Saturday, January 23, 2010

The problem with salt

"Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt?" Job 6:6

It seems the amount of salt added to junk foods makes this verse from Job quite contemporary. 

The negative health implications of high salt intake have been known and effectively ignored for decades. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article which showed that even modest reductions in Americans' salt intake could save up to 392,000 quality adjusted life years annually while dropping annual medical costs by between $10 and $24 billion per year. NPR reported on this article, stressing that in the middle of our healthcare financial crisis, perhaps we should look more seriously at cutting back on our salt.

Another article from the NEJM in 2007 reviewed the research on sodium and potasium intake, leaving little doubt that high salt's is a major contributor to hypertension.

For those concerned with what they look like now, a body building site levels even more criticisms at salt from the perspective of a life skills trainer. They make an interesting case that to lose weight, one first needs to cut down on the salt intake.

Despite the evidence of damage to our health from too much salt, the American's average salt intake has increased by 50% in the last 40 years, mainly from our highly processed foods.

Why not just cut back on salt? My patients who successfully decreased their salt, reported  up to six weeks of bland tasting food. After this, they described enjoying previously hidden, yet quite pleasurable tastes, especially in vegetables. It seems a win-win scenario, less salt unlocks the joy of eating and decreases heart attacks and strokes. 

So, why don't more people cut back on salt?

The main reason is that junk foods just don't taste good without loads of salt, whereas "healthier" food tastes great with less salt. 

So a modern answer to the rhetorical question in Job might be, "no, the junk needs salt!"

Expressly yours,

carl myers

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The taste of true love

One Saturday while mingling with happy diners at Nature’s Express, a lady stopped me to express her profound disappointment with the minestrone soup. She assured me that the minestrone was incorrectly spiced. Whatever I said was not making her any happier either, and she carried on and on about the poor quality of the soup. Fortunately, another customer who had overheard the interchange stood up to give her opinion. She countered that the soup had been perfectly spiced, adding "and I know spices!" When she sat down, no one said any more about the minestrone and peace again descended on the diners. 

Each customer was perfectly correct in her opinion. The soup fit one's taste but not the other.  

Taste is of utmost importance to a restaurant's success, but our main goal is to provide a high level of nutrition through healthier food choices. Great taste can come processed with high fat, high salt, laced with hormones and added chemicals... or it can come freshly prepared with quality ingredients, high in natural nutrition and spiced with healthy herbs. Taste is similar to infatuation with all its potential pitfalls; good nutrition is true love.

Nature's Express is serious about this mission to promote healthier lives by making it easier to choose better nutrition. We tweak our recipes to decrease the salt, fat, and calories, while increasing the fiber and phytonutrients. We don't kid ourselves; we are not perfect and do not profess to be. However, our team believes in creating healthier, convenient, and tasty food at a great price. 

We hope to have the opportunity to serve you soon.

Expressly yours,

carl myers


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Musings Concerning the Berlin Wall of Factory Farming

Today's blog is published with some trepidation. Nature's Express is all about providing healthier food, so the tangential issue of factory farming does not directly apply. Nevertheless, whenever I travel past the stench of the stockyards between Yuma and Phoenix, or see a cow pushing its nuzzle out the side of a transport truck, my sense of empathy is aroused, adding fuel to my passion to grow NE.

Factory farming as an ethical concern

Although hidden away from our daily lives, there is an increasing awareness that factory farming creates a veritable hell for billions of creatures that are as sentient as our pets. This troubles some of us more than others. For myself, before curtailing meat for health concerns, I remember feeling irritated when confronted with farm animal issues. To a large extent, it was only after dropping meat from my diet that my concern for farm animals began. I have no high horse to ride; my moral compass was not so very strong.

I first saw the "Meat your Meat" video six years after becoming vegetarian and immediately resolved to become vegan. Despite this intention to change, it still took me two to three years to give up cheese entirely.

The benefits of eating plant based grew clear to me only after changing to a vegan diet. In hindsight, my diet was clouding how I saw the world - damaging my health or the environment from my own actions was hard to swallow.

As far as health is concerned, studies show benefits to small diet changes. A healthier diet could start with one more apple and an added side salad with a healthy dressing every day. Each step toward a better diet makes one healthier.

I attempt to take a similar approach with compassion - more is better than less. One plant based meal is more compassionate than a meal with a burger. Choosing less meat is a more compassionate approach than more meat. If we can make it just as easy and tasty to choose something that is healthier and more compassionate, that is a good thing.

Momentum for change

In hindsight, as pundits look at the social and political trends that occurred before the Iron Curtain crumbled, what was so surprising as it happened, now seems as though it was inevitable. However, before the Iron Curtain actually fell, few predicted it.

Perhaps our eating habits are undergoing a similar evolution. The momentum towards a plant based diet is building on several crucial fronts. The environmental damage of animal agriculture, concerns for human health, and the horrors of factory farming are all realities with severe social consequences. The Berlin Wall became irrelevant as the momentum for freedom reached a tipping point against repression. Does factory farming face a similar tipping point? Will more compassion rather than less compassion become the new status quo?

When framed in that light, why not?

Expressly yours,

Friday, January 1, 2010

Soy Is Healthy In Breast Cancer

Good news in breast cancer

The misinformation concerning soy and breast cancer has reached urban legend status; it is widely believed, but utterly false.

Unlike most urban legends, however, the erroneous belief that soy products promote breast cancer has dire consequences. It is time to stop telling women concerned about breast cancer to avoid soy products. In fact, health care providers should be advising more soy and other plant foods high in flavonoids in order to reduce the incidence of breast cancer.

Just a few years ago, I advised my patients with breast cancer that the direct data on soy and breast cancer was not yet available. I would then discuss my bias that soy probably did not promote breast cancer based on information from areas in Southeastern Asia where people ate the most soy. The incidence of breast cancer was not higher, as one would expect if soy promoted breast cancer, but tended to be lower than in areas of Asia where people consumed less soy.

I also suspected that the source for the soy concern was the usual "trumped up" defense of the status quo industries that compete with soy products. (See Big Tobacco Tactics in my December 2 blog)

I would leave it with patients that while I was not convinced that soy increased the risk for breast cancer, the jury was still out. In retrospect, I wish I had been more adamant in my support of soy, but I felt the data was still equivocal.

However, concrete data on soy is now available. The jury has returned, and without a reasonable doubt, soy is not guilty.

In a December 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a prospective study of over 5000 women in Shanghai with a history of breast cancer was reported. The women who ate more soy protein had fewer deaths or recurrences than those who ate less. This was true whether the breast cancer was estrogen positive or not and also whether the women were taking tamoxifen or not. The conclusion of the study was clear: "Among women with breast cancer, soy food consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk of death and recurrence."

The data supporting soy is not only from Asia. A definitive 2008 editorial in the British Journal of Cancer, Soy intake and breast cancer: elucidation of an unanswered question, outlines the data which not only clearly absolves soy in the promotion of breast cancer, but also builds a convincing case that soy is protective against the development as well as the recurrence of breast cancer. The protective effect was particularly noticeable for women who had a high level of soy intake during adolescence.

Urban legends do not die easily - the myth that soy is bad in breast cancer is unlikely to go away soon. Please join me in the crusade against breast cancer and help spread the real truth about soy.