Real Food: What to Eat and Why - Nina Planck (2016)
alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—A polyunsaturated omega-3 fat, one of the two essential fatty acids (the other is linoleic acid, or LA). ALA is required for the formation of other omega-3 fats, EPA, DPA, and DHA, which are essential to brain, visual, and hormone function. It’s easier for the body to get EPA, DPA, and DHA from fish. Think of ALA as the land-based omega-3 fat. For vegetarians, key sources of ALA are flaxseed oil (60 percent), walnut oil (10 percent), and canola oil (10 to 15 percent).
alpha-lipoic acid—An antioxidant essential for metabolism found in grass-fed meat. Most antioxidants are either fat- or water-soluble, but alpha-lipoic acid is both. It extends the life of other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, lowers blood sugar, and improves sensitivity to insulin.
antioxidants—Compounds that counter the effects of free radicals and prevent or delay undesirable oxidation, or damage by oxygen. Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant, vitamin E a fat-soluble one, and alpha-lipoic acid is both water- and fat-soluble. Coenzyme Q10, which is depleted by statins, is an antioxidant found in organ meats (especially heart), red meat, and fish. Sesame and olive oil are rich in antioxidants. Plants contain dozens of antioxidant compounds, including carotenoids. Antioxidants last mere hours in the body; that’s why it’s sensible to eat fresh, brightly colored fruit, berries, and vegetables every day.
arrhythmia—Irregular heartbeat. Sometimes follows a myocardial infarction, or heart attack. Omega-3 fats reduce the rate of fatal arrhythmia by 30 percent.
arteriosclerosis—A common condition in which the smooth, elastic walls of the artery (never veins) become stiff, possibly as a protective measure to keep the high arterial blood pressure from straining the walls. Increases with age.
atherogenesis—The formation of plaques, or atheromas, in the arterial wall.
atheroma (plaque)—Raised swollen areas in the arterial wall. Atheromas may burst, resulting in a blood clot and a heart attack (in a coronary artery) or stroke (in an artery leading to the brain). Atheromas contain fats, cholesterol, white blood cells, and calcium.
atherosclerosis—Multiple atheromas. Atherosclerosis is more pronounced in people with high blood pressure and worsens with age. When an artery is obstructed, heart disease can result. However, many people who die of heart disease do not have atherosclerosis; something else blocks the blood flow.
betaine—A vitaminlike nutrient found in eggs, liver, and beets. Betaine reduces homocysteine and thus helps prevent heart disease.
bile acid—Manufactured in the liver from cholesterol and stored in the gallbladder, bile acid is essential for the emulsification and digestion of fats.
canola oil—The mostly monounsaturated oil from rapeseed, a plant in the genus Brassica, which includes broccoli and cabbage. Originally rapeseed was high in erucic acid, a toxic monounsaturated fat, but modern hybrids developed in Canada are low in erucic acid. Canola oil is frequently refined and partially hydrogenated in processed foods.
cardiovascular diseases—Diseases of the heart and vascular system, including heart disease, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, stroke, and others.
carotenoids—Antioxidant plant pigments that are mainly fat-soluble. Examples: beta-carotene (sweet potato, carrot, kale, mango), lutein (melon, guava, spinach, collards), lycopene (tomatoes), and zeaxanthin (corn, nectarines, oranges, papaya). Eating carotenoids helps prevent cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Lutein and zeaxanthin, also found in egg yolks, may prevent the eye disease macular degeneration.
cholesterol—A molecule, chemically a sterol, made chiefly in the liver. It forms all cell membranes and makes up most brain and nervous tissue. Cholesterol is required for production of bile acids, vitamin D, and the sex hormones (estrogens and androgens). It’s a repair agent, rushing to the scene when arterial walls are damaged. Cholesterol is carried in the blood by the lipoproteins HDL and LDL. Cholesterol is found only in animal foods.
choline—A B-vitamin-like nutrient that is part of lecithin, which is found in egg yolks and butter. Choline is essential in the metabolism of fat and to the developing brain of the fetus. It reduces homocysteine and thus helps prevent heart disease.
coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)—An antioxidant found in organ meats (especially heart), red meat, and fish. Statin drugs deplete CoQ10, which is essential for heart function. Low CoQ10 is a risk factor for heart disease.
conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—An omega-6 fat found in the fat of ruminant (grass-eating) animals. Grass-fed beef fat and butter are all but unique sources of CLA, an anticancer agent that also aids weight loss and builds lean muscle tissue. CLA is an unusual omega-6 fat in that it behaves like an omega-3 fat.
coronary heart disease (CHD)—See heart disease
C-reactive protein (CRP)—A protein made by the liver during acute inflammation. High CRP is a risk factor for heart disease.
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—An omega-3 fat essential to cell membranes, especially brain, eye, and sperm cells. Half the fat in the brain is DHA. Found chiefly in fish, DHA is used to form EPA. DHA can be manufactured in the body from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid, but fish is the best source.
diabetes—A metabolic disease in which insulin does not work properly and sugar accumulates in the blood. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes (90 percent of cases), muscle cells are deaf to insulin, or “insulin-resistant.” Obesity, sugar, excess of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and a lack of omega-3 fats cause type 2. Prediabetes is called metabolic syndrome. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease.
eicosanoid—Several kinds of hormonelike agents, including prostaglandins, derived from the essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fats produce anti-inflammatory and calming eicosanoids, and omega-6 fats make inflammatory and reactive eicosanoids. The body needs both, but the industrial diet contains an excess of omega-6 fats and too few omega-3 fats, which leads to inflammation, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
emulsifier—An agent able to mix water and fat because it contains both water- and fat-soluble elements. The lecithin in egg yolks emulsifies mayonnaise. Bile acids emulsify fats in digestion.
eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—An omega-3 fat found chiefly in fish. EPA is required for the formation of eicosanoids, powerful hormonelike agents that control all cellular activity. EPA can be manufactured in the body from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid.
epidemiology—The study of population and disease. Researchers look for risk factors and causes of disease.
essential fatty acids (EFA)—The omega-3 and omega-6 fats. They cannot be made by the body; hence they are “essential” and must be obtained through diet. From EFA, the body forms hormonelike agents called eicosanoids. EFA are essential to growth and brain and vision. If you don’t eat enough EFA, the body will plunder its own stores. EFA deficiency is progressive and cumulative over generations. Pregnant and nursing women need large amounts of omega-3 fats to feed the baby’s brain and prevent post-natal depression.
fat—A collection of triglycerides that are usually solid or semisolid at room temperature.
fatty acid—An organic molecule made up of a chain of carbon atoms. Classified by the number of carbons (short-, medium-, long-, and very-long-chain fatty acids) and by whether the carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms (saturated or unsaturated). Fatty acids include oleic acid (in lard and olive oil), stearic acid (beef and chocolate), and lauric acid (coconut oil and breast milk).
flavonoids—Antioxidant compounds found in plants, especially brightly colored ones, such as sweet potatoes, cherries, and chocolate. Flavonoids fight cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
folic acid—An essential nutrient found in liver, eggs, green leafy vegetables, oysters, salmon, and beef. Prenatal deficiency of folic acid causes spina bifida in babies. Lack of folic acid elevates homocysteine, which causes heart disease.
free radicals—By-products of cell metabolism formed when oxygen is metabolized or burned. They damage cells and contribute to aging, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Antioxidants counter the effects of free radicals.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)—A polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid found in the oils of borage, black currant seed, evening primrose, and Siberian pine nuts. The body can also make GLA from the EFA linoleic acid (LA). GLA is an unusual omega-6 fat in that it tends to behave like an omega-3 fat. Eicosanoids derived from GLA reduce inflammation, dilate blood vessels, and reduce clotting. GLA also aids fat metabolism and treats premenstrual symptoms.
heart disease—The first stage of heart disease, angina, is restriction of blood to the heart. When the blood flow is stopped for a long time or stops totally, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) results. Together, angina and heart attack are heart disease. Heart disease is one of several cardiovascular diseases.
high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—Carries cholesterol from the bloodstream to the liver.
homocysteine—An amino acid that causes atherosclerosis. Lack of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 elevates homocysteine.
hydrogenation—A chemical process that adds hydrogen to unsaturated double bonds in fats. Hydrogenation turns unsaturated, liquid oils into saturated, solid fats (such as corn oil into margarine) and creates unhealthy trans fats. Many processed foods contain hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which cause heart disease.
hypercholesterolemia—A rare genetic condition affecting about 1 percent of the population. The main symptom is high LDL. Hypercholesterolemics do not respond to changes in dietary cholesterol or saturated fats and often get atherosclerosis and heart disease early in life.
inflammation—The body’s normal chemical response to injury or danger. White blood cells, platelets, and other healing agents rush to the injury, causing redness, swelling, warmth, and pain. Chronic inflammation (due to genetics, diet, infection, or some other cause) contributes to heart disease. Omega-6 fats in polyunsaturated vegetable oils lead to inflammation, while omega-3 fats prevent it. Inflammatory diseases resulting from lack of omega-3 fats include Crohn’s, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. Fat cells promote inflammation, which may explain why being fat is a risk factor for heart disease.
insulin—A hormone produced by the pancreas and released when blood sugar rises after eating. Insulin directs the muscles to take sugar from the blood to muscles for use as immediate or short-term energy. When the muscles are deaf to insulin—“insulin resistant”—normal metabolism fails, and sugar (toxic in excess) accumulates in the blood. Excess sugar is stored as fat. Diabetes is a disease of insulin resistance.
isoflavones—Phytoestrogens, found in plants, which act like estrogens in the body. Isoflavones in soy foods may contribute to estrogen-dependent breast cancers.
lauric acid—A medium-chain saturated fat found in tropical oils such as coconut and palm and breast milk. Butter contains minor amounts (about 3 percent). A potent antimicrobial agent, it also stimulates metabolism and aids weight loss. Because lauric acid is stable (not easily damaged) at high temperatures, coconut oil is ideal for baking.
lecithin—An emulsifier in egg yolks and butter. Necessary for the proper digestion of cholesterol and fats.
linoleic acid (LA)—A polyunsaturated omega-6 fat in walnuts and flaxseed and one of the two essential fatty acids (the other is alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). LA is required for the formation of eicosanoids, hormonelike agents. Seed oils such as safflower (78 percent), sunflower (68 percent), and corn oil (57 percent) are rich in LA. The typical American diet contains far too much LA, which leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression.
lipids—Fatty molecules including fats and oils. Lipids include fatty acids (such as oleic acid in lard and olive oil) and phospholipids (such as lecithin).
lipoprotein—A molecule that’s part protein, part fat. It circulates in the blood, carrying cholesterol, homocysteine, and triglycerides.
lipoprotein (a) (Lp (a))—A unique lipoprotein that causes atherosclerosis and promotes clots. Trans fats raise Lp (a), and saturated fats lower it.
low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—Carries cholesterol from the liver to the blood. Oxidized LDL causes atherosclerosis.
metabolic syndrome—Also insulin resistance. Refers to several conditions involving chronically elevated insulin, including: belly fat, high blood pressure, low HDL, high LDL, and high triglycerides. Another sign of metabolic syndrome is normal cholesterol and high CRP—a sign of inflammation. First identified in 1989, metabolic syndrome is an early stage of diabetes, which is a predictor of kidney failure, stroke, and heart disease.
monounsaturated fats—Fatty acids with one double or unsaturated bond in the carbon chain such as oleic acid in olive oil, chicken fat, and lard. Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable and suitable for cooking, especially combined with saturated fats.
myocardial infarction (MI)—A heart attack. Occurs when a coronary artery supplying oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle is blocked. If the heart is deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes, heart cells die. Arrythmia, a chaotic heartbeat, may also occur.
oil—A collection of triglycerides that are usually liquid at room temperature.
omega-3 fats—Essential fatty acids that the body cannot make and must be obtained in the diet. ALA (in flaxseed, walnuts, purslane) and EPA and DHA (fish oils) are omega-3 fats. The omega family is essential for making eicosanoids. The industrial diet lacks omega-3 fats, which leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression.
omega-6 fats—Essential fatty acids that the body cannot make and must be obtained in the diet. LA, gamma-linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid are omega-6 fats. The omega family is essential for making eicosanoids. The industrial diet contains too many omega-6 fats, which leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression.
polyunsaturated fats—Fatty acids with two or more double or unsaturated bonds in the carbon chain. Most vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower oil) are polyunsaturated and liquid at room temperature. Polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and subject to oxidation, or damage, from heat and light. Fish oil is also polyunsaturated.
prostaglandins—Potent hormonelike agents, produced from the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats and found in many body tissues. Prostaglandins are involved in all cellular activity. They affect inflammation, blood pressure, and metabolism, among many other bodily functions.
risk factor—A factor statistically associated with a disease. A risk factor may or may not cause disease. A risk factor that isn’t causal is called a marker. Several hundred risk factors for heart disease include high homocysteine and CRP, inflammation, smoking, diabetes, gum disease, high blood pressure, and being overweight, sedentary, or male.
saturated fats—Fatty acids abundant in meat, lard, dairy foods, breast milk, and coconut oil. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and stable at high temperatures, which makes them ideal for cooking and baking. Their carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms.
statins—Drugs used to block cholesterol synthesis. Stains deplete the body of the antioxidant CoQ10, interfere with metabolism of EFA, damage the liver, and cause muscle weakness and memory loss.
thermic effect—The energy used to digest food. Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrate or fat. Medium-chain saturated fats such as lauric acid (found in coconut oil) speed up metabolism compared with long-chain polyunsaturated fats such as those in corn oil.
thrombosis—A blood clot. Burst clots are one cause of heart attacks. Omega-3 fats reduce clotting.
trans fat—Produced when unsaturated fats undergo hydrogenation in which liquid oils (typically corn or soybean) are bombarded with hydrogen atoms to fill their unsaturated bonds to make them solid and shelf-stable. Trans fats cause heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and other problems. A natural form of trans fat occurs in ruminants. A precursor to CLA, it is chemically different from synthetic trans fat and perfectly safe.
triglycerides—Three fatty acid molecules attached to a glycerol molecule. All fats and oils (lipids) are made of triglycerides.
unsaturated fats—Fatty acids with one or more double (carbon-to-carbon) bonds. A fatty acid with a single double bond is called monounsaturated; with two or more, it is polyunsaturated. Most vegetable oils are predominantly unsaturated.
vitamins—Discovered mostly between 1900 to 1930, the thirteen known vitamins are organic molecules essential in small amounts for health. They are either fat- or water-soluble.