processed meat

The Problem With Processed Meat

Our concierge family practice doctors in Jupiter, Florida, certainly understand the allure of crisp bacon, the snap of fried sausage, or the attraction of a hoagie piled high with a variety of processed meat.

We understand it, but we’d prefer you didn’t indulge. Or at least, do so very, very rarely. Another new study adds to the increasingly damning evidence piling up about the health hazards of processed meat.

Latest study

A new global study looked at the diets and health outcomes of 134,297 individuals from 21 countries across five continents. It found those who ate just 150 grams or more of processed meat each week had a 46 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). And they had a 51 percent higher risk of death than those who never ate it.

Consuming just two sausages or six slices of bacon a week substantially increases your risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • stroke
  • other adverse health outcomes included in CVD.

The study, published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, spanned a 10-year period. It also screened participants for physical activity and smoking to account for those activities on CVD events and deaths.

It was part of a long-term study known as the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study. This is the first multinational attempt to compare diets across cultures and countries comprising low-, medium-, and high-income countries. The researchers believe this helps provide more accurate results. 

The researchers’ findings track with another study in 2010 by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), which found that eating processed meat was associated with a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 19 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

The category of processed meat includes:

  • bacon, sausage, and deli meats
  • pâté
  • hot dogs
  • corned or smoked meats
  • any other type of meat containing a high amount of salt, nitrates, nitrites, or other preservatives

Previous findings

The current study is just one more supportive finding about the negative health impacts of processed meat.

For example, one study, published in Oxford’s International Journal of Epidemiology in 2019, comprised a systematic analysis of over half-a-million men and women from the United Kingdom over five years. Researchers found eating processed meat increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 20 percent for every 25 grams consumed a day. A.K.A. the equivalent of one slice of bacon or about a single slice of ham.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as a carcinogen; that is, something that causes cancer. Their data showed a correlation between processed meat and stomach cancer, as well as a connection between red meat and cancers of the pancreas and prostate.

Research has not pinpointed the reason why processed meat should pose such a danger to consumers. But preliminary findings point to the nitrites used to prevent processed meats from developing bacterial growth. During cooking, nitrites are converted to cancer-causing compounds known as nitrosamines.

Other meats safer?

Surprisingly, the new study didn’t find an association between a small amount of unprocessed meat—especially poultry—and increased CVD risk. The authors found their analysis “did not find significant associations between unprocessed red meat and poultry intake with mortality or major cardiovascular disease.”

Up to 250 grams (about nine ounces) of red meat per week seemed to show no effect on CVD… Although it has been implicated in increased cancer risk. This is good, because red meat is high in iron, protein, and especially vitamin B12, which is difficult to obtain from other food sources.

“The totality of the available data indicates that consuming a modest amount of unprocessed meat as part of a healthy dietary pattern is unlikely to be harmful,” study co-author Dr. Mahshid Dehghan at McMaster University in Canada, told the Daily Mail.

The best way to eat

As we’ve said many times, the ideal diet for optimal health is one that emphasizes a variety of foods that are processed as little as possible. This means eating more fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, fish, poultry, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy. It also means less full-fat dairy products, fatty meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and sweets.

We don’t expect you to ban all processed meat from your diet for the rest of your life. Just be aware of the downside of consuming too much of it. Processed meat—like sugary foods and drinks—should be an occasional indulgence rather than a significant part of your diet.

We believe the best diets are those you can easily follow throughout your life, without designating certain foods as forbidden or “bad,” and that will enhance your overall health.

best diet

The Best Diet for You

The start of a new year is traditionally the time to turn the page on the bad habits and disappointments of the previous year.

Usually near the top of the list of New Year’s resolutions that people make is the decision to lose weight. And from a health perspective, our concierge doctors certainly applaud that one.

Overweight or obesity is responsible for a host of chronic diseases, from type 2 diabetes to backaches to joint pain. So you want to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, right? But which diet is best?

The problem with keto

What about the popular keto diet? Studies show that 80 percent of those who try it struggle to stick with it. Why, when it often results in huge and rapid amounts of weight loss?

First, it can it cause numerous side effects—body aches, headaches, light-headedness, nausea, fatigue and lethargy, constipation, and brain fog. Plus, all their friends are eating garlic bread and mashed potatoes (not cauliflower) with gravy and pasta. Or because they lost their job and need a regular intake of brownies to help them feel better. Or because they’re stressed about the pandemic—possible job loss, not being able to see friends and family, worried about catching the coronavirus. And that chocolate cream pie dulls the loneliness and anxiety, at least for a little while.

Because, in short, the keto diet restrictive. It has a long list of quite tasty foods that either aren’t allowed, or allowed only in small portions after a certain time.

“When you are on the keto diet, you drastically cut your carbs to only 20 per day. That’s less than one apple!” nutritionist Lisa Drayer, a CNN contributor, told the network.

The common problem

And this is the problem with all diets. Nearly all of them work as promised, but are difficult to adhere to over time. So you “cheat.” Then you cheat some more. Then you figure, why bother? You then start eating normally again and regain all the weight you lost. And you likely gain back even more.

But here’s the thing: It’s not you, it’s them. In other words, it’s the whole concept of dieting to begin with. Someone once pointed out that diet begins with the word “die,” so even if only subconsciously, the concept has a negative connotation.

In addition, our bodies were built to store calories. That’s because our ancient ancestors never knew when they’d be facing lean times, or even starvation if the mastodons they hunted migrated elsewhere. Even in more recent times, before there was such a thing as a food industry, mankind learned to store food over the winter. But it still wasn’t as abundant as during the summer months.

So we’re biologically built to store up calories to last through the lean times.

And speaking of the food industry, their entire reason for being is to get us to buy more of their product. Stores are laid out with enticing displays of sugary, fat-laden foods. Advertising constantly tempts us with photos and videos of delicious, fattening foods.

We succumb, we gain weight, and then it’s up to us to find a way to lose it. And we try a long list of diets, only to be disappointed with the results. So which one do we recommend?

The only real solution

The best diet is one that works for you, that helps you gradually lose weight, but doesn’t leave you feeling deprived or hungry all the time.

“For any given person, it’s really a matter of what they can stick with,” Michael Jensen of the Mayo Clinic told Psychology Today.

Keto might be the right choice for some people. For others, the Paleo diet, moderation, veganism, intermittent fasting, or simply cutting back on sugar and flour.

Above all, research shows the most successful diet is the one that you yourself designed. This gives you a sense of control, rather than being at the mercy of a set of restrictive rules.

“You have to have joy and pleasure in food,” Stanford University professor of medicine Christopher Gardner told The Washington Post. He has conducted numerous randomized trials to test the success rate of various diets, and found they are essentially the same.

“They agree more than they disagree,” he said. Instead, he counsels, “Limit added sugars and refined grains, and eat more non-starchy vegetables. [I]f you do those two things, you get 90 percent of the benefits.” 

If you enjoy what you eat, you’ll have a much better chance of sticking with it for the rest of your life, he added.

“[The most successful way of dieting] will be different from one person to the next, and there will never be a randomized trial of it.”

We would add that for the most wholesome way to eat, consider the Mediterranean diet. It rates number one in surveys of diets, not only for long-term weight loss, but also for ease of adherence and the healthiest outcomes.

If you have any questions about weight loss, please talk with us. We can suggest the best approach specifically for you.

chocolate good for you

Check Out Chocolate for Your Health

Let’s face it—this has been a lousy year. We’ve either lost or postponed so many of our normal pleasures, it’s no wonder that we’re feeling deprived. But our concierge doctors have a prescription that can help cheer you up: chocolate.

And ‘tis the season for it, after all. Not to mention that, as we’ll explain below, it can be healthier than eggnog, frosted cookies and cakes, and all the other sugarplums we’re inclined to consume this time of year.

The good news

Many recent studies have found the right kind of chocolate consumed in moderation might benefit everything from the cardiovascular system to cognitive improvement. Some have even attributed consumption to a reduced risk of cancer and a lower risk of diabetes.

One study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for example, found that blood platelets clotted more slowly in subjects who had consumed chocolate. This can help prevent clots—and thus, heart attacks and strokes—from occurring.

Another study published in the journal BMJ suggested that consumption could lower the risk of developing heart disease by as much as a third.

“Based on observational evidence, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders,” the authors wrote in a paper presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris.

Several studies have looked at this claim

In a 2017 study, researchers found that consuming raw almonds, dark chocolate, and cocoa helped lower “bad” cholesterol in overweight or obese subjects.

A 2008 study found those who ate a small amount of dark chocolate each day had lower blood levels of a protein associated with inflammation.

A Canadian study of 44,489 subjects found those who regularly consumed chocolate were 22% less likely to suffer a stroke than those who abstained. That those who suffered a stroke saw a 46% decline in likelihood of death.

Other benefits attributed to this sweet include improved cognitive function, enhanced athletic performance, benefits to fetal growth and development, and lower cholesterol. (These tend to come from small studies that have not been confirmed.)

“(Chocolate) is a good antioxidant,” Dr. Owais Khawaja, a cardiology fellow at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio, told CNN. “We think most of the beneficial effects are because of this.” Antioxidants are known to reduce the amount of free radicals in the body, those compounds known to cause cellular damage.

“More and more research is showing that [eating chocolate] is really more beneficial than we ever imagined,” said Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association told Live Science.

The bad news

But it’s not permission to gorge on the stuff. As with other indulgences, moderation is key, and the right kind of chocolate makes all the difference. Experts recommend limiting intake to no more than one ounce a day.

Compounds called flavonoids exist in chocolate as well as wine, beer, tea, berries, fruits, and vegetables. They may be responsible for chocolate’s healthful benefits. Flavonoids are antioxidants believed to reduce inflammation throughout the body.

One reason chocolate has received its bad reputation is because of all the sugar it typically contains. This leads to heart disease, obesity, tooth decay, and myriad health problems.

The more nonfat cocoa solids chocolate consists of, the more antioxidants it contains. Steer clear of chocolate products with added fats such as “milk fats,” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” These will tend to cancel out the beneficial effects of chocolate, in addition to causing weight gain.

The closer you can get to the original cocoa, the better. So natural cocoa powder is best (though it tends to be bitter); dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chips are better. Milk chocolate is the least desirable. Milk proteins may bind to the flavonoids and make them unavailable to the body. White “chocolate” contains no cocoa solids at all.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says that chocolate can be part of an overall healthy diet, but the key phrase is “part of.”

Alice H. Lichtenstein, the Gershoff professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Boston, says, “If you enjoy chocolate, the important thing to do is choose the type you enjoy the most and eat it in moderation because you like it, not because you think it’s good for you.”

e. coli

Take Care with Leafy Greens

Our concierge doctors absolutely recommend a diet high in vegetables, especially leafy greens, for optimal health. But a new study released this month highlights a problem with this otherwise beneficial food: E. coli.

The report, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, found leafy greens are a common source of food-borne illnesses. It notes that they’ve been implicated in 40 outbreaks of a serious strain of E. coli between 2009 and 2018. These outbreaks resulted in 1,212 illnesses, 420 hospitalizations, and eight deaths.

Products to look out for

As you might suspect from the frequent reports in the news, romaine lettuce was involved most often. In of the outbreaks related to leafy greens studied for E. coli contamination, romaine lettuce was responsible for 54 percent of cases. Spinach and iceberg lettuce caused 17 percent each. Kale, cabbage, and green leaf lettuce were linked for four percent of the outbreaks.

The study also found outbreaks linked to mixed greens. This included three romaine and iceberg mixes, a butter lettuce and radicchio mix, and a spinach and spring mix.

Researchers were uncertain why romaine lettuce was so often involved in E. coli contamination. They speculated the green’s growing popularity over the study period accounted for some of the increase. Also the shape of the leaf itself contributed to contamination. Because romaine’s crinkled leaves grow in an elongated rosette shape, it’s difficult to wash it sufficiently to remove all of the surface contamination.

What’s causing the bacteria growth

Agricultural practices in this country have also been implicated in contamination outbreaks in leafy greens, but especially romaine lettuce.

Nearly all romaine lettuce grown in the U.S. originates from two main areas: the Salinas Valley in California and the Imperial and Coachella valleys in Southern California and around Yuma, Arizona.

E. coli is common in animals, including goats, deer, feral pigs, and especially cattle. One recent widespread outbreak in 2018 was attributed to contamination of surface water possibly used to irrigate and harvest the crop (with high-pressure water knives, which are used to cut the vegetables, as opposed by slicing them from the roots by hand).

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the outbreaks have occurred within weeks of the time when nearby farming operations fertilize their fields.

“We know from earlier outbreaks that a little bit of contamination in the field can lead to cross-contamination,” Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, told NBC News. Chapman was not involved in the current study.

Once the plant is contaminated, it’s “very difficult to remove,” he explained. Even though produce is triple-washed in processing plants and once at home, the consumer maybe be able to rinse off 90 to 99 percent of what remains. That may not be enough to ensure complete safety, he added.

Symptoms of an infection

Symptoms of E. coli bacterial infection include stomach pain or non-bloody diarrhea that worsens over several days. It can take up to 10 days to begin feeling symptoms after consuming affected food. This makes outbreaks so difficult to track down.

An E. coli infection is normally self-limiting, meaning the body fights it off with no complications other than feeling fairly miserable for a few days. But it can also lead to more severe complications, especially for infants and children under five, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems.

Reducing the risk

As we said earlier, we still encourage consumption of leafy greens. They’re an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. They’ve also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, some cancers, macular degeneration and type 2 diabetes.

So how can you keep your family safe? First, always assume leafy greens are contaminated, and rinse them thoroughly if you plan to eat them raw.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following advice to minimize the chances of contamination.

Check to see if your prepackaged leafy greens are labeled “ready to eat,” “triple washed” or “no washing necessary.” These leafy greens do not need to be washed again. Thoroughly wash all other leafy greens before eating, cutting or cooking.

Consumers should follow these simple steps:

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before preparing leafy greens.
  • Discard outer leaves and any torn or bruised ones.
  • Rinse the leafy greens under running water and use your hands to gently rub the surface of the leaves.
  • Don’t soak leafy greens in a sink filled with water. They can become contaminated with germs in the sink.
  • Don’t soak leafy greens in a bowl filled with water, which can spread contamination through the water to other leaves.
  • Dry leafy greens with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • Do not wash vegetables with soap, detergent, or produce washes.
  • Do not use bleach solution or other disinfectants to wash produce.

If you think you have become ill from eating contaminated foods, be sure to talk to us. While food poisoning may result in nothing more than a few days of misery, it can also be dangerous. We can advise you on the best ways to recover.

intermittent fasting weight loss

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One side effect from the coronavirus pandemic has been an increase in weight gain among many of us who have been forced into inactivity through the stay-at-home restrictions. In addition, people have turned to stress eating and frenzied periods of baking—as witness the lack of flour and sugar on store shelves—so it’s not surprising that some people are finding it harder to fit into their summer clothes.

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