Several years ago I saw a bumper sticker that made me laugh. It read: “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”
Then it wasn’t so funny during the years we watched my dad suffer with Alzheimer’s disease.
So often when we look for answers, we don’t see the whole picture. I continue to be amused … and sometimes saddened by some of the claims made in the name of nutrition science.
For example, I recently stumbled across a radio infomercial for a “memory support” product. Made from a protein harvested from jellyfish, the seller of this supplement made sweeping claims about its effectiveness and safety based on one study (his own).
And after hearing that listeners could buy this product at stores such as CVS and Walgreen’s, the announcer excitedly stated, “It must really work if you can find it in those places!”
Really? As we begin “National Nutrition Month” sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — the world’s largest group of nutrition professionals — here are some statements to consider:
Nutrition in the treatment of disease is not that simple. Really. For example, reliable research finds that Alzheimer’s disease may be triggered by many conditions including age, genetic makeup, injuries to the brain, and “oxidative stress.”
To date, there is no good evidence to support a particular supplement for the treatment of memory problems. That is the conclusion from a recent “state-of-the-science” conference on “Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline” sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
Nutrients interact. Really. And this explains why isolated nutrients rarely show amazing health outcomes. Case in point: People who eat a Mediterranean-type diet — a “pattern” of eating that is high in vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, moderate in dairy foods, meat, fish, poultry and alcohol (primarily wine with meals), and low in saturated fat — have a lower risk for memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease.
Simple statements are not always true. Really. The admonition to “avoid everything white” for example. Cauliflower is a very nutritious white food, say nutrition experts. It provides important dietary fiber and folate — a B-vitamin that helps prevent birth defects and improves heart health. Cauliflower also contains bone-enhancing vitamins K and C. It is also in the elite group of “cruciferous” vegetables which contain compounds that researchers have found to inactivate certain types of cancer cells.
Not all food is best eaten raw. Really. Cooked tomatoes yield more lycopene — a potent antioxidant substance that may help guard against prostate cancer — than raw tomatoes. And cooking cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts helps deactivate an enzyme that sometimes interferes with the function of the thyroid gland.
Sometimes there are no easy answers. So during this National Nutrition Month, this column will take a look at your questions that pertain to food and nutrition. Really.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She appears in the new publication “What Doctors Eat,” (Rodale, 2013). Email her at email@example.com.