unhealthy food

Our Diets Are Killing Us

Question: What causes more deaths worldwide than smoking?

Answer: Food. And it’s not tainted food; it’s the unhealthy food we put on our plates every day.

Our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter have told you many times about the importance of a healthy diet. Now a new study published this month in the journal Lancet warns that as a species, we don’t eat properly, and we’re paying for it.

“In many countries, poor diet now causes more deaths than tobacco smoking and high blood pressure,” Ashkan Afshin, lead study author, told CNN.

Afshin is an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington.

And it’s not just the bad things we eat—salt, red meat, sugar—that are contributing to premature deaths around the world; it’s the good things we don’t get enough of: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and so forth.

“Poor dietary habits . . . overall cause more deaths than any other risk factors globally,” Afshin told CBS News.

Dietary risk factors

The study took place over 27 years in 195 countries. Israel had the lowest number of diet-related deaths, followed by France, Spain, Japan, and the principality of Andorra. Uzbekistan had the highest, with the U.S. ranking 43rd out of 195.

The study results attributed one in five deaths (about 11 million people) annually around the world to the following dietary risk factors:

  • high sodium
  • low whole grains
  • low fruit
  • low nuts and seeds
  • low vegetables
  • low fiber
  • high trans fats
  • high sweetened beverages
  • low legumes
  • high red meat
  • high processed meat
  • low calcium
  • low milk
  • low omega-3s
  • low polyunsaturated fatty acids

Note: Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in some nuts and seeds, salmon, and vegetable oils.

Healthy beats unhealthy

In their analysis of the 15 dietary factors, researchers found that the lack of healthy foods was worse than consumption of unhealthy foods. In other words, not eating fruits, vegetables and so forth was responsible for more deaths than eating red meat, processed foods, and the like.

As a result, Afshin recommended that policy makers should not just focus on what not to eat, but what to replace those foods with. The study estimated that three million deaths globally could be attributed to high sodium intake, but another three million were caused by lack of whole grains, with two million more caused by inadequate fruit intake.

They estimated that cardiovascular disease (CVD) was the leading cause of diet-related deaths around the world, followed by various cancers and diabetes, all of which were attributed to diet. Of course, other factors—including physical inactivity, environmental, economic, and social factors—contribute as well, according to Bruce Lee, associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Diet can contribute to noncommunicable disease (NCDs) via increased body weight and obesity, elevated blood pressure, hyperlipidemia or high levels of fat in the blood, and conditions that lead to high blood sugar levels,” he told The Washington Post. Lee, who is also executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center, added that another problem is that “unhealthy foods such as those that are highly processed with artificial ingredients are often cheaper to make, store, ship, and prepare. Therefore, such foods have replaced more natural and healthy foods in foods systems around the world.”

Another factor is the profit motive.

“Refining grains is highly profitable,” Corinna Hawkes, director of the Centre for Food Policy at the University of London, told CNN. “Take corn, for example. You can refine it into different ingredients: animal feed, refined flours, and high-fructose corn syrup, to name three. So manufacturers are generating multiple value streams from this refining process.”

What you can do

As much as possible, try to adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet: abundant amounts of nuts, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables, use of olive oil in cooking, moderate portions of fish and poultry, and little red meat.

Also beware of marketing claims that a product is “whole grain,” because often a whole grain has been stripped of one or more of its components: the bran, the germ, or the endosperm. Look for the stamp provided by the Whole Grains Council that certifies a product actually contains all three of these components.

And as always, check with us for any questions or concerns you may have about the food your family eats.

The Downside of Diet Soda

Our concierge family practice doctors in Jupiter, applaud any effort by our patients to avoid, or at least reduce, their dietary intake of sugar whenever possible. But one of the solutions many people turn to instead may not be an improvement. Diet soda and other drinks replace sugar with the artificial sweetener aspartame, which seems to be implicated in several health issues associated with diet soda consumption as noted in several recent studies.

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Is Fried Food Healthy?

Fried chicken. French fries. Even fried vegetables. If it’s edible, Americans have probably fried it. We then feel guilty, because we’ve been told to avoid fried food at all costs, not only for the weight it can pile on but because it’s unhealthy in so many ways.

There’s something about dropping food into hot oil until it comes out all brown and crispy that makes us gravitate toward this method of cooking. We want to explore this common cooking method, and show you a way to enjoy fried foods without endangering your health.

Why does frying have such a bad reputation?

1. Added calories and fat.

Frying versus baking can sometimes double or even triple the number of calories in foods. A small baked potato contains 93 calories and zero grams of fat. Take that same small potato and turn it into French fries and the same-sized potato will deliver 319 calories and 17 grams of fat.

2. The presence of acrylamide, which is a suspected carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance.

Foods cooked at the high temperatures required for frying causes amino acids to combine with natural sugars present in many foods like potatoes, producing acrylamide as a byproduct.

3. The cooking method.

When oils are heated to the high temperatures required for frying, they become hydrogenated, transforming them into the very unhealthy trans fatty acids. Trans fats are difficult for the body to break down, causing the inflammation which has been linked to heart disease. They lower the so-called “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins—HDL) and raise the “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins—LDL).

4. Salt & Breading

In addition, fried foods are often liberally dusted with salt, which is known to raise blood pressure and increase cardiovascular risk. Can you imagine French fries without salt? Finally, many if not most fried foods are breaded, which soaks up additional cooking oil, making the dish even higher in fat and calories.

 

What’s the good news?

First, an occasional helping of deep-fried chicken won’t kill you, as long as it’s balanced with a healthy diet the rest of the time. So dig into a heaping pile of French fries or fried fish once every couple of weeks, and have a salad along with them.

Second, there are ways to enjoy the taste of fried foods without all the extra guilt. When frying, skip the trans fats (e.g., lard, butter, coconut oil) and use oils high in the healthier mono- and polyunsaturated fats: canola, olive, and sunflower oils. And don’t crowd food in the pan. Doing so temporarily lowers the temperature of the oil, increasing the required frying time, allowing the food more time to absorb oil. Another trick is to drain the finished food on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

For the taste of fried food with almost no guilt, oven “frying” is the go-to solution. Prepare any food as you would to pan fry, then spritz with olive oil and bake in the oven. You’ll still get the same crispy result without the extra fat calories. And if you can manage to get along without adding salt afterwards, you’ll be even better off. Many herb combinations and salt substitutes are satisfying substitutions that your heart will thank you for.

We don’t want you have a long-but-joyless life, just to make healthier choices most of the time. If you have any questions about these or any other diet issues, please your concierge family practice doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter, Florida.

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