Part 2: Diet To Prevent Non-Communicable Diseases
In 2004, the WHO developed a global strategy for diet, physical activity and health, to be implemented within the integrated prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. The strategy aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles (i.e. better food choices and increased physical activity) in a healthier environment, where nutritious foods, especially fruit and vegetables are available locally at reasonable prices. The strategy also seeks to promote simpler labelling of benefits and potential harmful effects of foods to enable people to make informed food choices.
A large body of literature shows that processed foods are energy dense foods. A review in 2006 on energy density of various foods found that sweet snacks, i.e., cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream, and chocolate bars, possessed an average energy content of 1,500-2,000 kJ each 100 g, whereas savoury foods, i.e., potato chips, had an energy density of about 2,200 kJ and even in a ”low fat” form were found to have an energy density of about 2,000 kJ each 100 g. In contrast, fruits and vegetables contain average energy densities of less than 100 kJ each 100 g.
Processed foods are loaded with highly refined starches, concentrated sugars, and other chemicals such as fructose, can change the hormonal balance of the body to create ‘a toxic environment and an addiction to food’, leading to obesity and chronic diseases and this is extensively discussed in our book “Is Your Food Killing You?” MacInnis and Rausser (2005) for instance, show that energy density can be one of the major risk factors to the incidence of childhood obesity in the US. Increasing consumption of processed foods, therefore, could be taken as one of the most important risk factors for the growing overweight/obesity problem worldwide.
It is relatively easy to limit consumption of processed foods but what is the diet we should choose to prevent disease? The pursuit of the optimal human diet has come full circle, with an increased interest emerging in the positive aspects of ancestral diets. Groups whose way of life tends to continue the Stone Age pattern with hunter-gatherer diets have low rates of complex degenerative diseases; however, predictions arising from the ancestral health concept have only just begun to be rigorously evaluated.
A recent article in Nature, states “it is difficult to refute the assertion that if modern populations returned to a hunter-gatherer state then obesity and diabetes would not be the major public health threats that they now are. Nevertheless, the genetic loading that some unfortunate people receive is so adverse that they are likely to suffer metabolic disease despite their best efforts to avoid it”. The problem with this statement is we do not know which of us falls into the category of “some unfortunate people”. Does this mean we should not try to avoid processed food in the first instance? It would seem that there are yet many unanswered question and these are still under investigation by the scientific world.
The ancient Paleolithic diet consisted of wild animal-source foods (lean meats mainly high in protein and unsaturated fat, internal organs, bone marrow, but no dairy) and uncultivated plant-source foods (mostly fruits, non-grain, vegetables, nuts, but no legumes) with much higher levels of potassium being consumed. Calcium intake did not meet recommendations for any of the diets, and it was particularly low in the Paleolithic diet due to no dairy product. Current research on the Paleolithic diet has shown beneficial effects in blood pressure and glucose tolerance, a decrease in insulin secretion and an increase in insulin sensitivity without weight loss in less than 2 weeks on this diet-all important factors that would be necessary in any potential cure for most metabolic syndrome.
This experimental Paleolithic diet looks like this:
- Breakfast: Honey, Carrot Juice, Scrambled eggs, Fresh pineapple and Pork tenderloin.
- AM snack: Almonds and or Carrot juice
- Lunch: Carrot juice, Tuna Salad (mayo, radishes, shallots) on lettuce and Low-salt tomato soup with chopped tomatoes
- Day Snack: Turkey, guacamole and tomato lettuce roll-ups
- Dinner: Chicken breast stir-fry with fresh spinach, garlic and broccoli, Roasted parsnips and mushrooms with thyme and Low-salt tomato soup
- PM Snack Cantaloupe and Carrot juice
An interesting observation is that a majority of these foods in the Paleolithic diet are in the raw form and supports the leukocytosis theory. In 1930s, Dr. Paul Kouchakoff studied the influence of cooked food on our blood. He found that unaltered food (i.e. not been overheated or refined in any way) did not cause leukocytosis but food that had been heated beyond a certain temperature (unique to each food), or food that was processed, always caused a rise in the number of white cells.
Another remarkable finding was that if a cooked foodstuff is eaten along with the same food in the raw state, there is no pathological reaction. The raw food will neutralize the detrimental effects of the altered food. It is recommended to eat raw vegetables (as little as 10% of the meal) with every meal, along with some lightly cooked ones and the Paleolithic diet above seems to fulfill this criteria.
The question remains: Should we return to the “Stone age” or an ancestral- based “Paleolithic” diet? Would this be suitable and easily incorporated in our hectic daily lifestyle? Care should be exercised in recognizing that a typical Paleolithic diet as the one described above would fail to meet current daily requirements and may not be feasible on a long-term basis. The diet above consists none of the foods that our bodies automatically crave for: whole grains in the form of breads or rice, pasta or noodles, fish and shellfish as well as chocolates.
Each of these food groups have also been shown to be beneficial to our health. A more practical approach would be to consume foods with added health benefits that were found prevalent in ancestral diets as functional foods, in addition to a healthy lifestyle to help prevent chronic diseases. In view of this, there are some lessons can we learn from the Paleolithic diet that we can incorporate into our modern day diets that will help us prevent diseases.
Here are some tips (adapted from Vorster et al., 2001):
• Enjoy a variety of foods – it is important in ensuring that the body gets a variety of nutrients. Where possible, eat fresh locally grown foods preferably freshly harvested as well and wild or free range meat produce.
• Drink lots of clean, safe water – this is important for dissolving certain nutrients and assists in reducing constipation. Ensure where possible you remove contaminants such as fluoride from your water source.
• Make carbohydrate from unrefined whole grains the basis of most meals – unrefined wholegrain wheat and other unrefined whole grains such as buckwheat contains antioxidants such as zinc, selenium and magnesium that are important in the prevention of cancer. Where possible fermented grains as occurs in bread making are of benefit and this is discussed in our article “Whole grains and their health benefits”.
• Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables – for their fibre, micronutrients and antioxidants, which are essential in the prevention of certain types of cancers and in the reduction of the risk for overweight and coronary heart diseases. Ensure you wash your vegetables with Organic Produce Wash to reduce the consumption of pesticides and herbicides.
• Eat dry beans, peas, lentils and soya often – for increased soluble fibre, protein and flavonoids intake. Soluble fibre is important for lowering blood cholesterol therefore, preventing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Do not consume processed soya products such as tofu or store bought soya milk as an alternative to dry soya beans as any benefit acquired from the soya beans is counteracted by preservatives and additives in the processed products.
• Meat, fish, chicken, milk and eggs can be eaten everyday – although foods in this category can be consumed daily, over-consumption of animal-based food may increase the risk of cancer due to the method of cooking and production of carcinogenic products. Eat white fleshed fish and red fresh water fish at least once a week. Avoid processed versions of these meats.
• Eat fats sparingly – to prevent a high intake of fat and saturated fats. High consumption of fats has been linked with overweight, cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol, diabetes and certain cancers. Moderate amount of fat is necessary for normal function of our cells. It has also been shown to act in synergy with vegetables and fruits to provide a benefit from vegetables and fruits. Fats in the form of butter or other dairy products have been shown to be especially beneficial in this respect. Also having a balanced omega-3: omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio and to keep this in the correct proportion to saturated fats in the diet helps maintain a healthy lifestyle.
• Use salt sparingly – High refined salt intake increases the risk of coronary heart diseases and stroke, and increases blood pressure. Use unrefined salt where possible. Avoid processed foods as these contain lots of hidden salts. Use traditionally made dark soy sauce in cooking as this has been shown to have cancer prevention benefits.
• Use foods and drinks that contain unrefined sugar – this unrefined sugar is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Avoid refined sugar where possible, especially high fructose corn syrup found in a variety of processed foods.
• Do not take vitamin supplements if you are healthy- There are no evidences that supplements prevent diseases in a healthy individual.
• If you drink alcohol, drink sensibly – excessive alcohol consumption may contribute to overweight as alcohol is high in energy. This will therefore increase the risk for coronary heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers and high blood pressure. A little red wine is beneficial due to the antioxidants found in these products.
• Be physically and mentally active – this is an important preventative measure for diabetes, obesity and hypertension. This is also an important factor in aging as discussed in our article “Aging and Nutrition”.
• Eat probiotic products – recent studies have focused on intestinal microbial flora as environmental factors that increase energy yield from diet, regulate peripheral metabolism and thereby increase body weight. Intestinal microbial flora may play a pivotal role in converting nutrients into energy. Increased energy yield from diet in obese mice and humans could be a contributing factor to obesity and changing this microenvironment with probiotic bacteria is beneficial. Consuming probiotics at least once a week may be useful. Consuming products fermented by probiotic bacteria such as occurs in traditionally made cheeses has also been shown to be of benefit.
More on the food topics mentioned above as well as the synergy of food and how to cook foods to prevent carcinogenic products are discussed in “Is Your Food Killing You?”