Nutrition and chronic disease: What you need to know.

When it comes to nutrition, we often put nutrients in silos instead of thinking about the entire “food package”. It is important to think beyond a single nutrient and consider the entire package when determining the relative healthfulness of a food. Although some foods are high in a particular nutrient, the rest of the package may not be ideal; therefore, as a “food package” it may not be a healthy choice. A great example of this is whole fat and 2% milk as they both constitute a top source of calcium but are also one of the top sources of saturated fat. In this instance, it is important to ask yourself, “Is there a better source or package to get these nutrients?” And speaking of fats, let’s delve into this macronutrient and break down the different types of fat and how they can affect chronic disease such as coronary artery disease. While there are several types of fats that can be found in the diet, I’d like to bring attention to those that should be avoided and those that should be included in a healthy diet. Saturated fats are easy to spot because they are usually solid at room temperature as opposed to mono and polyunsaturated fats. The AHA recommends limiting saturated fat intake to no more than 5-6% of total calories. Most foods that contain fat have at least a small portion that is saturated, however the following foods have relatively high concentrations of saturated fats:

  • Higher fat cuts of beef, pork, and lamb
  • Salami
  • Sausages and other processed meats
  • Many fast foods (i.e cheeseburgers)
  • Lard, butter, & cheese
  • Coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm Kernel oil.

When it comes to the typical Western diet, saturated fats are unfortunately part of many people’s daily routine. Cheese, beef, fats/oils, milk and processes meats are the top 5 sources of saturated fat in the diet of US adults. Trans fats are another source to completely avoid. Trans fats were originally manufactured to extend the shelf life of foods. Unfortunately, we realized that they also significantly increased the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity and the FDA has declared them to be unsafe for human consumption. These fats are mostly found in animal foods like processed meats, butter, and refined grains such as doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies and cakes. Consumption of unhealthy fats directly contribute to the cardiovascular disease epidemic in the US.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death for men, women, and people of color in the US. Dietary risk factors are saturated fats, animal foods, and dietary cholesterol.

Dean Ornish conducted a seminal study to look at the role diet & lifestyle play in reversing cardiovascular disease. Over the course of 5 years, the intervention group who implemented lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, stress management, and a 10% fat, vegetarian diet saw continuous coronary artery reduction. In addition, this group which had moderate to severe coronary artery disease only suffered 25 cardiac events during the 5 year follow-up compared to 45 events in the control group.

There are numerous high quality studies that share similar results and further proof that food is the best medicine that anyone can take. Lifestyle medicine works and if you have been struggling with chronic disease, Caring Concepts is here to help you take the first steps to getting your life back!  

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