Posts Tagged ‘Heart disease prevention’

Oh, it's phytonutrients, not Fidonutrients

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

We got a new dog almost three weeks ago, another Tibetan terrier, but this time a retired show dog. So I'm been intetested in what he eats (dry dog food, but a specific brand and for senior canines). I guess it was logical that when I saw an article on phytonutrients in The New York Times this morning, that my first thought was of "Fido nutrients." Of course that wasn't at all what the writer meant.

a healthy salad is one place to start

a healthy salad is one place to start

I found a background piece specifically on phytonutrients in WebMD; I already knew that the word "Phyto" referred to plants, but was somewhat surprised to read there are over 25,000 of these natural chemicals found in fruits and vegetables as well as in whole grains, tea, beans and nuts. From the plant's point of view, the phytonutrients help defend against its natural enemies (e.g., bugs & germs).

From our point of view, however, they may help prevent disease, visual problems, diabetes, cancer, dementia and heart disease. None of those are as clearcut as I'd like, but I've become a believer in their value. Yet eight out of ten Americans have a "phytonutrient gap," they get less in their diets than they should for optimal health.

I need to emphasize the "may help" part of my comment above; I don't find many large, double-blind, prospective clinical trials that conclude there is an absolute benefit.

What can these chemicals do for us? The National Cancer Institute mentions one significant advantage; they help protect us from free radicals, atoms or groups of atoms that have an odd number of electrons, those tiny negatively charged particles that circle the nucleus of an atom. They are formed when oxygen interacts with certain chemicals and react with cells, especially with their DNA.

Antioxidants are believed to have a role in slowing the aging process and in animal studies have helped prevent the free radical damage that is associated with cancer. Human studies have been inconclusive thus far.

There seems to me, at the current state of knowledge, to be no logic behind taking supplements to increase your intake of antioxidants. But eating more fruits and vegetables and picking which ones you eat is an entirely different story.

2010 article in e! Science News highlighted the concept that trying different fruits and veggies could help us increase our daily intake of phytonutrients. To start with, even those of us who follow the current guidelines to consume less red meat and eat a lot more fruits and veggies tend to eat more sweet varieties than is optimal. We need, as I just did, to occasionally eat some rhubarb or other less sweet fruit and add more herbs in our cooking.

By and large, the concept "Eat Your Colors," as I found in a University of Minnesota advisory piece online, is the clue to getting a significant amount of of the various phytochemicals in your diet. There are five different fruit and vegetable hue groups: red, yellow/orange, purple/blue, green and white/tan.

there are lots of kinds of potatoes

there are lots of kinds of potatoes

When we traveled to South America eight years ago we were amazed at the variety of vegetables available in a local market in Peru. One kind of potato was purple and, according to an article I read today in The New York Times, that variety has twenty-eight times as much of a particular useful chemical as russet potatoes do. That chemical is believed to help fight cancer, but some studies say it doesn't get into the body in an active form when the plant it's found in is eaten.

The NYT article was titled "Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food," and was written by an investigative journalist, Jo Robinson, who has a book about to be published, Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. She's been writing in the field of nutrition for years.

Robinson mentions that wild dandelions, formerly eaten by Native Americans, have much higher levels of these chemicals than spinach and one kind of apple (she doen't specify which) has 100 times the levels of phytonutrients as its Golden Delicious competitors. I gave up on that rather blah-tasting apple and its Red Delicious sibling  years ago and now look for Rome, Galas, Fuji, Granny Smith and Braeburn varieties.

Her basic premise is that humans have been picking sweeter fruits and vegetables for thousands of years; most of these are low fiber, high sugar (and starch and oil) varieties. Sweet corn is a key example where we've trended over the years to a vegetable that's lower in some helpful chemicals than blue, black or red corn.

I've been very intrigued as I read five articles on the subject today. I agree there's no definitive data that tells me to eat my colors and eschew the most common choices availble at supermarkets. I do know that the tomatoes we've gotten from a local CSA are much more flavorful than those I see on the shelves in the store.

The other way of looking at the concept, even if you don't accept that phytonutrients are the answer to many of our health issues, is to say when you concentrate on fruits and veggies and fill well over half your plate (preferably three-quarters), you have less room for meat. And when you choose fruits and vegetables with unusual colors, you serve a more attractive plateful of food.

That's a reasonable start.



Early cholesterol testing now recommended

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

We're seeing more obese kids

With our sweeping epidemic of childhood obesity ( current estimates say over one-sixth of American kids are obese, three times the prevalence rate seen thirty years ago), it's time to take some additional steps. On Friday 11, 2011, sweeping new guidelines for childhood lipid testing were espoused by both the NIH's Nation Heart Lung and Blood Institute and The American Academy of Pediatrics. I found these, of all places, not on the websites of the two august bodies, but on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, an NPR article and in the Los Angeles Times.

The actual article in the journal Pediatrics, won't be out for two more days and should find a fair amount of opposition. Previous position papers by the AAP and the US Preventive Services Task Force have either suggested lipid studies be done in focused groups (eg. family history of heart disease or lipid disorders) or, if universally, no earlier than age 20. The CDC (actually the acronym has changed since it's now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), in a 2010 report, commented that a single elevated LDL cholesterol reading in a child may be found to be normal in subsequent testing.

The current recommendation panel, headed by Dr. Stephen R. Daniels, an MD, PhD who is Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is quick to avoid any suggestion of widespread statin use for children found to have high levels of "bad cholesterol," LDLs over 190 milligrams per deciliter. Another panel member, Dr. Elaine M. Urbana, director of preventive cardiology at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, was quoted as saying, "This documents on the fact that this generation may be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."

So go back to the facts: one-third of US kids are overweight and about 12.5 million of them are actually obese. Even here in Colorado, the thinnest state in the nation, I see some of those kids every day. We're not just talking about high schoolers; some of these fat kids are as young as two.

What's missing is a balanced diet with emphasis on fruits and vegetables and a reasonable amount of daily exercise.

earlier blood tests may let them live longer

Daniels comments, "...the atherosclerosis process really begins early in life." he also said, "Heart disease is the number one killer in our society...people who are able to maintain a low risk through childhood and early adulthood have a lower risk (of dying from coronary artery disease)."

From my perspective, it's our responsibility as parents and grandparents, to help prevent childhood obesity, the accompanying risk of later type 2 diabetes and the huge risk of early heart disease. I filled out a health history form yesterday and noted my mother had a heart attack at age 74 (she lived 'till 90), but ignored my father's need for an artery unclogging procedure shortly before his 90th birthday. That may be something I can put off by eating well and exercising, but that's not the focus here.

I never want to see a child or grandchild die of a heart attack in their 50s or 40s or 30s or 20s.

So blood tests between ages 9 and 11 and again between 17 and 21 make sense.