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.
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.)
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
- Wild Salmon Excels for Sports and Fitness
- Omega-3s Enhance Blood Flow During Exercise
- Fish Oil Supplements Alleviate Exercise-Induced Asthma
Brain Performance and Mood
- Feel-Good Findings: Omega-3s Boost Mood, Reduce Anger, Ensure Brain's Flow of Fuel
- Omega-3s Enhance Mood and Brain Speed in Clinical Trial
- Feeling Anxious? Fish and Fish Oil May Help
- Can Fish Oil Keep Cain from Killing Abel?
- Omega-3s Boost Brain Networks Critical to Memory Capacity
- Three New Studies Bolster Mood Benefits of Omega-3s
- Omega-3s Seen Boosting Performance of Healthy Young Brains
- Omega-3s Slow, Omega-6s Speed Prostate Cancer Growth
- Omega-3s Hamper Growth of Liver Cancers
- Breast Cancer Study Questions Omega-3s' Preventive Power but Overlooks Context
- Fish Oil May Curb Onset of Colorectal Cancer
- Fatty Fish Seen Curbing Women's Kidney Cancer Risks
- Salmon Slashes Prostate Risk in Swedish Study
- Omega-3s Fight Skin Cancer in Mice
- Fish and Omega-3s Found to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk
Cardiovascular (Heart/Artery) Health
- Farmed Salmon's Diet Yields Unhealthful Cardiovascular Effects
- Omega-3s Yield Heart-Saving Effects Even in Small Amounts
- Omega-3s May Cut Active Men's Risk of 2nd Heart Attack
- New Evidence Analysis Supports Omega-3 Heart Benefits
- Omega-3s Beat Other Cardiac Interventions in Computer Study
- The Omega-3 Prescription Gap: New York Times Highlights Cardiac Chasm Dividing US and Europe
- Walnuts Help Win Heart-Health War
- UK Group Affirms Omega-3s and “Med” Diet as Heart-Healthy
Child Development and ADD/ADHD
- Maternal Omega-3 Intake Called Critical to Child Development
- New Findings Support Omega-3s' Ability to Aid Kids with Attention Disorders
- Fish Oil vs. Flax Oil Part 1: Which Omega-3s Prove Best for Babies?
Dementia and Alzheimer's
- New Insight into Anti-Aging Brain Benefits of Omega-3s
- Fish Oil May Halt Memory Decline in Alzheimer's
- Dementia Danger Slashed by Brainy Marine Omega-3
Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
- Drug May Help Prevent Diabetes but Omega-3s Offer Comparable Effects
- Diabetes News: Fish Fats and Tea and Display Preventive Potential
- Evil Diabetes-Depression Axis May Link to Lack of Omega-3s
- Omega-3s Seen to Fight Metabolic Syndrome
Pain and Inflammation
- Fish Oil Seen to Rival Pain Pills
- Fish Nutrients Seen to Inhibit Inflammation
- “Inflammation Free Diet” Book Puts Wild Salmon on a Pedestal
- Fighting Internal Fires with Fish Fats: Omega-3s for Asthma, Arthritis, Eczema, Psoriasis, and More
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”:
- Strawberries Curb Cancer Cell Growth; Organic Berries Called Best
- Wild Blueberries Seen to Enhance Vascular Health
- Berries May Offer Brain Benefits to Astronauts and Earthbound Alike
- Strawberries Reported to Enhance Long-Term Memory
- Berries Help Halt Cancer Growth
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.
- Dark Chocolate's Heart-Health Secret Discovered
- Beauty from a (Dark) Chocolate Bar?
- Chocolate Chalks up Big Heart-Health Win
- Extra-Dark Chocolate Seen to 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.
- Tea Versus Cancer: Good News Comes in Threes
- Tea May Combat Women's Cancers and Help Keep Seniors Mentally Sharp
- Black or Green, Tea Protects Brain Cells Against Alzheimer's
- Bone-Health Summit Boosts Green Tea, Protein, Calcium, and Vitamin D
- Green Tea May Cut Risk of Heart Disease
- Food Allies in the Weight War: Spices, Tea, and Fish
- Green Tea Seen to Save Lives in Large, Lengthy Study
- Black Tea May Confer Memory-Saving, Anti-Stress Benefits
- Coffee Found Inflaming; Tea Seen as Smarter Caffeine Source
- Diabetes News: Fish Fats and Tea and Display Preventive Potential
- Can Tea Cut Cholesterol Levels?
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.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil Seen Superior for Reducing Cardiac and Cancer Risks
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil Confirmed as Best Cardiac Prevention Choice
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.
- Certified-Organic Nuts (contains an overview of almond, walnut, and cashew benefits)
- New Studies Confirm Popular Nuts as Conspicuously Healthful
- Walnuts Help Win Heart-Health War
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.
- Turmeric Power, Part I: Colorful Spice Seen to Combat Cancer Strongly
- Turmeric Power, Part II: Curry Spice May Curb Alzheimer's
- Curry Spices versus Colorectal Cancer
- Turmeric's Yellow Hue Helps Brain and Joint Health
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.