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 Integrative Medicine: Foods to Avoid or Limit 
 

A high fat, low fiber diet is also associated with colon cancer, prostate cancer in men, and some breast cancer in women. As mentioned earlier, a high fat diet promotes the conversion of estrogen metabolites by anaerobic bacteria in the intestinal tract to forms of estrogen that can be easily reabsorbed back into the body. This elevates the blood estrogen level with types of estrogen that may increase some women's susceptibility to breast cancer. In contrast, lowering the amount of dietary fat while increasing the amount of high-fiber foods in the diet can help reduce the risk of hormone related cancers in women.

Many American women base their meals on meat and dairy entrees like steaks, chops, meat sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, and yogurt. Unfortunately, large amounts of meatbased protein can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Meat protein is acidic; when a woman eats meat in excessive amounts, her body must buffer the acid load that meat creates. One way the body accomplishes this is by dissolving the bones. The calcium and other minerals released from the bones helps restore the body's acid-alkaline balance. (This process does not occur with dairy products which already contain calcium.) One study comparing the incidence of osteoporosis in meat-eating women (omnivores) with that among vegetarians found a dramatic difference in bone density after age sixty. Between the ages of sixty and eighty-nine, vegetarian women lost 18 percent of their bone mass, but meat-eating women lost 35 percent of their bone mass. Quite a striking difference. Other studies show that the amount of protein eaten can make a difference in calcium levels. Protein intake over three ounces a day causes loss of the calcium from the urinary tract. This has been found to be true even in low risk groups such as young, healthy males.

Finally, meat, dairy products, and saturated oils (like coconut and palm-kernel oil) are difficult to digest. As women age, they secrete less hydrochloric acid and fewer of the digestive enzymes needed for fat and protein breakdown in the intestinal tract. In one study, 40 percent of postmenopausal women lacked hydrochloric acid. Without sufficient hydrochloric acid, calcium and iron absorption become more difficult. For women of all ages with chronic tiredness, a meat and dairy based diet can aggravate these symptoms. This is because the body must use so much energy to break these foods down before they can be absorbed, assimilated, and finally utilized. All parts of dairy products are difficult to digest the fat, the protein, and the milk sugar. Digesting dairy products demands hydrochloric acids, enzymes, and fat emulsifiers, which a fatigued woman may not produce in sufficient quantities. Eggs and meat protein are equally difficult to digest for a chronically tired woman.

Dairy foods can also aggravate other health problems. Many women are specifically allergic to dairy products, and dairy products intensify allergy symptoms in general. Besides fatigue, users of dairy products often complain of allergy based nasal congestion, sinus swelling, and postnasal drip. They might also suffer from digestive problems such as bloating, gas, and bowel changes, which intensify with menstruation. This intolerance to dairy products can hamper the absorption and assimilation of the calcium these products contain. Also, clinical studies have shown that dairy products decrease iron absorption in anemic women.

Women concerned about losing calcium by eliminating dairy products from their diet can choose many other food sources of calcium. These include beans and peas, soybeans, sesame seeds, soup stock made from chicken or fish bones, and green leafy vegetables. A delicious potato based milk called Vegelicious; as well as soy milks and nut milk are excellent substitutes for food preparation. These nondairy milks are readily available at health food stores, and many of them are calcium fortified. You can also take a supplement containing calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D to make sure your intake is sufficient.

For optimal protein intake, your diet should emphasize whole grains, beans and peas, seeds and nuts, and fish high in the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. Red meat and dairy products are best eliminated or eaten occasionally in small portions. This is truly an optimal diet for most women, emphasizing high nutrient content, low stress foods, and easy digestibility.

If you feel the need to eat meat other than fish, poultry is the best option. Serve poultry broiled or roasted and without the skin. Avoid heavy sauces or dressings. Always buy lean cuts and trim off all visible fat. Fish and poultry should be eaten more frequently than beef, pork, or lamb, which are higher in fat. American dinners traditionally center around a large piece of meat or fish, with small servings of grain and vegetables as side dishes. For women who want to enjoy optimal health throughout their lives, I recommend reversing this ratio. Keep your meat portions small (3 oz) and fill up with a variety of other nutritious side dishes. Try to buy meat from organic range fed sources. This type of meat has undergone less exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. Most people eat much more meat protein than necessary. In fact, if you find meat difficult to digest, you might be deficient in hydrochloric acid, a digestive enzyme normally found in the stomach. Try taking a small amount of hydrochloric acid (available in tablet form in natural foods stores) with every meat containing meal to see if your digestion improves.

Female Problems Aggravated by Red Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products

  • Benign breast disease
  • Breast cancer
  • Endometriosis
  • Fibroid tumors of the uterus
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Menopause
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Osteoporosis
  • Ovarian cysts
  • PMS
General Health Problems Aggravated by Red Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products
  • Cancer of the prostate
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Colon cancer
  • Constipation
  • Digestive complaints
  • Food allergies
  • Hypertension
Foods High in Saturated Fat
  • Beef
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Coconut oil
  • Cream cheese
  • Eggs
  • Ice cream
  • Lamb
  • Milk
  • Palm oil
  • Pork
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
Margarine
Margarine is a golden yellow solid spread that has been touted for many decades as a healthier alternative to butter. It is manufactured of polyunsaturated vegetable oils that are altered chemically by saturating their carbon bonds with hydrogen. Hydrogenation changes the liquid vegetable oils to a solid. As a result, it can be used like butter on toast, rolls, and other foods. Hydrogenation also renders the oils more stable, so they are less perishable and have a longer shelf life.

The "margarine is healthy" campaign has been very effective in terms of sales. People who were concerned about their cholesterol levels and risk of heart attack abandoned butter and dramatically increased margarine use. In fact, by 1980, margarine consumption was almost triple that of butter. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are ubiquitous, used in all types of fast food products and processed foods. These include crackers, snack foods, salad oils, and cooking oils, to name but a few types of products.

Are the health claims made for margarine actually true? A number of studies have turned up troubling data on this subject. While it is true that margarine contains no cholesterol, the process of hydrogenation changes not only the physical form of the oils, but alters the way they are metabolized by the body. Once vegetable oils are hydrogenated, they are no longer polyunsaturated. In fact, with hydrogenation, the beneficial structure of the essential fatty acids is altered or destroyed. As a result, the final margarine product is much lower in essential fatty acids. Most of the beneficial oils have been changed to a form called transfatty acids. These transfatty acids tend to predominate in margarine, with some samples containing as much as 60 percent of their oils in this altered form.

Transfatty acids behave differently than the natural oils from which they were derived. They burn more slowly than natural oils and interfere with their function. Transfatty acids also tend to concentrate in the heart. Ominously, recent studies show that people eating four or more teaspoons per day of margarine actually have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In one study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the trans-fatty acids in margarine were found to increase LDL cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol associated with an increased risk of heart attacks. Transfatty acids were also found to lower the beneficial and protective HDL cholesterol levels. Other studies have shown that transfatty acids also increase the level of triglycerides, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Another drawback of margarine is that its high water content continues to alter its chemical structure while it is on the supermarket shelf. This degrades the product further.

What is the solution? Ideally, people in our society should decrease their intake, both margarine and butter. With 40 percent of the average American diet composed of fats, intake of margarine should be sharply curtailed. For those women who want to continue to use fats in food preparation, the amount should be decreased significantly. Steaming, roasting, broiling, and other preparation techniques that are fat free should be favored over frying and sauteing in large quantities of oil. When cooking with oil, often a small amount will work just as well. Instead of using margarine as a spread for toast, rolls, or other grain products, use fresh fruit preserves or raw seed and nut butters that have their natural oils intact. Try olive oil as a topping instead of margarine; it is delicious on bread and toast. Avoid fast food outlets since they tend to use partially hydrogenated oils in much of their food preparation. Also, read labels carefully when you buy convenience foods and processed foods in the supermarket. If they contain hydrogenated oil, you are better off buying a safer substitute that contains natural oil, or no oils.

(Excerpted from The Women's Health Companion ISBN: 0890877335)
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 About The Author
Susan Lark MDDr. Susan M. Lark is one of the foremost authorities on women's health issues and is the author of nine books. She has served on the faculty of Stanford University Medical School...more
 
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