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Running Off the Rails

Dear Reader,

How did Harvard get it so wrong?

Harvard Medical School recently attempted to explain it all for us in a book titled Healthy Eating: A Guide to the New Nutrition.

Their basic idea is sound. The authors state that research over the past two decades has transformed the accepted principles of nutrition.

And here's what they get 100 percent right. They say, "Beyond all can lower your risk for the most serious diseases of our time by following a healthy diet." With you all the way on that one, Harvard.

Too bad they miss the boat on important specifics. Too bad, because when people see the word "Harvard," many will take this stuff as gospel.

Don't mess it up

Here are five ways Harvard got it wrong...

1) Soy. They completely miss the important detail that unfermented soy should be avoided. Sure, there's less breast cancer among Japanese women who consume lots of soy. But most of the soy products consumed by Japanese women are fermented. In the U.S., the opposite is true.

2) Genetic engineering. Harvard is cautious on this one. They don't come right out and say GE foods are okay. But you get the feeling they want to.

They quote a 2004 National Academy of Sciences report that admits GE "may produce unintended changes in the composition of foods." Uh oh. Not exactly reassuring. They also state: "In most cases you won't be eating the genes themselves." In most cases! And I believe that IS supposed to be reassuring.

Finally, they highlight this dubious statistic: In 2003 more than 80 percent of the U.S. soybean crop was GE. They don't mention that it was genetically altered so it could survive saturation with weed killer! (Another excellent reason to avoid soy.)

3) Red meat. Harvard instructs us to shun pigs in a blanket. But that's just junk food. And Harvard knows it. There's no comparison between a lean cut of red meat and pigs in a blanket.

Harvard's problem with red meat is saturated fat, of course. There's simply no way to convince some nutritionists that saturated fats are not evil. On the contrary. As William Campbell Douglass II, M.D. reminds us, animal fats boost energy and immunity. They also help build stronger, more resilient cells.

4) Vitamin E. Do I even have to say it? Harvard hasn't caught up with the important difference between the single- form vitamin E supplements used in so many damning studies, and the mixed tocopherols that are absolutely the only way to take your E.

5) Eggs. Instead of eating whole eggs, Harvard suggests you eat egg whites or egg substitute. Yeesh! Egg fear is so 20th Century, Harvard. Nature gave us this nearly perfect food. Don't mess it up!

Back on track

"Added vitamins have lost their sheen, and there are more doubts than ever about taking them in pill form."

The sheen is gone? Well, that's how someone at Harvard tells it in a recent Harvard Health Letter. They grudgingly make two exceptions: Folic acid for young women and vitamin D. Other than that – no sheen!

The Healthy Eating book follows the same line, cautioning that only a "tiny handful" of studies support supplement use. Then, throughout the book, the authors cite study after study that cast supplements as extremely useful.

Vitamin D supplements get a nod, of course. Omega-3 fatty acids? Absolutely. Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and zinc get special note for preventing age-related macular degeneration. In Harvard's own take on the USDA pyramid, calcium supplements are included.

And folic acid for women? Of course. But they also offer a study that shows how folic acid and vitamin B6 reduce risk of heart attack or death due to heart disease. Then they feature additional studies in which folic acid curbs memory loss and reduces colon cancer risk.

Gee...that tiny handful of studies turned out to be fairly important.

Harvard! Good call!

...and another thing

Depression? It's all in your head. Especially if you have sinusitis – an overproduction of mucus.

A new study examined 73 patients with chronic sinusitis. About 20 percent reported symptoms of depression, prompted by their sinus condition.

According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic sinusitis causes painful headaches, facial swelling, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms are considered chronic when they recur frequently or last for at least eight weeks.

Eight weeks! It's a miracle only 20 percent were depressed!

Sinusitis patients may be able to avoid symptoms (and perhaps depression) with two very effective, non-drug sinusitis treatments described in the e-Alert "Spring Spoiler" (3/30/06).

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson