10 a day the smart way

Dr Paul Clayton’s Health Newsletter April 2014

“The smart way to 10-a-day fruit and veg – don’t just count portions, but choose the foods which are most health-protective.”

You may have seen recent press headlines telling us that we should be eating a minimum of 7 and an optimum 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day!

Actually, this is not really news. The American Cancer Society has been calling for 9 portions for some years as a preventative strategy, as have many other experts; and readers of my newsletters will know I have been urging people to eat more fruits and vegetable for years. But we have to be realistic. Most people struggle to get to even 5-a-day, let alone the 4 portions of oily fish per week that we are also told to eat in order to stay healthy.

There is an easier way. Concentrate on the foods and nutrients with the highest health impact. Counting portions is only part of the picture because it’s not just the number of portions that is important – it’s what’s in those portions.

So the smart question is NOT “How many portions should I be eating?”
but “What is in these foods which makes them so health protective? Which foods give will give me the most bang for my buck?”

Fruits, vegetables and oily fish are good for our health because they all contain valuable anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds combat “chronic sub-clinical inflammation”, the process which drives degenerative diseases such as heart disease, stroke, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and many of the cancers. This type of inflammation causes progressive tissue damage which is initially asymptomatic (shows no symptoms), but eventually emerges as one of the age-related diseases.

The PRO-health shopping list

(A) Best anti-inflammatory foods
So which foods which have the greatest anti-inflammatory impact? Which food items would top a pro-health shopping/cooking list? Look for foods with a high nutrient density, and containing high levels of polyphenols and omega 3 fatty acids. They include:

  • MORE:
  • Herbs and spices
    eg. Ground cloves, turmeric, oregano, grape seed, rosemary, thyme, ginger, cinnamon
  • Exotic fruits
    eg. Acai, coffee berries, coffee, cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • Dark red, blue and purple fruits
    Raspberries, tart cherries, elderberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, currants
  • Nuts
    Walnuts, pecans, almonds
  • Dark green vegetables
    Spinach, kale, broccoli, collard greens
  • Legumes such as soy and other beans.
    Soy beans are particularly high in isoflavones.
  • Whole grain cereals
  • Green and black tea
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
    from wild salmon and oily sea fish like sardines, mackerel, herrings
    (NB wild fish obtain Omega 3 from the plankton that they eat. Farmed salmon tend to be very depleted in omega 3s. The omega 3s in seeds such as flax seed are next to useless.)
  • (B) And other phyto-nutrients
    It’s not all about inflammation, of course. Many other plant foods contain a range of phyto-nutrients with other protective effects; plus, of course, vitamins and minerals.

    • AND MORE:
  • Red and green peppers, tomatoes (high in lycopene)
  • Squash, leafy vegetables (high in lutein)
  • Onions and garlic (containing quercitin and allicin)
  • And finally, good health depends not just on what you DO eat; what you DON’T eat is just as important. Polyphenols and omega 3s are anti-inflammatory, but many of the processed foods we eat today are pro-inflammatory (and should be minimised or avoided).

    Decreasing pro-inflammatory foods and increasing the anti-inflammatory elements in our diet is the smart health strategy.

    (C) But fewer pro-inflammatory processed foods

    • AND LESS:
  • Foods cooked at high temperatures
  • Foods cooked in most plant oils (which contain excess Omega 6 fatty acids)
  • Foods containing excessive sugar, starch and salt
  • Increase nutrient density
    Nutrient density doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s the smart way to plan your food intake. Use the list above to guide you to the vegetables and fruits that pack the greatest nutritional punch.

    Cook at low temperatures and if you fry, use virgin or extra virgin olive oil – and then add supplements.

    Why? Our sedentary, urbanised and mechanised lifestyles present us with a huge nutritional dilemma. In order to maintain a reasonable and healthy body shape, we have had to decrease the amount of food we eat by an average 1,500 calories a day over the last century, from 3,500 calories to around 2,000 today. But these lower food intakes mean that we are consuming less nutrients. It is impossible to achieve an optimum intake of all the key protective nutrients at 2,000 calories a day, UNLESS YOU SUPPLEMENT.

    That’s why you’ll see Omega 3 fatty acids, polyphenols from curcumin, green tea, grape seed extract and soy, plus lycopene, lutein and other phyto- and micronutrients in the NutriShield supplement. It’s a logical way to increase the ‘nutrient density’ of your daily diet and restore it to, for example, mid-Victorian levels.

    Advocating supplements used to be controversial, but the latest research provides yet more support for a comprehensive supplement (especially as you get older). One-a-day vitamin pills cannot provide any significant benefit, and a supplement is never a substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables. However, a well-formulated and comprehensive anti-inflammatory nutrient programme can add vital elements to a diet, even a well-intentioned one, that falls short of that 10-a-day optimum.

    University College London study published March 31st in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2014/03/03/jech-2013-203500).