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In The Media… Shining a Spotlight on Nutrition

Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of talk in the media about the effect a diet high in animal fats can have on our health and mortality. To summarize, the narrative suggests that a diet rich in animal fats – including chicken, fish, eggs and dairy, as well red meats like beef and pork – is the root cause of such chronic medical conditions as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, recent media events have pointed out that processed meats like hot dogs, salami, bologna and other deli meats are ranked alongside cigarettes, asbestos and plutonium as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).

While I believe there is some truth to this narrative, there are a few caveats as well. For example, I now discuss processed meats being a Group 1 carcinogen with my patients and advise them to avoid these products more frequently as a result of all this publicity. And I’m comfortable doing that because I checked the WHO list for myself to confirm that this was true.

That said, what I’m hearing lately in the media seems extreme. This would not be the first time that an extreme health-related fad has gained a great deal of notoriety before running its course over time. So you should be careful before making sweeping decisions about your diet. I believe strongly in the phrase, “everything in moderation.” For example, there are plenty of non-animal fats you can eat, like avocados, almonds and other types of nuts, that are much healthier because the fat molecule is structured to metabolize more easily than animal fats. That means it’s less likely to hang around and form plaque inside your arteries. Still, if you eat twenty avocados every day and have guacamole all day long, you’re getting too much fat in your diet.

A lot of scientific studies have been done on the Mediterranean diet and it’s been shown to be very healthy, which is why I typically recommend it for my patients. For cooking, you use olive oil instead of butter. It includes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats, especially fish. Whole grains are also important. Wheat breads are okay, but you want whole wheat, and sprouted-grain whole wheat bread is even better. A good rule of thumb when it comes to starches in general is to avoid anything white. No white bread, no plain pasta, no white potatoes, no white rice.

In addition to diet, however, staying active and getting exercise is so good for your health, and I feel that message has been left out of the more recent discussion about this topic in the media. I think a lot of people don’t exercise because it seems too daunting. They think an exercise program has to include running and going to a gym to lift weights. If that’s too much for you, just go for a half-hour walk a few times a week. Just walking a mile around your neighborhood, which at a leisurely pace takes less than a half hour, does so much for your heart and your health, and helps you work off the calories you consume.

Clearly, we should all be paying more attention to what we eat and to our overall health. The way we go about that may vary from one person to the next. I strongly recommend talking to a nutritionist and going over what kinds of foods you eat, line by line, to come up with an individualized meal plan. That will help you focus in on your eating habits and start down the road to better health.

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