Your Evidence-Based Food Guide

If you are confused what food groups are healthy to eat, whether the China study holds credible information, should you be drinking milk or not – this article provides an introductory read for everyone who is interested.

The main idea of this post is to check, summarize, and debunk misconceptions which you can find on the internet. Most of them are a consequence of old nutritional guidelines, misinterpreted studies, and ideologically sparked notions. This post will give you a general idea and some take home messages about healthy eating, based on current research and knowledge, as well as some sample meals. Links to other relevant articles on certain topics are included as well.

A heads up

If you want to skip the evidence part and just read what you should be eating with a few sample meals listed then skip towards the end of this post.

Without further ado, let us start.

 

The pyramids

You can compare different recommendations from four very known eating patterns. Three of them are some of the healthiest eating patterns known to man, and one is not.

USDA food pyramid – this infamous food pyramid is probably most familiar to the majority of us. However, this nutritional guidelines was bad. Really bad.

Notice the increasing trends of obesity since the mid 70s. The trend itself started at around the same time when the mass nutritional guidelines started promoting low-fat eating patterns.

While these trends were augmented by an ever-increasing number of unhealthy changes in the lifestyles of people, they were also affected by the food choices that they were making. Two main lifestyle culprits were a decrease in the amount of time spent cooking at home and visiting restaurants and similar places more often. This led to a 420 kcal increase in daily energy intake since the 1980s until today. But why that pyramid was so bad will become self-evident during this article.

The take home message for now being: A high-carb diet that gets the majority of calories from bread, pasta, rice, and similar foods is a big no-no for the majority of the population; especially if you want to live healthy in the long run.

The pyramid itself was released in 1992, updated in 2005, and replaced in 2011 with the MyPlate. I did not include the MyPlate because the eating patterns above are superior to the current nutritional guide from USA’s Department of Agriculture. The Healthy Eating Plate, created by Harvard University, is similar to the MyPlate, but with a few small distinct differences that were summarized on their page itself.

The real Healthy Eating Plate can be seen below.

hep1

Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications, www.health.harvard.edu.

Besides the USDA, you can also see the Mediterranean, the Paleolithic, and the Vegetarian option. All of these three eating patterns have shown promising results study after study. The youngest among them in the sense of a conceptual eating pattern guideline is the Paleolithic diet – it backs itself with an evolutionary perspective on how we should eat. While very successful in short-term intervention and clinical trials, it does lack any serious long-term studies; so far there has been only one. I have covered  the Paleolithic diet more in-depth in my post Is Paleo The Way to Go? 

 

Vegetables and fruit

One thing every diet agrees on is eating vegetables in abundance. This comes to no surprise. Evidence from all types of studies supports the view that eating patterns based mostly on plant foods are also most strongly associated with health and longevity. The second common characteristic – Fruit. Yes, to fruit in a variety of colors. No, to over indulging in fruit with extremely high contents of sugar. You can check up either their nutritional content or their GI (Glycemic index). And please disregard fruitarianism as a serious eating option. Thank you.

Vegetables and Fruit

Try to eat many vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, radish) are an especially good starting point. Vegetables from the Capsicum genus (kinds of bell and chili peppers) are a good starting point as well. However, the rest should not be forgotten – tomatoes, leeks, cucumbers, and others are great side dishes too. If your budget allows it, then go with organically grown ones. If it doesn’t, you’re still doing a great move towards eating healthier. Eat fruit in different colors as well. Apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, cherries, and all kinds of berries. When eating fruit be sure to check up their sugar content and their glycemic index – you would want it to be in the lower end.

Let us stop here for a second. Why should you be eating vegetables and fruit in the first place?

Because you will be less prone to ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, heart disease, will have a lower risk of stroke, lower recurrence of heart attack, and mortality. You will also probably have lower blood pressure. One review of multiple studies found that eating more than five servings per day – compared to three or less, decreases your chance of stroke by 26%. That would mean one in four people could probably prevent it by a healthier eating pattern through vegetables and fruit.

The average American eats less than half of the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables – the intake of essential vitamins and minerals is thus greatly limited as vegetables and fruits are among the most nutrient dense foods (they give the most nutrients for their weight/calories). The deteriorating healthiness of the average American diet has been formally calculated through a reduction in their Healthy Eating index. People who score above 80 are considered to meet the recommended nutritional intake of different macro- and micro-nutrients. In the US, this has been reduced from 64 to 58 in a span of 15 years (1990-2005).

180 grams of spinach provides you with around 1000% of your daily recommended vitamin K intake.

When it comes to eating organic, some ‘experts’ like to mislead the general masses. While it is true that sometimes organic food is better that conventionally grown food, this isn’t always the case. An enormous review of studies by the Organic Center in 2008 compared organic and conventionally grown plant-based foods. They have found out that the former are more nutritious in terms of their real nutrient density, on average.

They had matched 236 pairs of organic and conventionally grown plant-based foods across 11 nutrients. They found out that organic food was superior in 145 of those pairs (61%), while the conventionally grown food was superior in 37% of the time – in 2% there was no difference. This means that conventionally grown food was actually better 37% of the time as far as nutrient density goes. The most consistent nutrients, where organic food was better, were polyphenols and antioxidants.

There were also certain nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus, and proteins, where conventionally grown food was better in over 75% of the comparisons. However, we have to take in account that these nutrients are quite adequately represented in our diet as it is. The aforementioned, however, are not. The results in their review indicated that organic plant-based foods had about 25% more nutrients, on average, when compared to similarly sized conventionally grown plant-based food items. This was obviously also quite dependent on the nutrient – the most consistent results were found for vitamin C (10%), total antioxidant capacity (24%), nitrates (80%), and total phenolics (10%). It was, however, also found, that conventionally grown plant-based foods contained higher amounts of protein (10%) and beta-carotene (8%).

Organic food is richer in Vitamin C (10%), total antioxidant capacity (24%), nitrates (80)%, and total phenolics (10%). Conventionally grown food has more protein (10%) and beta-carotene (8).

The whole review can be found here.

But, but, the Inuits…

What about the Inuits, they were really healthy right? They are most known for their eating patterns that were high in protein and fats, and low in vegetables and fruits (as their environment did not give them much). Their diets did include lower amounts of roots and similar plant-based foods that were available, but not many acknowledge that their population, as well as other populations and such specific cultures, have become adapted to such eating patterns.

These adaptations are a natural occurrence, most probably due to epigenetics – a change in how much certain genes get expressed in comparison to earlier generations. One example of this are their unusually large livers. They are specific to their eating patterns and may well be an epigenetic adaptation.

Bottom line

Certain populations (have) live(d) completely normally with eating patterns that are different than what is perceived healthy today, but that is(was) most probably possible because of the specific genetic makeup that those populations have developed due to the differences in environments, as opposed to the majority of people in this world.

References used: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]

 

Meat

Meat is a very important nutrient source, which is why we have to clear some things up first.

First, I would like to present some facts about eating meat and our species.

  • Our frontal eye positioning (check yourself in the mirror) means we have evolved from a predatory ancestor. He could have been a carnivore or an omnivore. Caring mother evolution has designed herbivores so that they cover a very wide viewing angle compared to us. This allows them to run away faster from danger (look at horses, sheep, chicken).
  • Your doctor would most likely tell you that we do not have fermenting vats inside our bodies. These are places in herbivores where food gets processed and is waiting for further ingestion by microbes.
  • Judging purely the archaeological evidence – the earliest found archaeological records show our ancestors had eaten meat since the dawn of civilization.
  • Our canines are an adaptation to the enlarged cranium and the reduction of our jaw size (molars from dead humans that get dug up in archaeological diggings can get mistaken with molars of some other omnivores, funny isn’t it).

More on Biology Online.

“But the China study…” – is bullshit. The China study debunked, enjoy.

With that behind us, while it is true that we can survive and live a completely healthy life on a solely vegetarian diet, the reason to stick to one is mostly based on moral and ethical arguments with varying degrees of weight when used in debates. Every argument that would like to chip in to the pool from an evolutionary perspective is, sorry my dear vegans and vegetarians, not valid.

We are omnivores. Not carnivores or herbivores. People who will try to convince you otherwise are trying to sell you ideologies.

Will meat kill you? No

All of the above pyramids, except the vegetarian, support a moderate to high consumption of meat, with different variations and concepts of what meat that would be. All groups acknowledge marine-based meat (sea mammals, fish) as healthy. Especially fish is regarded as a great source of proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and Vitamin D, along with poultry (but not limited to) as a lean meat source. The healthiness of fish has been already covered in three articles covering physical health, mental health and our cognitive abilities.

When talking about meat, the most heated discussions will come with red meat. The Healthy Eating Plate recommend avoiding cold meat cuts, bacon, and red meat. The Mediterranean option recommends red meat very sparingly, preferably once or twice a month, and the Paleolithic option does not make such a distinct difference between them.

It is very well worth noting that consumption of red meat prepared in different ways has been associated with a higher risk of colon, liver, lung, and esophagus cancer, the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes, and mortality in the past.

But these findings were derived from observational/epidemiological studies.

Correlation does not imply causation

To put it short: when talking about observational/epidemiological evidence (X is associated(connected to Y) you have to ask yourself:

  • Are there other factors in the lifestyle of these people that could augment this outcome?
  • How strong is the real connection?
  • Does it really prove anything?

And not everything is at it seems to be. Not all red meat is the same. Grass-fed cows and factory raised, grain-fed cows are two different things. The macro- and micro-nutrient composition of each can be surprisingly different. This is not limited only to cows. Poultry and other livestock that wasn’t industrially raised, produces meat, milk, and eggs with modestly higher levels of protein, higher amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, and a better omega-3 fatty acid and CLA composition.

When talking about red meat we also have to distinguish between lean cuts and processed meats (hot dogs and other meat look-alikes). The latter is garbage and you should not be putting that into your body, while the former sparks a lot more controversy and is more open to discussion.

Never studies, one from Harvard and the other from Europe, both found no health risks related to eating unprocessed red meat, while processed meat was connected to a higher mortality rate. The researchers from Harvard even proposed that the reason behind the adverse health effects was due to preservatives and higher use of salts, rather than the meat itself.

Other newer studies have pointed in the same direction – red unprocessed meat isn’t associated with diabetes type two, higher mortality, or heart disease, while red processed meat usually is.

This also shows the weakness of epidemiological studies at times. If you want to gain more knowledge about nutrition research, you can read The Guide To Nutritional Science If not, let us say that  epidemiological research is more prone to a certain type of “errors” which can lead to such conflicting results.

Possible mechanisms

With all that said, there are, however, a few possible mechanisms how eating read meat can negatively affect us as far as cancer goes.

HAs (heterocyclic amines). Carcinogenic HAs form when meat is exposed to high temperatures; if it is charred.

PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Certain structural variations of PAHs can be extremely unhealthy for us. Some are considered as carcinogens, they can also be mutagenic or teratogenic. Just like the previous compound, higher levels of PAHs can get produced during meat preparation at high temperatures.

AGEs (Advanced glycation end-products).  AGEs can affect almost any type of cell and are thought to be involved in aging and age-related chronic diseases. They also speed up oxidative damage to cells and alter their behavior. And, you guessed it, they are formed by exposure to high temperatures.

And finally:

TMAO (trimethalyine N-oxide). Chris Kresser and Chris Masterjohn have written very good articles about TMAO.

They do have fancy names though, huh?

The point being

Fish and lean white meat (chicken breasts, turkey, horse meat, wild game) can be consumed without much hesitation. Red meat in moderation* with an eye kept sharp on how it is prepared – you would want to avoid high temperatures and charring. Yes, steaks could increase the likelihood for cancer in the long run if you’re a real fanatic when it comes to charred meat. Paying attention to our own health limits is always a sound idea if you have a history of different diseases in the family.

*Yes, newer studies show no effects on certain health risks, but if we become dogmatic claimers of how red meat is super healthy, we become no better than our opposition that is based in bad evidence or average person arguments for that matter. Not only that, dogmatically claiming the superiority and total innocence of red meat will induce a lesser willingness to change our minds in face of new evidence.

And for the sake of sheer replicability – when better controlled epidemiological, cohort, and randomized controlled  studies start pointing out the same effects about meat, then we can claim things with more vigor.

References used: [7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15]

 

Nuts, fats, and oils

Nuts

All of them suggest a sensible consumption of various nuts, healthy oils, and seeds. They contain big amounts of useful and important macro- and micronutrients. However,  they can easily be over consumed due to the high calorie content. Nuts that we usually eat (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts etc.) contain plant-based proteins with a lot of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants – all of these nutrients of course vary, depending on the nut itself. They are also rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Sadly, or hopefully rather, there is not that much controversy about nuts to write about.

Eating nuts regularly can significantly cut the risk of heart disease and inflammation. It has been noted that we could cut our risk of dying due to heart disease by 8,3% if we would consume them on a weekly basis. They are rich in healthy fats; they contain the plant version of omega-3, they regulate cholesterol levels – one study noted that LDL cholesterol was lowered by 7% when people ate a handful of nuts each day. Nuts also cut cholesterol oxidation; one of the key drivers of heart disease. They are also a rich source of antioxidants, phytochemicals, a good source of arginine, and they contain folate.

To present a few common nuts, that are also the healthiest to eat:

Walnuts – they are an excellent source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). ALA is the plant-based form of omega-3 fatty acids.

Hazelnuts – they are an excellent source of Vitamin E, copper, and manganese. They are also rich in monounsaturated fats.

Almonds – they give us calcium, folate, and are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium.

Pistachios – they are particularly high in lutein and zeaxanthin – two antioxidants important for proper eye functioning.

Eat smaller amounts of nuts daily. Take note of their caloric content and try and eat as many different kinds of nuts as possible – walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios are all good choices.

Fat and oils however …

They are probably one of the most controversial, misinformed, and mystified topics when it comes to nutrition.

However, a few people have written a lot of good, evidence-based posts about different fatty acids and how healthy they are. Which is why I will include some links at the end of the post – this one will be a short and comprehensive summary for someone who would like to get the current, most important, evidence-based information, without the biochemical and metabolic aspects of fat.

First, despite what I am about to write about them, we must always keep in mind that when speaking in terms of calories, fats are the highest in that aspect among the three macronutrients. One gram of fat is an equal to 9 kcal, while one gram of protein or carbohydrates is an equal to 4 kcal.

Therefore, despite the fact they are not as unhealthy as we were(are being) led to believe by the conventional nutritional guidelines, they can easily be over consumed in terms of excess calories and should be monitored in that respect.

Mono and polyunsaturated fat

Mono and polyunsaturated fats are healthy and required for your homeostatic functioning in most cases. One issue with polyunsaturated fatty acids is possible oxidation during preparation or oxidation in general. Due to the nature of their chemical bonds they are not as stable as their other fatty brothers and cousins. Therefore, they have lower melting points and are more prone to oxidation. This can lead to the formation of free radicals and/or rancidity, not something we would want. Moreover, oxidized fats have an immense role in oxidized LDL, one of the main culprits behind heart disease.

On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats (here sits the omega-3 family) have been recognized as important factors in beneficial, health-related outcomes. I’ve covered the now known physical effects of them in my post about fish.

Monounsaturated fats are most commonly found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Olive oil has polyphenols and antioxidants, among other things. They are a healthy choice because they can reduce inflammation.

MUFAs and PUFAs are both a good healthy eating option to get the required calories in our eating patterns for the fat macronutrient department.

Trans fat

The real issue are trans fats. In the majority of cases. Our intake of these fats should be avoided and closely monitored. While there are naturally occurring trans fats (think CLA and vacennic acid), there are also industrially designed trans fats. You can guess which are worse for you and more abundant in a typical Western diet.

CLA and vaccenic acid can be found in meat, fat, and dairy products of grass-fed ruminants, as well as human milk. The latter ones, however, should be really avoided. They have been associated with a variety of chronic diseases that are predominant in the Western hemisphere. On the other hand, CLA and vacennic acid do not seem to have the same adverse effects on our bodies.

By the way, a 2012 meta review found no health benefits of having CLA supplements. So those among you who are supplementing with this, you’re throwing your money out of the window. If you do notice any differences it is probably because of a placebo effect – you might as well substitute your CLA supplements with water.

Saturated fat

The demon and main protagonist of obesity according to conventional nutritional guidelines. However, newer observational studies note no significant associations between coronary or cardiovascular heart disease, as well as total mortality.

One meta review of clinical randomized trials was assessing the differences between two different total fat profiles. One was higher in saturated fat and the other in PUFAs. They found out that the latter fat profile was healthier. For every 5% increase of calories from PUFA the relative risk of coronary heart disease dropped for 10%.

Another meta review of clinical randomized trials that was published by The Cochrane Library in 2012, noted that a reduction of saturated fat intake reduces the risk of different coronary events by 14%. This reduction was observed when this fat was modified in the sense of a different fat profile composition (less saturated fat) and not a reduction of total fat intake. It was also noted only in men. There were no changes in the number of deaths due to heart disease or deaths in general.

Yet, the official nutritional guidelines are (sadly) still catching up with newer studies done in this field – a high-fat diet is not as unhealthy as it was led to believe. Not only that, saturated fatty acids are important for cellular membranes, normal hormone production, organ padding, calcium absorption and immune function, as well as signaling and stabilization processes in our bodies.

Examples – myristic acid, palmitic and lauric acid.

Myristic acid is linked to one part of the G-protein complex, which has, through a cascade of events, a very important role in hormone signaling. Palmitic acid, through palmitolyation, is used by the body for different stabilization processes. Lauric acid raises HDL cholesterol better than any other saturated of unsaturated fatty acids.

Bottom line

A diet that incorporates PUFAs, MUFAs and saturated fats is not something we should be afraid of. Neither should we be avoiding it. The bad guy, as far as fats go, are trans fats. These can be found at the root of many diseases that are prevalent in the Western hemisphere. Good sources of fats for your daily use include coconut oil, olive oil, butter, lard, and different oils out of nuts that can be costly sometimes.

Something else

This does not mean you should be eating lard by the spoon, but rather, it is important to acknowledge that saturated fats have a place in a healthy eating pattern as well. However, they are not as healthy as some pro-paleo guru’s make it out to be.

One study found that our bone mineral density has a negative association with the intake of saturated fats – especially men are supposedly susceptible to this. Eating saturated fats has also been considered a risk factor for dyslipidemia – this abnormal state is a risk factor for certain heart diseases.

What is also true at the same time is that these clinical trials and meta reviews were not done on foods that were only natural, organic, and unprocessed. By having macro- and micronutrient sources that are of high quality, we can make sure better, more favorable outcomes in respect to these findings.

Further reading

This was really the skinny on fats, oils, and nuts. I tried to keep it as information dense as possible without extra unneeded fluff. Further readings in greater details about certain things can be found here:

Mark’s Daily Apple – The Definitive Guide to Fats

Can Some Trans Fats be Healthy by Chris Kresser

Greatist: Saturated Fat Is Healthy For You

Nuts for Life: Fact Sheet

 References used: [16, 17, 18, 19] + a lot of help from Wikipedia.

 

Eggs

How much?

Both the Mediterranean and Paleolithic option support up to daily consumption of eggs. The Healthy Eating Plate on the other hand, does not mention them. Egg yolk has many micronutrients and the egg white is packed with protein. Some would even call this the perfect food, but I would refrain from such extremist notions. Most newer research shows that consuming a moderate amount of eggs (1 per day) will not have any harmful effects on your health or raise the probability of you dying from heart disease, despite being shunned in the past due to the cholesterol contents. And when I say “any detrimental effects” I am really talking about the array of diseases you would usually read about. Some even included even higher numbers of eggs (10+ per week) and found no serious adverse effects.

At the same time, it is worth noting that this evidence doesn’t always add for high risk populations, and as such, they should stay more cautious.

I have to mention a few things when it comes to eggs. There is great interpersonal variability due to the differences in our genetic makeup. It is hard to pinpoint an exact number of eggs one could consume on a weekly basis without the odds of any diseases being manifested in people.

Another important factor is the possible variety of eggs. You cannot compare omega-3 enriched eggs with battery-farmed eggs or simply free-range eggs. Their nutritional composition is different and cannot be generalized across populations and studies. This is something that should be more closely monitored in the future and more emphasis should be put on this when doing studies with eggs.

As a whole food, eggs have many advantages and (if consumed in reasonable quantities) little to no disadvantages. While some would like to argue that eggs in very high quantities (more than 3+ per day) are healthy, I would refrain from furthering such notions as studies have not yet assessed that.

Three eggs per day is the highest safe amount that studies have worked with and found no real adverse effects.

What about cholesterol?

Hey! You are talking about eggs and you did not give one mention to cholesterol? Are you serious?

Yes, I am.

(1) The increases in LDL cholesterol that have been noted are because the small dense LDL particles change to bigger ones – these can carry more and are more effective as transmitters.

(2) By doing the former – the total number of LDL particles decreases; and this is supposed to be a better indicator in atherosclerotic risk than the total amount of LDL cholesterol.

(3) One study found that these increases were found only in 30% of the sample that was being assessed – in the majority there was no difference.

(4) Eating higher amounts of cholesterol lowers the endogenous cholesterol that gets produced by your liver (yes, you read that completely right), decreases its absorption and increases its excretion through bile. Dietary cholesterol has only a little effect on this matter.

(5) Read this.

Further reading can also be found on: Science Based Medicine, Authority Nutrition.

Eggs are a good source of protein and healthy fats, 3 eggs per day is an amount tested in studies and found safe to consume for the majority of people. If you can, switch to eggs from free range chicken and not battery farmed ones. Increasing the amount of cholesterol you get through your diet reduces the amount of cholesterol that gets produced by your body and vice versa. Cholesterol in general is not the best marker for heart disease, oxidized LDL cholesterol is better.

References used: [20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29]

 

Dairy

We can see that all the guidelines have different levels of recommended dairy intake in their eating patterns. This is most probably due to the amount of calories, as well as availability in their environment. The amount of calories it provides is usually rather high, at least when talking about full fat, whole milk, and similar dairy products. But calories are not everything when it comes to food, right?

Before I continue with the evidence, I would like to dismiss a common argument against drinking milk and/or eating dairy products with that.

No other animal drinks the milk of other animals

So what? What exactly does this argument prove? Neither do other animals go and fly into space, drive cars, cure complex diseases or sequence their genome, do they? The notion that “It is not normal because others do not do it” holds no credible weight when used as an argument (Besides, it’s not true. A quick Google search disproves this “interspecies breastfeeding”). There is one reasonable argument we could extrapolate from this though. Milk is a nutritional source that provides the postnatal infant (= newborn, baby, and toddler, I just want to sound smart) with the first and most important nutrients he receives, as such it has a specific molecular makeup that was designed for a certain animal through evolution.

This one has more credible reasoning. It is true that milk of different mammalian species is different on its macro- and micronutrient composition, but taking in account single molecules that milk has, and inferring different outcomes from that, is, again, not as sound as we might think.

We have to consider that when you drink milk you consume a whole array of different molecules that have an interactive and/or additive effect on the body. This holds true for EVERY food item we eat, but I thought it would be best placed here, as milk has been under a lot of argumentative artillery shelling when it comes to this.

What I’m trying to say is

What I am trying to say is – when drinking milk or eating dairy products, we should be interested in the end results, the clinical ones: obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, mortality etc. in the short and long run. They give us information how these foods actually affect us.

So what do the studies say?

Studies between 2010 and 2013 that were reviewing the results of other studies, have noted the following outcomes:

Modestly increasing daily intake of dairy products such as low fat dairy, cheese, and yogurt could give to the prevention of type two diabetes. People with a 200g intake of dairy products in their daily eating patterns had a 6% decrease in risk for type two diabetes, or a 12% decrease when eating low fat dairy products.

However, this meta review focused on cohort studies, and not randomized controlled trials – this would be needed to see if this relationship indeed is causal (if eating dairy causes or decreases something). Which brings me to the next, very well done and comprehensive review. The numbers in the brackets represent the number of randomized controlled trials that have observed this effect.

They noted that a moderate increase in dairy does not have (6), or has a really small effect on weight gain (12) – in studies where weight gain was observed, the average was a 0.6 kg increase. Another review of randomized controlled trials found that eating dairy under a calorie-restricted fashion would result in greater weight loss and a higher reduction of waist size and fat mass – when compared to conventional calorie-restricted diets.

  1. There was no significant increase in fasting glucose levels (8).
  2. There was no significant changes in LDL or HDL cholesterol (9).
  3. There was no significant change in C-reactive protein (6), two noted significant reductions in this protein with increased dairy intake.
  4. There was no significant change in systolic or diastolic blood pressure (7).

Despite saying that, a possible issue with this review would be that 78% of the participants were women. Thus less representative for the male population.

The available epidemiological evidence doesn’t show a connection between milk or different types of cancers (breast, lung, stomach or pancreas). Furthermore, another metareview noted a possible reduction in risk for breast cancer with total increased dairy. However, this was not observed  for low-fat milk. It is possible that low-fat milk increases the chance of getting two types of cancers (ovarian and prostate). Another review found no connection between drinking milk and heart disease or coronary heart disease, and no association with total mortality.

That sort of sums up most chronic and important diseases. And as we can see, dairy products do not seem to be that bad, do they?

Ok, I see there are no significant changes in those diseases, but what about if I’m getting allergies, am lactose intolerant, get bloated, don’t like the taste, and have other side effects after consuming dairy?

Then don’t eat dairy. It’s simple as that – fun, isn’t it?

References used: [30, 31, 32]

 

Grains

The Paleolithic option shuns whole grains (or any grains for that matter). The Mediterranean option suggests that they should be eaten on a daily basis, while the Healthy Eating Plate suggests whole grains as the second biggest group on our plate.

The Paleolithic option provides an evolutionary argument – our species surviving on a hunter-gatherer diet for thousands of years before switching to whole grain crops. On that note, I have yet to see an intervention or randomized clinical trial where they compared a Paleolithic eating option with an identical nutritional guideline where the only difference would be whole grains added on a daily basis, and the difference in health parameters would be measured. And I am not talking about comparisons of a Mediterranean to a Paleolithic diet but a Paleolithic + Paleolithic with whole grains.

While I believe the Paleolithic option would be superior in the measure of blood markers and all health related parameters, my personal beliefs count for shit in the face of evidence – and this should hold true for anyone who talks about nutrition.

Until then, I cannot, based in scientific research, recommend avoiding whole grains altogether. They give a good source of various micronutrients and are generally associated with a lower incidence in coronary heart disease, various types of cancers (colorectal, gastric and endometrial), and increases in insulin sensitivity.

However, it is also true that even the healthiest of whole grains can be trumped by vegetables when it comes to their micro- and macronutrient composition.

As such, vegetables are superior, but good quality whole grains are not a food item that need/should be avoided. As always, it depends on the person and how does his body react to them. Certain people have no problems eating larger amounts of whole grains, while others are better off not consuming them.

References used: [32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38]

Take home messages

  • Vegetables and fruit: Eat a mixed variety of vegetables – spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, chili peppers, kale, cabbage, cucumbers etc. Eat a different assortment of fruit – apples, pears, peaches, oranges, and berries. At the same time be wary of fruit that has high contents of sugar.
  • Lean meat options: Fish, poultry, wild game, and lean meats in general. All of these can be consumed without serious adverse effects.
  • Eggs in reasonable quantities: Around 3 per day is the greatest amount with no adverse effects for the majority of people, based on current studies.
  • Be wary of excessive amounts of dairy due to a high caloric content. Otherwise, dairy is a good source of calories if you need to gain weight.
  • Nuts, healthy oils, and fats are desired as part of a healthy eating pattern, just be wary of the caloric content. These include coconut oil, olive oil, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and similar nuts.
  • Red meat can be eaten in moderation, with an emphasis on the preparation method, as well as source of the meat. You should avoid exposing meat to high temperatures to avoid possible harmful effects due to charring.
  • Whole grains can be a part of a healthy diet, but can also be substituted with vegetables. It is worth taking note of the calories, their GI, and the quality of the grains themselves. Buckwheat is a prime example of a healthy whole grain.

Meal samples

  • Breakfast should include around three eggs fried in coconut oil or butter with bacon or a lean meat option you might prefer (poultry, fish etc.). You can also add some veggies – spinach or bell peppers being a great idea with which you could substitute the meat. A cup of coffee or green tea is a smart addition as well.
  • For lunch you can opt for a side dish of mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach together with grilled chicken breast or grilled fish.
  • A handful of nuts and/or some fruit (apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, pears …) can be your afternoon snack of choice.
  • To finish the day off you can eat grilled fish or another meat source you haven’t eaten that day combined with vegetables or some grains.
  • The main idea is to get a main source of protein (from meat or other sources you maybe prefer) with a side dish of vegetables or grains to receive important vitamins and minerals. The meat can be grilled or prepared in coconut oil, olive oil, or butter to get a healthy source of fats. All of this can be complemented with snacks consisted out of nuts and/or fruit.

Paleo Plan provides you with a number of useful recipes for daily use if you run out of imagination!

This post doesn’t really give the veteran health nut new information. However, for people new to such stuff, it is good that you know this.

For those who would like an extensive list of different preventive medical organizations, a list of educational sources, and health literacy pages, then check out The Nurse’s Guide to Preventive Medicine, Patient Education & Health Literacy. With the help of this guide you can get a good idea where to get some preventive help.

Will this change your mind to start following such eating patterns? Are you already eating healthy and found this to be a confirmation of what you have done? If not, tell me why do you think McDonald’s and deep-fried chocolate bars are good for you?

  • Sebastijan Veselic

    .

UA-46577362-1