We look back on a year’s worth of good news about our favorite foods, from fish, nuts, olive oil, and tea to berries, chocolate, and turmeric
by Craig Weatherby
Pardon the pun in our title… we couldn’t resist tweaking “Time” magazine’s year-end tradition, which picked “You”—meaning the rapid rise of Web sites driven by user-provided content—as “person of the year.”
And please pardon the snarky sentiment, but if the kind of “empowerment” represented by YouTube and MySpace—such as self-supplied video of pop impresario P Diddy peeing—represent the apotheosis of human progress in 2006, then woe is us.
We’d rather that the millions obsessed with internet-based ephemera engage in political and social action and—we know this is radical—get informed and vote.
Okay, that's enough culture-critique. Let's get to the subject at hand: our review of a year's worth of welcome news about some seemingly heaven-sent “manna.”
Nutrition news ruled the health world in 2006
Although the past year bore witness to a welter of bad news about over-hyped, possibly dangerous drugs and weak FDA oversight, 2006 also brought a raft of good news for folks who enjoy some of nature’s most appealing foods.
Much of the good news surrounded the marine omega-3 fatty acids in which our fish—especially salmon, sablefish, and sardines—are so very rich.
But the biggest surprises concerned another nutrient in which fatty fish--especially sockeye salmon--are uniquely rich: namely vitamin D.
And several other Vital Choice offerings--berries, olive oil, dark chocolate, turmeric, and tea—were also the subjects of positive research results.
Let’s take a quick look back at the healthy food highlights of 2006, staring with the “fish and sunshine vitamin,” since vitamin D was perhaps the darkest horse in terms of its prior obscurity as a key preventive-health ally.
Fish fit the vitamin D bill;
Sockeye salmon stand out
Certain fish are the only substantial food sources of vitamin D, as well as being the only substantial food source of marine omega-3s, which are also critical to optimal heart health.
Among fish, Pacific sockeye salmon may be the richest source of all, with a single 3.5 ounce serving surpassing the US RDA of 400 IU by about 70 percent:
Vitamin D per 3.5 ounce serving*
Sockeye salmon 687 IU
Albacore tuna 544 IU
Silver salmon 430 IU
King salmon 236 IU
Sardines 222 IU
Sablefish 169 IU
Halibut 162 IU
*For our full test results, click here.
Vitamin D takes center stage
Following hard on the heels of a string of positive findings on vitamin D and bone health in 2005, this overlooked, versatile nutrient had another banner year in 2006.
Saying, “Finally, a vitamin that makes the grade,” Harvard’s HealthBeat newsletter expressed enthusiasm about a remarkable run of positive research results on vitamin D throughout 2006, in contrast to disappointing heart-health findings on vitamin E and folate.
They were referring to the encouraging results of several studies whose results indicate that vitamin D—which is produced in skin exposed to sunlight and is uniquely abundant in sockeye salmon and other fatty fish—may protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease… and maybe even the flu (see “Vitamin D May Explain the Flu … and Fight it, Too”).
But as the Harvard newsletter noted—in full agreement with leading vitamin D researchers—“Most multivitamin pills contain 400 IU of vitamin D. We probably ought to be getting at least twice that much.”
These were the vitamin D highlights of 2006… click where indicated to see our articles on each fruitful investigation:
Vitamin D and cancer prevention
- Studies from California and Canada show that as blood levels of vitamin D go up, women’s breast cancer risk goes down (Click here).
- Researchers from Harvard and Northwestern University reported that taking 300 IU of vitamin D or more a day lowers the risk of pancreatic cancer by about 40 percent (Click here).
- Scientists at Boston University and the University of California found that high-than-average dietary levels of vitamin D may cut the risk of colon, breast, ovarian and other cancers in half (Click here).
Vitamin D versus diabetes and cardiovascular disease
- Italian researchers conducted two studies, whose results indicate that low levels of vitamin D correlate with a greater degree of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and that three out of five people with type 2 (adult onset) diabetes have low blood levels of vitamin D. And our report began by summarizing research results from 1999 and 2002, which indicate that higher dietary levels of vitamin D reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart-related death. (Click here.)
Medical advances that took more conventional forms
In addition to healthy findings on food factors, good news on the medical front in 2006 included a regulatory assault on trans fats plus introduction of two important new vaccines and a sight-saving drug:
- Food manufacturers were finally forced to disclose the amount of “trans” fats in their products. These heart-attacking forms of polyunsaturated fat occur when vegetable oils are hydrogenated to increase the shelf life of packaged foods.
- The first vaccine against the human papilloma viruses that cause most cervical cancers was introduced, as was the first vaccine (Zostavax) against shingles, whose painful lesions appear when the chickenpox virus emerges after decades of dormancy.
- FDA approved the first drug that actually improves vision in macular degeneration patients. Ranibizumab stops the blood vessel overgrowth that causes the blinding “wet” form of the disease. (It's expected that a similar but far cheaper drug called bevacizumab will prove even more effective.)
Omega-3s: Benefits of fish and their fats were affirmed and expanded
Where to begin? Omega-3s enjoyed a nearly unprecedented flood of positive research results over the past 12 months.
In fact, the only negative finding was that Americans aren’t consuming nearly enough omega-3s, which they need to balance the extremely excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids concentrated in packaged foods and in our most common vegetable oils (see “New Report Finds Americans Need Far More Omega-3s”).
And the reputations of marine omega-3s as uniquely healthful food factors weathered assaults from two widely publicized evidence reviews, whose scientifically flawed findings were rejected by virtually all expert observers (see “Experts Find New Fish-and-Health Review Deeply Distorting” and "Media Reports Miss Fatal Flaws in New Review of Omega-3/Cancer Evidence").
The only exceptions were a series of studies that seemed to show omega-3s could be risky for people with implantable cardiac defibrillators: a tiny subset of heart patients, who represent the sickest among them (see “Fish Oil Can't Rescue the Sickest Cardiac Patients' Heart Rhythms”).
Researchers also affirmed that the rewards of eating ample fish easily outweigh the risks from minute traces of methylmercury: a neurotoxin that occurs at exceptionally low, safe levels in all wild salmon and all of our fish, including our young, low-weight albacore tuna and halibut (see “New Studies Agree Fish Benefits Outweigh Risks” and “Fight Over Mercury Risks Muddied by Bad Science”).
We’ve gathered our most significant omega-3 research articles from 2006 here, and you can get our own summary of their benefits from the Vital Choice White Paper on Omega-3s and Health, which we posted on our Web site earlier this year.
Athletics and Fitness
Brain Performance and Mood
Cardiovascular (Heart/Artery) Health
Child Development and ADD/ADHD
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
Pain and Inflammation
Berry good news in 2006
Continuing a trend that brought many positive findings in recent years, berries were the subject of even more good news this past year. These were the highlights, as we reported in “Vital Choices”:
Dark chocolate deemed a healthful dessert
The evidence has been building for several years, and research reported in 2006 only added to the credibility of dark chocolate and raw cocoa as potent heart-protectors. And the latest finding we published suggest it may also beautify skin and fight chronic fatigue.
Tea brews hot benefits
Tea’s reputation as a healthful beverage received more support in 2006, with studies showing that it helps heart and bone health and may help prevent weight gain, dementia, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Olive oil hailed as healthier than ever: Extra virgin grade takes top honors
Olive oil has long been seen as one of the reasons why the traditional “Mediterranean diet” of rural Italy and Greece yields low rates of heart disease and cancer. But starting in 2006, research began to reveal one of the major, previously unsuspected reasons for its preventive health powers.
Rather than its ample amounts of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, it now appears that olive oil—but only unrefined extra virgin grade—contains exceptionally powerful antioxidants that are probably the main reason olive oil is so clearly good for cardiovascular health and is now believed to help prevent breast and colon cancer.
Nuts aid weight control; discourage heart disease and diabetes
While they are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which the average American consumes in overabundance, nuts are also high in antioxidants and fiber and constitute a key, overlooked constituent of the healthful Mediterranean diet. All in all, nuts appear to enhance heart health, blood sugar control, and weight management
And unlike other nuts, walnuts are one of the richest sources of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which, while not as healthful as the long-chain marine omega-3s in fish, are valuable health allies.
Enjoyed in moderation, the benefits of nuts seem clear and strong, as the past year’s research results affirmed.
Turmeric: Curry spice reported to cut risks of dementia and cancer
Mainstream researchers have been growing increasingly excited about the preventive health potential of the bright yellow, powerfully antioxidant pigment in turmeric, called curcumin.
The preceding 12 months saw publication of studies suggesting that turmeric can help prevent or alleviate cancer, Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
We covered some of these encouraging stories about turmeric: an underutilized spice that adds color, subtle flavor, and health to rice, veggies, and most any protein, from fish to fowl.
This ends our review of a remarkable year of nutritional health news. All in all, the foods we offer Vital Choice customers put in quite an impressive performance in 2006. And these findings vindicate the health value of whole, natural foods... highly palatable products that receive nowhere near the vast piles of research dollars devoted to discovery of patentable drugs.