It seems like most health and fitness buffs have their own pet theories about particular foods and food supplements. They take things like Omega-3 Fish Oil; Resveratrol; and so on.
Are any of these special foods and food supplements known with a good deal of certainty to promote healthiness and reduce the risk of heart problems, stroke, cancer, etc.?
If so, which ones?
I do know it’s a good idea to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and keep junk food and red meat to a minimum. I’m looking for specifics, e.g. people who eat vegetable X are far less likely to develop dread condition Y and the relationship has been backed up by statistical analysis.
Regarding red meat, recent research indicates it isn’t the evil that it has been made out to be (especially to be classified as junk food like you do) - unless it is in the form of bacon, cold cuts or hot dogs (myself, I treat hot dogs and other processed meats as junk food, but eat unprocessed meat like we were meant to eat it):
The culprit is the stuff they add to it, like nitrites, long known to increase cancer risk, particularly before they decreased levels in the 1920s - but likely still not enough to be safe; also, Scientific American recently had an article on this, IIRC, a graph in the article actually suggested that unprocessed red meat decreased the risk of heart disease, although possibly because people who eat processed meat are more likely to have other bad habits, same for the increase in risk for processed meat. Also, many indigenous groups eat far more meat than most Americans, yet have very low rates of the diseases popularly associated with it (also, a significant increase in calories from grains, along with added fats and sugars (mmm… doughnuts) is behind the dramatic increases in chronic diet-related diseases in recent decades):
Note that we are also eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as less meat and dairy - but so much for a healthier population.
I’ve been reading up on both the Furhman diet (all vegetarian, all the time) and the Paleo diet (vegetables, fruit, nuts & meat), and I found it interesting that, except for trading legumes (in the Fuhrman) for meat (Paleo), the diets were identical. They both say, if you want to get healthy quick, eliminate all junk food, dairy, alcohol, sweeteners, and most oils & fats (but again, Paleo says lard is just fine in moderation).
Why is dairy bad for you? It is just a slightly different form of meat, plus provides nutrients that people lack. I’d be in big trouble if it is bad in any way since I drink about 2 gallons of milk a week (not whole, mind you). Here is an article that says there is no connection between dairy consumption and CVD, diabetes and metabolism, or inconclusive (e.g. one study says this and the other says the opposite, especially for diabetes, but overall it looks like there isn’t any real connection; some other interesting points are a decrease in weight gain with an increase in dairy fat, possibly because of the beneficial fatty acids it contains* (of course, if I drank whole milk instead of 1%, with no other changes to my diet, my daily caloric intake would be some 250 calories higher, so presumably it is a satiation issue).
*You can buy CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) supplements, but Wikipedia (see previous link) says they use an unnatural isomer which doesn’t have the same health benefits and may even be harmful:
The main reason I’ve seen for excluding it from Paleo is because they are trying to recreate the diet that was followed at the time that we stopped evolving, and back then, we didn’t drink milk. They’ll then trot out half a dozen “it can cause this, and it also seems to be linked to that,” but I wasn’t able to find any specific studies cited.
As for supplements that may do some good, a daily multivitamin (just with your daily RDA, nothing excessive) is recommended by Harvard as a nutritional insurance policy (they also push Vitamin D supplements, but I don’t see how 75% of the world population, according to some estimates, can be truly deficient, and of course, I get about 250% of the RDA just from the aforementioned milk I drink and a daily multivitamin, plus whatever else I get from food, and I am frequently out in the sun, no sunscreen or anything).
Of course, there are claims that multivitamins do more than just insuring you get enough vitamins, such as prevent cancer or heart disease, but studies have shown no benefit in that regard (the one mentioned here still recommends that you take them, but not just to try to reduce disease risk).
Also, on further reading (ETA - just saw your post after posting this, Ethilrist), it sounds like the paleo diet doesn’t allow dairy because it wasn’t consumed before agriculture (what you eat then, since almost all foods available today aren’t their original wild counterparts?), but for people with lactose persistence it should be a part of their diet since after all they evolved to be able to consume it into adulthood because it had survival benefits (note also that some indigenous people consume dairy without agriculture), as mentioned here:
You’re going to find a lot of woo out there, and even the hard science isn’t that hard.
I ended up settling on fish oil and soy lecithin (shown in small trials to retard Alzheimer’s deterioration; postulated to improve brain health generally), calcium+vitamin D because I stopped drinking milk; ginkgo biloba (probably just for the placebo effect); and generic “complete multivitamin.” I really did try to find studies on each of these, and I was able to rule out many candidates, but it’s difficult to get a definite read on anything to do with human health since the sample sizes are small, the confounding factors are everywhere, and many supplement studies will lead to contradictory follow-up studies.
It’s better to just eat a varied and healthful natural diet, but if you can’t or won’t do that, then vitamins make a good “insurance policy” (Harvard’s words, not mine). There are certainly some obvious rock-solid nutritional things you can read about - lack of niacin promotes pellagra; lack of vitamin C promotes scurvy, for example. Just don’t take more than is recommended of the supplements and don’t expect any overt changes. The consensus seemed to be that we probably get minimal benefits from them but we may just be riding the placebo effect.
A little postscript about me and milk - my life used to be a parade of sniffles, bloating, gas, etc., generally feeling not great. A few years ago I started feeding myself instead of eating at home or at a cafeteria, and didn’t think about picking up milk. A few months later I realized, hey, it’s been a long time since I had milk, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt sick. This was before I started the vitamins/supplements kick. I do recognize that it could be anything, especially since I don’t restrict my cheese or yogurt or ice cream intake (estimated average one serving a day and one serving a month for the two latter) but it seems to work for me - I’ve only been seriously ill twice since then, and one of those was food poisoning.
Cheese (some kinds; cheeses that aren’t aged, especially processed cheese, can have as much lactose as milk) and yogurt don’t have lactose because the bacteria in them break it down, so people who are lactose intolerant (not really a correct term since it is normal for most people) can eat them without ill effect, as long as they aren’t actually allergic to milk (a much less common condition). Also of note, celiac disease can mimic lactose intolerance by damaging the intestine (usually reversible with a gluten-free diet), but if you had that, eliminating milk wouldn’t help much.
It depends on what health benefit you are looking for. Curcumin (curry) for alzheimers has some research on it, but I don’t know if it works on other conditions. Magnesium has some research for CVD and type II diabetes, but I don’t know if it works on something like cancer.
Whole grains are good for type II diabetes and CVD, but there is some overlap between whole grains and magnesium content since Mg is also good for those content (ie, how much of whole grain’s benefit is due to the fiber and whole grain vs the extra magnesium which can be had in a pill).
Spirulina and Chlorella are supposedly good. I don’t know what research is behind them though.
I asked my doctor once about red yeast rice supplements for lowering cholesterol. He said it’s not worth it - the Zocor I take has the same ingredients but is FDA approved and cheaper. I took that as meaning yes, it does have cholesterol-lowering properties as advertised. It’s just not worth it when you can get a prescription statin.
There was a study that advocated for something called the “polypill” which was a combo of different medications that were proven to help with heart disease and such based off the existing science.
Some researches decided to trade off the publicity of this and came up with the “Polymeal” which was an attempt to give recommendations o. Which foods had proven effects on health and quantifying those effects.
I think since then a relatively large study has brought into question whether garlic is really helpful. Anyway - the Polymeal article was fairly interesting and was freely available, but is now behind a firewall, but the wiki article is there. Ignore the stuff in the second half talking about inflammation (that stuff wasn’t in the original article and while some of it is based on science - the person that added it obviously isn’t a scientist).
That’s not a meal, that’s half a day’s worth of calories:
150 mL of red wine (about one glass) (125)
100 g of dark chocolate (500)
400 g of fruits and vegetables (100-200)
2.7 g of garlic (na)
68 g of almonds (400)
That’s 1200ish calories, and would leave me starving. I would end up eating a bunch of other food to fill up, and my total calories for the day would be enough to lead to gradual weight gain.
I am not a big fan of supplements, but I don’t think that eating huge amounts of extra calories in order to get the same stuff “naturally” is any better: the one thing we absolutely know is unhealthy is eating too much, of anything.
Not to mention a huge amount of saturated fat, over 100% of the RDA for dark chocolate alone (NutritionData also lists it as inflammatory, with a pretty bad rating of -226, but don’t take that with more than a grain of salt, considering how many fruits and vegetables they list as inflammatory - and unhealthy processed meats like Spam are anti-inflammatory).
Of course, I have previously posted that saturated fat probably isn’t as bad as it is often made out to be (for example, there do appear to be somebenefits, and the consumption of other healthy fats offsets their bad cholesterol effects, plus when they do raise LDL, it is mainly the less harmful large particles; by contrast, carbohydrates increase the number of small, dangerous LDL particles), but this is for amounts that are within the RDA; i.e not excessive.
Also, I believe they meant to take those along with other meals; for example, the 400 grams of fruits and vegetables can be eaten with other food, just as you would eat them otherwise (it would appear from this graph that Americans already eat that much, going by calories; note that foods like dark chocolate would be considered added fats and sugars, which as you can see from the graph (also see post #2), is contributing to the obesity epidemic, along with grains).
After the Paleolithic (killing things with rocks) came the Mesolithic (killing things with rocks that you’ve knapped into another shape, like, say, an axe), which was followed by the Neolithic (killing things with metal). During the Neolithic, people began farming and domesticating animals and drinking their milk. The paleo argument is that our metabolic development stopped in the Paleolithic era, and that’s what our guts are designed to process.
I know but not everything works on all 5 of those. As an example Curry helps prevent dementia and possibly heart disease or diabetes, but I don’t think it matters for cancer.
magnesium wards off type II diabetes and CVD, but doesn’t affect cancer or dementia levels.
Low grade inflammation can contribute to several diseases of old age like stroke, heart disease, type II diabetes or osteoarthritis. So there can be some overlap in why one supplement (usually one that is listed for its anti-oxidant or polyphenol content) may help prevent more than one condition.
But I get the impression cancer has different biological underpinnings than other diseases of old age, at least because when I have looked into supplements I usually don’t see lower cancer rates for supplements that reduce heart disease, diabetes or osteoarthritis rates.
A diet high in plants and exercise does fight virtually all diseases of old age though.
They sell supplements here so there is a conflict of interest (but there are conflicts of interest in allopathic medicine too) but this group tends to have research backing up certain interventions for various health concerns.
The problem with red yeast rice is twofold - lack of demonstrated effectiveness in current formulations produced in the U.S., and inconsistent amounts of active ingredient/lack of purity in imported red yeast rice.
“Red yeast rice containing lovastatin is effective in lowering cholesterol, but brands currently sold in the US contain no lovastatin. It’s ironic that one of the few proven CAM treatments was effective only because it contained a drug available by prescription…Even if a lovastatin-containing red yeast product can be obtained, concerns remain about purity and safety. It would be hard to justify recommending it over a pharmaceutical statin.”