The Pantry Prescription

With this blog post, I realize I run the risk of sounding like one of those people that touts a new food every day or month (drink pomegranate  juice for it’s high anti-oxidant content. You’ll live to 100!! it’s the next superfood!!!!). As I’ve pointed out, when evaluating health claims for foods/pills/etc it’s probably better to evaluate the claims as how they relate to endpoints such as decreased risk for disease, death, etc. rather than take something just because it’s a good antioxidant or has other reputed health benefits.

Anyhow, if someone were to ask me what kinds of foods should I eat/have handy, here are a few things I’d probably suggest. It is not an exhaustive list by any means. Of course if one has allergies to any of these foods, then they shouldn’t be on that person’s list of foods to have:

#1) Olive Oil. This makes my list because of the health benefits associated with intake. There is an inverse relationship with olive oil intake and the risk of dementia (that is, the more you take, the lower your risk of developing dementia). I has a lot of anti-oxidants in it as well as healthy fats. It’s good for heart health as well. It is important to mention that it’s important to use it IN PLACE of other fats, not just add it to a bad diet. That is, use olive oil in place of animal fats, coconut oil and other saturated fats.

#2) Canola oil. It’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with lower risk of death due to heart disease, dementia, etc.  It has a higher flash point than olive oil so can be used to cook at higher temperatures (and has a less strong taste which can be important with some foods).

#3) Flax seed/flax seed oil/ground flax. Flaxseed is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. However these are medium chain omega-3 fatty acids (as opposed to the long chain omega-3 fatty acids which are found in fish. It is the longer omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to have health benefits). Not all of the fatty acids are converted to long chain omega-3 fatty acids in the body, but any little bit helps, and any that takes the place of fully saturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids is a good thing. Fish such as tuna, salmon, and sardines, to name a few, are better sources for long chain omega-3 fatty acids.

#4) Legumes, any combination of them you might want (legumes include peanuts, lentils, any type of bean). In combination with a cereal (e.g. rice or wheat) will provide all the essential amino acids (make up a “complete protein”). The health benefits get even better if it’s a whole grain you pair the legumes with.

#5) Tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc. Though relatively high in calories – they  tend to be high in fats – they are healthy. They contain some fiber. The fats they have tend to be the healthier types of fats and tend to be high in fat soluble antioxidants. Using a handful of nuts such as almonds to stave off hunger pains can help keep someone from consuming even more calories at dinner due to hunger. And they’re better for you than sugary/starchy foods such as crackers.

#6) Eat many different fruits and vegetables. The greater the variety the better. One study showed that blueberry intake reduced the chance of developing diabetes by 40 % (however this is only one study. Whether this is close to the “real number” blueberry intake reduces risk would be determined by looking at/doing more studies). Other fruit intake also reduced risk of certain diseases, for example,  apple intake is associated with a lower risk of developing emphysema.  Rather than relying on one “super food” or whatever fruit is the fad of the day, having a variety of fruits is probably better. Each fruit and vegetable has a different mixture of antioxidants and phytochemicals. The different phytochemicals probably have different affinities for different tissues (this is my supposition here. I have no proof to back it up other than a feeling it might be the case) and by having a variety of foods, it’s likely that more parts of the body will be protected.

#7)  A variety of spices. I would put turmeric high on the list of spices to have as it appears that the curcumin (a substance found in turmeric) is a rather potent anti oxidant and anti inflammatory agent. However, I would make the same argument about spices that I make about fruits and vegetables above. The greater the variety the better.

Notice I have not put on the list meat, poultry, milk or other sources of animal protein.I wouldn’t say avoid them, unless you have a  particular cultural or moral stand on eating animal products. I only mention fish because of the healthy fatty acids some fish contain. Limiting the amount of meat one has is important for maintaining health.  However the amounts of each, frequency of using these in diet is a topic for another time.