Comparing Nutrition Theories


Cover of "The Omega Diet: The Lifesaving ...

Cover via Amazon

It is interesting to compare all the various nutrition books and ideas.  For example, the first book I ever read about diet was Barry Sears book “Enter the Zone” 1995 (which was not a diet, but a “life style” book).  He focused on increased intake of good (low-glycemic carbs) and fat while decreasing bad carbs.  He also touched on the importance of Omega-3 fats.  Some of the ideas in his book are now widely accepted, particularly the importance of avoiding refined foods.  However, his thinking has clearly evolved, and his more recent book (“Toxic Fat”, 2008) has shifted to a focus on increasing the intake of “good” fats (Omega-3s) and decreasing the “toxic” fats.  For those who proselytize about Omega-3s, the use of the “toxic” fat may help emphasize the importance of Omega-3s in the body, although the label is pejorative rather than positive.  The benefits of the Zone may have come more from the reduced refined carb intake, rather than increased fat.

The next book was delivered to me by mistake (ordered by someone in Florida).  I took this as a sign, and read “Eating Well for Optimum Health” by Andrew Weil several times.  It has a chapter devoted to Omega-3s and lots of suggestions for a healthy diet.  However,  I think the Omega-3 message was lost in all the other information that he discusses in his book, although it is very interesting.

After a long hiatus, a friend introduced me to”The China Study” by Colin Campbell.  I really enjoyed this book.  The writing is clear, and very convincing in supporting a vegetarian (more correctly, vegan) lifestyle, eliminating animal products and especially milk and animal protein and fat from the diet.  It is hard to argue with the moral and ethical arguments in support of eating no meat.  Even Einstein believed in vegetarianism.  However, another friend commented that the statistical studies quoted in the book do not actually support a completely vegan diet, but instead a diet with a small amount of animal protein.  The vegans argue that a vegan diet supplies all the protein anyone could require.  In any event, my attempts at veganism (not a 100% commitment) resulted in high triglygeride blood levels and higher blood sugar levels.   A Google search suggested fish oil supplements to lower triglycerides, and a further search of references to Omega-3s led to purchasing “The Omega Diet” on Amazon.com.  Then, a few weeks later, Amazon suggested I might be interested in “The Queen of Fats” since I was interested in Omega-3s(!).

Neal Barnard (“Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes“) and Dr. John McDougall are committed to low fat vegetarian diets as the way to improved health.  Although vegans argue that they are statistically more healthy, for me, veganism was not the entire solution.  For me personally, the emphasis has to be on increasing Omega-3 intake as the first priority.

Dr. McDougall has an email subscription service that argues against a lot of conventional medical opinion.  He notes that medications intended to control cholesterol and blood sugar levels have not actually resulted in provable improvements in health.  In a recent post (July 12, 2010) he disputes many of the conclusions of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recent report.  He says “Saturated fat and cholesterol are synonymous with meat, dairy, and egg products. Ample evidence establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that the consumption of animal products are a major player in the cause of” many diseases.  He cites many reasons for his alternate recommendations, for example, that “the preponderance of scientific evidence recognizes animal foods, high in acids and protein, as damaging to the bones. The human body neutralizes dietary acids by releasing alkaline materials (carbonates, citrates, and sodium) from the bones. The chronic acidosis caused by consuming usual quantities of cheese, meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish is the primary cause of osteoporosis.”

Dr. McDougall suggests saturated animal fats are harmful to health.  However, there is evidence that in the last few decades saturated fat consumption has decreased in the USA, but health has arguably decreased (perhaps mainly due to increased Omega-6 consumptions and a worsening O6:O3 ratio).  However, the body can store infinite amount of fat, and overconsumption of fat will inevitably lead to obesity.   The potential benefit of Omega-3s is that they may increase body metabolic rates, and catalyze increased fat burning.  On the other hand, the health populations deprived of animal products in World War II very quickly improved after that imposed change in diet.

I fully support the concept of veganism, but I think that the priority should be more focused to (as suggested by Michael Pollan) simply greens, real foods, and eating moderately.  I have tried to cut back my milk product intake (although I have a weakness for Swiss cheese) and increase my consumption of greens, as well as eliminate non-wild meat and only eat moderate amounts of wild meat (and fish oil) and refined grains.  With regard to grains, sprouted grain flour may be easier to digest than white flour, but it is still a processed food.  I do not yet know whether 1/2 cup of ground flax seed and greens and fresh vegetable juice every day would supply enough of the essential Omega-3s for my needs, without supplementation with fish and fish oil.  I recognize that the current rates of fish consumption in the world are not sustainable in the long term, just as we are using up all the remaining oil resources at an unsustainable rate.  However, for the moment I accept that a lifetime of Omega-3 deficiency requires significantly increased Omega-3 intake, at least until the total amount of fat stored in my body reaches the optimum ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.

It is important to realise that the goal is to achieve a balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6, not to eliminate Omega-6s (and other fats) from our diets.  It is just that the modern diet supplies an unhealthy amount of Omega-6s compared to the Omega-3s.  Inquiring minds will ask what would be the symptoms of overconsumption of Omega-3s?  There is very little research on this topic, and very little can be said with certainty.  However, as noted in “The Queen of Fats” by Susan Allport, the Greenland Eskimos (with a diet high in fish and seal and whale blubber) were known to have no arterial diseases, but instead died of infections and tuberculosis.  In addition, their blood took about twice as long to clot as the Danes, and they were known to suffer from nose bleeds.  Since the  Greenland population had virtually no access to green vegetables, and consumed high amounts of saturated fats, it is difficult to know whether, (if susceptibility to infection is associated with high omega-3 intake) that susceptibility to infection could be reduced by increased antioxidant consumption and decreased saturated fats.  However, at the very least, too frequent nose bleeds would be a signal to reduce Omega-3 intake.

The “Omega-3 Connection” by Andrew Stoll focuses on the studies which show that Omega-3 fish oils can alleviate depression and bipolar disorder.  In a review on Amazon.ca, Patrick Quillin refers to the fact that fish oil contains primary nutrients missing from the Standard Amercian Diet (SAD).

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