EN’s Annual A-to-Z Guide: Toxins, Disease-Fighters, Diets, Food News

It’s been yet another year of nutrition developments, advances, surprises and recommendations. Over the course of a year, EN manages to touch on a wide variety of topics about nutrition and the environment to keep our readers informed. At year’s end, we present you with this A-to-Z guide, highlighting what you need to know in a nutshell from the past year or so.



Not even in our consciousness two years ago, acrylamide made waves when Swedish researchers found that this ?probable carcinogen? was pervasive in our diets. It forms when high-carb foods are cooked at high temperatures. That includes items like crisp crackers, French fries and potato chips. However, the most recent research has found no increased cancer risk in people eating foods high in acrylamide. That’s reassuring, but the jury is still out. Best advice? Cut down on processed foods; eat more whole foods.


Blood Pressure Guidelines

Think your blood pressure is fine? Think again. New national guidelines reclassify many previously normal readings as ?prehypertensive?’systolic readings between 120 and 140 and diastolic readings between 80 and 90. Experts emphasize that damage to arteries begins at these levels and can eventually lead to heart attack or stroke. Best advice? Lose weight if you need to, cut down on salty processed foods and follow the DASH diet?lots of fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy and whole grains, easy on fatty meats.



Many people (and certainly the late Dr. Atkins) view carbohydrates as the villain, but most experts say we should concentrate on calories as the real culprit in the perennial weight-loss battle. Researchers looking at three decades of low-carb diet studies found that successful diets contained varying amounts of carbs, but all limited calories to about 1,100 per day. Best advice? Cut your intake by just 100 calories a day and up your activity to burn an extra 100 calories a day to lose 20 pounds in a year.



Restricting foods is no longer the mantra of the ?diabetic diet.? Now it’s all about what to include: whole grains, fish, nuts and seeds. Chromium and magnesium supplements show promise, but talk to your doctor first. Pay attention even if your fasting blood sugar is 100-125, which is now classified as pre-diabetes. Best advice? Losing weight and exercising have proven to be the best risk reducers. Work your way up to one hour a day of brisk walking to cut your risk by one-third.



B vitamins are touted as energy providers. They aren’t; calories are your only energy source, but B vitamins do help your body process them. A basic multi helps keep your intake adequate. Also avoid too much caffeine (more than 300 milligrams or three cups of coffee daily) and sugary snacks (sugar makes you sleepy, not peppy). Best advice? Eat regular meals (skipping meals is like driving by the gas station when your tank is low), get enough sleep (we all skimp on this ?nutrient?) and exercise regularly.


Farmed Fish

Is farmed fish as good as fish from the wild? That depends. Limited data show comparable protein and omega-3 fat content; fat and calories are slightly higher in farmed fish. There are, however, environmental concerns with some fish farms, as well as new reports of carcinogens in farmed salmon. Catfish and tilapia farms have good reputations, shrimp and salmon farms are iffier. But eating fish is still good for your health. Best advice? Eat a variety of fish twice a week. Choose domestic farmed over imported farmed fish, but favor canned and wild salmon over farmed.



This lesser known vitamin E compound is the form found in food. Yet supplements usually contain only the alpha-tocopherol form of E, perhaps explaining why the vitamin hasn’t fared so well in studies. New research finds that people taking mixed tocopherols (alpha, delta and gamma) show improvement in certain measures of risk for heart disease and stroke. Best advice? Get your gamma by eating foods rich in E (wheat germ, almonds, sunflower seeds); if you supplement, take a mixed-tocopherol formula.



Headache triggers are rarely food-linked, though sometimes food plus another trigger?e.g., stress, hormones, lack of sleep?can set a migraine in motion. Most common food culprits? Caffeine, red wine and other alcoholic beverages. Best advice? Exercise regularly, curb caffeine consumption, eat and sleep regularly, and reduce stress with yoga or meditation.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease

IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which have nutritional implications. Malabsorption is common, causing low protein stores and deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. Even the corticosteroid drugs used have nutritional consequences, such as decreasing calcium absorption and increasing potassium losses. Best advice? Seek help planning meals from a registered dietitian.


Juice Plus

This perennial seller continues to baffle us. Why would anyone want to take a pill instead of eating luscious fruits and a cornucopia of vegetables? No matter what the makers say, it’s not the equivalent of the real thing, with nowhere near as much fiber. Still, there’s no real down side, except exorbitant cost. Best advice? Save your dollar bills and enjoy the real thing.



If you had to choose just one fruit to eat, kiwifruit would be a definite contender. This fruit’s ordinary brown wrapping belies its bright green flesh and wealth of nutrients. You can’t get much better. Kiwifruit is packed with vitamin C, potassium and fiber, not to mention folate, magnesium, vitamin E, lutein and copper. Best advice? Eat two as a snack. Slice in wheels for a pretty garnish. Rub on meat as a tenderizer.



Natural does not mean safe when it comes to laxatives. Stimulant laxatives like senna and Cascara sagrada do the deed, but often at the expense of your health, by causing cramping, nausea and electrolyte imbalance. Similar side effects occur with stool softeners like Colace and osmotic agents like Fleet. Lubricant laxatives like mineral oil interfere with absorption of fat-soluble nutrients. Best advice? Start your day with a high-fiber cereal, then eat whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables during the day. If still needed, choose a fiber-based bulking agent like Benefiber, Citrucel, Metamucil, FiberCon or Perdiem.


Macrobiotic Diet

This diet, evoking ancient Asian principles, is more than a minimally processed, semi-vegetarian diet; it’s a balanced, holistic way of life. No longer the extreme 1960’s Zen diet, the modern macrobiotic diet is more nutritionally responsible?about half whole grains plus vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds and fish?a high-fiber, low-fat, heart-healthy, anticancer diet. Best advice? It’s fine to follow macrobiotic principles, but avoid rigid adherence to some rules, like not eating nightshade vegetables.



Vitamin or drug? How about both. This B vitamin (B3) helps convert calories to energy and prevents pellagra, a deficiency disease. But prescribed pharmacological doses of niacin?as extended-release nicotinic acid (Niaspan)?is an effective and inexpensive first-line defense against elevated lipid levels. It is particularly effective for lowering triglycerides. The disarming skin flushing niacin causes is less pronounced with the extended-release form. Best advice? Don’t assume you need a statin for elevated lipid levels; discuss nicotinic acid with your doctor.



Monounsaturated?polyunsaturated ?.what’s a cook to choose? All oils contain a mix of mono, poly and saturated fatty acids. It’s what predominates that matters?mono is tops, followed by poly. Highest in mono? Hazelnut oil. But it’s too expensive and strongly flavored for everyday use. Next highest is olive oil?our favorite for most all uses, except baking. Canola is next best overall. Peanut and sesame oils are good for saut?ing. Best advice? Buy a deeply colored extra-virgin olive oil; you?ll get more phytonutrients, such as squalene.


Portfolio Diet

University of Toronto researchers have put together a portfolio of dietary components that individually reduce heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol, each through a different mechanism. Combining them into one diet seems to enhance their individual effects. The diet includes a sterol/stanol margarine (e.g., Take Control), soluble fiber (e.g., oatmeal, beans, okra, broccoli, apples, Metamucil), soy protein (e.g., soy milk, soy nuts, miso, tempeh, tofu) and nuts (e.g., almonds). Best advice? Add some of these foods to every meal.


Qualified Health Claims

You?ll need a grain of salt when reading label claims from now on. The government is allowing claims with less scientific support than before, as long as the label sports a caveat. However, the criteria for the varying levels of scientific support are confusing. Latest claim? Nuts do battle against heart disease. Next in line? Tea fights heart disease and lycopene in tomatoes combats cancer. EN supports all those links. Best advice? Be skeptical of future health claims. Do your own research; read EN!


Raw Foods

This is the latest craze touted by Hollywood celebrities and wannabe’s?eating only raw or ?living? foods. Raw food restaurants have even sprouted. What’s on the menu? Nothing but uncooked plant foods: fresh fruits and veggies, sprouts, raw grains and legumes, nuts, juices and oils. Yum? The theory that heating foods destroys enzymes is misguided because we make our own enzymes. Best advice? The diet is nutritious, but don’t buy into the concept that cooked foods are bad. Definitely avoid raw sprouts, which have been linked to bacterial contamination.



EN applauds the World Health Organization’s new recommendation to limit ?free sugars? to less than 10% of calories. That includes added sugar and the sugar in juices. Look for added sugar on labels, often disguised as high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, maltodextrin or sucrose, for example. Best advice? Limit processed foods; stick to whole foods. Favor fruits over juice, except for a glass to start your day.



These made EN‘s absolute best anti-cancer foods list this year. Raw tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C, while cooked and canned tomatoes are your best sources of lycopene. This phytonutrient has repeatedly shown the ability to fight prostate cancer. Now women may benefit; new laboratory research suggests cancer protection as well as bone benefits. Best advice? The lycopene in tomatoes outshines lycopene in pills, so enjoy your spaghetti sauce, tomato soup and even ketchup; but watch the sodium.


Undetected Bone Loss

Could you be at risk for a broken hip? The largest study of osteoporosis to date found that nearly half of postmenopausal women suffer some degree of bone loss. Yet most don’t know it. Nearly 40% had osteopenia, doubling their risk of fracture, while 7% had undetected osteoporosis, quadrupling their risk. Best advice? Get your bone density tested. Even wrist and heel readings are as predictive of fracture risk as hip and spine readings. If at risk, take calcium with vitamin D plus a multi, and start walking and lifting weights.



Vinegar diets just won’t die. These days, they simply keep circulating on the Internet. The latest reincarnation is the Apple Cider Vinegar Diet. It may help you lose weight?courtesy of a low-calorie diet plan?but the acid won’t melt fat away, as proponents would have you believe. Best advice? Use that vinegar on your salad instead. Balsamic is boffo! (Vinegar also makes a great wood floor cleaner and removes mineral deposits in your coffeemaker.)


White Tea

For many foods, white signals fewer phytonutrients. Not so for white tea. This is real tea from the same Camellia sinensis tea plant as black, green and oolong teas. But it might be even better. It’s harvested early and processed less than the other teas. That means it retains more catechins, the polyphenols in tea that have shown promise fighting cancer and heart disease. Best advice? Try a two-minute brew of white, green, black or oolong tea?it’s all good for you.



(Okay, we admit we cheated on X.)

Oxalates present in greens like spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens attach to calcium, preventing much of it from being absorbed. But oxalates in chocolate don’t grab calcium as tightly. Research shows calcium in chocolate milk is absorbed as well as calcium in unflavored milk. Best advice? If you?re susceptible to kidney stones, drink up your milk; the calcium in it binds oxalates, preventing them from forming kidney stones.


Younger Longer

Longevity is often a goal, but not really desired unless those extra years are healthy ones. According to Centenarian Study results, about half the people who live to be 100 probably possess genes for a healthy old age. For the rest of us, researchers say two-thirds of longevity is due to lifestyle, including diet. Best advice? Maintain a healthy weight; eat whole, unprocessed foods; enjoy fish twice a week; take a multi; be physically active; stay connected to friends; and don’t smoke.


Zero Trans

With trans fats mandated on food labels by 2006, you?ll see a lot more claims that foods are ‘trans-free.? A word to the wise: They may not be. The government defines ?zero? trans as anything less than 0.5 gram. If you eat several servings a day of foods with ?zero? trans, that can add up fast, considering your goal is to get as little trans as possible. Best advice? Check ingredient lists for partially hydrogenated fats. If listed, then there is at least some trans present??zero? or not.


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