Whole Grains & Partial Truths

Despite all the “good food”/”bad food” hype you hear, healthful eating isn’t really so confusingly complicated. Stick to a diet based on whole foods (ideally organic), including lots of fresh produce, a minimum of industrially processed food and sugars, and a good amount of variety, and you’ll do fine.

Or, as Michael Pollan famously put it, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

The problems largely arise when we venture into the area of commercially manufactured food. Those adjectives matter, for strictly speaking, most all food is “processed” in some way before we eat it – through cooking, say, or even just mixing ingredients together. Commercial manufacture takes it to a whole different level, often using ingredients that would otherwise never be found in your kitchen (and that your body has no need of).

grain_anatomyIt also tends to beat the nutritional life out of its food-sourced ingredients, which is one reason for the recent emphasis on whole grains. The refining process strips nutrients and fiber from the grain. Whole grains and whole grain flours keep more of the good stuff by using all layers of a kernel: bran, endosperm and germ.

But just because something is “whole grain” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthful – a point pounded home by a recently released Harvard School of Public Health study. The gist of it? “Current standards for classifying foods as ‘whole grain’ are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading….”

[Lead author Rebecca] Mozaffarian and her colleagues assessed five different industry and government guidelines for whole grain products:

  • The Whole Grain Stamp, a packaging symbol for products containing at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving (created by the Whole Grain Council, a non-governmental organization supported by industry dues)
  • Any whole grain as the first listed ingredient (recommended by the USDA’s MyPlate and the Food and Drug Administration’s Consumer Health Information guide)
  • Any whole grain as the first ingredient without added sugars in the first three ingredients (also recommended by USDA’s MyPlate)
  • The word “whole” before any grain anywhere in the ingredient list (recommended by USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010)
  • The “10:1 ratio,” a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of less than 10 to 1, which is approximately the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in whole wheat flour (recommended by the American Heart Association’s 2020 Goals)

* * *

They found that grain products with the Whole Grain Stamp, one of the most widely-used front-of-package symbols, were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, but also contained significantly more sugar and calories compared to products without the Stamp. The three USDA recommended criteria also had mixed performance for identifying healthier grain products.

Of course. The first, second and fourth standards in particular allow for a lot of wiggle room – which is exactly how you get things like the magically health-haloed whole grain Lucky Charms and other sugarific cereals.

genmills_screen

Not mentioned on that General Mills web page is the fact that “sugar” is the second most abundant ingredient in every product shown except Kix, in which it’s the third ingredient. (All include multiple sugars, as well.) They don’t have much to say about the artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and other additives either; nor the presence of GMOs in those products made with corn.

But, hey, they’re whole grain, so they must be good, right?

Uh-huh.

Of course, we’ve talked about this kind of thing before, and the moral of the story remains the same:

Ignore the front of the package; read the ingredients and nutrition info instead. And if you decide to consume the product, do in moderation.

And in case you’re wondering, the Harvard study found that the AHA guidelines gave the best indication of healthfulness:

Products meeting this ratio were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, sugar, and sodium, without higher calories than products that did not meet the ratio.

Grain diagram via the Whole Grains Council

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Diet & Nutrition

Coffee & Cancer: Java to the Rescue?

Some research can’t help but be greeted with a yawn, “duh!” or rolling eyes – like the obesity study done a couple years ago at Tel Aviv University. Participants sat around doing nothing more than eating, playing games and reading. The conclusion? Relaxing can make you fatter. (There’s actually a rationale for such “duh” studies, which you can read about here.)

coffee_greenAt the other end of the spectrum are studies that surprise, such as the one on oral and throat cancer published last month in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Analyzing data from a 26 year span of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II, researchers found that people who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee a day were at a 49% lower risk of death from throat or oral cancer as those who occasionally or never take coffee. (Full research article here)

This isn’t to say coffee is a magic bullet against these cancers. Far better to start by eliminating risk factors such as tobacco and heavy alcohol use, a poor, sugar-rich diet and unsafe sexual practices. (As mentioned, the virus responsible for the recent rise in oral cancer rates – HPV – is most often sexually transmitted.)

Yes, moderation and healthy living may sound less adventurous than whiling away the bohemian hours at your favorite hip coffee shop, but they’re your health’s most reliable friend.

Because oral and throat cancers can be hard to see in their early – and thus, easiest to successfully treat phase – it’s also important to see your dentist regularly for screening. Here in Dr. Erwin’s office, all adult patients are screened annually with VELscope. This device uses a blue excitation light to identify tissues that need a closer look. If any are found, we go to the next step: a CDX brush test, which is likewise painless and non-invasive.

Oral Cancer Screening at a Glance

And then there’s coffee – perhaps – with its beneficial effects. The current belief is that these come courtesy of phytochemicals. These are naturally occurring compounds in plants that often have antioxidant properties, and a number of those found in coffee may contribute in the fight against cancer.

Now the bad news: Coffee is also one of the top causes for tooth enamel damage. Not only does it stain, but it makes the oral cavity temporarily more acidic, giving a boost to some of the bacteria that want nothing more than to leave you in dentures. If you do drink coffee, be sure to wait 20 to 30 minutes before brushing your teeth afterwards. This gives your saliva time to neutralize those acids. Brushing while conditions are still acidic further raises risk of enamel erosion.

Stains, we can remove. Once enamel’s gone, it’s gone.

Learn more about oral and throat cancers

Image byTakkk, via Wikimedia Commons

Comments Off on Coffee & Cancer: Java to the Rescue?

Filed under Oral Health

More Twisted Gifts for the Dental Minded

When dental-themed gifts go wrong, they go wrong in a special kind of way.

Sometimes, it’s the concept. Would you really want a drill-wielding dentist full of wine?

dentist_wine
 

And flossing is hard enough for some folks. Are you really going to want to do it with a piece of floss pulled out of something’s mouth?

otto
 

Or drink through someone else’s teeth?

teethmug01
 

On the other hand, if you ever get the urge to open bottles with your mouth, using someone else’s teeth is a much better choice.

dent_opener
 

Those wanting something a little more upscale could go for some toothy fashions:

fashion
 

Or be both extravagant and practical by giving the full line of Margaret Josefin toothpastes from Japan, one flavor for every tooth, including such favorites as Tropical Pine, Curry, Pumpkin Pudding and Monkey Banana!

monkeybanana
 

But if you’re going to give someone a cavity or bad breath, you’re safest sticking with this kind:

plush_bugs
 

Last year’s catalog

Happy holidays from all of us
at Dr. Erwin’s office!

Regular posts will resume on Friday, January 4.

1 Comment

Filed under Dentistry

Gum Disease & ED

Find any list of qualities to cultivate for sex appeal, and you’ll find it includes an attractive smile. People consistently rate it as the most captivating physical feature – more than eyes, hair or even physique.

smileJust because a smile looks good, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. And according to a new study, a particular kind of unhealthy one could be putting a damper on your sex life.

For a while now, we’ve known about the links between periodontal disease and inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. All those are known to be physical causes of erectile dysfunction, and there appears to be a relationship between ED and gum disease, as well.

According to Wiley’s press release on research just published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine,

Turkish researchers compared 80 men aged 30 to 40 with erectile dysfunction with a control group of 82 men without erection problems.

This showed that 53 per cent of the men with erectile dysfunction had inflamed gums compared with 23 per cent in the control group.

When the results were adjusted for other factors, such as age, body mass index, household income and education level, the men with severe periodontal disease were 3.29 times more likely to suffer from erection problems than men with healthy gums.

Smokers, older men and those with systemic illness were excluded from the study, as all are already at elevated risk for both ED and periodontal disease.

As ever, correlation doesn’t equal causation; it only shows that two things occur together. It’s where things stand with the gum disease/heart disease link, as well. We know that they’re often present together; that oral bacteria are often found in the heart; that improving gum health may improve heart health. If you’ve been diagnosed with one condition, it’s worthwhile to get the other checked and do what you can to improve your health.

The good news with gum disease is that, unless severe or advanced, it’s usually reversible through a combination of improved home care and diet, frequent professional cleanings and sometimes surgery. Granted, it takes a time and money, but it’s certainly cheaper than replacing the teeth you’re sure to lose if gum disease goes unchecked.

Consider the results of a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Periodontology. Its authors found that those who had only baseline treatment could replace just 3 teeth with bridgework – or 2 with implants – before they’d be spending more than for a lifetime of perio care.

Those who had no treatment at all could buy 4.

Image by practicalowl, via Flickr

1 Comment

Filed under General Health, Periodontal health

Another Reason Your Teeth Love Vitamin D

It’s well known that Vitamin D is good for your teeth, which need good, healthy bone for support. The nutrient helps you get that by promoting calcium absorption and the right calcium/phosphate balance for bone to remineralize.

A new literature review now lends more weight to its ability to prevent cavities, as well – an ability some have disputed.

This current survey aimed to shed some light on the matter by analyzing 24 studies conducted over several decades and in several countries. Collectively, they “showed that vitamin D was associated with an approximately 50 percent reduction in the incidence of tooth decay.”

[Review author Dr. Philippe] Hujoel’s findings come as no surprise to researchers familiar with past vitamin D studies. According to Dr. Michael Hollick, professor of medicine at the Boston University Medical Center, “the findings from the University of Washington reaffirm the importance of vitamin D for dental health.” He said that “children who are vitamin D deficient have poor and delayed teeth eruption and are prone to dental caries.”

That said, the current study is not without its limitations, noted by the author himself. For instance, most of the trials that were included “predated modern clinical trial design.” Safeguards like randomization, blinding and controls were used inconsistently. Publication bias was also an issue.

“My main goal,” said Dr. Hujoel in a press release, “was to summarize the clinical trial database so that we could take a fresh look at this vitamin D question.” And it’s an increasingly important question, as tooth decay continues to be epidemic among children and as vitamin D levels have been dropping across many populations.

“Whether this is more than just a coincidence is open to debate,” Hujoel said. “In the meantime, pregnant women or young mothers can do little harm by realizing that vitamin D is essential to their offspring’s health. Vitamin D does lead to teeth and bones that are better mineralized.”

LEARN MORE

Image by Electron, via Wikimedia Commons

2 Comments

Filed under Dental Health

Why Exercise?

Exercise might be one of the most overlooked factors in dental health. While most people are at least aware that physical activity is part of being healthy, far fewer know that it helps their teeth and gums, too.

For instance, as we noted before, research shows that those who exercise have a much lower risk of periodontitis (gum disease) than those who don’t, especially former smokers. (For most, smoking pretty much guarantees gum disease and tooth loss.)

Physical activity also helps your body better assimilate nutrients like calcium, a crucial mineral for the remineralization of teeth.

Here are 5 more “hidden” benefits, courtesy of integrative physician Dr. Eudene Harry, author of Live Younger in 8 Simple Steps:

  1. Younger looking, more blemish-free skin
    The increase in circulation and perspiration that occurs with exercise delivers more nutrients to your skin while allowing impurities and waste to be removed. The result? A healthier complexion!
  2. Natural “feel-good” chemicals
    Exercise releases endorphins, the brain chemicals that boost your mood and make you feel happy, as well as relieve stress, and enhance your self-esteem and self-confidence. Exercise has also been shown to increase neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which gives us a natural high and allows us to sleep better.
  3. Constipation prevention
    Exercise increases the contractions of the wall of the intestine, helping to move things along through the intestinal tract more easily, and decreasing the time it takes to pass through the large intestine. But wait an hour or two after eating before exerting yourself: Exercising too soon after a meal can divert blood flow away from the gut and toward the muscles, weakening peristaltic contractions (and slowing down the digestion process).
  4. Prevents brittle bones
    Walking, jogging, dancing, weight training and yoga are all weight-bearing exercises that help strengthen bones. Swimming and bicycling are exercises that are considered non-weight bearing. During weight-bearing exercises, bones adapt to the impact of the weight and the pull of muscles by building more bone cells, increasing strength and density and decreasing the risk of fractures, osteopenia and osteoporosis.
  5. Enhanced immunity
    Physical exertion increases the rate at which antibodies flow through the blood stream, resulting in better immunity against sickness. The increased temperature generated during moderate exercise makes it difficult for certain infectious organisms to survive.

40 more reasons to exercise

We hope you and yours have a joyful Thanksgiving – a wonderful start to your holiday season ! We’ll be back to our regular posting here on November 30.

Image by bookgrl, via Flickr

Comments Off on Why Exercise?

Filed under General Health, Oral Health

After Prop. 37…

Prop. 37’s defeat was a disappointment to those of us who value the right to know and who care about the quality of our food, our health and the environment. It remains up to us to do our homework, ask questions and stay informed so we can make good choices while shopping.

One of the simplest things we can do is support those brands, corporations and stores that support the right to know – and think twice about whether we really want to support those that oppose it. The Cornucopia Institute’s Prop. 37 donor posters are a fine reference:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

There are a number of good shopping guides out there, such as this one from the Center for Food Safety and the Institute for Responsible Technology. There are also many good online resources for finding quality, GMO-free foods and other products both here in Southern California and nationally:

  • The LA Times’ guide offers info on farmers’ markets from Santa Clarita to Temecula, Long Beach to Ontario. While not all vendors deal in organics, a great many do – and, of course, you can speak directly to those who grew the food and learn as much as you care to know about how it was raised.
  • To find local food elsewhere in the state, use the directory provided by the California Federation of Certified Farmers’ Markets.
  • Of course, farmers’ markets aren’t your only option. Local Harvest is a directory of family farms, CSA programs, restaurants and other sources of local, organic food.
  • Likewise, the Eat Well Guide can help you find sellers of local, sustainably raised food across the US and Canada. Listings range from farms to restaurants to bakers, butchers and stores.
  • For finding non-GMO foods and products of all sorts, the Institute for Responsible Technology’s Non-GMO Shopping Guide is a terrific resource.
  • Finally, there’s the Good Guide, which features an even wider array of products, with ratings to separate the truly green from the greenwashed.

There is one good thing that’s come out of the fight over Prop. 37: more people than ever are aware of issues around GMOs and the power of agribusiness and the food industry. That progress is nicely illustrated by this infographic just released by the Non-GMO Project:

Click to enlarge

Of course, if you have a rebellious, culture-jamming streak, you could always start labeling it yourself

Cross-posted (modified)

Comments Off on After Prop. 37…

Filed under Diet & Nutrition