As many of you know, I have written close to 20 blog posts about food (available here), a favorite topic. The subject has been in the news so often lately that it seems like a good time to update my comments.
My recommendations for a healthy diet in 2017 have not changed— “real food” should be the main ingredient. The case just got stronger, for example, to include some butter. But overall, it is best to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet using a template from the Greek island of Ikaria, the “island where people forget to die.” As pointed out by former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman and his colleagues, in this politically charged time, food safety is under threat. And when nutrition advice is constantly changing, it is especially important to have clear principles about what to eat and drink.
Too much refined sugar
The first principle is to think about sugar versus fats. A new book by science journalist Gary Taubes, “The Case Against Sugar,” brings this into focus. He notes that the sugar industry (“Big Sugar”) is just as strong and powerful as “Big Tobacco.” Taubes hesitates to point the finger exclusively at the sugar industry, unlike Dr. Robert Lustig does in his book “Fat Chance,” which I discussed here. Dr. Lustig’s book emphasizes the risks of obesity, diabetes, chronic disease, and cancer associated with eating too much refined sugar and too many processed foods. The science linked to the dangers of sugar is getting stronger and stronger.
Nutella, a sugary chocolate and hazelnut spread popular in the US and abroad, came under fire recently when its ingredients were shown on an infographic (pictured) that went viral. At issue was the palm oil, which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said generated more of a potentially carcinogenic contaminant than other vegetable oils.
Rehabilitation of butter and egg yolks
Conversely, a new study says yet again that eating butter is okay! In four out of nine studies, people who ate butter daily had a 4% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. A separate study showed that butter-type fats are better for you than processed carbohydrates, such as sugar and white bread. Dr. Dariush Mozafforian, the study’s author and Dean of the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, notes the benefits of actual foods, such as cheese, butter, yogurt, milk, and meat, over their constituents.
Another very interesting new report is about eggs, both the whites and the yolks. The yolks turn out to be okay! Egg yolks contain “a vibrant mix of saturated and unsaturated fat” and are a healthy food source.
So, stay low on sugar, white bread, ice cream, cookies and other processed carbohydrates. Some butter and whole eggs in the diet are okay.
The value of “real foods”
What are the key issues about the other “real foods” that should, if possible, be part of your Mediterranean-style diet? Farmers markets and/or the “organic” sections of your local store are important sources of locally grown, organic produce, such as vegetables and fruits. Olive oil for cooking is very important. Organically fed, humanely treated chicken and grass-fed beef (as a less frequent component of the diet), plus sustainable wild fish are important to seek out.
If this is starting to sound difficult and potentially expensive, the effort to overcome the challenges is important. Appropriate warnings are not built into the sale of GMO (genetically modified organisms) and non-organic or processed products. The true danger of GMO products is that pesticides/weed killers (Roundup®, for example) impregnate the harvested crops at a dangerous level. This is typically not discussed. French data indicating that chemically impregnated GMO crops cause cancer have been downplayed after controversy erupted over the study’s publication. But in my mind, it is not legitimate to say that such products are safe. This is especially true since one has alternatives. It is legitimate to say that carefully sourced “real foods” are safe and healthful. Because of a burgeoning list of publications suggesting the risks posed by toxins in food and the environment, this healthful approach is recommended.
Long lives on a Mediterranean diet
The most powerful data are long-term follow data. The longest-term follow-up is to live to over 100 years! Places where this occurs are the so-called “Blue Zones,” which I’ve written about here. A characteristic feature of “Blue Zones” is a Mediterranean-style diet, with full acknowledgment that other factors, such as family genetics, pristine locations, and very low stress, can be important.
And a new study, Obesity Increases Risk for Transformation of MGUS to Multiple Myeloma, underscores the importance of moderation in patients’ diets.
In summary, eating food most likely to be healthy can reduce stress by eliminating questions about sugar, preservatives, toxic chemicals, and more. So, if traditional advice (no eggs, no butter) is found to have been flawed, and pollution or contamination is possibly greater than we know, this is the time to take a conservative, safe, and authentic approach.
Eat real food, and, if alcohol is okay, add in a glass of wine—red wine, if you can, which contains the healthiest constituents such as resveratrol and polyphenols. Thus the classic Malbecs from Argentina, plus, increasingly from elsewhere, including California, are a good addition to real food.
Bon appétit! Here’s to a healthy and delicious 2017.
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.