#047 Do Processed Foods Cause Memory Loss?

November 20th, 2014 by

Do Processed Foods Cause Memory Loss?

Can what we eat actually affect our memory?  Yes, according to a study just recently presented at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific sessions in Chicago.  This study showed that trans fat, which is common in processed and fast foods, can cause memory loss in even younger adults.

Can You Believe Trans Fat Food Labels?

You may be thinking, “I always read the labels and make sure that I do not buy any food with trans fat.” But sometimes the labels are not clear.

For example, a Fig Newton bar, which is even made with “real fruit” and is freely given to patients at my hospital, lists 0 grams of trans fat.  However, upon closer inspection of the ingredient list you will notice that it contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.

Whenever you see “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” listed on the ingredient list it is a trans fat.  This is a man made “Franken Fat” that improves the shelf life of the food like substance but decreases our own shelf life.

The problem is with our labeling laws in the U.S.  Many other countries have much stricter labeling laws.  As long as you have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving in the U.S., you can legally advertise “0 trans fat”.  Although technically legal in the U.S., this is deceptive food labeling and many “food” companies participate in this practice.

How Much Trans Fat Do Americans Still Eat?

Another problem is that most serving sizes are not realistic.  Many people eat much more than one measly little serving as defined on the food label.  Also, trans fat is still in so many of our foods such as fast food, pizza, french fries, biscuits, bakery items, and a large percentage of packaged foods.  At the end of the day, the average American has eaten 5.8 grams of trans fat from all of these food like products.

The Dangers of Trans Fat

No amount of trans fat is safe.  Even the FDA realizes this and is working to ban this man-made trans fat from the American diet.  Trans fat dramatically increases both the bad cholesterol numbers and the risk of heart disease.  Trans fat has also been linked to obesity, cancer, diabetes, and depression.  Clearly, our goal is to completely avoid this very dangerous man-made fat.

Memory Loss from Trans Fat Study

This study, recently presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting  in Chicago, was interesting in that even younger adults (ages 20-45) showed significant memory loss after eating trans fat (here is a link to the news report of this study).  Specifically, they looked at 1,018 people and found that for every one gram of trans fat they ate each day resulted in a memory loss of 0.76 words on their memory test.

The biggest offenders of trans fat younger adults remembered 11 less words that those who tried to avoid these man made fat-like chemicals.  As the memory test only involved 104 words, this becomes even more remarkable.  A “healthy” young adult lost 10% of their memory just from eating junk food.

One could not help but ask, how is this memory loss from junk food affecting them in their schooling or with their jobs?  If these young and middle aged adults were showing memory loss from processed foods is it any wonder that Alzheimer’s Disease has also been linked to a diet high in trans fat?

We Are Making Improvements in the War Against Trans Fat

Fortunately, with recent labelling laws and other regulations, we are eating much less trans fat now than we did a generation ago.  Our average cholesterol numbers in the U.S. have been dropping and most feel the major driver has been less trans fat in our diets.  The recent decline we have seen in heart disease nationwide is also felt to be due to lower amounts of trans fat in our diets.  However, if one eats out a lot or purchases processed foods you are still exposed to this dangerous man-made fat.

How to Avoid Trans Fat

To answer the question, do processed foods cause memory loss the answer is clearly yes according to this most recent study.  As the goal is really zero trans fat in our diet, not the deceptive “0 grams of trans fat” that you see on so many food labels, here are my six rules to completely eliminate this toxic trans fat from your diet.

1. Do not eat anything with “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” listed on the ingredient list.

2. Assume french fries contain trans fat unless proven otherwise.

3. Assume all pastries, cookies, cakes, pies, and other bakery items contain trans fat unless you are shown proof that they do not.

4. Assume anything fried or battered is trans fat until they can prove to you otherwise.

5. Assume anything that tastes like butter has trans fat unless you can see the ingredient list.

6. Assume any popcorn has trans fat unless you air pop your own corn yourself.

Has your memory or brain fog lifted with elimination of processed and fast foods?  What rules do you follow to keep trans fat out of your diet?

#045 Is Salad Dressing Healthy?

November 10th, 2014 by

Is Salad Dressing Healthy?

Eating salads are always your healthiest option, right?  Not so fast.  The 20+ chemicals in your typical highly processed ranch salad dressing could harm your health.

It seems like such a shame to take a healthy food, like a salad, and then smother it in chemicals which may hurt our health.  Can we both make the salad taste great and do our body good?

Unfortunately, most people use commercial salad dressings like the one shown in this photo.  I always worry when any product has more than a few ingredients.  In this article I will answer the question is salad dressing healthy, carefully analyze the 21 ingredients in this popular ranch dressing, provide my personal opinion on these 21 ingredients, and offer much healthier and better tasting alternatives.

The 21 Ingredients in a Typical Processed Food Ranch Salad Dressing

Here are the 21 ingredients, listed in order, of the popular ranch salad dressing shown in the photo. Do you really want to put all of these chemicals into your body?

1. Vegetable Oil

In the past, vegetable oils were felt to be better than saturated fats.  New data suggests that vegetable oils may actually increase our risk of heart disease.

I worry about vegetable oils because they are highly processed and contain high amounts of omega 6 fatty acids which have been shown to cause inflammation leading to conditions such as arthritis, asthma, or even cancer.

Also, vegetable oils may be hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated which means they contain the deadly trans fat.  Fortunately, this one is not listed as being hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.  However, as it is not organic, we can assume that it is genetically modified (GMO) which may cause long-term health effects that we are not aware of yet.

2. Water

3. Egg Yolk

As it does not state “pasture raised” or “organic” these may not be the healthiest eggs.  These eggs likely came from chickens fed processed foods (GMO grains), antibiotics, and hormones.  These eggs are also likely to be much higher in the inflammation producing omega 6 fats.

4. Sugar

Why does a ranch salad dressing need to have added sugar?  This is just one of many hidden sources of added sugars in our diet.

5. Salt

There actually is a lot more salt in commercial salad dressings than you might imagine.  The label indicates there is 260 mg for a two tablespoon serving.  The trouble is that for most people two tablespoons is an unrealistic serving size.  If you assume a four tablespoon serving that equates to 520 mg of sodium!

6. Cultured Non-Fat Buttermilk

7. Natural Flavors

This one always scares me.  “Natural flavors” are not natural at all.  It could be MSG or some other man-made chemical.

8. Spices

Once again, we don’t know what spices these are.  Let’s hope they are healthy spices.

9. Dried Garlic

10. Dried Onion

11. Vinegar

12. Phosphoric Acid

Phosphoric acid is the same thing that is in Coke!  This is a corrosive acid that is also used in fertilizers.  It gives food a tangy taste and helps to prevent the growth of molds and bacteria in sugary substances.

Phosphoric acid may be a cause of osteoporosis and tooth decay.  Phosphoric acid may also be a cause of kidney stones.  This is definitely a chemical that our bodies do not need!

13. Xanthan Gum

While xanthan gum is probably safe, there are reports that it can cause life-threatening necrotizing enterocolitis in children.  Here is a link to this report from the New York Times.  Also, in some people xanthan gum can cause digestive problems.

14. Modified Food Starch

Once again this is a bit of a mystery.  Modified food starch could be wheat, rice, corn, potato, or tapioca. If you are gluten sensitive this could be a problem.

The “modified” here could mean many different things.  It could have been heated or treated with a number of different chemicals, emulsifiers, or acids.

15. MSG

MSG is certainly very controversial. It can cause headaches.  Some research suggests it may cause us to gain weight or develop neurological problems such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, or ADHD.

16. Artificial Flavors

Once again this is another mystery ingredient.  These are basically chemicals designed to mimic real flavors.

17. Disodium Phosphate

This is a chemical used in processed foods to stabilize the pH of the product.

18. Sorbic Acid

This is a chemical to keep food from spoiling.  It is a preservative with anti-microbial properties.  This food additive, like so many others in this ranch dressing, is on the list of unacceptable chemicals to be included in food by Whole Foods.

19. Calcium Disodium EDTA

This chemical has been shown to be toxic to animals in high doses.  Once again, it is yet another chemical deemed as an unacceptable ingredient to be included in food by Whole Foods.

20. Disodium Inosinate

This is a flavor enhancer chemical typically used with MSG.  In susceptible people this could contribute to kidney or gall stones.

21. Disodium Guanylate

This is yet another flavor enhancer chemical and is often used in combination with MSG.  Once again, this chemical can cause kidney or gall stones in some people.

Healthier Options for Salad Dressings

When it comes to salad dressings it is best to avoid most commercial salad dressings and make your own.  If you are eating out see if they have olive oil and balsamic vinegar that you can put on your salad.

A better option is to make a large batch of salad dressing at home one or two times a week.  Most can be made in under five minutes and stay fresh anywhere from a few days to a week or two in the fridge.

I especially like the French vinaigrette and lemon olive oil dressings on this page.  If you like a more fruity dressing try one of these dressings on this page.  For an Asian salad dressing try one of these on this page.  Other options could be a Tahini lemon dressing or a roasted tomato maple dressing here.  There are so many different healthy and quick options.

Hopefully the answer to “is salad dressing healthy” rather obvious.  It depends.  If you make your own it could be incredibly healthy and tasty!

Do you make your own salad dressing?  What is your favorite?