Fat is good, bagels are bad

By Miles Hassell, M.D.
Co-medical director, Providence Integrative Medicine Program

Most of us already have the most important tools for preventing or treating heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia, osteoarthritis, obesity, depression or high blood pressure. These tools are good food and daily exercise along with adequate sleep – a powerful factor that is often ignored.

The thoughtful use of each of these lifestyle choices is the strongest predictor of good health for most people and may actually help reverse disease.

Six types of food to avoid
  • Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, found in most margarines, vegetable shortening, and many packaged foods
  • Refined grains, such as instant oatmeal, cold breakfast cereal, white rice, crackers and breads or pastas containing white flour (also called “enriched wheat flour”)
  • Sugar, real and artificial, including agave nectar, corn syrup and fruit juice concentrates
  • Preserved (processed) meats, like bacon, ham, deli meats, sausages and hot dogs
  • Commercially-fried foods, which means any foods you don’t fry yourself
  • Fake or highly-altered foods, such as egg and butter substitutes; nondairy creamer; and artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors

For example, someone who already has heart disease can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 70 percent or more with diet alone, and 60 percent or more with exercise. That’s better than we see from our best drugs and medical procedures! And when we combine food and exercise with conventional medicine we can get even better results.

Good food is whole food
Most whole, minimally processed food is good for you. The term “whole food” describes food as close to its original form as possible, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, grains that are whole or at least partially intact (like steel cut oats or bulgur), beans and legumes, raw nuts and seeds, and animal protein, such as fish, eggs, and fresh meat. Butter, cheese and plain yogurt are whole foods, and can even be made at home.

Some of the foods included in my general recommendations might be considered controversial. For example, real butter, tea and coffee, dark chocolate, aged cheese, eggs, meat and modest amounts of alcohol. However, the evidence shows that all of these appear to be healthy when eaten as a small part of a varied diet that already includes plenty of vegetables and whole fruit, beans and legumes, and whole grains.

Any food commonly eaten for more than 150 years should be innocent until proven guilty, and any food created by man in the last 150 years is guilty until proven innocent.

The Mediterranean factor
The Mediterranean-style diet is the only dietary approach that has been associated with the following combined benefits in large populations studied over long periods of time:

  • less heart disease and fewer strokes
  • less diabetes and insulin resistance
  • less cancer
  • less dementia and neurogenerative disease
  • more sustainable weight loss

When compared head-to-head against low-fat diets, the Mediterranean diet is better than low-fat diets at controlling weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin levels as well as reducing risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Read a more detailed article on this subject with references from peer-reviewed medical literature.

© 2013 Miles Hassell, M.D.