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Examining Nutrition Myths

Is poultry better than red meat? What's the biggest cause of heart attacks?
Should we all switch to a gluten free diet?

Q&A with Dr. Ed Bauman

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Share Guide: We've heard some people say that chicken has as much cholesterol as red meat. Is this true?

Dr. Bauman: The cholesterol level of a 3 oz. USDA grade sirloin steak is estimated to be approximately 75 milligrams or the same as that of a roast chicken breast sans skin. That said, it's impossible to calculate the differing amounts of cholesterol in a pastured cow or a free range chicken versus their conventionally raised counter parts. However, if the concern here has to do with elevated cholesterol levels and heart attack risk, it should be noted that this association is losing credibility. A 2009 national study conducted by UCLA found that nearly 75% of patients hospitalized for a heart attack had cholesterol levels that would indicate they were not at high risk for a cardiovascular event, based on current national cholesterol guidelines.

Share Guide: What about saturated fat? Does chicken have more fat than beef also?

Dr. Bauman: There are too many comparisons to make a single generalization. I don't trust much of the information that is put out by the industries, who feed facts to the USDA. Cuts of poultry and beef will vary by as much as 50% of the levels of both cholesterol and saturated fats. Eating clean, as close to wild beef, poultry or seafood is preferred over its commercial counterparts.

Share Guide: Are you saying that if one wants to add a bit of animal protein to the diet,  that beef is actually a healthier choice than chicken?

Dr. Bauman:
No, I am not saying beef is a better choice or value nutritionally than chicken--or for that matter the reverse. Both beef and poultry are nutrient dense and provide a wide array of proteins, usable fats, vitamins and minerals. The ecological cost of beef is higher due to the greater amount of land, water cows ingest, and the waste they produce. Beans are far more sustainable and affordable.

Share Guide:
Is eating animal products the single most important factor in raising blood cholesterol levels?

Dr. Bauman: No, eating animal products or saturated fat, per se, may not be as primary a factor in raising blood cholesterol levels as we have been led to believe. It's been known for decades that when the diet is devoid of cholesterol-containing foods (animal products), the liver produces adequate supplies, synthesizing it from proteins, carbohydrates or fats. It's time we turn our attention toward the more significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease: chronic stress, inflammation, free radical damage and the syndromes of insulin resistance, including metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. This position is held by Stephen Sinatra, M.D. and James C. Roberts, M.D., leading cardiologists and authors of the book, Stop Heart Disease NOW. These are conditions of poor blood sugar regulation that arise from over-consumption of refined carbohydrates and heavily processed foods, and under-consumption of foods that contain the countless phyto and micro-nutrients our bodies require to maintain metabolic health and protect our arteries from oxidation. Cholesterol levels are not the cause, but rather the effect of unresolved inflammation and insulin resistance.

Share Guide: How much of the current cholesterol problem is due to stress and/or a sedentary lifestyle?

Dr. Bauman: Good quality, unprocessed high-cholesterol, high saturated fat foods don't cause the problems we're seeing today. High heat, and microwave cooking damage fats and alters food cholesterol to our detriment. When someone eats lunch meat they are getting a substantial array of harmful chemicals, pesticides, food additives and coloring that contribute to a liver and immune system up-regulation which is aggravating and inflammatory. Stress, especially fear, trauma and chronic emotional angst is a major contributing factor to heart disease. It will lead to elevated LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance and the kind of free radical reactions and inflammation that damages our arteries, all of which precede cardiovascular disease. Chronic anger, depression and lack of a supportive social network have all been shown to contribute to heart disease. Sedentary lifestyles, which contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, and the build-up of stress certainly also contribute. Exercise (light to moderate physical activity, such as walking, for 30 minutes a day) can reduce risk of heart attack and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. More intense cardiovascular training increases insulin sensitivity and improves blood sugar balance.

Share Guide: It sounds like you're saying that the big issue of heart attack risk and elevated cholesterol levels in Americans today is more related to lifestyle choices--too much stress/overwork, lack of exercise, eating overly processed foods (leading to chronic inflammation)--than it is to eating too much red meat. This makes sense because we've often wondered why a hundred years ago everyone ate real butter, cream, eggs, and bacon, and yet didn't suffer as many heart attacks.

Dr. Bauman: That's correct. Our forefathers and mothers were far more physically active and there were far fewer chemical pollutants then as compared to now. Chemical toxins (also known as xenobiotics) saturate in the fats of animals, so the bacon and eggs of yesteryear were far cleaner than the same foods today.

Cardiovascular disease is a function of damage to the arteries, veins and heart muscle. Neither saturated fat, nor cholesterol alone, cause that. Rather, a lack of healing nutrients and poor circulation, combined with chronic stress, irritation, inflammation, and aging are the primary risk factors. When a person goes on a plant based diet, it is not the absence of eating meat that is therapeutic, but the greater intake of cooling, healing, protective plants that repairs damaged tissues, and thus reducing the need of the liver to make as much cholesterol.

Share Guide: Is calorie restriction really the key to living longer?

Dr. Bauman: Numerous studies have shown that lowering your caloric intake may slow down aging, reduce age-related chronic diseases, and extend lifespan. The effects have been observed in a variety of species from worms and yeast to rats and fish. There's evidence that it has a similar effect on the human lifespan. However, when digging deeper, it seems clear that the underlying factor that makes calorie restriction beneficial in the first place, is the lowering of insulin levels. What we know about calorie restriction is that it forces folks to slow down, thereby reducing oxidative stress, altering neuroendocrine and sympathetic nervous system function in animals and humans. It also improves insulin sensitivity. This factor may explain much of the longevity phenomenon. Eating to 90% fullness with a plant based, S.O.U.L. (seasonal, organic, unprocessed and local) diet is my recommendation for gaining energy, losing weight, and living longer. This all makes perfect sense since we also know that high insulin levels from eating more calories at a meal than we can digest speeds up the aging process.

Share Guide: Gluten-free is a huge trend right now. But we've noticed that many gluten-free baked goods are simply replacing one white flour with another. Isn't it more beneficial to stick with something like sprouted wheat bread, which has gluten but is whole grain?

Dr. Bauman: Sprouted breads such as those from Alvarado Street Bakery are a healthier choice than eating gluten-free baked goods, which typically contain a variety of refined starches and flours from tapioca, potato starch, white rice flour and xanthan gum. Gluten is a dense protein found in wheat, rye, oats and barley. These grains become  glutenous when they are ground into flour and made into breads, pastry and pastas. For people with a compromised digestion or highly sensitive immune system, eating gluten can contribute to a rash of problems ranging from indigestion, to inflammation, cognitive decline, pain and premature aging. Crohn's and celiac disease are becoming more and more prevalent as the gluten content in breads and processed foods increases and the stress of life wears people down. Sprouted bread has far less gluten than flour bread products.    

If you are gluten sensitive or intolerant, it is healthier to largely let go of bread as a comfort food and concentrate on eating lean proteins, healthy fats, a wide variety of colorful carbohydrates and gluten free grains as cereals, pilafs or crackers from brown rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and seeds such as flax, teff, chia, sesame and  sunflowers. The percentage of gluten in wheat, rye, barley, oats and triticale ranges from 20-30%. Spelt and kamut contain about 12% gluten, so they tend to be better tolerated by the person who is not suffering from a debilitating autoimmune illness such as Crohn's or Celiac disease, but who often feels sleepy or uncomfortable after eating a high gluten meal.

Share Guide: Many of us desire to eat less sugar. Are artificial sweeteners such as Splenda and NutraSweet a good alternative choice?

Dr. Bauman: Incredibly, aspartame (NutraSweet) accounts for 75% of all non-drug complaints to the FDA. More than 10,000 aspartame users have reported over 100 adverse symptoms. This includes everything from menstrual changes, weight gain, and headaches to severe depression, insomnia, and anxiety attacks. Also, aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It increases the appetite in general, and the desire for sweets in particular.

The artificial sweetener in Splenda is sucralose. The Sucralose Toxicity Information Center concludes that:
"While it is unlikely that sucralose is as toxic as the poisoning people are experiencing from Monsanto's aspartame, it is clear from the hazards seen in pre-approval research and from its chemical structure that years or decades of use may contribute to serious chronic immunological or neurological disorders."
So  yes, you  should  avoid sugar, but articifical sweeteners are not a good substitute! Eating natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, agave, date sugar and succanat (dehydrated unrefined cane sugar) are far healthier than the zero calories touted by Nutrasweet, Splenda, or Equal. The key is to avoid naked calories in sodas, pastries, and alcohol from simple carbohydrates, which are ingested with  little or no healthy fat, protein, and fiber rich complex carbohydrates. Eating fresh fruits with nuts is an example of having a great sweet snack or dessert and maintaining stable blood sugar. That's the Eating for Health way.

Ed Bauman, PhD is the Founder and Director of Bauman College, with campuses in Penngrove, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Boulder, CO. After 30 years of in-depth study of worldwide health and nutrition systems, Dr. Bauman created the Eating for Health nutrition system, which is the foundation of the Bauman College of Nutrition and Natural Chef Training Programs. Dr. Bauman is a ground-breaking leader in the field of whole foods nutrition, holistic health, and community health promotion. He also facilitates the bi-annual Bauman College Vitality Rejuvenation Retreats. Learn more at www.baumancollege.org.

Related Info:
Ed Bauman, PhD on healthy weight loss
Ed Bauman, PhD on combating depression with diet & lifestyle
Dr. David Kessler on taking control of our food choices
Reversing Type 2 Diabetes & Insulin Resistance
Dr. Andrew Weil on Eating for Optimal Health
The Truth about Cholesterol
More Vegetables, Please!
Are You Gluten Sensitive?

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