New Under the Sun:
Volume 6, Issue 9
Premier Nutrition: Part 3
This month we finish our discussion of diet and disease.
Dairy and Grain Products and Auto-Immune Diseases
Diabetes: Refined grains are associated with an increased insulin response. An increased insulin response and resulting insulin insensitivity are implicated in the development of Type 2 diabetes and in obesity. Whole grain products limit this risk, but eliminating all grain products and substituting fruits and vegetables may be an even better protective measure. In several studies, the development of Type 1 diabetes in children was associated with an allergic reaction to cow’s milk that was given to infants prior to four months of age, and who then received little or no breastfeeding. Researchers based in a dairy research center analyzed various studies on the association of Type 1 diabetes and drinking cow’s milk and found the evidence inconclusive. Given their source of support, this is not a surprising conclusion. The high fat content in milk may be a causal factor since eating large amounts of meat protein, often high in fat, has also been associated with an increased incidence of Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with a high fat diet.
Other Auto-Immune Diseases: Multiple sclerosis has also been associated with milk consumption. The highest prevalence rates are in those regions with the largest cow’s milk consumption. Again, there may be some association with excess animal fats in the onset of the disease. The severity of symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis may also be related to eating dairy products, at least in some individuals. When the dairy products were eliminated, the symptoms markedly improved. Although not generally characterized as an auto-immune disease, autistic children have shown significant improvement in their behavior when dairy and grain products were eliminated from their diets. Allergic reactions to the gluten in grains and grain products (particularly wheat, but also barley and rye) often occur as abdominal distress after eating these products. More severe reactions involve problems with the central nervous system and include headache and difficulty walking. Exercise after eating foods with gluten can lead to heightened sensitivity to gluten and allergic reactions. Allergic reactions to corn, millet, and rice have also been noted.
Lactose Intolerance and Children
Children need vitamin D to prevent rickets and vitamin D-fortified milk has been a major factor in the reduction of rickets in the United States. In addition, children need fat and protein for appropriate growth and development which are easily supplied by dairy products. It would seem, then, that since the evidence associating dairy products, particularly milk, with Type 1 diabetes and autism is limited, that milk and other dairy products should be a part of a child’s diet. This ignores the fact that, as discussed in a prior essay, the majority of individuals in the world suffer from lactose intolerance/malabsorption.
Children from populations of northern European descent are among the few in the world who can tolerate lactose past weaning age. This is one reason why fortification of milk with vitamin D was so successful in eliminating rickets among the European-descent population in the United States. However, 80% of Americans of West/Central African ancestry are lactose intolerant/malabsorbers; as are 90-100% of those of American Indian or Asian ancestry. Research funded by dairy groups suggests that if ingested in small doses, anyone can drink a cup or two of milk per day without gastric distress. However, there is a large body of research on lactose intolerance/malabsorption that strongly suggests otherwise. And anyone who has suffered severe gastric distress after drinking or eating dairy foods is unlikely to wish to repeat the experience. Since milk is an iffy proposition for the majority of infants and children, the best methods of insuring that they have appropriate levels of vitamin D to prevent rickets is through a vitamin D supplement and/or careful UVB radiation exposure.
Fish, Nuts, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Modern diets contain too much fat. Our ancestors had very low fat diets compared to our own. Much of the fat in our diets comes from two sources that were unknown to our hunter/gatherer ancestors: dairy products and meat from domesticated cattle. Wild animals are extremely lean compared to farm-raised animals, in large measure because they have to make an energetic effort to find their food. This is also one reason late 20th-early 21st century industrialized populations have high rates of obesity: we need expend very little effort to eat.
Although excess fat is dangerous to our health, some fat in the diet is necessary to properly digest our food and for cell membrane maintenance. These necessary fats, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, are found in fish, particularly in salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and anchovies, among others. They are also found in almonds and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are used to make cell membranes elastic. This is particularly important for heart health as omega-3 fatty acids can reduce atherosclerosis. Among Seventh Day Adventists, those who ate four or more servings per week of tree nuts had a significantly lower risk of heart disease than did those who did not eat nuts or ate them less than once per week. Omega-3 fatty acids also appear to reduce joint stiffness in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and, when taken with their medication, allow those with Crohn’s disease to remain symptom-free. In one study of 80,000 nurses, those who ate fish five times per week had their risk of stroke cut in half compared to those who ate fish only once a month. There is even evidence that fish oil can reduce the symptoms of depression. Eating fish has also been associated with reduced incidences of prostate and colon cancers. Data on foraging/horticultural populations collected in the early decades of the 20th century showed that in all cases studied, fish and shellfish formed a major portion of the diet. If the population lived far from coastal regions, they traded with those on the coasts in order to obtain adequate supplies of fish and shellfish. If unable to obtain these foods, their health suffered.
Compared to meats, even fatty fish are low in fat. Therefore, if you want a high-quality, low-fat source of protein that provides numerous other health benefits, you would be wise to eat a serving of fish, especially salmon, mackerel, and sardines, at least once a day. Pregnant women need to be concerned about methylmercury in fish since the toxin can cause problems for the developing fetus. However, this toxin is primarily a problem in certain long-lived fish. Therefore, pregnant women should be safe eating sardines and herring.
Tree nuts bridge the margin between the fruit and vegetable base of the Premier Nutrition Pyramid (see the Figure) and the next level of fish, shellfish, and eggs. Peanuts, a legume (as are green peas and beans), are not true nuts and probably played a more limited role in our ancestral diet. On the other hand, we have clear ethnographic and archaeological evidence that tree nuts played a major role in the ancestral diet as a dietary staple. Almonds and walnuts have a fairly high fat content, but since a major portion of this fat is the omega-3 fatty acids, and since these nuts are also a good source of protein and fiber, adding about a one ounce serving as a snack twice each day will also improve your health profile.
Eggs are high in cholesterol, but if eaten as part of a low fat diet that excludes dairy products and high fat meats, two eggs per day should present no problem to healthy individuals. In cultures where fats are kept to less than 20% of the diet, high dietary intake of cholesterol does not lead to heart health problems.
Premier Nutrition Pyramid
Fruits and Vegetables
The major sources of our antioxidants, most vitamins (vitamin D is not actually a vitamin), and a variety of other important nutrients are fruits and vegetables. The largest number of servings of any food group that we eat daily should consist of fruits and vegetables, preferably eaten fresh or lightly steamed since nutrients are lost through over-cooking. While juices can be healthy, if no sugar is added, eating the whole fruit and vegetable is much better because more of the nutrients remain along with fiber. As opposed to refined grain products which contain little if any fiber, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources. They are also low in calories. However, white potatoes, particularly in the form of French fries and mashed potatoes, do not count as quality vegetables since they are primarily starch and raise the glycemic index. Sweet potatoes are a healthier option.
Dark green leafy vegetables are a good source of calcium. However, to obtain 1500 mg of calcium from this source would require eating pounds of green vegetation. Some researchers believe that this is what our ancient ancestors did. This seems highly improbable. The only regions where one could obtain dark green leafy vegetation year-round would be in the tropical and subtropical zones. These zones also have a wide range of fruits and nuts which provide a better energy and nutrient return for the gathering/eating investment, and are more important for brain development than is vegetation.
Of the ape species, only gorillas subsist on a largely leafy diet. This means that food must be more thoroughly processed in the gorilla gut than is the case for chimpanzees and humans so that gorillas will be able to obtain more nutrients from their vegetation diet. Chimpanzees eat very few leafy vegetables, and then mostly when they eat meat. Their primary source of nutrients is from fruits and nuts, with about 10% from meat, eggs, insects, etc. This would also have been the case for the earliest humans. This high-energy diet means that both chimpanzees and humans are able to be much more energetic and social than is possible for gorillas on their low-energy diet of leafy vegetation.
Almonds are a very good source of calcium. There are about 140 mg of calcium in two ounces of shelled almonds. The total calcium obtained from the Sample Menu shown at the end of this essay is about 770 mg, with almost 500 mg from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and eggs. The average intake among a variety of populations throughout the world is 500 - 700 mg of calcium. It is evident from analysis of chimpanzee diets and those of humans living in tropical zones that larger doses of calcium are not necessary in the diet as long as one has adequate levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is more critical than calcium.
Lycopene, a potent anti-oxidant protecting against prostate cancer, is found in tomatoes. The lycopene is more readily released when the tomatoes are cooked, as in canned salsa. Recent research has found that eating fruit provides protection from lung damage, particularly for chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The multiple benefits of fruits and vegetables are so readily apparent that their position at the base of the food pyramid should be obvious. You might wonder why grains with their more problematic benefits are given this pride of place in the standard food pyramid. Of course, the reason is obvious when you realize that the USDA was established to help the agricultural industry. The USDA “My Pyramid”, as opposed to the Premier Nutrition Pyramid, is constructed to support the further health of Big Agriculture rather than the health of the US population.
Premier Nutrition is that which is first and foremost in providing for the health and well-being of the human population. Humans adapted to this diet over tens of thousands of years. The current diet eaten by most industrialized populations is one that developed out of scarcity and the need to feed large numbers of people economically. Grains, while filling, are a poor substitute for the nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, fish, shell-fish, and lean meats. The lactose in dairy foods can be easily processed by only a fraction of the human population. Eliminating grains and dairy products provides room in the diet for more of the foods that keep us in peak health.
For those with little time or interest in cooking, Premier Nutrition is the perfect diet since food is eaten as fresh as possible and involves little preparation. The following Sample Menu gives an example for one day of Premier Nutrition. To determine how your current diet stacks up to the Premier Nutrition plan, fill in the Worksheet: Premier Nutrition Pyramid below.
Sample Menu for One Day (servings for 1)
Breakfast: This is the most important meal of the day since it occurs after a long fast and primes you for the rest of the day. Therefore, it should include a good dose of protein along with a number of fruits and vegetables.
2 egg omelet: Use a non-stick omelet pan and heat to medium high. Test that it is hot enough by seeing if water drops sizzle on the pan. Crack in 2 eggs, whisk together. When eggs begin to set, add 1/3 cup spinach* (thawed frozen or shredded fresh) and 1/3 cup tomato salsa. Fold omelet in half. Let cook about 1 minute; turn off heat and flip omelet over. Let cook another minute or so.
1/2 cup raspberries, blueberries, or black berries (fresh or frozen) with a sliced, small banana grapefruit half
apple or banana
1 can (100g) of sardines in water, mustard, or tomato sauce (not soybean oil: the oil adds too much fat to the sardines)
1/2 red bell pepper
1/3 cp dried fruit mix
1/3 cp tree nuts with dried fruit
shrimp and spinach* salad: shred 2 cps fresh spinach leaves. Add ½ red bell pepper, chopped; ½ cp chopped carrots; 1 small tomato, chopped; cooked shrimp. Toss with olive oil and vinegar dressing.
Post Dinner Snack:
1/3 cp plain shelled almonds
*In order to release the calcium from spinach, the spinach needs to be eaten with acidic foods such as lemon juice, vinegar, or tomato salsa.
Worksheet: Premier Nutrition Pyramid
To determine how well your diet stacks up to the Premier Nutrition plan, make copies of the following chart for each day of one week. Fill in the Pyramid with the food items eaten on a typical day. Do not put down food items not shown on the pyramid such as dairy or grain products. The quantity of each type of food eaten should relate to the size of the space allocated for that particular food type. For instance, the largest quantity of food items eaten should be in the Fruits & Vegetables category. If this is not the case, adjustments need to be made in your daily diet.
Example: Yesterday Don ate 2 scrambled eggs, a piece of toast with butter, a glass of orange juice, an apple, a hot ham sandwich with cheese, a cola, a bag of chips, a steak, a baked potato with sour cream, broccoli, a glass of wine, and a slice of angel food cake. Don would write in the pyramid in the appropriate slots: 2 eggs, orange juice, apple, ham, steak, and broccoli. His diet is top heavy on meats and very lacking in fruits and vegetables. A large portion of his diet is made up of high glycemic foods such as bread, chips, cake, and white potatoes; and with dairy products such as butter, sour cream, and cheese. He needs to replace these items with more fruits and vegetables. He should also get more of his protein from tree nuts, fish, and shellfish and less from meats.
Let’s Get Real about your health. Diet makes a big difference and odds are that your diet needs improvement. Get your diet better aligned with the Premier Nutrition plan and you will see your health improve.
Sleep will be the topic of next month’s newsletter.
© 2001-2009 Kathleen E. Fuller, PhD. All rights reserved.