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  • Denise Scott

Culinary Medicine for Moms/Women

What is Culinary Medicine? Why is it important?

Culinary medicine is a relatively new branch of medicine based on research that uses food as medicine to both treat and prevent diseases that we know are amenable to nutrition. It offers either an alternative to medication or is used in addition to traditional treatment to attempt to reduce or stop medication. My focus is to use culinary medicine as a prevention for future diseases.

Healthy food can be used to prevent disease

What do we know?

1. We know that 7 of the 10 top causes of death in this country are the result of complications of diseases caused by poor nutrition.

These include:

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Type 2 Diabetes (1 in 10 worldwide)

  • COPD

  • Kidney disease

  • Some dementia

  • Multiple cancers

2. We know that with a proper diet, we can prevent:

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Obesity/metabolic syndrome

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Fatty liver disease

  • Polycystic ovarian disease

  • Numerous cancers

3. We know that a diet high in sugar and refined grains leads to an increase in inflammation in the body; this inflammation contributes to 7 of the top ten causes of death in this country. These can be altered or prevented with diet.

4. The American Cancer Society has identified 13 cancers associated with nutrition and obesity. Three of these are breast, ovarian, and uterine.

5. The rate of morbid or severe obesity is rising faster than general obesity. Severe obesity is its own epidemic within the obesity epidemic.

6. The top 5 causes of death in middle-aged women are:

  • Heart disease

  • Cancer

  • COPD

  • Stroke

  • Diabetes

Most of these are diet-related.

7. The 3 most common cancers in women are:

  • Breast

  • Lung

  • Colorectal

Two of these three are diet-related

I want to focus on four areas of prevention:

Heart health

Gut health

Brain health and

Cancer prevention

based on what the research shows.

Heart-healthy produce

Heart Health

Previously it was thought that a high fat diet led to cardiovascular disease. This thinking brought about the low-fat craze of the 1970s, which prompted manufacturers to create low-fat and no-fat foods. When they took the fat out of these foods, they didn’t taste so good, so they had to add something to increase their palatability. What did they add? Sugar! This led to a significant and unknowingly increase in sugar consumption in this country. You can trace the obesity trend over the last 3-4 decades. In fact, a child today is about 11 pounds heavier than a child in the 1970s.

We now know that sugar, not fat, is the primary culprit in the development of heart disease. Excess sugar in the diet is converted in the liver to triglycerides. This leads to atherosclerosis. A diet high in saturated fat also contributes.

The best dietary defenses against heart disease are:

  1. Reduce sugar consumption. The American Heart Association recommends NO MORE than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of ADDED sugar daily for women and children. Decrease or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages - the most substantial source of sugar consumption in America.

  2. Switch from refined grains to whole wheat and whole grain products. Refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, regular pasta, etc., are converted to sugar once consumed.

  3. Minimize saturated fats from animal products and processed foods.

  4. Control blood pressure by limiting salt intake to 2500 mg or less (equal to 1 teaspoon). Look for low-salt or no-salt items and use spices instead.

Great sources of fiber for gut health

Gut Health

The health of our gut is tied to our overall health and immunity. The gut microbiota - the millions of bacteria and microorganisms that live in our lower intestines - is directly related to diet, as is colorectal cancer (CRC). A diet high in sugar, high in processed and smoked meats, and low in fiber adversely affects the microbiome and increases the risk for CRC.

Fiber from whole foods, including whole grains, nuts, beans and legumes, vegetables, and fruit, contributes to a healthy microbiome and decreases our risk for CRC. Fiber helps to keep blood sugar levels stable, reduce cholesterol absorption from the gut, and keep us regular.

Fiber is best obtained from whole, natural foods rather than supplements; these foods give us vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

The recommended intake for women is 25 grams a day, divided among meals. I also recommend drinking 8-12 ounces of water for every 5 grams of fiber to aid digestion.

Food for a healthy brain

Brain Health

Women with high cholesterol, high LDL, and obesity have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s. In addition, a high-sugar diet and high blood sugar levels lead to inflammation in the brain and toxic by-products that are thought to contribute to dementia. A diet high in saturated fats can affect memory, processing speed, and attention.

Polyphenols and flavonoids from plant products and omega-3 fatty acids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which can counteract this.

We get these healthy diet components from:

Nuts, especially walnuts

Fruit, in particular berries

Vegetables and

Fatty fish (the best source of omega-3s).

Fight cancer with food

Cancer Prevention

A high-fat, low-fiber diet and a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk for numerous cancers.

A diet high in sugar and refined grains increases inflammation, which creates a better environment for tumor cells to grow. Obesity increases insulin, insulin-like growth factor, and sex hormones which can promote cancer cell growth, especially breast and uterine cancers.

Steps to take for cancer prevention:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight

  2. Get regular exercise, at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week

  3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, fruit, and vegetables

  4. Limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day

So kudos if you have noticed a common theme or pattern in these recommendations!

The bottom line is:

*Decrease sugar and processed foods

*Eat whole, natural foods in many colors that are minimally processed and without added sugar and salt to obtain needed nutrients.

*Increase fiber intake.

Culinary Medicine emphasizes both the Mediterranean Diet (MD) and plant-based eating. The MD focuses on plant foods, minimizes red meat and processed foods, and emphasizes seafood intake twice weekly.

Foods to improve our heart, brain, and gut health, and decrease cancer risk

Think about it! With proper nutrition, we can prevent and improve

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Dyslipidemia

  • Stroke

  • Hypertension

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Fatty liver disease

  • Polycystic ovarian disease

  • Some dementia and

  • Numerous cancers!

Taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do to take care of your family!

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