What We Eat Contributes More to Disease Risk than Genetics
I started this blog to try to understand how food, exercise, sun exposure, etc., contribute to health and disease, because I was shocked that recent, comprehensive studies demonstrated that genetic defects were only minor contributors. I am trained as a molecular biologist and I search for explanations of disease in terms of the interactions of the proteins coded by the genes in our cells. History of defective genes that code for defective proteins in sickle-cell anemia, Huntington’s disease or ALS, suggested that personal genetic defects might explain personal diseases. Fortunately, it appears that in most cases genetic defects only matter when our actions produce chronic inflammation. What we eat is far more important than our genetics in determining if we are going to suffer from allergies, autoimmune diseases, degenerative diseases, various forms of mental illness or cancer. If we eat to avoid inflammation, in most cases it doesn’t matter how genetically defective we are.
Diet-Based Inflammation Is the Major Risk
Modern diets rich in starch/sugar/fructose and polyunsaturated fats (omega-6 oils), and deficient in saturated fats and omega-3 oils produce the chronic inflammation that forms the foundation of most diseases. Vegetable oils, such as corn, soy or safflower oils are inflammatory and should be eliminated from our kitchens. We should only use olive oil, butter or lard. Saturated fats from meat, dairy and eggs are healthier than polyunsaturated vegetable oils. There was never adequate scientific data to justify the shift from saturated fats to polyunsaturated vegetable oils. That was a tragic, unscientific medical error that contributed significantly to deteriorating health in the developed/developing world.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle Is the Cure
It came as a surprise to me that simply eliminating inflammatory foods could prevent most diseases. After diseases have developed, it is harder to reverse the process and return to health, but even in that case, diet is of paramount importance.
Back to Basics of a Healthy Diet (the Food Pyramid Is Wrong)
- Starch/sugar/fructose are inflammatory. Low carbohydrate is the healthiest diet.
- Grains, even whole grains, and especially cereal are a big part of the problem and should be avoided.
- Fat and not carbohydrates, should be the major source of dietary calories/energy.
- Saturated fats are healthier than vegetable oils -- use olive oil and butter.
- Meats/fish (not fed on grains) are healthy. A healthy vegetarian diet is difficult.
- Leafy vegetables are a good source of healthful antioxidants.
- Fruits and fructose are inflammatory and should be eaten sparingly.
- Healthy gut bacteria are important. Eat fermented foods with live bacteria, e.g. yogurt.
Living with Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can lead to many problems that diet and supplements can help to remedy. For example, vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in America, because chronic dietary inflammation appears to compromise the ability to make vitamin D in the skin with sunlight. Most individuals eating a diet high in polyunsaturated fats, starch and high fructose corn syrup, are deficient in vitamin D and would benefit from a vitamin D3 supplement of at least 2,000 IU per day. Vitamin D deficiency also contributes to inflammation. Fish oil supplements can also help to reduce dietary inflammation and should always be taken with at least equal amounts of saturated fats in the same meal.
Resolve to Eat Your Way to Health
It is easy to avoid most diseases by avoiding dietary inflammation. Since chronic dietary inflammation produces depression, lethargy, obesity and a lack of energy, a healthy anti-inflammatory diet will also lead to weight loss, increased energy and reduced symptoms of aging. Most symptoms of aging and disease are actually poorly managed inflammation that exposes genetic defects. Most people increase in inflammation with age, but proper diet can avoid this risk to health and prolong youthful activity. The healthiest resolution for the new year is to stop eating blatantly inflammatory foods (starch and vegetable oils) and start eating more spicy meats, fish and leafy vegetables.