To make up for the recent lack of posts (in my defense, I was in the midst of an inter-state move and road trip), here is a supersized Q&A roundup. Thank you for your queries, and keep on submitting them!
1. I recently read on Twitter that salami and pepperoni are fermented foods. Does that mean they’re healthy because they’re probiotics?
– Gina Nault
Modern production of these processed meat products generally includes the use of a Lactobacillus bacteria species (the same one found in yogurt and kefir). That said, referring to processed red meat as “healthy” because it contains probiotic bacteria is akin to declaring a Pop-Tart “healthy” because it has a smidge of actual blueberries.
Given the recent mainstream interest in fermented foods and probiotics, the meat industry has jumped onboard, reminding people that pepperoni and salami are just as “probiotic” as kombucha (fermented tea), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi (fermented vegetables and spices), yogurt, and kefir.
They conveniently forget to mention that mountains of evidence have linked cured and processed meats to increased risks of many cancers and chronic diseases. I would never recommend someone consume salami or pepperoni to get more probiotics in their diet. This is one of the few instances where I would rather someone take Lactobacillus in pill form than eat processed meat regularly.
2. I live in South Africa and there’s a lot of hype at the moment about glyconutrients, information which is, supposedly, backed by science and glycobiology.
I have attempted to do some ‘due diligence’ research and am coming up with the name Mannatech and ‘glyconutrients’ only being available through multi-level marketing.
I would appreciate your opinion.
– Roz Neilson
Good job spotting a huge red flag — a nutritional product that is solely available through one company. As I like to say, Mother Nature offers us everything we need, patent-free!
Despite the hyperbolic claims about glyconutrients (they help prevent and manage heart disease, diabetes, ADHD, and practically every other disease known to humankind), they are nothing more than polysaccharides (sugars), all of which we get directly — or derive — from food.
The cited “studies” are funded by Mannatech and not published in any scientific journals (no independent researcher to date has verified any of the purported health claims). In short, an absolute waste of money.
3. What foods should I emphasize to improve my cholesterol profile? Besides the obvious (animal products, packaged foods, sugar, etc), what foods should I de-emphasize to improve my cholesterol profile? How quickly can I expect dietary changes to impact my cholesterol profile?
– Jenifir Provateare
Four things to limit/avoid to improve your cholesterol profile: refined grains, added sugars, highly processed plant oils (mainly corn, soy, and cottonseed), and trans fats (AKA: partially hydrogenated oils).
Three things to consume more of: soluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats.
As for where you can find those nutrients (mind you, this is a brief summary, not an exhaustive list):
Soluble fiber – apples, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chickpeas, kidney beans, oats, pears, pinto beans, potatoes, prunes, sweet potatoes, tangerines
Omega-3 fatty acids – chia seeds, flax, hemp seeds, sea vegetables, walnuts, wild salmon
Monounsaturated fats – almonds, avocado, cacao/cocoa, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans
PS: While coconuts don’t contain any of the three nutrients mentioned above, they are a good choice. More information below.
4. I tried coconut milk yogurt for the first time. I found it much better than soy yogurt, but very decadent. Can you explain the pros and cons of this plant based saturated fat? Is this a healthy alternative to full fat dairy yogurt?
— Diana LaGattuta
In the same way that “carbs” (which includes everything from Skittles and soda to oats and pears) have been maligned, the same has happened with saturated fats. Although people often talk about “saturated fat” — as if there were just one type — there are actually many different saturated fatty acids. More importantly, they don’t all have the same effects on our health.
Coconut is in its own category because, unlike almost any other food, it contains a very high amount of a saturated fatty acid called lauric acid. Research has shown that lauric acid does not have a detrimental effect on blood cholesterol levels (in fact, it raises total cholesterol because it raises HDL cholesterol — the good kind!).
Coconut has largely been misunderstood because many studies looked at hydrogenated coconut oil, a very processed and refined variety of the oil (which is what most movie theaters tend to use to make their popcorn).
There is absolutely no reason to fear unrefined coconut.
5. A friend of mine is interested in switching to a whole food plant-based diet but he was told years ago that he’s allergic to raw fruits and vegetables. How is that possible? And is there a way to overcome it? Perhaps a way to ease into the lifestyle?
– Jaclyn Rosenlund
Every single fruit and vegetable? I know some individuals are allergic to orange fruits and vegetables, but this is the first time I hear of someone being allergic to every single fruit and vegetable in its raw state. But, assuming this were the case, there is no way to overcome a food allergy or “ease” your way into consuming trigger foods. In any case, one can eat a minimally processed, whole-food based diet that includes plenty of steamed and sauteed vegetables, and dehydrated and baked fruits.
UPDATE (4/19): Thanks to reader Brittnee, who pointed out this sounds a lot like a condition she has — oral allergy syndrome. In essence, some fruits, vegetables, and nuts contain proteins very similar to pollen, which causes an allergic reactions in individuals with this condition. When cooked, the proteins are denatured and safe to eat for these people. In some cases, removing the outer peel of a fruit can prevent an allergic reaction.
6. How much fruit is too much?
– @southpawrunning (via Twitter)
Unless your fruit intake is so high that it replaces other foods (i.e.: healthful fats, vegetables, etc.), I don’t see much of a reason to worry. A piece of fruit with every meal is perfectly fine.
I often see a lot of weight gain hysteria surrounding fruit intake (“limit your fruit of you’ll gain weight!”), which is inaccurate and a very sad sign of our times (more people fear fruit than they do diet soda). If you’re especially active, four or five pieces of fruit a day are perfectly fine.
7. My Facebook feed is being bombarded by people selling “Body By Vi” shakes. I have been trying to find real information on them but everything I find is a biased review on how to get “healthy” (and wealthy) quickly!
I feel like I can achieve the same thing with my regular diet and exercise, and even make my own shake/smoothies with real wholesome ingredients. Please help debunk these shakes! Or am I the crazy one?
– Christine Malone
No, you are not crazy. Any time a company pitches their own bar, shake, or snack as one that will have you building muscle, toning up, and getting lean, your “BS Detector” should ping like crazy. It should ping even more if, as is the case with Body By Vi, the website features gorgeous models (all of whom clearly have diligently visited the gym for decades, take great care to eat well, and probably have never even taken a sip of the featured product).
In essence, these shakes are your standard mass-produced “protein drink”: soy protein, whey protein, artificial flavor, and a whole lot of added vitamins and minerals. Nothing revolutionary or special.
You can make much healthier shakes at home. One of my faves: frozen bananas, one or two pitted dates, water, almond butter, hemp protein, and vanilla. I am not going to promise it will give you a six-pack, but it is delicious and healthful.
8. I would like to start feeding my family more tempeh and tofu for all its benefits. However, I just can’t help but think of all those genetically modified soybeans.
I’d like to avoid these modified foods as much as possible especially for my kids, although it seems almost impossible now!
– Cindy Doern
The vast majority of tofu and tempeh sold at stores is organic and, additionally, tested for GMOs.
GMO soybeans are generally used to make soy byproducts (i.e.: soy protein isolate in “faux ground beef” and many “protein bars”).
Ironically, it is people who eat lots of fast and processed food — not individuals eating tempeh and tofu — who consume the majority of GMO soybeans. Consider, for instance, that almost every component of a Big Mac (the beef patty, the bun, the sauces, etc.) contains a genetically modified soy byproduct.
9. Anything in particular I should look for when buying an omega 3 supplement? I know you have your “food first, then supplements” rule, and although my goal is to get more of it from food, I know that right now I could use a boost.
– Tom Berdan
The first thing you want to make sure of is that you are getting solely Omega 3s. There are many products that contain Omega 3, Omega 6, and Omega 9. This is done, I suspect, to make it seem like you are getting “more bang for your buck”, when in reality you’re just being duped. Americans are eating an excessive amount of omega-6 fatty acids (which brings its own share of consequences) and omega 9 is not essential (meaning, our bodies can produce it from other components in our diet).
Also, make sure the supplement contains DHA and EPA Omega 3s. Some supplements only offer ALA (the type of omega 3 found in flax, walnuts, hemp, and chia). While ALA is great, the maximum heart-health benefits come from DHA and EPA.
10. Any thoughts on [plant-based cheese alternatives] that contain casein? Should I try to find ones without it?
– Jeremy Loovier
Casein, like whey, is a type of protein found in dairy. Apart from the fact that plant-based cheese alternatives that contain casein are not 100% vegan, some people are quite allergic to casein. For what it’s worth, the Dayia brand of vegan cheeses is casein-free.
11. Why do nutrition recommendations keep changing? I don’t understand how one year, a food is good for you and then it turns out you need to avoid it. Can you share any insight on what we can actually believe when it comes to nutrition advice and studies?
– Samantha Timons
Believe anyone who advocates for a minimally processed, whole-food based diet (if it’s largely plant-centered, even better). The idea that nutrition recommendations “keep changing” is usually trotted out by someone trying to sell you something (usually it goes something like this: “You must be so horribly dizzy with all this conflicting nutrition advice health professionals keep telling you, so buy our magazine/book/etc)”.
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting added sugar, and getting enough fiber has been recommended for decades. Sure, coconuts were once vilified and are now more accepted thanks to further understanding of different fatty acids, but the general recommendations for healthy eating have remained unchanged.