tl;dr Eat more avocados, potatoes, turmeric, garlic, fish, citrus fruits, unsaturated oils, and alkaline foods. Eat less processed foods, cheese, red meats, saturated fats, and acidic foods.
At some point or another in your life, you’ve heard of foods that are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you. What does that exactly mean? How can we assess if a food is good for you or not? Today we’ll look at some examples of super foods that are can do anything from reduce cholesterol levels to preventing cancer!
Let’s start with 7 foods that can prevent heart attack: avocados, pomegranate, turmeric, cranberries, cinnamon, and green tea. We remember that a heart attack is caused by blockage of the internal arteries trying to pump blood back into the heart. The blockage is caused by an increased accumulation of unsaturated fats along the arterial walls, which is primarily caused by low density lipoproteins (LDLs). LDLs have a low protein:lipid ratio and therefore contribute to lipid accumulation, in contrast with high density lipoproteins (HDLs). HDLs tend to be smaller and can help remove the plaque accumulation, as the hydrophobic core of the cholesterol makes water a useless carrier. The diagram below will hopefully elucidate this point.
Therefore, it is desired to find foods enriched in HDL, or at least a higher HDL/LDL ratio. The key is to find foods that are enriched in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, whole grains, and nuts for starters. Interestingly enough, western diets have migrated away from omega-3 fatty acids; in fact the American diet is thought to contain up to 30 times as much omega-6 fatty acids as omega-3! The difference is shown in the diagram below; the difference is that omega-3 is more unsaturated (more double bonds). The more double bonds that a molecule has, the lower in energy that it is as it can be further reduced. Therefore it is generally said that unsaturated fats are better for you than saturated fats are. The lower energy unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, i.e. olive oil/ghee is metabolized more effectively in the body than margarine is.
We’ve covered some foods that help reduce cholesterol levels in the body, and you’ve probably heard of most of these before. How about foods that can reduce your risk for cancer? Surely this is just some elaborate science fiction ruse?
We first try to understand what cancer is. The basic component behind every type of cancer is the abnormal growth of normal human cells that leads to a tumor in the body. This tumor is the first sign of cancer growth, and from then on different types of cancers have different timescales for spreading to the rest of the body. As the body cannot support the overgrowth of cells, these new cells quickly consume the finite resources available to them, which leads to a painful death. Astonishingly, 90-95% of cancer cases arise from environmental factors, where 30-35% of cases are diet related!
High salt diets
There are some known links between certain foods and cancer, but in general results are inconclusive due to the difficulty of measuring effects of food vs. dietary effects vs. each individual’s environmental conditions. But there are some correlations that can be appreciated: for example high salt diets, as in Japan, have been found to lead to higher risk of stomach cancer.
High sodium diets in particular lead to increased blood pressure due to water retention by the body. Particularly for stomach cancer, sodium has been found to increase stomach lining inflammation. High sodium levels arise from processed meats, cheese, lower fruit and vegetable intake, frozen foods, amongst others. We would think potassium would negatively affect the body like sodium does, but in fact consuming more potassium allows for decreased hypertension (reducing high blood pressure). The sodium-potassium balance becomes important when considering the formation of ATP, the energy currency of the cell. The Na/K pump is an important component of this pathway, and its operation depends highly upon the correct balance of sodium to potassium within the body. The process is shown below.
Therefore, potassium-rich foods should be prioritized in a diet. Some examples include avocados, mushrooms, corn, potatoes, and citrus fruits.
Maintaining a comfortable body pH
We end this preliminary discussion on good foods for the body by understanding the importance of alkaline foods. In a previous post, we found out that dogs could detect cancer by smelling out alkanes from the oxidation of fatty acid chains. This leads us to understand oxidative stress, which occurs with an imbalance of oxygen radicals to the body’s antioxidants that are required to counter the harmful effects these radicals have. Dr. Otto Warburg reached a similar conclusion (called the Warburg Hypothesis) that claims the root of cancer is caused by anaerobic glycolysis, even in the presence of oxygen. This, he stated, stemmed from the decrease in mitochondrial respiration.
This hypothesis, which won Warburg the Nobel Prize, is very relevant for us today. Our diets are generally highly acidic, with processed meat, sugar, and dairy products all on the list. It’s important to understand that while foods may be acidic when found in nature, upon consumption they become alkaline (and vice versa!). Therefore lemon water is preferred over milk, and sea salt is preferred over sugar. You can use the below chart to get an idea of how acidic or alkaline your diet is:
We’ve covered a lot of ground today discussing what foods are ‘good’ for you, and which you should avoid. As always, take this information with a grain of salt (preferably potassium salt). Everyone’s case is unique, and at the end of the day, eating in moderation is your best bet to a healthy and long life.