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Our Top 10 Resolutions: Eat Smart to Extend Your

The “New Year's resolution” may be a cliché, but focused goals can help shape your future

by Craig Weatherby and Randy Hartnell

We'd like to take the occasion of the arrival of the New Year to offer some suggestions based on last year's most important research findings and health books.

Many of our ideas come from research we reported on in 2005, much of which supports contention made in the latest books by Drs. Nick Perricone, M.D. and Andrew Weil, M.D. These two iconoclastic medical commentators offer distinctly different but largely overlapping perspectives.

Both doctors advocate a holistic approach that takes into account the profound influence of nutrition on human health.  And both focus on oxidative stress and inflammation as slow, silent enemies of human health.

And, all of our Resolution Suggestions relate to reducing the ill effects of six overlapping, mutually reinforcing engines of premature aging and degenerative disease:

  • Overweight
  • Sedentariness
  • Chronically high blood sugar
  • Silent inflammation
  • Excessive oxidative stress
  • Omega-3/omega-6 fatty acid ratio imbalance

A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that these interlocking phenomena promote a cluster of six clinical symptoms referred to as Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X:

  • Central obesity (excessive fat around the abdomen)
  • Blood fat imbalances that foster plaque buildup in artery walls
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance or glucose intolerance (poor blood sugar control)
  • Pro-thrombotic blood status (excessively “sticky”, clot-prone blood)
  • Pro-inflammatory blood status (e.g., elevated C-reactive protein)

In turn, Metabolic Syndrome promotes or exacerbates three of the four leading causes of death in the U.S:

1) Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

2) Cancer

3) Stroke

The fourth leading cause of death—Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease—is usually caused by smoking, but may also be exacerbated by Metabolic Syndrome.

The set of symptoms that defines Metabolic Syndrome also plays a key role in causing three major afflictions of aging. Rates of the first two conditions, which can be fatal, are increasing very rapidly in the U.S.:

  • Diabetes (which promotes CVD, nerve damage and eye problems)
  • Alzheimer's and Age Related Cognitive Decline (i.e., senility)
  • Age Related Macular Degeneration and Cataracts.

Our Top 10 Resolution Suggestions

These are our suggested diet-and-health Resolutions for 2006. If you have any special health conditions that may affect the appropriateness of any of these ideas, please consult your doctor.

1) For Healthy Protein, Think Marine and Bean

Among protein sources, fish and beans appear to offer the healthiest choices. Fish offers “complete” protein—that is, it contains all eight of the amino acids the body needs to build protein.

When combined with whole grains, beans provide virtually fat-free high quality protein.  And, contrary to long-standing myth, complementary protein sources don't need to be consumed at the same meal for the body to use their amino acids to build protein.

Weight control

Being overweight in middle age has long-term implications for quality of life. The authors of a 2003 Chicago-based study followed 6,766 middle-aged men and women for 26 years, when they were 65 years and older people. The researchers came to this sobering conclusion: “A higher BMI [body mass index] in middle age is associated with a lesser quality of life in older age. Preventive measures may lessen the burden of disease and impaired quality of life associated with excess weight.”

Weight control is largely a function of the number of calories consumed and burned, but making smart food choices can enhance appetite and weight control.

Protein, like fat, is satiating, but it contains only half as many calories ounce for ounce. Fish and beans are almost certainly the best protein sources for the purposes of weight control.

The marine omega-3s in fish decelerate oxidation/inflammation-driven aging and aid weight control. To learn about the weight control properties of omega-3s, click here and here.

Beans' healthy balance of fats and their antioxidant phytoceuticals make them forceful anti-aging foods, and they are the best food sources of two potent weight control aids:

  • Fiber-like carbohydrates called resistant starches (RS) increase the rate at which the body burns (oxidizes) body fat, do not cause unhealthful spikes in blood sugar levels, and prevent other foods in a meal from causing them. And, eating just a palm full of beans or chickpeas will actually prevent sugar spikes from other, higher-glycemic foods in the meal.  Eating RS may even improve insulin sensitivity over time, based on the results of one small trial.
  • Like omega-3s, RS also causes they body to burn more fat, for up to 24 hours.
  • Beans contain so-called “starch-blockers”, which hinder the enzyme (amylase) that digests starches.  Note: Measurable weight loss resulting from dietary amylase inhibitors has been only confirmed in clinical trials testing supplements containing purified phaseamolin: an amylase inhibitor extracted from white kidney beans.

Heart health

The heart healthy properties of both fish and beans are well-documented, with seafood offering the strongest protection of the two categories of food, thanks to the multiple cardiac benefits of its omega-3 fatty acids. Beans are very good sources of cholesterol-lowering fiber.

Cancer protection

As we will report in more detail next issue, a new analysis of 63 prior studies indicates that people who consume 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 daily cut their risk of developing certain common cancers—including colon, breast, and ovarian cancer—by up to 50 percent. This dosage, whose safety has been thoroughly assessed and confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences, is more than double the current RDA of 400 IUs per day.

There are two sources of vitamin D: sunlight and foods. Judging by the results of our own lab tests versus the results of USDA tests, wild sockeye salmon may contain more vitamin D than any other whole food (687 IU per 3.5 ounce serving), followed, among our fish selection, by albacore tuna (544 IU), silver salmon (430 IU), halibut (276), king salmon (236 IU), sardines (222 IU), and sablefish (182).

2) Cut Back on Refined Carbs

By now, we're all tired of hearing it, and the low-carb/Atkins products from big supermarket brands faded fast, but it remains true that sugars and white flour foods promote diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and the silent inflammation that fuels aging.

3) Go Nuts and Get Seedy

Nuts and seeds offer fair balances of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and are good, satiating sources of protein and fiber proven to aid weight control and reduced the risk of heart disease. Seek out sesame seeds, which are now proven to inhibit inflammation in a big way, and appear to promote fat-burning.

4) Follow the Rainbow

To counter the aging-accelerating effects of free radicals, fix your dietary focus on antioxidant-rich plant foods.  Since many antioxidants are also pigments, vibrant red, yellow, green, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables fit the bill best.

In terms of weight control support, grapefruit's folk reputation as a helpful food is now supported by the positive results of a small clinical trial. And, Army research published in 1997 showed that the antioxidant- and fiber-rich pith (fuzzy white layer) just under the skin and between the section of oranges curbs appetite and suppresses hunger levels for up to four hours after being consumed.

The findings of numerous population studies indicate that diets high in fruits and vegetables yield reduced risks of cancer, heart disease, and obesity.

5) Spice up Your Life

When it comes to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory power, fragrant, colorful herbs and spices beat even the best fruits and vegetables. Ounce for ounce, most contain far higher levels of antioxidants than any vegetables or fruits, yet contribute almost no calories.

Many seasonings also offer other preventive-health phytoceuticals. For example, cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels, turmeric's yellow pigment (curcumin) helps control blood sugar and prevent cancer, chilies aid weight control, and rosemary and thyme provide brain cells with powerful protection against oxidation.

6) Cook in Mono for Sound Health

By now, almost everyone has heard of the heart-disease and cancer prevention powers attributed to the so-called Mediterranean Diet, which is high in fish, vegetables, and olive oil. Until recently, all of the benefits of olive oil have been linked to its unusually high monounsaturated fat content.

New research suggests that the extremely potent tyrosol-type antioxidants abundant in extra virgin olive oil (but not in lesser grades) may be as big a factor in its heart health benefits. To see our report on this new research, click here.

It also makes sense to favor cooking oils high in monounsaturated fats—macadamia nut and extra virgin olive—to help redress the pro-inflammatory excess of omega-6 fats found in most Americans' diets.

7) Go Whole Grain to Slow Aging and Weight Gain, Enhance Heart Health

Foods made from refined, white flour fuel two key engines of aging—insulin resistance and inflammation.  Diets high in whole grains are also proven to help curb weight gain.  The fiber in whole grains —especially the soluble kind in oats and barley—helps improve consumers' blood-cholesterol profiles.  Oats are already the subject of an approved heart-health claim, and on the day after Christmas of 2005, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the labels on whole grain barley and products containing it will be allowed to state that they may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

And, to many observers' surprise, recent research shows that common whole grains—especially wheat, corn, buckwheat—offer an unexpected abundance of anti-aging antioxidants.

8) Tea and (a little) Dark Chocolate on Top

Both tea and chocolate are rich in disease-preventive antioxidants and other phytoceuticals, so a little goes a long way.

Tea's catechin-class antioxidants improve cardiovascular health, curb several common cancers' chances of survival and appear to aid weight control.

The cocoa abundant in dark chocolate (i.e., bars containing 60 percent of more cocoa solids) is uniquely rich in close antioxidant cousins to tea catechins. These compounds are shown to enhance key vascular variables important to maintaining good cardiovascular health.

9) Don't Disdain (Organic, Cultured) Dairy

Milk is much maligned, but it's highly nutritious stuff, and most of the many clinical studies performed to date support a role for milk products in weight control.

Organic milk is your best choice, as it typically contains 70 percent more omega-3s than non-organic milk and has a healthier ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s (Note: The omega-3s content fluctuates by season and feed type, and is still fairly minor compared to the amounts in flaxseed or hemp seed).

While its short-chain plant omega-3s are not as good as the long-chain marine kind, it makes sense to seek them out whenever you're not eating fish. And among organic milk products, “cultured” ones like yogurt and kefir offer beneficial “probiotic” bacteria that enhance overall health and help keep bad microbial bugs at bay.

10) Exercise Your Right to be Healthy

Yes, it's a cliché, but exercise is the indispensable ingredient in any list of resolutions. If you're already doing it, remember that it takes both kinds—aerobic exercise (jogging, walking, swimming, etc.) and resistance exercise (weights, machines, isometrics, pushups, sit-ups)—to achieve optimal weight control and preventive health results.


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