Health Prevention, Diagnosis, Tests and Behaviours
- Introduction and General Issues
- The (Contemporary) Mediterranean Diet
- What you Need and what you don't Want in your Plate
- The importance of Hydration
- Cancer prevention
- Diabetes Prevention
- Heart and Vascular Diseases Prevention
- The problem with processed food
- About Dietary Supplements
- Exposure to Sunlight
1. Introduction and General Issues
How you should cook depends on a number of things, including your personal/family means and the local products available around you, which is generally seasonal. There are, however, a number of general principles about health and food, which as many people as possible should be aware of.
My general view is that, beyond dishonesty, greed, lobbying and denial, the Scientific Community nowadays can be completely blind to some game changing ideas from the simple fact that each scientist is very specialized and has no global view of any significant human/social or economic problem. This leads to an absolutely massive loss of relevance of Science in a number of fields today to support evidence-based policy making.
This does not mean, of course, that science should be discarded as a reliable input, but big efforts need to be made to reduce the impact of lobbying, of conspiracy theories, and create better awareness of policy makers. Furthermore, each scientist must strive to have a clear perception of the limitations of his/her field and knowledge, which is currently far from being the case for most scientists (see also this page; here is a typical example of genial overconfidence).
2. The (Contemporary) Mediterranean Diet
People used to think the the so-called Mediterranean diet, which was originally observed and studied about the Greek island of Crete, had healthy properties related to the foods which are available on that spot of the globe. It is now understood that such a healthy "Mediterranean diet" can be designed with the local foods of (almost) any part of the world.
The health effects of the Mediterranean diet are also documented on that same page.
3. What you Need and what you don't Want in your Plate
The first thing, when you think about what you want and what you don't want in your plate, is to know what's in your plate. For this, you want to avoid processed food as much as possible.
Otherwise, the general principle is that
- you want to eat useful stuff, which will bring you valuable nutrients for your body and mind to thrive;
- you don't want potentially toxic stuff or stuff which can be detrimental to your health over the long run;
- you avoid having useless stuff which will increase your Calories intake for no real value, be it to your health or to your pleasure when eating.
You can get rid of some habits, like enjoying sugary food or very salty foods, by getting accustomed to other tastes. You can also make your home cooked meals tastier by using green condiments (herbs) and spices.
3.a. Avoid added sugar
Raw sugar, be it regular sucrose or alternatives such as concentrated fructose, will bring you a lot of calories and very little (if any) really useful nutrients. Another issue with added sugar is that, in the long run, it will shake and disturb your blood sugar (insulin based) regulation and increase your risk of diabetes.
It is known that, generally, artificial sugar substitutes which bring little calories, can have detrimental effects on other aspects of your health. There are some alternatives such as honey or organic sugar substitutes which bring little calories. However, the ideal situation is either to be able to afford naturally tasty foods like good quality fruits (to include in deserts, for example with plain yoghurt), or to accept giving up on sugary tastes altogether.
3.b. Fats, Fatty Acids, "Good vs Bad Fats"
A very common misconception is that we should avoid fat as much as possible for a good diet, especially when we want to loose weight. In fact, there are a number of essential fats which are required for most of the functions of the body to work properly, as well as for the automatic maintenance of your organs (skin, brain, heart, etc.). In the first place, fat is part of the key building materials of all the cells in your body. As part of the regular maintenance of the body, cells are constantly being replace, renewed and maintained, which requires the building materials to be available.
We can distinguish a few great classes of fatty acids. A good balance between all of these fatty acids in your food is most important for Heart and Vascular Diseases Prevention, but also to avoid complications of diabetes, etc. The balance between the different fatty acids impact your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.
- Saturated fatty acids (try to avoid)
These are present in most animal fats, especially porc, veal and beef, as well as butter or whole cream. They are also broadly present in processed foods, especially those containing palm oil.
- Trans fatty acids (avoid as much as possible)
These are broadly present in processed foods, especially those containing palm oil, or generally hydrogenated fats. The health claims made by margarine producers are generally misleading for that reason.
Trans fatty acids can also be formed by overheating oil which would otherwise be healthy (the oil makes dark smoke above your cooking stove). That is why, when choosing the fat for cooking, you should mind whether it is meant for frying on high heat or not.
Unsaturated fatty acids
(try to have a good deal while keeping Calories control in mind)
These are present in most oils obtained from vegetables (olive, nuts, etc.). There are refinement between different kinds of unsaturated fats, but what is most important to remember is you should have as much omega-3 fatty acid as possible. From that point of view, peanuts butter or peanuts oil cannot be considered as good "all purpose fats", even if you want to use them for high heat cooking.
3.c. Proportions for the Different Kinds of Foods
The Mediterranean diet recommends a given proportion for the different kinds of foods you should eat.
4. The importance of Hydration
Drinking enough water or herb tea is key to maintaining a good health. It is generally estimated that 2 litters of water per day is a good measure. Fresh fruits and raw vegetables bring additional water. If you drink coffee, or most kinds of tea too, these are so-called diuretics, which means you will evacuate most of the water and not retain it, requiring additional water intake for balance... My attitude is that I don't count and I always make sure that I drink enough, so I generally drink more than 2 litters per day...
Hydration can help prevent very painful conditions such as Kidney stone disease
and Hemorrhoids, which is distinctly painful on the stool. The best prevention for Hemorrhoids is enough hydration and eating fruits and vegetables to prevent Constipation, as well as avoiding spicy foods (limit
One of the main problems with drinking enough water for your health is the social stigma, and often inconvenience related to constantly going to the loo. It's like brushing your teeth after each meal: it's the thing to do for your health, but it is generally socially unacceptable, at list in public places and on the workplace...
5. Cancer prevention
As far as I know, the best resources and documentation for Cancer prevention through diet and physical activity are provided by the World Cancer Research Fund, which provides a report every other 10 years with the most compelling evidence from Scientific Research.
6. Diabetes Prevention
The International Diabetes Federation groups a network of organization from many countries which help local populations fight and prevent diabetes. The lifestyle rules to prevent diabetes are broadly the same as for cancer prevention and heart diseases prevention, and include physical activities and diet such as, typically, the Mediterranean diet described above.
The pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying a lot to promote drugs such as for instance the ones to reduce blood sugar levels. These drugs can have very detrimental side effects on your health, and should be used care if you have not been diagnosed with diabetes. My experience is that with a very good diet and physical activity, blood sugar levels can be significantly reduced over a period of about five year.
7. Heart and Vascular Diseases Prevention
You can find here information about heart and vascular disease prevention. The lifestyle rules to prevent cardiovascular diseases are broadly the same as for cancer prevention and diabetes prevention, and include physical activities and diet such as, typically, the Mediterranean diet described above.
There again, the pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying a lot to promote drugs such as for instance the ones to "improve" cholesterol levels or reduce blood pressure. These drugs can have very detrimental side effects on your health, and should be used with very much care in rather exceptional cases. My experience is that with a very good diet and physical activity, cholesterol levels can be significantly improved over a period of one year. I think the main lifestyle-related factor for high blood pressure is an excess of salt in the food.
8. The problem with processed foodHere is an overview of the health problems with processed foods.
9. About Dietary SupplementsDietary supplements have been promoted by the pharmaceutical industry (for example recommending daily multivitamin pills), but are generally not recommended if you can afford a balanced diet, for the following reasons:
- A natural balanced diet creates so-called synergies between the nutriens contained in the food, making the natural diet, which our body was meant for in the first place, much more likely to cover all your needs
- It is difficult to asses the consequences in your body of taking, for example daily, some concentrated chemicals and nutrients, and is likely to lead to unintended imbalances
- Taking a multivitamin can make you feel good like "I've done the right thing", which you actually didn't...
There is an exception about vitamin D that is much discussed, and can be explained, especially for people who don't expose regularly to sunlight.
10. Exposure to Sunlight
I decided to write about exposure of the skin to sunlight in the "nutrition" page because, as our ancestors evolved, sunlight has indeed been exploited by our body as part of our metabolism.
The most widely known metabolic role of sunlight is through synthesis of vitamin D (via some chemical cholecalciferol) through the skin. Vitamin D is in turn important to assimilate calcium. Assimilation of calcium is important for many purposes, especially for the development/maintenance of bones and joints, to prevent osteoporosis.
There has been a lot of alarm about sun exposure as a risk factor for skin cancer. I think this can be generally avoided, unless your skin is very sensitive (e.g. very light for lacke of melanin) to the sun by the following measures:
- Expose only out of the midday brightest time of the day;
- Expose gradually (e.g. through the spring);
- Make sure you have all the necessary nutrients (especially fatty acids) and water intake for the cells of your skin to be renewed. Put some oil, or shea butter or some cream to avoid dryness of the skin.
- Avoid sunburns.
If you can't expose to sunlight because of a sensitive skin or geographic location, consider taking Vitamin D supplements and talk to you physician.