This Month’s Food as Medicine Roundup: October 25, 2019

Sahra Pak October 25, 2019
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Sahra Pak
As a registered dietitian, Sahra brings her extensive experience in health care and public health to Lighter to improve the health of the population through effective communication, sustainable behavior modification approaches and upstream intervention strategies. Through her work with Los Angeles and Solano County Departments of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and partnering with health advocacy organizations such as CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Sahra has helped create sustainable food systems, adapted public policy, implemented environmental change, and health education programs.


Thank you for checking out this week’s edition of our Food as Medicine News Roundup! Once a month, I’ll share a collection of important and trending articles in the Food as Medicine space.


The holiday season is fast approaching - I hope you will enjoy reading some recent news that emphasizes the importance of keeping health-promoting foods at the center of our table and our conversations. 

This month we’ll explore why red and processed meat is not really back on your patients’ meal plan or shopping list; how to identify industry influenced nutrition findings and guidelines; how ‘ergo’ in mushrooms may prevent prostate cancer in men, and how fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of chronic kidney disease.  


Why red and processed meat is not ‘back’ - the power of evidence-based nutrition

Among the list of nutrition news that made it to the top 10 this month was the tune, ‘Red Meat is Back.’ The new analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine not only exonerated red and processed meats from their negative impact on chronic disease and mortality but further recommended that it’s fine to continue consuming the current amount.  

"This is perplexing, given the clear evidence for harm associated with high red meat intake."

⏤Frank Hu, chair of Dept. of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 

Turns out that the analysis used an alternative approach to evaluate the evidence known as ‘GRADE’ that was mainly developed for evaluating the effect of drugs which is problematic and inappropriate when used to compare the effects of diet and foods. What’s more, a few days after the story hit the news cycle, it became evident that the lead researcher of the analysis did not disclose his past ties to an industry trade group that protects the interests of agribusiness, big food, and pharmaceutical companies. The industry trade group in question, International Life Sciences Institute, or ILSI, is known to fund studies that ‘de-bunk’ nutrition findings that may negatively impact its clients’ business interests and in return, shape global food policies. 

Exonerating certain foods or nutrients with questionable health benefits may be a trend in nutrition that may never cease due to industry influence and essentially, food politics. So here’s the big news. The news in nutrition is that there is nothing ’new’ per se. Nutrition advice does not keep changing and we already know the foundation of a health-promoting diet. A diverse, balanced, whole, minimally processed plant-based diet that consists mainly of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds is the optimal diet for most


Plant-powered: ‘Ergo’ in mushrooms fights oxidative stress to protect your patients from cancer, dementia, aging, and more

Many use mushrooms in soups, stir-fries, curries, pates, salads, hummus and more to boost the flavor (aka umami) in these dishes. But what’s also amazing about mushrooms is that studies show that they increase the nourishing and healing properties of these dishes. Specifically, ergothioneine, or ergo, found in mushrooms is an antioxidant amino acid that fights oxidative stress. Although ergo was discovered many moons ago (1909), more recently, a pharmacology professor, Dirk Grundemann, found that all mammals make a genetically coded transporter that pulls ergo into our red blood cells (RBC). Once in the RBCs, ergo then travels throughout the body and starts fighting the oxidative stress that accumulates in tissues. In addition, mushrooms also contain a host of other nutrients that protect our health such as selenium, vitamin D, and glutathione. 

In October, a large, long-term study reported a possible link between mushroom consumption and prostate cancer - one of the most common forms of cancer affecting men. The new study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, monitored two cohorts of a total of over 36,000 men between the ages of 40 and 79 in Japan for up to 24.5 years. The results? Those who consumed mushrooms more than once or twice a week had an 8% lower risk of developing prostate cancer, and those who ate more than three times a week had a 17% lower risk than those who ate less than once a week. The effect was particularly significant in men aged 50 and older and in those with a diet that consisted largely of meat and dairy (and low intake of fruits and vegetables).  

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first cohort study indicating the prostate cancer-preventive potential of mushrooms at a population level."

⏤Study authors

On the other hand, a meta-analysis published most recently in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association involving more than 1 million participants and over 47 existing scientific journal found that consuming animal-based products, particularly dairy, was found to increase the risk of prostate cancer while higher amounts of plant-based foods may reduce the risk.  


CKD prevention may lie in diets high in plants 

In the U.S., more than 1 in 7, or 15% of adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease (CKD). In addition, among patients with CKD, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) is high and the two share many of the same risk factors such as high blood pressure, older age, and diabetes. 

However, the great news is that there is a lot that your patient can do to prevent CKD and hence, CVD. 

Recent studies indicate that food is medicine - where the risk of CKD is lower in patients who consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. In the first study to examine the prospective associations between plant-based diets and risk of kidney function decline and CKD in the general population, those who followed a healthy plant-based diet (whole, minimally processed plant-ingredients and meals) was associated with a 14% lower risk for incident CKD and slowed the decline of estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). 

Higher consumption of healthful plant foods played an important role in CKD risk and a slower decline in kidney function.”

⏤Hyunju Kim, study author

In another recent study published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, the impact of dietary acid on kidney health was examined and researchers found that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may serve as a modifiable factor in reducing the risk of CKD. 

“Among ingested dietary components, dietary acid is thought to promote the progression of CKD; a higher dietary acid load can cause metabolic acidosis and lead to increased risk for kidney disease progression.”

⏤Jong Hyun Jhee, M.D., study author 

The study found that incident eGFR <60 mL/min/1.73m2 was 14% less likely in those who in the group with the highest tertile of non-fermented vegetable intake (and 32% lower risk of proteinuria). Dietary modification - in other words, when we treat food as medicine, we can decrease the risk of our patients and clients to develop CKD (and CVD). 

Chronic disease is costing the U.S. economy an upwards of a trillion dollars a year. It’s time to take a swift, evidence-based, and cost-effective action. Let’s change lives through food, together.

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