The press and news have had a field day with the story that an American study claimed that omega 3 oils are linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Quite high risks at that with 43% increased risk and 71% increased risk of high grade prostate cancer. And we thought taking fish oil or eating oily fish was healthy! However many studies have shown that omega 3 helps reduce disease risk including cardiovascular disease. It is also good for the brain and has anti inflammatory properties.
When you actually read the story it turns out that researchers were actually looking at selenium and vitamin E link to prostate cancer and not omega 3. They also admit that they were not certain whether participants took omega 3 supplements of ate oily fish. So maybe if there is anything to blame it may only be supplements or on the other hand maybe it is the fish. Who knows. It was also unclear how (if it does) fish oil could trigger tumours.
Maybe there are other explanations for the fact that omega 3 was found at higher levels in those with prostate cancer. Not because it being there caused the cancer but maybe it was there for a reason. For instance it may have been the body increasing anti inflammatory compounds to try and fight the inflammatory effect of the tumour. At least these things should be studied further before scare stories are printed in the general press.
Like everything else in health, diet and nutrition etc a balance is necessary and too much of one thing could be bad in some cases. Omega 3 is needed by the body as is omega 6 which is potentially much more of a problem in our diets as we get too much of it. The balance of omega 3 to omega 6 should be between 1:1 up to 2:1 but modern diets have much to much omega 6 due to vegetable oils use in processed foods etc. Just think of a bag of crisps. We might then be advised or have the idea of taking more omega 3 oil to balance the ratio again. Not the best idea as we only need a certain amount of either oil so the answer is to cut down on junk foods, processed foods, fried foods and snacks etc. Quality is also another factor especially with oils which can be rancid. So buy good quality and store correctly and don’t believe everything in a headline.
So the answer is once again to use your brain (which needs omega 3!). There are health benefits to eating the correct ration of omega oils. Excess of anything can be bad for you – even aspirin.
The press this week were extolling the virtues of taking vegetable oil to reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease. But as is often stated, don’t believe all you read in the papers. Especially when it comes to health matters. This story had a picture of a plate of fish and chips cooked in vegetable oil and came under a headline of ‘why a plate of chips may be healthier than you think’. This was as a result of an American study which looked at the effects of dietary linoleic acid on inflammatory markers in healthy people. Not exactly a study of the benefits of taking more vegetable oils or eating chips cooked in vegetable oil.
The report looked at previous studies and found no link between vegetable oil consumption and inflammation often associated with diseases such as heart disease, asthma and arthritis. It did not say you can just go out and consume vegetable oil freely but recommended replacing animal fats for vegetable oil in cooking etc. That is another argument altogether. Vegetable oil contains linoleic acid (Omega 6) which reduces cholesterol and lowers the risk of heart disease.
Personally I would not use vegetable oils. Refining and processing the oils changes the nature of the oil and as readers of this blog know I am not in favour of any processed foods or as little as possible. Vegetable oils are processed foods and may even be from GM sources such as corn, soy, canola (rapeseed) and sunflower seeds, healthy for you in seed form are also processed in producing oil, The grains or seed are cooked, treated with chemicals and acid, coloured and then flavoured to make it edible. Then you have a ‘healthy’ oil which when used for frying foods oxidises and loses any goodness it ever had if any. Margerines are a further process on from making oil, which is hydrogenated to turn the oil into a solid.
The oils oxidise easily especially when cooked at high temperature which causes inflammation and other health issues. So though we need a certain amount of omega 6 (linoleic acid) we won’t get it from eating more chips. There is also the issue of balance. As with all nutrition we need to balance different nutrients with each other and oils are no different. We need a certain amount of Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils in a ratio of 1 to 1 up to 1 to 2 proportion. We already get too much Omega 6 from processed/cooked and junk foods all using vegetable oils.
So we don’t need more vegetable oil and we are often told to take more Omega 3 or eat oily fish to bring the ratio of omega 3 and 6 back in balance. Better still eat less processed foods and use less vegetable oil. Eat oily fish, nuts and seeds in your diet and if so inclined eggs and butter which contain linoleic acid. Obviously there is more science and technical details out there if you want to research more but this brief blog is really pointing out the way accepting headlines at face value is not always a good idea. Think about where the food comes from and how it is made or processed, even better stick to fresh food.
What is the perfect diet? If there is one. There are so many diets that it is difficult to know which is any good and it can be confusing and as a result you don’t do any diet. There are some diets that have been established a long time and are traditional diets such as vegetarian or vegan or the food combining diet. Then there are the Atkins diets and Paleo /Caveman diet. Some claim health benefits such as Low Glycemic diet or The Dash Diet for healthy heart. All have their merits but are not for everyone. The Mediterranean Diet is another favorite that is often quoted as being an ideal diet. A Whole Food Plant Based Diet is yet another. On top of that every few weeks another new diet appears in the magazines or papers – the new diet to solve all problems.
Most new ‘latest’ diets are concerned with weight loss which if you are over weight is useful in the short term as being over weight is not healthy. But a diet should also be concerned with long term health. A healthy diet can stop you getting disease and also help healing. So which is the best diet method to follow. In reality the fad, weight loss diets that restrict certain foods and/or calories are not for the long term as they also restrict nutrition. Nutrition should be the basis of any diet and with that in mind you have to find a healthy nutritious diet that suits you so that you can make it a lifetime diet.
Some diets such as the vegetarian or whole food plant based diets advocate grains and others such as the Paleo diet say no to grains and include meat, fish and eggs. A Mediterranean Diet includes both as does the traditional old fashioned diet of my youth – meat and vegetables.
All have there followers, some more extreme than others and also have experts who quote surveys and research and technical detail as to why there diet is the only way.
Whether vegetarian, meat eaters, paleo or whole food based the diets all have one or two things in common . First no processed or junk foods and second, eat more fruit and vegetables, especially vegetables. If you can grow your own or buy organic or from farmers markets. If not a vegetarian meat should ideally be from organic grassed reared outdoor raised animals. That may be more expensive but then cheaper cuts or smaller quantities can compensate for the higher prices. Poultry and eggs should also be organic.
That is about it really. We are all different and have different needs and lifestyles. We should though all be aiming to eat more vegetables including some raw. Avoid junk and processed foods and take and take more exercise.
There is a problem with food. How do we know what we are really eating and what is on our food as well as what is in our food. Without being technical or fanatical about our food all we can do is eat fresh organic whole foods as much as possible and try and be more aware of where our food comes from. Taking note of news stories on food problems etc is also worth following where problems with a food is highlighted.
Avoiding all processed and junk food is a start. Buying organic is also preferable if not for the nutrition content, where there is some arguments about whether organic vegetables have more nutrients than non organic, then for the fact that organic food should be free from pesticides and herbicides etc. As just mentioned some studies claim that organic vegetables are no more nutritious than non organic. Is that comparison on a like for like basis. If you grow ‘organic’ carrots on poor soil and grow carrots non organically on the same soil they will both be lacking nutrients. The non organic grown carrots though will still contain traces of any pesticides/fertilisers used.
Meat is also a problem. Try to buy meat that is grass reared and organically produced free from hormones and drugs. Supermarket meat is becoming more contaminated and not just from horse meat! Most chickens (other than free range) are now fed genetically modified (GM) feed and most supermarkets are no longer guaranteeing chicken to be GM free - and there is no mention of GM on the labelling which makes life more difficult.
Better to buy meat from a good butcher where you can ask the source and how it is produced. Often you will be surprised to find it is competitively priced as well. If it is a little more expensive but better quality buy slightly less or a cheaper cut. Eating a little less meat is generally good advice anyway. Then make up the meal by adding more vegetables which will improve your health as well.
There is a crisis and austerity everywhere and prices including food keep going up so money saving food and recipes are also wanted. That does not mean buying cheap products such as ‘economy’ burghers or ready meals. Look at the latest horse meat scandal going on at the moment or think about mechanically recovered meat.
Instead you can make your own healthy dishes cheaply and here is one of my own. Fish cakes.
Take a tin of tuna or mackeral
2 medium potatoes
parsley or chives
mustard or horseradish source
Drain the tuna and mash well. Bake the potatoes in the microwave (my preferred method though you can also boil them). Chops the herbs and spring onion. Mash everything together in a bowl adding a teaspoon or two of mustard (diijon or grainy mustard) or the horse radish sauce.
Make your fish cakes and fry in olive oil with a little added butter and serve with either a salad, coleslaw, beetroot, peas or any combination you like.
A quick tasty lunch or dinner that won’t break the bank.
We all need fat in out diet. There are of course plenty of arguments for and against this with Paleo Diets advocating more saturated fats and at the opposite end low fat diets and those who think saturated fats are bad for you. We need fat but what fats are needed is another matter. Not made easy by the fact that there are different fats available – saturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats. Then labels on some such as essential fatty acids give a false impression. Essential just means that they cannot be made by the body. It does not necessarily mean they are essential in that we cannot live without them.
We do need fat though as there are fat soluble vitamins, vitamin A, D, E and K which are important vitamins for our health. Fats also provide a source of energy, aid cell growth and are needed for mineral absorption.
We are generally told to eat less fat especially animal fats which contain saturated fats. (They also contain cholesterol also demonised in many places, but that is another blog). However no fat is a single fat source even in meat. For example 170gm (about 6 oz) of lean beef mince may have about 22 gm of fat (depending on the cut etc) but only 9 gm (about 45%) is saturated. Fats and oils in foods are therefore a mix of fats. Butter and lard for instance are 40-60% saturated fat.
Saturated fats are not all bad. It is stable, does not go rancid and stores well. It is provided by animal fats and tropical oils. The body also makes saturated fats from carbohydrates. So we do need saturated fats. Saturated fats make up 50% of cell membranes and are also needed for bones to use calcium. They also help protect the liver.
Other fats are mono-unsaturated fats which are also stable and don’t easily turn rancid. Olive oil and nut oils such as almond are mono-unsaturated fats. Poly-unsaturated fats are the other fat that is commonly used and is also predominant in processed foods and junk foods. These are often touted as the healthy option by big business. They supply Omega 6 and Omega 3 oils which are not made by the body. We can get enough Omega 6 from our diet if including meat, fish and eggs in our diet. They go rancid easily, especially Omega 3 oils and should not be used for cooking. Omega 6 oils are even more prone to oxidation when sugar is also present which is often the case in our modern processed foods today.
Diets today are high in polyunsaturated oils and research now points to over consumption of polyunsaturated oils as contributing to disease such as cancer, heart, liver, digestion and weight gain. When heated oxidation takes place and the oils become rancid and produce free radicals which attack cells causing many health problems. Ideally cook with a little butter or lard. Olive oil can also be used for cooking if kept at a low temperature.
I am not advocating eating lots of steaks with saturated fat!! For a start we need to know where the meat was coming from. As in all diet and nutrition matters things are not what they seem and we all have different metabolisms and dietary needs. But be aware of the need to eat a healthy whole food diet free of processed and junk foods with lots of vegetables and fruits. Where possible buy organic eggs and meat from grass reared animals. Use butter instead of margarine or vegetable oils for cooking or olive oil if using over low heat. You can also get healthy oils from eating seeds and nuts (sprinkle on cereals or salads or soups etc) and eat oily fish a couple of times a week. Don’t be afraid to use butter for cooking – it tastes better as well.
Christmas is coming and maybe it is not just the goose that is going to get fat. We all tend to over indulge to a varying degree at this time of the year. Why else is the main new year resolution dieting, either for health or weight loss. It must be our guilty conscience.
There is no need to have a guilty conscience. You can indulge and join in the festivities without watching what you eat or drink. I don’t mean stuffing your face or drinking to excess just because it is Christmas, but you don’t have to watch your diet too carefully. Anyway if you normally eat healthy nutritious food and avoid junk and processed foods you will not be going crazy anyway.
If you follow my advice in this site and in my website at http://www.thenutritiondietclub.com and eat a healthy nutritious diet already the traditional Christmas dinner will be little different - other than maybe quantity. Turkey, potato, brussel sprouts, carrots, peas and stock based gravy, gives a healthy meal. Pudding and pies are perhaps an excess but once the day is over we will no doubt revert to our normal diet and no harm is done.
If you avoid over indulging too much on the chocolate and alcohol and nibbles, things you may not eat much of during the year, you can have a ‘normal’ guilt free Christmas and no harm done. There is also the new year resolution if all else fails! So eat drink and be merry.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year