Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Whole New Perspective on Food

For me, this has been a very exciting week in the world of nutrition. One major point to note is that I have been introduced to the names and the work of Dr. Micha and Dr. Mozaffarian who have both been heavily involved in research surrounding diet and cardiometabolic health and have come to some very interesting conclusions.

Dr. Mozaffarian was one of the first people to openly question our current perceptions and recommendations surrounding the role of saturated fats in our diets and how they impact cardiometabolic health. It turns out, in fact, that we've been making strong recommendations based on weak and inconclusive evidence for many years about this topic and others. In terms of dietary fats including SFAs and heart health, it's been at least 30 years that we've been getting the wrong message. We need dietary fats - we're pretty clear on this concept now and we've progressed in a sense in terms of including them in our diets more, but we're still shaking in our boots about saturated fats. It turns out that there is no need for this nonsense. There's actually NO conclusive evidence to date linking SFAs to heart disease based on meta-analyses of huge numbers of studies. I know- it's OK - I was shocked too!

Now, what makes things even more interesting is the fact that we've been wasting our time focusing on avoiding certain individual nutrients for the longest time, like saturated fat for example, and over-consuming others instead of taking a more holistic approach and looking at whole foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet. We definitely know that nutrients don't act in isolation and they tend to 'work' better in our bodies when they are in their most natural forms, in whole foods. You want some vitamin D? Why pop pills or eat fortified products? Just drink milk or eat some beef more often.

In reality, people are replacing fats with way too many refined carbohydrates and useless (literally, from a dietary standpoint) junk foods that don't fit into any of the food groups or they're buying heavily processed junk that is masquerading as healthy food because it's been sprinkled with added nutrients. This trend has been largely responsible for the obesity epidemic we're seeing, which has a much greater impact on cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders than single nutrients ever could.

What also happens when we focus on single nutrients like sugar or fat is that we do silly things like telling kids to stay away from chocolate milk or yogurt with 'real' sugar, which is highly nutrient-rich, full of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein - all of which kids and adults alike aren't getting enough of as it stands, just because there might be some fat or sugar added in there. Instead we think it's better that they just drink water or diet pop, or consume other foods with added chemical sweeteners. Crazy, right? Or how about telling people to stay away from beef which is packed with satiating protein and actually contains the same amount of fat or less than chicken per 100g but way more iron, zinc, vitamin D and a slew of other essential nutrients - because of the negative messages surrounding red meat, which we now know are unfounded. You get the point - and yet the list goes on.

Well on that note, just today, a press statement has been released from Dr. Mozaffarian regarding whole foods. He says that we should stop focusing and nitpicking over single nutrients like fats, especially since they hardly account for any significant portion of calories consumed by most people. We should focus more on what we need more of in our diets, which should naturally guide us towards nutritional adequacy, good health, and avoidance of processed, added junk. If we eat the right stuff, we feel full, energetic and satisfied, which tends to make us eat less over all. In his own words, Dr. Mozaffarian said that “For most people, getting more of what’s missing will have a larger benefit than limiting certain nutrients,”.

So what should we be eating then? The current recommendations include:

- 4 to 5 daily servings each of fruits and vegetables
- 3-plus daily servings of whole, unrefined grain products
- 2 to 3 daily servings of low- or nonfat dairy products
- 2 to 6 daily servings of vegetable oils
- 2 or more weekly servings of fish or shellfish
- 4 to 5 weekly servings of nuts and seeds

Foods we should eat less of include processed meats, sugary beverages, sweets, and baked goods made with refined grains. Not to be eaten are any foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or other trans fats.

This information is not technically new - we do have our food guide which makes similar suggestions, but perhaps we needed reminding and a slightly different explanation or perspective on the situation.

Either way, we all need to pause for a moment, take a look in our kitchens from top to bottom (especially our pantries) and re-evaluate what we're eating. Why are we choosing the foods we do? Is the information we were getting still accurate? Do the 'rules' we were following still apply? If you're not sure, it's time to do a little digging or ask someone who knows so that you can start living a fuller, healthier life.