By Dr. Mercola
Spending time in nature is important for physical and mental health, but more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas,1 which can limit access to green spaces.
Research conducted in the Netherlands in 2001 revealed people report fewer health complaints and better mental health when they're in a greener environment.2 Further, all types of green space – city parks, agricultural areas, forest, etc. – were equally beneficial. As reported by The Trust for Public Land:3
"The benefits extend to psychological health. 'The concept that plants have a role in mental health is well established,' according to a review of previous studies by Howard Frumkin in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"Horticultural therapy evolved as a form of mental health treatment, based on the therapeutic effects of gardening. It is also used today in community-based programs, geriatrics programs, prisons, developmental disabilities programs, and special education."4
Further, 'research on recreational activities has shown that savanna-like settings are associated with self-reported feelings of 'peacefulness,' 'tranquility,' or 'relaxation,'' Frumkin writes.
"Viewing such settings leads to decreased fear and anger…[and] is associated with enhanced mental alertness, attention, and cognitive performance, as measured by tasks such as proofreading and by formal psychological testing."
Such benefits also extend to children, among whom researchers recently unveiled a promising benefit of adding green spaces to schools.
Green Spaces in Schools May Boost Cognitive Development
In a study of 2,600 children between the ages of 7 and 10, those with greater exposure to green spaces, particularly while at school, had improved working memory and decreased inattentiveness.5
During a one-year period, children exposed to significant green spaces had a 5 percent increase in the development of working memory and a 1 percent decrease in inattentiveness.
A large part of the benefit (anywhere from 20 percent to 65 percent) was attributed to a reduction in exposure to air pollution as a result of the green spaces.
Access to nature and the outdoors also increases physical activity and reduces noise exposures, which are also beneficial for mental health. There's also past research that suggests "microbial input" from spending time in nature plays a role in brain development.6
A 2014 study similarly found that children attending schools with greater amounts of vegetation scored higher on academic tests in both English and math.7 The researchers of the current study explained:8
"Contact with nature is thought to play a crucial and irreplaceable role in brain development… Natural environments including green spaces provide children with unique opportunities such as inciting engagement, risk-taking, discovery, creativity, mastery and control, strengthening sense of self, inspiring basic emotional states including sense of wonder, and enhancing psychological restoration."
5 More Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
A trip to a park, nature preserve, river trail, local farm, or any other natural space can benefit children and adults alike – so much so that you should really strive to spend time in a "green" space each and every day. Such benefits include:9
1. Improving Focus
Among children with ADHD, spending time in nature leads to improvements in focus and higher scores on concentration tests. Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, even used the term "nature-deficit disorder" to describe behavioral problems he believes stem from spending less time outdoors.10
2. Boosting Creativity
One study found walking increased 81 percent of participants' creativity, but walking outside produced "the most novel and highest quality analogies."11
3. Getting More Out of Your Workouts
"Green exercise," which is exercise in the presence of nature, has unique benefits above and beyond indoor exercise. One meta-analysis of 10 studies found that physical activity outdoors for as little as five minutes leads to measurable improvements in mood and self-esteem.12
In addition to boosting your mood, outdoor exercise can be more challenging, leading to greater physical gains. For instance, if you walk, jog or cycle outdoors, you'll have to expend more energy to overcome wind and changes in terrain.13
There's even research showing levels of the stress hormone cortisol are lower when people exercise outdoors as opposed to indoors.14
4. Less Pain and Better Sleep
Older adults who spend more time outdoors have less pain, sleep better and have less functional decline in their ability to carry out their daily activities.15 According to research published in Biopsychosocial Medicine:16
"The healing power of nature, vis medicatrix naturae, has traditionally been defined as an internal healing response designed to restore health.
Almost a century ago, famed biologist Sir John Arthur Thomson provided an additional interpretation of the word nature within the context of vis medicatrix, defining it instead as the natural, non-built external environment.
He maintained that the healing power of nature is also that associated with mindful contact with the animate and inanimate natural portions of the outdoor environment.
…With global environmental concerns, rapid urban expansion, and mental health disorders at crisis levels, diminished nature contact may not be without consequence to the health of the individual and the planet itself."
5. Increasing Your Vitamin D Levels
Spending time in nature allows kids and adults plenty of sun exposure to build and maintain their vitamin D levels. Increasing your vitamin D levels is important, as researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year.
Incidence of several types of cancer could also be slashed in half. Vitamin D also fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.
I firmly believe appropriate sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels, and the more time you spend outdoors, the easier it will be for you to naturally keep your vitamin D levels in the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml.
Spending Time in Green Spaces Contributes to Improved Well-Being
According to research published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, children who spent five to 10 hours a week outside developed a strong attachment to nature, a value that is important to both human development and well-being.17
Children who spent a lot of time outdoors also experienced a wealth of positive emotions, including peacefulness, happiness, and a sense of belonging to the world. As you might suspect, parents of children with the strongest connections to nature also spent a lot of time outdoors during childhood, engaging in experiences that they believe helped to shape their adult lives and spirituality.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) even compiled a revealing list of facts that shows just how important outdoor time in green space is for children… and how detrimental removing this inherent connection to nature may be.18
For the record, nature's benefits don't discriminate. They're equally relevant to children and adults alike, with research showing people with access to nature have better health, increased levels of satisfaction, lower stress, and greater well-being.
Outdoor play increases fitness levels, fights obesity, and builds healthy bodies. Spending time outside raises levels of vitamin D, helping to protect children from heart disease, diabetes, bone problems, and more. Time outdoors improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness. Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing, and listening. Exposure to environment-based education improves students' critical thinking skills. Children's stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces. Play protects children's emotional development while loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle may lead to anxiety and depression. Nature makes people nicer, enhances social interactions, and improves value for community and close relationships.
The Impact of Green Space on Your Brain
Connecting with nature can help your mental health in a myriad of ways. A systematic review examined the impact of gardens and outdoor spaces on the mental and physical well-being of people with dementia, for instance. The research suggested that garden use, whether it be watering plants, walking through a garden or sitting in one, lead to decreased levels of agitation or anxiety among the patients.19 Interestingly, while spending time in a green garden may help relieve some dementia symptoms, it may also help to reduce your risk of developing dementia in the first place. As reported by CNN:20
"Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36 percent and 47 percent lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account. These findings are hardly definitive, but they suggest that the combination of physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind."
Meanwhile, Mycobacterium vaccae is a type of bacteria commonly found in soil. Remarkably, this microbe has been found to "mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide."21 It helps to stimulate serotonin production, helping to make you feel happier and more relaxed. In one animal study, mice that ingested Mycobacterium vaccae had a demonstrated reduction in anxiety and improved learning. The researchers noted that natural exposure to microbes by spending time outdoors may be important for emotional health and behavior: 22
"Recent studies show that contact with tolerogenic microbes is important for the proper functioning of immunoregulatory circuits affecting behavior, emotionality and health… Collectively, our results suggest a beneficial effect of naturally delivered, live M. vaccae on anxiety-related behaviors … supporting a positive role for ambient microbes in the immunomodulation of animal behavior."
Green Space Is Great for Grounding
The next time you go outdoors, take off your shoes and spend some time walking barefoot in the grass, sand or mud. The Earth carries an enormous negative charge. It's always electron-rich and can serve as a powerful and abundant supply of antioxidant and free-radical-busting electrons. Your body is finely tuned to "work" with the Earth in the sense that there's a constant flow of energy between your body and the Earth. When you put your bare feet on the ground, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet.
The effect is sufficient to maintain your body at the same negatively charged electrical potential as the Earth. This simple process is called "grounding" or "earthing," and its effect is one of the most potent antioxidants we know of. Grounding has been shown to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, enhance wellbeing, and much, much more. When you wear rubber- or plastic-soled shoes, however, you are effectively shielding yourself from this beneficial influx of electrons from the Earth.
Simply by getting outside, barefoot, touching the Earth, and allowing the excess charge in your body to discharge into the Earth, you can alleviate some of the stress continually put on your system. Walking barefoot can help ameliorate the constant assault of electromagnetic fields and other types of radiation from cell phones, computers, and Wi-Fi. It's also thought that grounding may actually facilitate the formation of structured water in your body.
Furthermore, grounding also calms your sympathetic nervous system, which supports your heart rate variability. And, when you support heart rate variability, this promotes homeostasis, or balance, in your autonomic nervous system. This is important because anytime you improve your heart rate variability, you're improving your entire body and all its functions.
Be a Role Model to Help Your Child Spend More Time in Green Spaces
Your kids are watching your every move, and if they see you enjoying the great outdoors, they will too. Encourage your children to engage in activities that are naturally interesting to them, such as playing on the monkey bars, rollerblading, skateboarding, playing basketball with friends, or helping you in the garden. Organized sports are great, but so are spontaneous romps through mud puddles, climbing trees, and spotting frogs in a nearby creek.
Opportunities to grow and appreciate nature are everywhere, so try to encourage your child's natural curiosity and sense of exploration by identifying birds on the way to the bus stop, talking about the insects you see around your yard, or helping your child plant a small flower or vegetable garden. Above all, resist the urge to overly structure your child's outdoor time, instead encouraging natural active play, time together as a family, as well as respect and appreciation for the outdoor world.
Why Your Brain Needs a Garden
5 Reasons to Spend More Time Outside - Even When It’s Cold
By Dr. Mercola
Depression and other mental health problems are at epidemic levels judging by the number of antidepressants prescribed each year.
This despite overwhelming evidence showing that antidepressants do not work as advertised.
At best, antidepressants are comparable to placebos. At worst they can cause devastating side effects, including deterioration into more serious mental illness, and suicidal or homicidal tendencies.
Virtually all of the school and mass shooters, for example, have been on antidepressants. Antidepressants are also prescribed to pregnant women, which can have serious repercussions for the child.
Research3 shows boys with autism are three times more likely to have been exposed to antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in utero than non-autistic boys. Those whose mothers used SSRIs during the first trimester were found to be at greatest risk.
Recent research into the mechanisms driving anxiety and social phobias now turn conventional drug treatment with SSRIs on its ear.
Turns out these mental health problems are not due to low serotonin levels as previously thought. They're linked to high levels! If these findings are taken as seriously as they should be, the mental health field is in for a major overhaul.
The Low Serotonin Theory Was Never Proven True, Yet Spawned a Booming Market of SSRIs
Prozac was released in 1987 in the US, giving rise to an entire new antidepressant therapy class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Some of the most popular ones include:
- Prozac (fluoxetine)
- Celexa (citalopram)
- Zoloft (sertraline)
- Paxil (paroxetine)
- Lexapro (escitalopram)
SSRIs work by preventing the reuptake (movement back into the nerve endings) of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This makes more serotonin available for use in your brain, which is thought to improve your mood.
Most people have heard of the "chemical imbalance" theory, which states that depression and anxiety disorders are due to low serotonin levels. Most believe this theory to be true. But the theory was just that—a theory. It sounds scientific, but there was actually no hard evidence behind it.
As explained by investigative health journalist Robert Whitaker, in 1983 the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) investigated whether or not depressed individuals had low serotonin. At that time, they concluded there was no evidence that there is anything wrong in the serotonergic system of depressed patients.
Research 4, 5 published in 2009 added further evidence to the pile indicating the low serotonin idea was incorrect, as they found strong indications that depression actually begins further up in the chain of events in the brain. Essentially, the medications have been focusing on the effect, not the cause.
Drug companies kept running with the low serotonin theory though, as it justifies the aggressive use of antidepressants to correct this alleged "imbalance." Now, Swedish research really throws the justification for using SSRIs to treat anxiety disorders into question.
Anxiety Linked to High Serotonin Levels, Making SSRIs a Questionable Remedy
More than 25 million Americans report suffering from social anxiety disorder, which makes them feel embarrassed or severely uncomfortable in public situations.
As with depression, low serotonin has been the prevailing theory for explaining social anxiety, and hence SSRIs are typically prescribed for this disorder. (Other commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs include benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, Xanax, and Valium.
These are also associated with serious risks, including memory loss, hip fractures, and addiction. Among women who take SSRI's to counter symptoms of menopause, the drugs can significantly elevate their risk of bone fractures, and this risk lingers for several years.
One recent study6 found that, compared to women treated with H2 antagonists or proton pump inhibitors (indigestion drugs), SSRI's raised bone fracture rates by 76 percent in one year.
After two years of treatment, the fracture rate was 73 percent higher.People who take these drugs are also nearly four times more likely to die prematurely than people who don't, and also have a 35 percent greater risk of cancer.)
As reported by Medical Daily:7
[Dr. Tomas] Furmark and Dr. Mats Fredrikson, another professor of psychology at Uppsala University, questioned the underlying hypothesis of treating patients with SSRIs: What molecular role, exactly, does serotonin play in social phobia?8,9,10,11
To discover the truth, they used brain scanning technology, PET scans, to measure serotonin in the brains of volunteers with social phobia...
Communication within the brain works like this: Nerve cells release serotonin into the space between nerve cells. Then, serotonin attaches itself to receptor cells. Following this, serotonin is released from the receptor and returns to the original cell.
The researchers discovered patients with social phobia were producing too much serotonin in the amygdala. This brain region, tucked deep inside our skulls, is the seat of our most primitive emotions, including fear. The more serotonin produced in this area, then, the more anxious people feel in social situations."
Previous studies have revealed that increased nerve activity in the amygdala is part of the underlying mechanism that produces anxiety. Basically, those with social phobia have an over-active fear center. These new findings provide additional information, suggesting increased serotonin production in the brain may be part of this mechanism.
Either way, when it comes to treating this anxiety disorder, increasing serotonin in your brain with an SSRI will not soothe your anxiety. It will increase it, making SSRIs a questionable treatment option.
Fermented Foods May Help Social Anxiety Disorder, Study Finds
The impact of your gut microbiome on your brain function has been confirmed by a number of studies, and research is moving rather swiftly in this area. One of the reasons for why the bacterial makeup of your gut would have an influence on your mental and emotional health relates to the fact that your gut actually works much like a second brain.
Your central nervous system (composed of your brain and spinal cord) and your enteric nervous system (the intrinsic nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract) are created from identical tissue during fetal development. One part turns into your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system. These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen.
It is now well established that the vagus nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain. Even more interesting, serotonin is produced in your gut as well as your brain, by specific bacteria. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin is found in your intestines, not your brain.
It's not so surprising then that researchers keep finding positive correlations between gut health and improved mental health. Most recently, researchers found that fermented foods and drinks helped curb social anxiety disorder in young adults. The study,12,13 published in Psychiatry Research, involved 710 psychology students at the College of William and Mary.
The participants filled out questionnaires rating their level of worry and anxiety, and documented their fermented food consumption over the past 30 days. Other factors such as healthy diet and exercise were also addressed. Among those who rated themselves as having a high degree of neurotic feelings, eating more fermented foods was linked to fewer symptoms of social anxiety. Meaning, the relationship between fermented foods and decreased social anxiety was strongest among those who tended to be more neurotic.
Key Factors to Overcoming Anxiety and/or Depression Without Drugs
It's important to realize that your diet and general lifestyle are foundational factors that must be optimized if you want to resolve mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, because your body and mind are so closely interrelated. Compelling research demonstrates just how interconnected your mental health is with your gastrointestinal health for example. While many think of their brain as the organ in charge of their mental health, your gut may actually play a far more significant role. The drug treatments available today for depression are no better than they were 50 years ago.
Clearly, we need a new approach, and your diet is an obvious place to start. Research tells us that the composition of your gut flora not only affects your physical health, but also has a significant impact on your brain function and mental state, and your gut microbiome can be quickly impacted by dietary changes—for better or worse. Research has also revealed there are a number of other safe effective ways to address depression and anxiety that do not involve hazardous drugs. So, if you suffer from an anxiety- or depression-related disorder, please consider addressing the following diet and lifestyle factors before you resort to drugs:
Dramatically decrease your consumption of processed foods, sugar (particularly fructose), grains, and GMOs High sugar and starchy carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can result in falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. In turn, hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, and panic attacks. Additionally, sugar fans the flames of inflammation in your body.
In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. There's a great book on this subject, The Sugar Blues, written by William Dufty more than 30 years ago, that delves into the topic of sugar and mental health in great detail.
Recent research also shows that glyphosate, which is used in large quantities on genetically engineered (GE) crops like corn, soy, and sugar beets, limits your body's ability to detoxify foreign chemical compounds. As a result, the damaging effects of those toxins are magnified, potentially resulting in a wide variety of diseases, including brain disorders that have both psychological and behavioral effects.
Increase consumption of traditionally fermented and cultured foods Reducing gut inflammation is imperative when addressing mental health issues,14 so optimizing your gut flora is a critical piece. To promote healthy gut flora, increase your consumption of probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables, kimchee, natto, kefir, and others. Get adequate vitamin B12 Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects one in four people. Optimize your vitamin D levels Vitamin D is very important for your mood. In one study, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were found to be 11 times more prone to depression than those who had normal levels.15 Remember, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression that we know is related to sunshine deficiency, so it would make sense that the perfect way to optimize your vitamin D is through sun exposure or a tanning bed. If neither are available, an oral vitamin D3 supplement is highly advisable. Just remember to also increase your vitamin K2 when taking oral vitamin D. Get plenty of animal-based omega-3 fats Your brain is 60 percent fat, and DHA, an animal-based omega-3 fat, along with EPA, is crucial for good brain function and mental health.16 Research has shown a 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical students taking omega-3s.17
Unfortunately, most people don't get enough from diet alone, so make sure you take a high-quality omega-3 fat, such as krill oil. Dr. Stoll, a Harvard psychiatrist, was one of the early leaders in compiling the evidence supporting the use of animal based omega-3 fats for the treatment of depression. He wrote an excellent book that details his experience in this area called The Omega-3 Connection.
Evaluate your salt intake Sodium deficiency actually creates symptoms that are very much like those of depression. Make sure you do NOT use processed salt (regular table salt), however. You'll want to use an all natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients. Get adequate daily exercise Exercise is one of the most effective strategies for preventing and overcoming depression. Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. So there's a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.
Exercising creates new GABA-producing neurons that help induce a natural state of calm. It also boosts your levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which help buffer the effects of stress.
Get enough sleep You can have the best diet and exercise program possible but if you aren't sleeping well you can easily become depressed. Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression.
Tapping Your Anxiety Away
Energy psychology techniques, such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), can also be very effective for reducing anxiety by correcting the bioelectrical short-circuiting that causes your body's reactions—without adverse effects. You can think of EFT as a tool for "reprogramming" your circuitry, and it works on both realand imagined stressors.
EFT is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture for more than 5,000 years to treat physical and emotional ailments, but without the invasiveness of needles. Following a 2012 review in the American Psychological Association's journal Review of General Psychology, EFT is moving closer to meeting the criteria for an "evidence-based treatment."
Recent research has shown that EFT significantly increases positive emotions, such as hope and enjoyment, and decreases negative emotional states, including anxiety. EFT is particularly powerful for treating stress and anxiety because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.18,19 If you recall NIMH's explanation about how your amygdala and hippocampus are involved in anxiety disorders, you can see why tapping is such a powerful tool. EFT has also been shown to lower cortisol levels.20
|Although you can learn the basics of EFT on your own, if you or your child has a serious anxiety disorder, I highly recommend that you consult a qualified EFT practitioner. For serious or complex issue you need a qualified health care professional that is trained in EFT21 to help guide you through the process, as it typically takes years of training to develop the skill to tap on and relieve deep-seated, significant issues.|
There are situations where SSRIs may be warranted, but on the whole, these mind- and body-numbing drugs are grossly overused. I'd be willing to bet a majority of people taking them are not appropriate candidates, and would fare much better were they to address the basic, core issues relating to their general lifestyle and health. This includes proper diet, sleep, exercise, and employing effective tools for stress relief.
Exposure to the outdoors, such as walking barefoot through a grassy field and getting appropriate amounts of sun exposure, also should not be underestimated. If you're suffering from emotional or physical pain, I encourage you to peruse my inventory of tens of thousands of articles, which address these issues and offer a multitude of safe and effective alternatives.
10 Simple Steps to Help De-Stress
What Anxiety Does to Your Brain and What You Can Do About It
By Dr. Mercola
Modern-day diets are often lacking in nutrition, in large part because food choices are not optimal. About 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food is for processed foods, which may be fortified with nutrients out of necessity but lack the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes found in fresh whole foods.
Even the healthy foods you choose, such as an apple or lettuce, are likely not as nutritious as they once were. Ancient wild plants provided an astounding level of phytonutrients that are largely absent from our modern cultivated fruits and veggies.
For instance, wild dandelions contain seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, and purple potatoes native to Peru contain 28 times more anthocyanins than commonly consumed russet potatoes.1 As written in the New York Times:2
"Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.
The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers."
Industrial farming practices that threaten to completely deplete what was once rich and fertile soil further add to the problem. With each harvest, the land is stripped of vital nutrients plants need to grow, leaving not only lower crop yields but also less nutritious produce.
That being said, you certainly want to harness the nutrients your food does contain so it can be absorbed and utilized by your body. This starts in your kitchen, where some surprisingly common habits might be slashing the nutrient content of your veggies even more.
10 Surprising Ways You Are Making Your Veggies Less Nutritious
In her book Eating on the Wild Side, investigative journalist Jo Robinson details a decade's worth of research on nutrients in fruits and vegetables. She focused not only on the "standard" vitamins like A and C and minerals like calcium and iron, but also on phytonutrients that are far newer in terms of scientific research.
In order to maximize the nutrition in your produce, be sure to be aware of these common habits that may make your food less nutritious.3
1. Always Choosing Raw Tomatoes
Lycopene — a carotenoid antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and watermelon a pink or red color — is one nutrient you'll want to be sure you're getting enough of.
Lycopene's antioxidant activity has long been suggested to be more powerful than other carotenoids such as beta-carotene, and research has even revealed it may significantly reduce your stroke risk (while other antioxidants did not).
Lycopene has been shown to have potential anti-cancerous activity, likely due to its antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that people with a diet high in lycopene from tomato-based foods have a lower risk of certain cancers, particularly prostate cancer.
However, lycopene is one example of a nutrient that becomes more bioavailable when it's cooked. Research shows that cooking tomatoes (such as in tomato sauce or tomato paste) increases the lycopene content that can be absorbed by your body.
It also increases the total antioxidant activity. In one study,4 when tomatoes were heated to just over 190 degrees F (88 degrees C) for two minutes, 15 minutes, and 30 minutes:
- Beneficial trans-lycopene content increased by 54 percent, 171 percent and 164 percent, respectively
- Levels of cis-lycopene (which is a form easily absorbed by your body) rose by 6 percent, 17 percent, and 35 percent, respectively
- Overall antioxidant levels increased by 28 percent, 34 percent, and 62 percent, respectively
So while tomatoes are healthy to consume raw, it's also wise to consume them cooked as well. You could try a cooked salsa or make your own tomato sauce at home… if you opt for a store-bought variety, make sure it comes in a jar, not a can.
You're best off avoiding canned tomatoes and tomato sauces, as can liners tend to contain potent estrogen mimics such as bisphenol A (BPA), which is a toxic endocrine-disrupting chemical.
2. Storing Your Lettuce Wrong
Do you store your lettuce leaves whole? You may be better off tearing them before storing them in your refrigerator. When lettuce leaves are torn, a boost of protective phytonutrients are produced.
As long as you eat the lettuce within a couple of days, you'll be able to take advantage of this extra phytonutrient content in the torn lettuce.
3. Boiling Your Vegetables
Do you boil vegetables like spinach? This allows valuable nutrients like vitamin C to leach out into the water. The different in nutrient content can be dramatic before and after boiling.
For instance, after 10 minutes of boiling, three-quarters of the phytonutrients in spinach will be lost to the cooking water. While this isn't as much of an issue if you're making soup, in which you'll be consuming the water along with the nutrients, if you're looking to prepare a vegetable only, you're better off steaming or lightly sautéing.
4. Eating Salad with Fat-Free Dressing
One of the most important toppings on any salad is the dressing, and here you'll want to avoid most store-bought brands, especially those that are low-fat or fat-free.
When fat is removed from a food product, it's usually replaced by sugar/fructose in order to taste good, and this is a recipe for poor health. Excess fructose in your diet drives insulin and leptin resistance, which are at the heart of not only diabetes but most other chronic diseases as well.
Further, some nutrients and antioxidants are fat-soluble, which means you must eat them with fat to properly absorb them. Using a dressing that contains healthy fats helps you ensure maximum nutrient absorption from your salad.
Coconut oil may make a particularly good choice, as it's been found to increase the absorption of nutrients. In an animal study that compared the effects of feeding coconut oil versus safflower oil on the absorption of carotenoids from tomatoes, coconut oil enhanced tissue uptake of tomato carotenoids to a greater degree than safflower oil.5
If you prefer to dress your salad only with vinegar, you can still achieve this fat-absorbing effect by adding other healthy additions like avocado or poached eggs. When men added 1.5 to 3 eggs to their salads, they increased their absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin by four to five-fold.6
Other carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lutein, increased three to eight-fold compared to the no-egg salad.
5. Cooking Garlic Without Letting It Rest
Garlic contains the precursors to allicin, which is one of the most potent antioxidants from the plant kingdom. In fact, researchers have determined that sulfenic acid, produced during the rapid decomposition of allicin, reacts with and neutralizes free radicals faster than any other known compound—it's almost instantaneous when the two molecules meet.
Garlic technically does not contain allicin, but rather, it contains two agents in separate compartments of the clove that react to form the sulfur-rich compound allicin when the plant needs it: alliin and an enzyme called allinase. So, what makes them react?
Garlic has a robust defense system to protect itself from insects and fungi. It enzymatically produces allicin within seconds when it is injured. The crushing of its tissues causes a chemical reaction between the alliin and the allinase, and allicin is produced—nature's "insecticide."
This is what makes garlic such a potent anti-infective, as well as what produces that pungent aroma when you cut into it. Allicin is quickly deactivated by heat. Just two minutes on the stovetop or one minute in the microwave will basically eliminate any useful allicin from the garlic.
However, if you let chopped garlic sit for 10 minutes before exposing it to heat, the enzyme that creates allicin will have time to finish working, and your finished dish should have a much higher allicin content. That being said, allicin is short-lived, lasting less than an hour. So once you've crushed your garlic and let it rest, try to consume it as quickly as possible. Better still, use a garlic press instead of a knife. As TIME reported:7
"Using a garlic press is even better than mincing, as it releases more of the compounds that combine to create allicin."
6. Discarding the Most Nutritious Parts of the Vegetable
Many Americans dutifully peel and chop away skins and upper greens on their veggies. Yet, these components often contain the most concentrated sources of nutrients. For instance, the dark-green tops of scallions are among the most nutritious, but many people toss this section away. The same goes for beet greens, which are equally, if not more, nutritious than beet roots, with nutrients that may strengthen your immune system, support brain and bone health, and more.
Apples are another example. Much of apples' antioxidant power is contained in the peel, where you'll find antioxidants like catechin, procyanidins, chlorogenic acid, and ploridizin. Even adding carrot peels to a carrot puree boosted antioxidant levels. The same goes for watermelon rind. Most people throw away the watermelon rind, but try putting it in a blender with some lime for a healthy, refreshing treat.8
Watermelon rind actually contains more of the amino acid citrulline than the pink flesh.9 Citrulline is converted to arginine in your kidneys, and this amino acid is important for heart health and maintaining your immune system. While many people prefer seedless watermelon, black watermelon seeds are edible too and actually quite healthy. They contain iron, zinc, protein, and fiber. One caveat: if you'll be consuming rinds or peels, opt for organic produce to minimize your intake of pesticides.
7. Eating Potatoes Right After Cooking Them
I don't recommend eating white potatoes often, as their simple sugars are rapidly converted to glucose that raises insulin levels and can devastate your health. However, if you do choose to eat them at least chill them for about 24 hours after cooking. This converts the starch into a type that's digested slower, and turns this high-glycemic vegetable into a low-glycemic one.
8. Cutting Carrots Prior to Cooking
Resist the urge to chop up your carrots before adding them to soups and casseroles. Research suggests that keeping the carrots whole, and cutting them up after they're cooked, helps retain nutrients. Also, like tomatoes, carrots may be better for you cooked than raw. Cooking helps break down the cell walls so your body has an easier time absorbing nutrients. Further, one study found that cooked carrots had higher levels of beta-carotene and phenolic acids than raw carrots, and the antioxidant activity continued to increase over a period of four weeks.10
9. Buying Broccoli Florets Instead of a Whole Head
Broccoli is one of the healthiest, cancer-fighting veggies you can eat. But it's also surprisingly perishable. One study found that broccoli can lose 75 percent of its flavonoids and 80 percent of its beneficial glucosinolates just 10 days after harvest.11 When the broccoli was cut into florets, the rate of antioxidant loss doubled, so choose fresh, locally grown broccoli in whole-head form for maximum nutrition.
10. Discarding the Cooking Liquid from Beans
Cooking dried beans from scratch is preferable to canned versions because of the potential for BPA in the can linings. However, the cooking liquid will hold much of the nutrients after the beans are done cooking. One trick is to let the beans sit in the liquid for about an hour after cooking to help them reabsorb some of the lost nutrients. Cooking beans in a pressure cooker may also preserve more nutrients than cooking beans using other methods.
Buying Organic Is One of the Easiest Ways to Increase the Nutrient Content of Your Produce
If you want to purchase the most nutritious produce for your family, opt for organic as much as possible. In addition to lowering your pesticide load, organic produce is more nutritious. For instance, organic fruits and vegetables can contain anywhere from 18-69 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown varieties.12 And growing tomatoes according to organic standards results in dramatically elevated phenolic content and vitamin C compared to tomatoes grown conventionally.13
In 2010, PLOS ONE also published a study that was partially funded by the USDA, which found organic strawberries were more nutrient-rich than non-organic strawberries.14 So by starting off with organic ingredients, your meals will naturally be more nutritious.
More Secrets to Boosting the Nutrient Content of Your Diet
I firmly believe the solution for more nutritious food is to optimize the microbiology of the soil so the microbes can provide the optimal nutrients for the plant and maximize their genetic expression. Composting, vortexed compost tea, and mineral replacements are far superior to commercial fertilizers and also improve rather than degrade the quality of the soil. You can try using some of these methods to grow nutritious food yourself, or find someone locally who can do it for you.
In the meantime, consuming plenty of raw, locally harvested, organic vegetables is one of the best ways to get the key nutrients your body needs, in levels that most closely replicate those found in the wild foods of our ancestors. For starters, this will ensure that you're avoiding all genetically modified (GM) produce, which also appears to be far less nutritious than non-GM food. Beyond this, there are several additional measures you can take to make sure you're getting the most nutritious food available:
- Choose brightly colored foods: Produce in shades of blue, red, purple and dark green are among the most antioxidant-rich foods available.
- Eat more bitter foods: Many of the most potent, disease-fighting compounds in food (phenols and polyphenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes, and glucosinolates) are bitter, acrid, or astringent in flavor. Expanding your diet to include these bitter-tasting foods is one of the healthiest moves you can make. Examples include grapefruit, arugula, collard greens, parsley, dandelion leaves, radicchio, cranberries, endive, and pomegranates.
- Indulge in herbs and spices: Many herbs and spices remain largely unchanged from ancient times. Along with containing some of the highest antioxidant levels of all foods, herbs and spices are also very dense in other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and they also have medicinal properties. As a general rule, you really can't go wrong when using herbs and spices, and I recommend allowing your taste buds to dictate your choices when cooking. However, you can also choose spices based on their medicinal benefits.
- Grow your own foods from heirloom seeds, including sprouts: This is one of the best ways to access nutrient-dense food, especially if you use heirloom seeds that have been carefully cultivated to produce the best plants possible. You can plant an organic veggie garden even in small spaces, and sprouts, which are also among the most nutrient-dense foods available, can also be grown easily at home.
- Forage for wild, edible plants: Some of the "weeds" in your backyard or local environment are incredibly nutritious and very close to the wild plants consumed by our ancestors. Dandelion, stinging nettle, prickly lettuce, chickweed, sow thistle, red clover, burdock, cattails, Japanese knotweed, and sheep sorrel are examples of wild nutrient-rich foods. While you should only consume plants you are entirely sure are not poisonous, learning to gather safe, wild edible plants is quite simple.
27 Ways to Make Your Groceries Last as Long as Possible
The Best Way to Clean and Organize Your Refrigerator
By Dr. Mercola
In a global survey of more than 27,000 people, 26 percent reported that confusion about which foods are healthy was a major barrier to eating right.1 That confusion is only compounded upon because many of the "official" dietary recommendations are contrary to optimal health.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet that benefits everyone, but there are certain principles that will help most people thrive. You want to be centering your diet on whole foods, for starters – those that come from nature, are minimally processed and, ideally, are grown locally and without synthetic chemicals.
At the same time, you want to minimize your intake of processed foods, particularly snack foods and convenience foods that have little to offer in the way of nutritional value. Such foods will add to your toxic load by way of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and genetically modified (GM) ingredients while offering your body next to nothing in return.
Some foods do not fall neatly into these two categories, however, and may masquerade as "healthy" foods when in fact they should be avoided. Below you'll find examples of some of these "healthy" foods that could be sabotaging your healthy-eating intentions.
7 Top 'Healthy' Foods to Avoid
Yogurt can be incredibly healthy, rich in high-quality protein, beneficial probiotics, calcium, B vitamins, and even cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). But the key words are "can be."
Most yogurts sold in US grocery stores resemble more of a dessert than a health food. One six-ounce container of Yoplait yogurt may contain 26 grams of sugar (for the red raspberry flavor, for example).2
The negative effects of the sugar far outweigh any marginal benefits of the minimal beneficial bacteria they have. Remember, the most important step in building healthy gut flora is avoiding sugar, as that will cause disease-causing microbes to crowd out your beneficial flora.
Many other yogurts contain artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, and additives, yet masquerade as health food. Mark A. Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, which released the Yogurt Report last year, said:3
"What is most egregious about our findings is the marketing employed by many of the largest agribusinesses selling junk food masquerading as health food, mostly aimed at moms, who are hoping to provide their children an alternative, a more nutritious snack.
In some cases, they might as well be serving their children soda pop or a candy bar with a glass of milk on the side."
If you want to know which commercial yogurts are healthy and which are not, refer to The Cornucopia Institute's Yogurt Report. Their investigation found many products being sold as yogurt do not even meet the standards for real yogurt. The report also includes a comparative cost analysis of commercial yogurt brands.
The top-rated yogurts are generally VAT pasteurized at relatively low temperatures and are made from raw milk rather than previously pasteurized milk.
The good news is many organic yogurts are actually less expensive, on a price-per-ounce basis, than conventional, heavily processed yogurts (although some of the organic brands of yogurt actually contained some of the highest amounts of sugar).
Your absolute best bet when it comes to yogurt, however, is to make your own using a starter culture and raw grass-fed milk.
Fish has always been the best source for the animal-based omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, but as levels of pollution have increased, you have to be very choosey about which types of seafood you decide to eat.
If you're not careful, the toxic effects from the pollutants in the fish will outweigh the benefits of the omega-3 fats. About half of the world's seafood comes from fish farms, including in the US, and this is expected to increase. At first glance, farmed fish may seem like a good idea to help protect wild seafood populations from overfishing.
In reality, however, the industry is plagued with many of the same problems surrounding land-based concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), including pollution, disease, and inferior nutritional quality.
It's getting so bad that fish farms can easily be described as "CAFOs of the sea." Many farmed fish are fed genetically modified (GM) corn and soy, which is a completely unnatural diet for marine life. Others are fed fishmeal, which is known to accumulate industrial chemicals like PCBs and dioxins.
In a global assessment of farmed salmon published in the journal Science, for instance, 13 persistent organic pollutants were found.4 Some of the most dangerous are PCBs, strongly associated with cancer, reproductive, and other health problems. PCB concentrations in farmed salmon were found to be eight times higher than in wild salmon.
Certain types of farmed fish, including farmed catfish imported from china and farmed shrimp from China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia are even on the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) watch list for illegal drug residues, including antibiotics and anti-fungal compounds.5
Levels of critical omega-3 fats may also be reduced by about 50 percent in farmed salmon, compared to wild salmon, due to increasing amounts of grain feed.
One study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found farmed tilapia and farmed catfish also have much lower concentrations of omega-3s and very high ratios of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats.6
So is any fish still considered a "health food"?
Among the safest in terms of contamination, and the highest in healthy omega-3 fat, is wild-caught Alaskan and sockeye salmon. Neither is allowed to be farmed, and are therefore always wild-caught. The two designations you want to look for on the label are: "Alaskan salmon" (or wild Alaskan salmon) and "Sockeye salmon."
Canned salmon labeled "Alaskan salmon" is also a good choice and offers a less expensive alternative to salmon fillets. A general guideline is that the closer to the bottom of the food chain the fish is, the less contamination it will have accumulated, so other safer choices include smaller fish like sardines, anchovies, and herring.
Sardines, in particular, are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats, with one serving containing more than 50 percent of your recommended daily value.7
They also contain a wealth of other nutrients, from vitamin B12 and selenium to protein, calcium, and choline, making them one of the best dietary sources of animal-based omega-3s.
Finally, no matter what type of fish you're considering, look for varieties that have received the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. This certification assures that every component of the manufacturing process – from how the raw materials are harvested to how the product is manufactured – has been scrutinized by MSC and has been independently audited to ensure it meets sustainable standards.
Soy is touted as a healthy vegetarian source of protein, but its phytoestrogens (or isoflavones) can mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen. These phytoestrogens have been found to have adverse effects on various human tissues, as they produce a variety of mild hormonal actions within the human body.
An increased risk of breast cancer is another potential hazard, especially if you're exposed to high amounts of estrogen-mimicking compounds from birth.
Unfermented soy also contains natural toxins known as "anti-nutrients," along with additional anti-nutritional factors such as saponins, soyatoxin, protease inhibitors, and oxalates. Some of these factors interfere with the enzymes you need to digest protein.
While a small amount of anti-nutrients would not likely cause a problem, the amount of soy that many Americans in products like tofu, soy milk, soy oil, soy protein powder, and soybeans, can be extremely high. Further, one of the worst problems with soy comes from the fact that 94 percent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified.8 One of the best studies ever done to document the dangers of GM foods found that overall, inflammation levels were 2.6 times higher in GM-fed pigs than those fed a non-GM diet, and male pigs fared worse than the females.
If you eat Roundup Ready soy, one common GM variety that's engineered to withstand the herbicide Roundup, you'll be exposed to its active ingredient, glyphosate. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), determined glyphosate to be a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A). This was based on "limited evidence" showing that the popular weed killer can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with "convincing evidence" it can also cause cancer in animals.
Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations have also been shown to induce DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, as well as human and animal cells in vitro. Even if you opt for organically grown soy, I still don't recommend consuming it, however, unless it's in fermented form. For centuries, Asian people have been consuming fermented soy products such as natto, tempeh, and traditionally made soy sauce -- and enjoying the health benefits. Fermented soy does not wreak havoc on your body like unfermented soy products do, but unfortunately, most soy sold in the US market is the unfermented, processed variety.
Most agave nectar or syrup is nothing more than a laboratory-generated super-condensed fructose syrup, devoid of virtually all nutrient value. This so-called "healthy" sweetener is mostly fructose and is so highly processed and refined that it bears no resemblance to the plant for which it's named. Depending on how it's processed, it may contain anywhere from 55 percent to 90 percent fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is also about 55 percent fructose so, even in the best case, agave syrup offers no advantage.
The evidence is overwhelming that, when consumed in large quantities, fructose is among the most damaging sugars you can eat. Fructose drives up uric acid, which is a direct pathway toward hypertension, insulin resistance, diabetes, kidney, and liver disease. Fructose is, in many ways, very similar to alcohol in the damage that it can do to your body… and your liver. Unlike glucose, which can be used by virtually every cell in your body, fructose can only be metabolized by your liver, because your liver is the only organ that has the transporter for it.9
Since nearly all fructose gets shuttled to your liver, and, if you eat a typical Western-style diet, you consume high amounts of it, fructose ends up taxing and damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do. In fact, fructose is virtually identical to alcohol with regard to the metabolic havoc it wreaks. According to Dr. Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, fructose is a "chronic, dose-dependent liver toxin." And just like alcohol, fructose is metabolized directly into fat – not cellular energy, like glucose. A better sweetener options is stevia, a natural herb.
5. Veggie Chips
Veggie chips sound like a healthy way to satisfy your snack cravings, but they're nothing more than glorified potato chips. Most are made from corn flour or potato as a base and have only veggie powder or puree added in. Not only are most of the vitamins in veggies therefore NOT in veggie chips, but these snacks are then either fried or baked at high temperatures. When carbohydrate-rich foods like chips are cooked at high temperatures, acrylamide -- a tasteless, invisible chemical byproduct -- is formed.
Animal studies have shown that exposure to acrylamide increases the risk of several types of cancer, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers acrylamide a "probable human carcinogen." It has also been linked to nerve damage and other neurotoxic effects, including neurological problems in workers handling the substance. While this chemical can be formed in many foods when they're heated to a temperature above 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit), French fries and potato chips are the biggest offenders.
So whether they're laced with veggie powder or not, veggie chips are not a smart food choice. A far healthier alternative would be to chop up some fresh kale and toss it with some olive oil and natural salt, then bake it in your oven until crispy (homemade kale chips are also a favorite of "soul surfer" Bethany Hamilton).10 You can, of course, also snack on fresh veggies like carrot sticks, celery sticks, radishes, bell pepper, and even asparagus, to increase your nutrient and fiber intake while satisfying your craving for a crunchy snack.
6. Fruit Juice
The primary problem with fruit juice is that it simply contains far too much fructose to be healthy, not to mention the rarely mentioned methanol toxicity in any preserved juice. While whole fruits do contain fructose, they're also rich in fiber, antioxidants, and a vast array of health-promoting phytochemicals. Fruit juices, particularly pasteurized, commercially available fruit juices, have virtually none of these phytonutrients. The fiber in the whole fruits also plays a large role in protecting you from a rapid and exaggerated rise in blood sugar.
The fiber slows the rate at which sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream, and fruit juice will not provide such protection. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, those who drank one or more servings of fruit juiceeach day had a 21 percent higher risk for type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate whole fruits.11 So if you're in the mood for something fruity, eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking a glass of juice.
An alternative that can be healthy is a homemade fruit smoothie, provided it's balanced with moderate amounts of fruit, protein, and healthy fats, like this avocado super smoothie (which also contains blueberries and pineapple). Most store-bought fruit smoothies are far too high in sugar and/or fructose to be considered healthy.
7. Gluten-Free Foods
Gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, causes the immune system to attack the intestines in people with celiac disease. But non-celiac gluten sensitivity may actually affect as many as 30 percent to 40 percent of the population, and according to Dr. Alessio Fasano at Massachusetts General Hospital, virtually all of us are affected to some degree.12 This is because we all create a substance called zonulin in the intestine in response to gluten.
Glutinous proteins, known as prolamines, can make your gut more permeable, which allows partially digested proteins to get into your bloodstream that would otherwise have been excluded, any of which can sensitize your immune system and promote inflammation, contribute to chronic disease. Once gluten sensitizes your gut, it then becomes more permeable and all manner of gut bacterial components and previously excluded dietary proteins—including casein and other dairy proteins—have direct access to your bloodstream, thereby further challenging your immune system.
Gluten may even negatively impact mood and brain health.13 Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream, where they don't belong. That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity. Gluten-free foods are becoming more widely available in supermarkets and restaurants, due to growing consumer demand, but while this seems like it would be a healthy transition, most gluten-free products are nothing more than refined, processed junk foods.
Some may contain gluten-free grains in their place, which if you are insulin and leptin resistant will only raise your insulin and leptin levels, which is a major driver of most chronic diseases. And many gluten-free products contain high amounts of sugar, corn syrup, and alternative forms of starch, none of which is healthy. So while I believe many people can benefit from removing gluten from their diets, stick with gluten-free whole foods as a replacement – not the processed gluten-free junk foods lining many store shelves.
As an aside, many food products bearing the gluten-free label have been found to be contaminated with sometimes high amounts of gluten. In one study, even naturally gluten-free products tested positive for gluten, courtesy of cross-contamination during processing. So if you're eating gluten-free due to celiac disease, avoiding processed gluten-free products may be even more important.
Additional Unhealthy Foods to Avoid
For a comprehensive guide on what to eat to be healthy, see my free optimized nutrition plan. Generally speaking, as mentioned, you'll want to focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. For the best nutrition and health benefits, you'll also want to eat a good portion of your food raw. To help sort through more of the confusion surrounding "health" foods that aren't, check out the infographic below. It has even more details on commonly consumed foods that you're better off avoiding.
Embed this infographic on your website:
Click on the code area and press CTRL + C (for Windows) / CMD + C (for Macintosh) to copy the code.
7 'Healthy' Foods That Are Making You Fat
The 9 Foods You Should Never Eat
By Dr. Mercola
For the past six decades, saturated fat and cholesterol have been wrongfully vilified as the culprits of heart disease. Research shows it's actually refined carbs, sugar, and trans fats found in processed foods that are the real enemy.
The first scientist to publish evidence linking trans fats to heart disease while exonerating saturated fats was Dr. Fred Kummerow,1 author of Cholesterol Is Not the Culprit. That first article was published in 1957.
Now 100 years old, Dr. Kummerow has spent eight decades immersed in the science of lipids, cholesterol, and heart disease, and his lifetime work reveals that trans fat and oxidized cholesterol promote heart disease—not saturated fat, which actually has a beneficial impact on health.
FDA Finally Takes Affirmative Action Against Trans Fat
Trans fat, found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils became widely popularized as a "healthier alternative" to saturated animal fats like butter and lard around the mid-1950s.
Its beginnings go back 100 years though, to Procter & Gamble's creation of Crisco in 1911.
In 1961, the American Heart Association (AHA) began encouraging Americans to limit dietary fat, particularly animal fats, in order to reduce their risk of heart disease. In the decades since, despite low-fat diets becoming increasingly part of the norm, heart disease rates soared.
In 2013, Dr. Kummerow sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to take action on trans fats in face of the overwhelming scientific evidence against it.
More than a decade earlier, in 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) had even noted that there was "no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible." Yet the FDA did nothing.
Three months after Dr. Kummerow filed his lawsuit however, the agency announced it was considering eliminating trans fat from the list of "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list of food ingredients.
Then, on June 16, 2015, the FDA announced partially hydrogenated oils (a primary source of trans fat) will no longer be allowed in food unless authorized by the agency2,3,4,5 due to their health risks.
According to the FDA, this change may help prevent around 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease deaths each year.
The new regulation will take effect in 2018. In the interim, food companies have to either reformulate their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils, or file a limited use petition with the FDA to continue using them.
In order to gain approval, the company would have to provide evidence showing that trans fat is safe to consume—which could be difficult, considering the IOM's declaration that there's NO safe limit for these oils. But, as noted by CBS:6
"[F]ood companies are hoping for some exceptions. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the main trade group for the food industry, is working with companies on a petition that would formally ask the FDA if it can say there is a "reasonable certainty of no harm" from some specific uses of the fats. It provided no specifics...
For now, the agency is recommending that consumers take a look at ingredient lists on packaged foods to make sure they don't contain partially hydrogenated oils. Once the three-year compliance period is up, none of those ingredients would be allowed unless FDA specifically approves them."
CSPI –The Consumer Group You Need to Stop Listening To
In response to the FDA's announcement, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) told the New York Times:7
"This is the final nail in the coffin of trans fats. In terms of lives saved, I think eliminating trans fats is the single most important change to our food supply."
Their recent statement in support of the ban on trans fats is in stark contrast to their previous position on trans fats. As a consumer watchdog group focused on nutrition and food safety, many have and continue to look to CSPI for guidance, but history shows CSPI is seriously misguided when determining what's in the public's best interest.
In the 1980s, CSPI actually spearheaded a highly successful campaign against the use of healthy saturated fats, touting trans fats as a healthier alternative. It was largely the result of CSPI's campaign that fast-food restaurants replaced the use of beef tallow, palm oil, and coconut oil with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in synthetic trans fats linked to heart disease and other chronic diseases.
In 1988, CSPI even released an article8 praising trans fats, saying "there is little good evidence that trans fats cause any more harm than other fats" and "much of the anxiety over trans fats stems from their reputation as 'unnatural.'"
CSPI Accepts No Blame for Its Wildly Successful Promotion of Trans Fat
It wasn't until the 1990s that CSPI reversed their position on synthetic trans fats, but the damage had already been done.
Even to this day, many still mistakenly believe that margarine is a healthier choice than butter, and the CSPI's campaign to replace saturated animal and tropical oils with trans fats played an integral role in cementing this erroneous view in the public consciousness.
The group's successful influence on the food industry is discussed in David Schleifer's article, "The Perfect Solution: How Trans Fats Became the Healthy Replacement for Saturated Fats,"9 in which he notes that:
"Scholars routinely argue that corporations control US food production, with negative consequences for health...However, the transition from saturated to trans fats shows how activists can be part of spurring corporations to change."
CSPI rarely admits its errors however. In fact, rather than openly admitting it was flat out wrong about trans fats and had misled the public on this issue, CSPI simply deleted sections of its previous support of it from the web. This lack of forthrightness was also noted by Mary Enig in a 2003 article,10 in which she writes:
"On October 20, 1993, CSPI had the chutzpah to call a press conference in Washington, DC and lambast the major fast-food chains for doing what CSPI coerced them into doing, namely, using partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in their deep fat-fryers.
On that date, CSPI, an eager proponent of partially hydrogenated oils for many years, even when their adverse health effects were apparent, reversed its position after an onslaught of adverse medical reports linking trans fatty acids in these processed oils to coronary heart disease and cancer. Instead of accepting the blame, CSPI pleaded 'not guilty,' claiming that the fault lay with the major fast-food chains–including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, because they 'falsely claim to use '100% vegetable oil' when they actually use hydrogenated shortening'...
Thanks to CSPI, healthy traditional fats have almost completely disappeared from the food supply, replaced by manufactured trans fats known to cause many diseases. By 1990, most fast food chains had switched to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil...
Who benefits? Soy, or course. Eighty percent of all partially hydrogenated oil used in processed foods in the US comes from soy, as does 70 percent of all liquid oil. CSPI claims that its support comes from subscribers to its Nutrition Action newsletter... but CSPI is extremely secretive about the value of its assets, salaries paid and use of its revenues. If CSPI has large donors, they're not telling who they are, but in fact, in CSPI's January, 1991 newsletter, Jacobson notes that 'our effort was ultimately joined... by the American Soybean Association.'"
Beware: 100% Vegetable Oil May Be Just as Hazardous as Partially Hydrogenated Oil
Today, many restaurants have reverted to using 100% vegetable oils (such as peanut, corn, and soy oil) for frying. But research shows these oils have the worrisome problem of degrading into even more toxic oxidation products when heated, so they're probably no better than partially hydrogenated oils. Some of these oxidation products include cyclic aldehydes, which are even more harmful than trans fats. So the issue of WHAT the industry replaces trans fats with is of major importance. As noted by Nina Teicholz, one of the first investigative journalists to report on the dangers of trans fats 10 years ago:
"A group doing research on animals have found that at fairly low levels of exposure, these aldehydes caused tremendous inflammation, which is related to heart disease. They oxidized LDL cholesterol, which is thought to be the LDL cholesterol that becomes dangerous. There's a link to heart disease. There's also some evidence that links these aldehydes in particular to Alzheimer's. They seem to have a very severe effect on the body."
BEWARE: CSPI Just Sold You Out to GMO Industry
This tendency to fall in line with industry science and propaganda and then quietly reversing position when that position becomes more or less impossible to maintain seems to be a trend within the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). For example, it was only in 2013 that CSPI finally downgraded the artificial sweetener Splenda from its former "safe" category to one of "caution." I remember pleading with Michael Jacobson, their director, many years ago to reevaluate his position, but at the time he was convinced of Splenda's safety. The scientific evidence strongly suggests artificial sweeteners are just as bad, and in some ways more harmful, than sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Worse than that though is its stand on genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) in food. Greg Jaffe, director of CSPI's Biotechnology Project, completely undermined the GMO labeling movement in his testimony at a recent hearing11 on the Pompeo bill H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, colloquially known as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, as it strips states' of their right to implement food labeling laws and regulations that restricts or bans the growing of GMO crops.
According to polls, over 90 percent of Americans now want GMO labeling. Yet, astonishingly, Jaffe says he's not sure consumers really want to know whether foods contain GMOs, despite what the polls say! This is an inexcusable position for a consumer protection group, as far as I'm concerned. You can listen to his statements in the following video below, where you will hear he has the audacity to claim there are no studies indicating any harm from GMOs. This is the type of ignorant position they held on trans fats and artificial sweeteners. At least you can say one thing about CSPI, they are consistently reprehensible ignorant on important health issue and need to be ignored.
Nobody Expects a Transgenic Organism on Their Plate
It really should be crystal clear that consumers should have a right to know about GMOs in their food. Researchers have demonstrated there are compositional differences between GE crops and conventional crops,12 with glyphosate-tolerant GE soybeans containing high residues of glyphosate (a Class 2A probable human carcinogen13) and AMPA. The primary trait of GMO crops is glyphosate resistance, they can withstand multiple applications of glyphosate and can therefore absorb more of it.
Another point that justifies labeling of GMOs is the fact that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) admits they do not test for glyphosate residues because it's too expensive to do so.14 Without such testing, GMO labeling is even more important, as it's quite clear that glyphosate-tolerant GE crops are significantly contaminated with this toxic chemical that cannot be washed off, as it permeates every single cell of the treated plant, from root to tip. The anti-labeling proponents cannot logically argue any of these points; they're indisputable, and GMO labeling is massively supported because consumers do demand the right to know.
CSPI and our federal government remain blind to these facts, but regardless, these transgenic organisms are not a consumer expectation, and should therefore be labeled. Consider the new GE salmon spliced with eel genes... Salmon is labeled wild caught or farmed, but will not be labeled if genetically spliced with eel, which makes it a different version of the species altogether. Does that really make sense? What consumer reasonably expects a salmon to be spliced with eel?
Who Knew? CSPI Is Actually PRO-GMO!
Any so-called consumer protection group refusing to acknowledge these facts is simply not a real consumer watchdog. And CSPI's Greg Jaffe definitely appears to be pro-GMO, having discussed the merits of GE foods in a June 2014 Food Product and Design interview,15 in which he states that: "While there will continue to be demand for non-GMO ingredients, I do think it will continue to be a small specialty market." When asked about consumer misconceptions surrounding GMOs, Jaffe claims consumers don't realize the technology simply involves "adding one or two genes in a very precise way to a crop that already has thousands of genes," falsely insinuating that doing so leads to completely predictable results.
In fact, he states that "some consumers incorrectly believe that foods made from the current GE crops are not safe to eat," and then goes on to use the oft-repeated but false industry claim that "there is a strong international consensus from both scientific regulatory bodies... as well as scientific societies... that the foods made from the current GE crops are safe to eat."
CSPI’s executive director, Michael Jacobson is quoted16 as making a similar statement in July 2014, when he spoke at an American Soybean Association (ASA) forum saying: Many people have been made to fear genetically engineered ingredients, and it's totally irrational." That too raises questions about just how close the relationship is between the CSPI and the ASA—a group coincidentally based in St. Louis, where Monsanto also has its headquarters. Monsanto is also listed as one of ASA’s biotech working group partners.17
Meanwhile, on January 24, 2015, a statement signed by 300 scientists, researchers, physicians, and scholars was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe,18 asserting that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. Moreover, the paper, aptly titled "No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety", states that the claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is in actuality "an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated." The paper also notes that such a claim "is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue."
If the CSPI’s mission is to “represent citizen’s interests” and “ensure advances in science are used for the public’s good,” as stated in its mission statement,19 how does it justify its anti-consumer position on labeling GMOs? It seems fairly irreconcilable. On the other hand, the CSPI contradicts itself yet again when talking about the dangers of corn and soy monocultures, the chemical dependence of these crops, and how it stresses the environment.20 It seems they simply cannot connect the dots when it comes to GMO’s...
Why It Took So Long to Learn the Truth About Trans Fats
Getting back to trans fats, CSPI is not solely to blame for the industry-wide replacement of healthy saturated fats with artery-clogging trans fats. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Heart Association (AHA) were also avid promoters of this switch, as discussed in Judy Shaw's book, Trans Fats.21
Well-respected medical journals such as the JAMA published ads promoting Wesson corn oil for lowering cholesterol, and Antonio Gotto Jr, then president of the AHA sent his personal endorsement of Puritan corn oil to doctors. Dr. William Castelli, who led the Framingham Heart Study, also gave Puritan his personal endorsement. As Shaw notes in her book:
"The influence of these physicians was profound. Their promotional advocacy and the endorsements by science and government prompted other doctors to encourage their patients to drastically modify their eating habits. Margarine was the new prescription. There seemed to be no dissenting voice, and the America public had no reason to be skeptical."
Trans Fats May Worsen Your Memory
Meanwhile, research such as that by Dr. Kummerow—which clearly showed trans fats were worse than saturated fat ever could be—was quietly ignored. Heart disease isn't the only health problem associated with trans fats. Research has implicated trans fats in other diseases as well. Most recently, it's been found to interfere with memory.22 As reported by Reuters:23
"It's not clear if... trans fats might interfere with memory by directly affecting the nervous system, or by contributing to overall cardiovascular disease, which harms the brain as well, researchers say... [Trans fats] had already been linked to poorer lipid profiles, including higher 'bad' LDL cholesterol, worse metabolic function, insulin resistance, inflammation and poorer cardiac and general health before the new study investigated potential memory issues...
Among men under age 45, increasing dietary trans fatty acid consumption was associated with decreasing word recall, with each additional gram of trans fat per day matched to 0.76 fewer words identified correctly. At the time of the study, participants' trans fat consumption ranged up to 28 grams a day, the researchers write. That would translate to 21 fewer correct word-recall responses out of an average normal score of 86.
'A lot of us are involved in jobs where words are important,' [lead author] Golomb told Reuters Health. A decrease of only a few words on this recall test can make a difference, she said, and it's reasonable to think that other areas of memory might also be associated with trans fats."
Healthy Eating Guidelines for the 21st Century
So, what's the general 21st century revised rule for healthy living and eating? One of the most important points is that you do not need to avoid saturated fats. Saturated fats were unfairly condemned in the 1950s based on very primitive evidence that has since been re-analyzed. The evidence now clearly shows that saturated fats do not cause heart disease. Moreover, your body needs healthy unheated raw saturated fats for proper function of your:
Cell membranes Heart Bones (to assimilate calcium) Liver Lungs Hormones Immune system Satiety (reducing hunger) Genetic regulation
When it comes to cooking fats, few compare to tallow and lard in terms of health benefits and safety. These are the cooking fats that were originally used, and they're excellent frying fats. Coconut oil is also very stable at higher temperatures, and is another excellent choice for cooking and baking.
The Unexpected Implications of Industry Involvement in Trans Fat Research
Coconut Oil: This Cooking Oil Is a Powerful Virus-Destroyer and Antibiotic…