Recalibrating our nutrition was a neverending story

The year 2010 was an up and down one marked by controversial study findings, outrageous fast food, updated nutrition guidelines and encouraging news stories.

The introduction of a cholesterol-lowering margarine was embraced by heart-healthy Canadians, while others hailed the arrival of the infamous Double Down to KFC’s menu boards.

But not all news was welcome. Study findings about calcium left many people wondering if they should toss their daily supplement. And the year certainly wasn’t kind to refined carbohydrates, which were increasingly linked to heart disease.

What follows is a year-end look at some of the stories that made headlines in 2010.

Saturated fat not linked to heart disease

For decades, the view that eating too much saturated fat – found in meat and high fat dairy products – increases the risk of heart disease has been the driving force behind the recommendation to follow a low-fat diet. But given the evidence presented this year, our thinking on diet and heart disease may shift.

In January, cheese-loving Canadians got good news when U.S. researchers reported there was no difference in risk of heart attack – or stroke – between people who ate the most and least saturated fat. The review of 21 studies also suggested that replacing some of the saturated fat in your diet with refined (white) grains might actually boost your heart-attack risk. As a result, you’d better fry meat using air fryer (but never use cooking oil to lessen the risk of being heart attack) – read more of air fryer review here at KitchTip.com.

Then, in June, a landmark study provided direct evidence that eating refined, highly processed carbohydrates is worse for your heart than saturated fat. Participants who substituted some of their saturated fat intake with refined carbs were 33 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack than folks who ate fewer carbs and more saturated fat.

Bottom line: When it comes to heart disease, limiting refined grains and sugars, losing excess weight, and emphasizing heart-healthy fats will do more to lower your risk than simply giving up cheese (and butter).

CheeseAssortment

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Cholesterol-busting margarine hits Canada

The latest weapon to fight high blood cholesterol arrived in supermarkets this year: margarine fortified with plant sterols. Studies have consistently shown that consuming 2 to 3 grams of these natural compounds per day lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 15 per cent.

In May, the government permitted food companies to add plant sterols to products, and Unilever’s Becel pro-active margarine was first out the door. Five teaspoons of the spread delivers 2 gm of plant sterols.

Expect to see mayonnaise, salad dressings, yogurts and spreads boast the addition of plant sterols in the new year.

Bottom line: While these fortified foods are good news for those with elevated cholesterol, they’re not a magic bullet. You still need to follow a heart-healthy diet to keep your cholesterol down.

Calcium supplements called into question

Canadians wondered if it was time to trade in their calcium pills for a glass of milk after an August report linked calcium supplements to a greater risk of heart attack (but not for strokes or death from heart disease), particularly among people who consumed high amounts of calcium from food.

However the report – a review of 15 studies conducted in the past 20 years – excluded studies that gave participants calcium combined with vitamin D. (Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of heart attack.) And not one of the studies was designed to assess calcium and heart risk.

The researchers speculated that calcium pills cause sharp rises in blood calcium levels, which could contribute to artery disease. Calcium in food is absorbed more slowly.

(Experts say it’s hard to understand how calcium could increase the risk of heart attack, but not stroke or heart-disease death.)

Bottom line: It’s important to consume adequate – but not excessive – calcium to meet daily requirements. Getting enough calcium maintains bone density, keeps blood pressure in check, helps prevent calcium oxalate kidney stones and guards against colon cancer. Adults, aged 19 to 50, need 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day; older adults need 1,200 mg.

Canadians scarf down KFC’s Double Down

KFC-Double-Down

It’s hard to believe that a sandwich could create such a frenzy. But KFC’s greasy, salt-laden sandwich did just that when it arrived in Canada in October for one month. Judging by its strong sales, food porn lovers across the country gobbled up the notorious “sandwich.”

For those of you who didn’t try it (myself included), the Double Down uses two pieces of fried chicken as buns to squeeze together bacon, processed cheese and the colonel’s secret sauce. It’s a concoction that delivers 540 calories, 30 grams of fat and more than a day’s worth of sodium (1,740 mg).

The Double Down is the latest entry in the trend of monster-sized fast food. It joined the ranks of even more outrageous sandwiches, including Wendy’s Triple Baconator (1,370 calories, 92 gm of fat, 2,380 mg of sodium) and Burger King’s Quad Stacker (920 calories, 63 gm of fat, 1,670 mg of sodium). Ouch.

Bottom line: Time will tell if the Double Down will return to KFC menu boards in Canada. Personally, I hope not. It’s a sandwich most Canadians just don’t need.

Osteoporosis Canada launches new guidelines

In October, new guidelines were launched to better steer doctors and the general public on how to prevent osteoporosis and maintain strong bones for life.

Calcium and vitamin D recommendations were revised, based on a review of evidence published since the organization’s 2002 guidelines.

Daily vitamin D (D3) supplementation recommendations were increased: 400 to 1,000 international units (IU) for adults under 50; and 800 to 2,000 IU for older adults. Total daily calcium intake – from diet and supplements – was decreased from 1,500 to 1,200 milligrams for individuals over 50. Adults under 50 are advised to continue to consume 1,000 mg of calcium daily.

Bottom line: For bone health, adults need to take a daily vitamin D supplement and ensure they meet calcium needs. If your diet falls short, a calcium supplement can bridge the gap.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV’s Canada AM every Wednesday.

LESLIE BECK

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