Perhaps I should have said “Yes, indeed” when the rep from media relations asked me whether I had read this book called Blue Zones by National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner, but I could not tell a lie. The fact of the matter was, I had not even heard of this book before. For all I knew, it could have been about the molecular structure of some ancient algae and its hypothesized effects on fatty acid oxidation, so I got worried and blurted out the truth. How quickly things have changed in a mere two days, because I can safely say now, I am an expert at Blue Zones, which has thankfully very little to do with aquatic flora or biochemistry. By spending two entire evenings trying to research the varied topic areas covered in the book, I have come to the conclusion that “more research is needed” before we can come to a conclusion that certain foods prolong life by protecting against heart disease and cancer. However, my dear readers, I thought I would put my hard work to good use and share with you some of the answers to life’s most interesting nutrition questions.
Is it ok or women to eat a lot of soy products? Do flavonoids in tofu protect the heart and guard against breast cancer?
According to clinical guidelines, 25 grams of soy per day may be protective against heart health by lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol. There may be some evidence that soy products, containing isoflavones (a type of antioxidant), may protect against breast cancer in women. Important to note, is that studies are observational in nature and therefore we cannot assume that higher soy diets protect against breast cancer. In other words, if we ask a group of Asian women and a group of American women to report their dietary intakes for the past year, just because the Asian women ingested more soy, does not necessarily mean that this behavior is more protective against cancer. This is the concern with nutritional studies, because we can’t lock up a group of people in a room for 10 years and feed them a certain diet so we can make sure that the factor of interest can truly be isolated (by the way, I would have edited this out of the interview, as it sets an intense tone, which I would try to avoid in the presence of media.
Is goat’s milk better than cow’s milk for preventing inflammatory diseases like heart disease?
In animal studies, there may be some evidence that goat’s milk reduces cholesterol levels when compared to cow’s milk, and that it is more easily digested because it is higher in medium chain triglycerides. In general terms, goat’s milk and cow’s milk have a similar fat content by percentage, but calcium content appears to be higher in goat’s milk. Calcium has been linked to improved heart health outcomes, but further studies in this area are needed, especially in a larger group of human subjects.
Is eating a large amount of whole grain bread healthy?
For the general population, a diet high in fibre, which is found in whole grains, is an important recommendation, esp. because most of us do not meet our daily fibre recommendations of 25 – 35g/d (for adults). Fibre has been linked to several positive health outcomes, which include better glycemic control, prevention and management of gastrointestinal diseases, weight management, and lowering of cholesterol.
What are the health benefits of mastic oil? Are there any?
Mastic oil is a natural plant extract from the pistacia lentiscus, and has been found to contain a high concentration of phytochemicals, which are antioxidants that have been shown to inhibit the growth and proliferation of cancer-causing cells. Before it can be recommended as a natural supplement for cancer prevention, further human studies are required. Also, remember that most fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants in varying amounts, so meeting a minimum of 7 servings a day can give your body a good dose of cancer-fighting chemicals.
Is it really healthy to eat nuts every day? The book even recommends peanuts, which I thought contained “bad” oil.
Nuts contain a high degree of healthy fatty acids, which are linked to reductions in cholesterol and improvements in blood vessel inflammation, particularly almonds and walnuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids. Peanuts, particularly, contain resveratrol, which is the same antioxidant found in red wine, and has been shown to reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Again, more studies are needed before we can make strong conclusions, but including ¼ cup of almonds, walnuts, or peanuts daily can be part of a healthy diet.
All of the zones rarely ate meat, but when they did it was usually pork. Why might this be? Are small amounts of pork beneficial for some reason?
Pork, depending on the cut and its mode of preparation, can be a lean protein choice compared to beef, as well as create a feeling of fullness without providing additional calories from fat. There is also some evidence that pork could be a source of conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid that is protective against coronary artery disease. Again, these claims require further study before we can confirm their claimed benefits.
Does drinking hard water (higher in calcium) help lower rates of heart disease?
Although calcium intake may be protective for heart health, and some preliminary studies have shown that hard water consumption may decrease heart disease, more studies are needed to make a definitive statement about causation.