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Basics of a Healthy Diet

Part Two - Animal Foods

By Gary F. Zeolla

Foods can be classified as those that reduce the risk of one or more degenerative diseases and those that increase their risk. A healthy diet can be developed by consuming primarily the former kinds of foods while avoiding the latter.

Part One of this series discussed various plant foods. And it was seen that many plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, fall into the decrease risk category. But what about animal foods? Are they inherently unhealthy as many vegetarians claim? Or would some animal foods also fall into the decease risk category? These questions will be addressed in this second part of this series by looking at various animal foods.

For this article, I did extensive research on PubMed, and read through many abstracts of scientific studies. For references in this article to these studies, the name in parenthesis is the name of the first researcher cited for the study. Full references are given at the end of this article.

Fish

Without a doubt, fish is one of the healthiest foods one can consume. Not only is it an excellent source of various nutrients, especially protein and essential fatty acids, but also numerous studies have found fish consumption to be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

For instance, two studies that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded as follows, "Among women, higher consumption of fish and omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of CHD [cardiovascular heart disease], particularly CHD deaths" (Bronner, et. al.). And, "These prospective data suggest that consumption of fish at least once per week may reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death in men" (Hennekens). And a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded, "These data show an inverse association between fish consumption and death from coronary heart disease, especially nonsudden death from myocardial infarction" (Daviglus).

Fish consumption is also associated with a reduced risk of at least some kind of strokes. Again, quoting from studies reported in JAMA, "Our findings suggest that eating fish once per month or more can reduce the risk of ischemic stroke in men" (Rimm). And, "Our data indicate that higher consumption of fish and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is associated with a reduced risk of thrombotic infarction, primarily among women who do not take aspirin regularly, but is not related to risk of hemorrhagic stroke" (Ixo).

So in both men and women, fish consumption can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. But the benefits of fish do not stop there. Fish consumption is also associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. For instance, studies reported in two different neurology journals concluded, "Dietary intake of n-3 fatty acids and weekly consumption of fish may reduce the risk of incident Alzheimer disease" (Morris). And, "This study suggests that a high saturated fat and cholesterol intake increases the risk of dementia, whereas fish consumption may decrease this risk" (Kalmijn)."

As for cancer, no studies I came across showed an increase risk of cancer from fish, while a few found a decreased risk. These will be referenced below.

One last point needs to be noted, "Among adults aged > or =65 years, modest consumption of tuna or other broiled or baked fish, but not fried fish or fish sandwiches, is associated with lower risk of IHD [ischemic heart disease] death, especially arrhythmic IHD death" (Mozaffarian). So the fish should be broiled or baked, not fried.

As for how much to consume, some studies found a protective effect from as little as one serving a week, or even one per month. But greater effects were generally found with 2-5 servings per week.

Meat and Chicken

Over the last few decades red meat has gained a reputation as being an unhealthy food while chicken and fish have been promoted as healthy alternatives. Vegetarians epically make it sound as if the evidence against meat consumption is very clear-cut. Moreover, some vegetarians will even try to deride chicken and fish as not really being healthy alternatives. But the evidence does not support such contentions.

For instance, colon cancer is often cited by vegetarians as being a prime example of the risks of the consumption of flesh foods. And some studies I came across did find an increased risk of colon cancer from red meat consumption. But this was only for studies where the people were consuming red meat every day. And others studies did not find an increased risk from meat consumption. Moreover, no study I came across found an increased risk from the consumption of fish or chicken. Some, in fact, found a reduced risk from these foods (Goldbohm; Willet; Giovannucci; Gaard). So it would appear that meat in limited amounts would not be problematic, nor would the consumption of fish or chicken.

Heart disease is the other main issue generally discussed in relation to meat consumption. And here, yes there is an association between saturated fat consumption and heart disease. And red meat can be a major source of saturated fat in the diet.

However, some cuts of meat are not that high in fat. And if one trims off all visible fat, then the amount of fat can be further reduced. So the point is, it is possible to include some red meat in the diet without adverse health effects. Meanwhile, red meat is a great source of many nutrients, most notably protein, iron, zinc, and various B vitamins.

As for chicken, chicken breast is almost fat-free, if one removes the skin and if the chicken is baked, not fried. In fact, skinless, baked chicken breast is a staple in many strength athletes' diets as it provides high quality protein with virtually no fat. And even dark chicken meat with the skin removed is relatively low in fat. All of these comments would also apply to turkey.

As for myself, there was a time when I followed a vegetarian diet. In fact, at the time my Creationist Diet book was published, I was following a vegan diet (i.e. a vegetarian diet that does not even include dairy foods or eggs). But it was during that time that I developed some serious health problems. And I now believe that the vegan diet contributed to my problems.

So I no longer follow or recommend a vegan diet. As the above discussion shows, fish, chicken, turkey, and even lean red meat in limited amounts can all part of a healthy diet. In fact, I would say that fish, with all of its many health benefits, is proof in itself that a vegetarian diet is neither "ideal" nor desirable for good health.

So I now have completely abandoned any semblance of a vegetarian diet and generally consume about 3-5 servings of fish, 4-6 servings of chicken or turkey, and 2-3 servings of red meat a week (3-5 ounces, cooked per serving). And I am definitely feeling much better than when I was following a meatless diet.

Dairy Foods

Dairy foods have long been promoted as healthy and even "necessary" foods. But there is actually a lot of controversy in regards to dairy foods. Some strongly believe that dairy foods are not that healthy. Some of the reasons given are the high rates of lactose intolerance among various populations, the high rate of allergies to dairy foods, and that it is simply "unnatural" for adult mammals to consume milk, especially the milk of another species. I won't go into details on these claims here as I do so in my Creationist Diet book.

But I will say that as with meat I have moderated my views considerably in regards to dairy consumption since my book was published. Yes, it is true that there are many who are lactose intolerant and allergic to milk. But for those without such problems, dairy foods can make a healthy addition to one's diet.

However, there is one area where dairy foods can problematic, and that is in regards to their saturated fat content. As indicted above, there is a correlation between saturated fat intake and heart disease, along with some kinds of cancer. So that would mean that full fat dairy products, like whole milk and butter, should be avoided. However, low-fat and non-fat dairy products are widely available.

And, in fact, the consumption of dairy foods and their relationship to heart disease and cancer correlate directly with their fat content. High fat dairy foods are associated with increased risks of heart disease and various kinds of cancer while low fat and non-fat dairy products are associated with reduced risks.

Cheese, however, sometimes can be hard to classify. Sometimes it is associated with a reduced risk while other times with an increased risk. It's possible this is due to the studies not specifying the type of cheese consumed or the type of foods it is consumed with.

As for myself, as indicated above, when my Creationist Diet book was published I was following a vegan diet. So at that time I was not consuming any dairy foods. And I still do not generally consume milk per se. However, I do utilize dairy-based protein powders. I prefer the protein powders over milk as they eliminate two of the potential problems with milk, the fat and the lactose. And with the fat and carbs mostly removed, the powders are almost pure protein. See the article Protein Powders for more on my practice in this regard. I might also use a small amount of grated cheese on occasion.

Yogurt

One dairy food that deserves special mention is yogurt. "The beneficial effect of yoghurt consumption on health and on the improvement of the mucosal immune system is well established, as is the diet-associated risk of colon cancer" (Perdigon). Moreover, most who are lactose intolerant can consume yogurt without problems.

However, the yogurt should be low fat or non-fat. I would also recommend avoiding the "fruit-flavored" varieties of yogurt. The flavoring in these is mostly added sugar, with just a little bit of fruit. You are much better off using plain yogurt and adding your own fruit.

An excellent way of doing so is to thaw out some frozen fruit (like blueberries or strawberries) in a dish, and then adding the yogurt. Once you mix the yogurt with the thawed fruit and juice that results, you'll basically have the same taste and consistently as the store-bought, fruit-flavored stuff, but without all of the added sugar.

If you desire some additional sweetness, I would recommend using stevia. This natural, non-calorie sweetener will be discussed at more length in part three of this series. But here, I will just say the best brand of stevia I have found is Wisdom of the Ancients liquid stevia, which can be purchased from WebVitamins.

As for myself, I generally consume yogurt (one cup) three times a week, using the above thawed, frozen fruit plus stevia method.

Eggs

At one time, eggs were considered a staple in a healthy diet. And eggs are a storehouse of nutrients, such as vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and selenium. And most of all, eggs contain the highest quality of protein found in any food. In fact, egg protein is considered the "gold standard" to which other proteins are compared.

But then the whole issue of cholesterol came out, and egg consumption took a dive. However, some recent studies have shown that, "When dietary confounders were considered, no association was seen between egg consumption at levels up to 1 + egg per day and the risk of coronary heart disease in non-diabetic men and women" (Kritchevsky). But there is some controversy here as some other studies have found that such intake levels do cause a slight increase in cholesterol levels (Weggemans).

However, one thing is certain, at intakes greater than one per day, eggs can raise one's cholesterol. But there are a couple of ways around this.

The first way is to consume the new "designer" eggs. The hens are fed special diets that cause the eggs to be high in omega 3 fatty acids, the same beneficial fatty acids found in fish. "Twenty-three male university students consumed two regular or n-3 PUFA-enriched eggs per day with their habitual diet for 18 days. Plasma total cholesterol (TC) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels were raised in subjects who consumed regular eggs but were maintained virtually unchanged in those who consumed n-3 PUFA-enriched eggs" (Jiang).

The other way is to consume just the egg whites rather than whole eggs. In this way, one can still get the high-quality protein, without the saturated fat and cholesterol. In fact, egg whites are a staple in the diets of strength athletes as they are basically pure protein. But, unfortunately, most of the nutrients other than protein are found in the egg yolk. So a good compromise might be too use one whole egg and two egg whites for a meal.

As for myself, when I was following the vegan diet I didn't eat any eggs. But now, with powerlifting, I consume quite a few eggs each week for the high-quality protein. I might consume two whole eggs for a meal on occasion, but more often I use one whole egg and two egg whites or just four egg whites. Altogether, I probably consume about 2-4 whole eggs and maybe as many as a dozen egg whites a week. I also utilize an egg white protein powder regularly. Again, see the Protein Powders article for more in this regard.

All of the eggs I consume are the new designer eggs mentioned above. They only cost a little bit more than regular eggs, so I figure they are worth it.

Conclusion

Fish, skinless, baked chicken and turkey, low fat or non-fat dairy products (especially yogurt), and egg whites are all healthy foods that can constitute a significant portion of a healthy diet. And lean red meats and whole eggs can add additional protein and other nutrients without adverse health effects if they are used in limited amounts. And for strength athletes like myself, the high-quality protein from such foods is essential. I doubt very much I would be making the type of progress in my powerlifting that I have been if I were still following a vegan diet.

Add in the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes discussed in part one of this article, and you have the ingredients for a healthy diet.

So those are the foods that should be consumed. But what foods and food ingredients one should avoid for optimal health? These are discussed in Part Three of this series.

References

Along with the scientific studies referenced in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book, below are additional abstracts I looked at in preparing this article. They are listed in order of reference. PMID refers to the PubMed Identification Number. The easiest way to find these abstracts is to search on the PMID on PubMed.

JAMA. 2002 Apr 10;287(14):1815-21. Fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Hu FB, Bronner L, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Rexrode KM, Albert CM, Hunter D, Manson JE. PMID: 11939867.

JAMA. 1998 Jan 7;279(1):23-8. Fish consumption and risk of sudden cardiac death. Albert CM, Hennekens CH, O'Donnell CJ, Ajani UA, Carey VJ, Willett WC, Ruskin JN, Manson JE. PMID: 9424039.

N Engl J Med. 1997 Apr 10;336(15):1046-53. Fish consumption and the 30-year risk of fatal myocardial infarction. Daviglus ML, Stamler J, Orencia AJ, Dyer AR, Liu K, Greenland P, Walsh MK, Morris D, Shekelle RB. PMID: 9091800.

JAMA. 2002 Dec 25;288(24):3130-6. Fish consumption and risk of stroke in men. He K, Rimm EB, Merchant A, Rosner BA, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Ascherio A. PMID: 12495393.

JAMA. 2001 Jan 17;285(3):304-12. Intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acids and risk of stroke in women. Iso H, Rexrode KM, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Colditz GA, Speizer FE, Hennekens CH, Willett WC. PMID: 11176840.

Prev Cardiol. 2003 Winter;6(1):38-41. Consumption of fish and fish oils and decreased risk of stroke. Skerrett PJ, Hennekens CH. PMID: 12624561.

Arch Neurol. 2003 Jul;60(7):940-6. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N, Schneider J. PMID: 12873849.

Ann Neurol. 1997 Nov;42(5):776-82. Dietary fat intake and the risk of incident dementia in the Rotterdam Study. Kalmijn S, Launer LJ, Ott A, Witteman JC, Hofman A, Breteler MM. PMID: 9392577.

Circulation. 2003 Mar 18;107(10):1372-7. Cardiac benefits of fish consumption may depend on the type of fish meal consumed: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Mozaffarian D, Lemaitre RN, Kuller LH, Burke GL, Tracy RP, Siscovick DS; Cardiovascular Health Study. PMID: 12642356.

Cancer Res. 1994 Feb 1;54(3):718-23. A prospective cohort study on the relation between meat consumption and the risk of colon cancer. Goldbohm RA, van den Brandt PA, van 't Veer P, Brants HA, Dorant E, Sturmans F, Hermus RJ. PMID: 8306333.

N Engl J Med. 1990 Dec 13;323(24):1664-72. Relation of meat, fat, and fiber intake to the risk of colon cancer in a prospective study among women. Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Speizer FE. PMID: 2172820.

Cancer Res. 1994 May 1;54(9):2390-7. Intake of fat, meat, and fiber in relation to risk of colon cancer in men. Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Ascherio A, Willett WC. PMID: 8162586.

Eur J Cancer Prev. 1996 Dec;5(6):445-54. Dietary factors and risk of colon cancer: a prospective study of 50,535 young Norwegian men and women. Gaard M, Tretli S, Loken EB. PMID: 9061275.

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Nov;57(11):1447-57. Individual saturated fatty acids and nonfatal acute myocardial infarction in Costa Rica. Kabagambe EK, Baylin A, Siles X, Campos H. PMID: 14576758.

Atherosclerosis. 2003 Apr;167(2):303-10. The emergence of coronary heart disease in populations of Chinese descent. Dwyer T, Emmanuel SC, Janus ED, Wu Z, Hynes KL, Zhang C. PMID: 12818413.

BMJ. 1990 Mar 24;300(6727):771-3. Association between certain foods and risk of acute myocardial infarction in women. Gramenzi A, Gentile A, Fasoli M, Negri E, Parazzini F, La Vecchia C. PMID: 2322737.

J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct;19(5 Suppl):549S-555S. Egg consumption and coronary heart disease: an epidemiologic overview. Kritchevsky SB, Kritchevsky D. PMID: 11023006.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 May;73(5):885-91. Dietary cholesterol from eggs increases the ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in humans: a meta-analysis. Weggemans RM, Zock PL, Katan MB. PMID: 11333841.

Nutrition. 1993 Nov-Dec;9(6):513-8. Consumption of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid-enriched eggs and changes in plasma lipids of human subjects. Jiang Z, Sim JS. PMID: 7906572.

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Aug;56 Suppl 3:S65-8. Role of yoghurt in the prevention of colon cancer. Perdigon G, de Moreno de LeBlanc A, Valdez J, Rachid M. PMID: 12142967.

Basics of a Healthy Diet - Part Three - Foods and Food Ingredients to Avoid

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Basics of a Healthy Diet. Copyright 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.

The above article was posted on this site March 18, 2004.
It originally appeared in the free email newsletter FitTips for One and All.

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