More on Alcohol

          Hey health nuts! In my last post I highlighted the benefits of drinking alcohol. Not too much, not too little. To expand, we’ve often heard of the importance of drinking red wine (and let’s not forget the dark chocolate!). This raises the question… what about beer, liquor, and other alcoholic drinks? As it turns out, the early publicity red wine received was because the French happened to be the population that caused scientists to first suspect alcohol to be beneficial. France maintained low rates of heart disease in spite of a typically high-fat diet; the so called “French paradox.” Red wine was thought to be the reason. As science matured, however, it became apparent that alcohol, and not necessarily red wine, explained the paradox. A number of recent studies continue to reinforce this, showing that people receive the same benefits regardless of drinking beer, wine, or liquor.  What does matter is quantity, and studies point to an ideal consumption rate of about 1-2 drinks/day, probably on the lower side for women. The greatest benefit of alcohol consumption is the substantially reduced risk of heart disease, with many studies showing a 30-40% reduced risk of heart attack in men. Other benefits include increased “good” cholesterol and lower risk of diabetes and ischemic stroke, not to mention the benefits that come with reduced stress.

        There is an important side note worth mentioning for women. That is, studies have shown that 2 drinks/day raises the chances of developing breast cancer by about 20-25%. Before you get freaked out, let me provide some good news. This increased breast cancer risk is mostly among women whose diets are deficient in the vitamin B known as folic acid. This suggests that simply taking a daily multivitamin can offset this risk. Aside from folic acid, it is also important to put this seemingly large increase in risk into perspective. The current rate of breast cancer in the U.S. is about 12 cancers in every 100 women. A 25% increase in this risk means that if women began drinking 2 drinks/day, the new breast cancer risk would be about 14-15 cancers per 100 women. By comparison, about 10 times as many women die from heart disease in the U.S.—about 500,000 compared to 41,000 deaths/year. So while there may be a slight increase in breast cancer risk from a drink a day (or maybe not), from a population perspective this is not nearly as substantial as deaths due to heart disease. With that said, a drink a day for women, particularly given a daily multivitamin, appears worthwhile and healthy. But this can be for you to decide. 
        Lastly, alcohol can be dangerous. Overdrinking leads to liver disease, high blood pressure, various cancers, and weakening of the heart muscle. Additionally, alcohol is implicated in one-third of all fatal traffic accidents and can tear families apart. So if you already drink, drink moderately and responsibly. And stay within the daily consumption recommendations to achieve the described health benefits. If you don’t already drink, don’t feel compelled to do so as there are other things you can due in terms of diet and exercise to realize similar benefits without taking on the dangers of alcohol. 

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                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S. 


Healthy Eating Tip #6 – Alcohol in Moderation

“When the first reports appeared linking moderate alcohol consumption with lower rates of heart disease, many scientists thought that some other habit shared by drinkers, not the drinking, accounted for the benefit. Today the evidence strongly points to alcohol itself. Based on the best estimates available, one drink a day for women and one or two a day for men cuts the chances of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease by about a third and also decreases the risk of having a clot-caused (ischemic) stroke.

Like many drugs, alcohol’s effects depend on the dose. A little bit can be beneficial. A lot can eventually destroy the liver, lead to various cancers, boost blood pressure, trigger so-called bleeding (hemorrhagic) strokes, progressively weakening the heart muscle, scramble the brain, harm unborn children, and damage lives.

If you don’t drink alcohol, you shouldn’t feel compelled to start. You can get similar benefits by beginning to exercise (if you don’t already) or boosting the intensity and duration of your physical activity, in addition to following the eating strategy we describe. But if you are an adult with no history of depression or alcoholism who is at high risk for heart disease, a daily alcoholic drink may help reduce that risk. This is especially true for people with type 2 diabetes or those with low HDL that just won’t budge upward with diet and exercise. If you already drink alcohol, keep it moderate.”

                             Dr. Walter Willett
                             Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

In my next blog I will expand on this quote by discussing red wine versus other alcoholic beverages, as well as the importance of folic acid for female drinkers. Additionally, as a special treat I will include the recipe of one of my favorite winter cocktails! 

Dear friends, if you read this blog you are probably a member of my "What's Toxic?" Facebook group. While I thank you for this, I encourage you to join my "actual" blog here. Blog membership is important for me to achieve support for various upcoming projects I am working on. Simply click “join this site” at the top right of this page, log into your account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks so much! =)

                                                                                                      -Shahir Masri, M.S. 


A Guide to Fruits & Veggies

       While any given fruit or vegetable has perhaps hundreds of useful vitamins and nutrients, no single fruit or veggie contains everything your body needs for good health. This makes it important to eat from all the main fruit/veggie categories throughout the week. In this blog, as promised, I have provided a list of these major categories. Fortunately, memorizing them is not necessary as the foods within each category tend to be similarly colored. With that in mind, it is often said as a simplified rule to “paint your diet with color.” That is, eat vegetables and fruits of different colors (e.g. reds, greens, purples, and oranges). This will ensure you are eating across the various fruit/veggie categories and in turn getting all the benefits these foods have to offer! 

The List
  • Crucifer Family - Includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, and watercress. These are excellent sources of isothiocyanates, indoles, thiocyanates, and nitriles, which protect against some cancers.
  • Melon/Squash Family - Includes cucumbers, summer squashes such a zucchini and pumpkin, winter squashes such as acorn and butternut, as well as cantaloupes and honeydew melons.
  • Legume Family – Includes alfalfa sprouts, beans, peas, and soybeans. These foods have plenty of fiber, folate, and protease inhibitors, which protect against heart disease and cancer.
  • Lily Family - Includes asparagus, chives, garlic, leeks, onions and shallots. These have sulfur-containing compounds, especially allicin and diallyl sulfate, that may fight cancer.
  • Citrus Family - Grapefruits, lemons, limes, oranges, and tangerines. These are high in vitamin C as well as the compounds limonene and coumarin, which have been shown to have anticancer properties in laboratory animals.
  • Solanum Family - Eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. These are high in lycopene, a type of antioxidant that may protect against prostate and other cancers.
  • Umbels Family - Carrots, celeriac, celery, parsley, and parsnips. Carrots are excellent source of beta-carotene, which the body uses to produce vitamin A. In general, carotenoids may help against cancers or heart disease as well as maintain memory into old age.
If you read this blog you are probably a member of my "What's Toxic?" Facebook group. While I thank you for this, I encourage you to join my "actual" blog here. Blog membership is important for me to achieve support for various upcoming projects I am working on. Simply click “join this site” at the top right of this page, log into your account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks so much!! =)

                                                                                              -Shahir Masri, M.S.


A Word on Fruit & Veggie Blends

        Since fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients, they are regarded as an excellent way to meet our calorie needs. What’s more, given their low calorie density compared to many other foods, they can fill you up without fattening you up! This is true with an important exception. In recent years, awareness of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables has manifested into the trend of blending these foods into tasty heath smoothies and shakes. This is excellent in terms of delivering needed nutrients into the body. In terms of total health, however, this is not the best dietary plan as it can translate to weight gain. How, you ask? Simple.
            Blending food into fluids usually results in consuming more calories than you would otherwise eat. That is, our bodies have indicators that tell us when we’re full based on calorie intake. However, these indicators are not immediate since our stomachs don’t immediately absorb what goes down the hatch. They take time. This is where the health recommendation of eating slowly comes from. Eating slowly gives the body time to realize fullness, or satiety, often limiting calorie intake. Well, eating blended food is essentially the very opposite of eating slowly. When we drink a smoothie, we begin dumping a whole bunch of calories into the body before giving it a chance to tell us we’re full. You can observe this firsthand by simply sitting down and attempting to eat the ingredients that go into a typical large veggie/fruit blend or smoothie. While easy to drink, in their unblended form the ingredients will likely fill you up before you can finish them all…the apple, the banana, the carrots, the kale, etc. And maybe the blended drink is only one part of a larger meal.
         What’s more, while veggies/fruits are high in beneficial nutrients, blending them increases their glycemic index, meaning that they rapidly release simple sugars into the body. This leads to insulin spikes and the over absorption of blood glucose which means that you do not stay full for as long a period before craving another meal, not to mention increases your risk of diabetes. In brief, fruit and veggie blends, while tasty and great for delivering nutrients, can be dangerous from a weight gain standpoint. So if your New Year resolution involves weight loss, eat lots of fruits and veggies, but think twice before blending them. Instead, eat them in their whole forms.

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                                                                                Shahir Masri, M.S.