods are safe and better for
you, and his report seriously damaged public confidence in
these healthier foods. The Environmental Working Group said,
Stossel lied and threatened an entire industry by disseminating
false and damaging information. He should be fired for violating
the most basic ethical standards of journalism. (www.ewg.org)
A diet high in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables
can markedly reduce the risk of Alzheimers disease.
Dutch research reported at the World Alzheimers Congress
showed a 25 percent reduction related to high intake of vitamin
C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. The information on vitamin
E confirms previous reports. (Reuters Health, July 13)
An animal study shows that oxidative stress
and free radicals increase hypertension (Hypertension 2000;36:142-146).
Antioxidant supplements (vitamins C and E) help control blood
pressure despite such stress by protecting nitric oxideessential
for relaxation of blood vessels. Garlic also protects nitric
oxide production, and supplements of arginine help because
it is the metabolic precursor to nitric oxide.
Everyone likes speed and efficiency, especially in the kitchen.
Heres an easy recipe. Take a cup of millet and boil
it in two cups of water for 25 minutes or until the water
is gone. Add chopped organic vegetables: scallions, tomatoes,
sweet peppers, avocado, corn, and sweet peas. Dress with some
ground pepper, crushed garlic, and some balsamic vinegar,
and you have an easy, nutritious meal that is filling and
delicious. Try other vegetables or replace the peas with chick
peas for variety.
A blender full of frozen organic bananas, strawberries, and
blueberries with some vanilla soy milk makes a great dessert
(I also thicken it with some ground flaxseeds for extra fiber
and omega-3 oils).
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